Count ‘Em! Five Ways the Cowboys Improved This Offseason

 

Addition by Subtraction

Sometimes the best thing you can do to improve a football team is to rid yourself of players that don’t bring a positive presence to the football field or the locker room. That’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did by not bringing back defensive end Greg Hardy. Not only did he not produce on the field, but he clearly created some strife off the field as well. The Cowboys don’t need that kind of baggage anymore. Even though they’ll be short a few defensive linemen with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence’s suspensions to start the season, this team no longer needed Hardy, who was nothing but dead weight. They also let Matt Cassel go at quarterback, opting to stick with Kellen Moore and drafting Dak Prescott to back up Tony Romo. Sure, Moore and Prescott don’t have the experience that Cassel had, but all of that experience didn’t lead to many wins. Again, this team is beginning to build from within, instead of trying to fill their needs in free agency; and if the free agents they do bring in aren’t going to buy in, the Cowboys are better off without them.

SPENDING MONEY LIKE RICH PEOPLE

I don’t know a lot of really rich people, but the ones I do know don’t spend their money like they have a bottomless pit of cash. They are much more frugal with their finances. After spending the last few years in salary cap hell, the Cowboys finally got themselves out of the red and into the black. But they didn’t celebrate financial freedom by going the Ric Flair route (yes, a wrestling reference) and buying the biggest car or the biggest house on the big side of town. They decided to stay in the black and spent their money wisely. Instead of improving their defensive line by backing up the Brinks truck to Olivier Vernon’s house, they ended up getting two younger players in Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa for a fraction of what Vernon cost. And instead of writing a big check to lease cornerback Josh Norman for far too long, they wrote a smaller check to bring back a surely-motivated Morris Claiborne for one year. I must admit, this approach by the Cowboys took me by surprise, considering how they’ve things in the past. But this patient, measured approach gets a stamp of approval from yours truly.

 

GETTING BETTER BY GETTING BETTER

Injuries absolutely decimated the Cowboys in 2015. First, cornerback Orlando Scandrick went down before the season even started. When that happened, I was a little worried, but I thought the Cowboys would be okay, as long as their main pieces stayed in place. Well, that didn’t last too long. Dez Bryant went down with a broken foot in week one and was never the same; Sean Lee spent much of the season injured; and, well, we all know what happened to Tony Romo… twice. But all four of them should be ready to take the practice field come August. 2015 wasn’t just a lost season for the Cowboys, it felt stolen. I anticipate these four will come back with a chip on their shoulder and with something to prove in 2016.

 

DRAFTING EZEKIEL ELLIOTT

If I was running the Cowboys’ draft room (which I’m not, but just stick with me here), I would not have drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick. I would have gone defense and taken defensive back Jalen Ramsey. But the Cowboys didn’t do that. They seized the opportunity to draft a special player they feel will give them the best chance to return to what they did best in 2014, which was control the ball and the clock with a power running game. I still remember what the Cowboys did on their very first drive of 2015: 17 plays, 79 yards, 10 minutes 27 seconds off the clock! That was with Joseph Randle rushing the football, and they only got a field goal out of that drive. Just imagine how much better the Cowboys offense will be with a running back who is not only good in between the tackles and catching the football, but is a solid pass-blocker as well. If Elliott ends up being the workhorse the Cowboys think he can be, that will take a lot of pressure off of Tony Romo, while also keeping him off his back, two things that are vital to the Cowboys’ success.

 

THEIR TRADEMARK ROLL OF THE DICE

Yes, the Cowboys have been much more conservative in building their team over the last few years. But they’re still the Cowboys. They still love taking risks and fliers, and they did both of those things in the NFL Draft, specifically in the 2nd and 6th rounds. First, they decided to roll the dice by selecting Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. As we all know, Smith suffered a devastating injury in the Fiesta Bowl, which took him from potentially being the #1 overall pick to potentially never playing football again. But the Cowboys trusted their gut (and their team surgeon, who performed his surgery) and reached on Smith, hoping that he can get back to full strength and ability. The Cowboys are counting on it, and even if he doesn’t play until 2017, they believe that Smith can be the steal of the draft. They also think they have a steal in Rico Gathers, who was drafted as a tight end out of Baylor. Gathers didn’t play football at Baylor, he played power forward for their basketball team. In fact, he hasn’t put on a football uniform (unless it was a Halloween costume) since junior high. But it’s hard to ignore this man’s 6’8”, 280-pound frame to go along with striking athletic ability. Gathers is a project who will take a few years to develop. But, as we’ve discussed before, the Cowboys have a history of turning non-football-playing projects into real football stars (see Cornell Green), and if Gathers can absorb everything that Jason Witten teaches him, then the Cowboys will have created a monster.

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