Dez Bryant Can’t Play Defense or Block on the OL: Now What?

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Dez Bryant is only one member of a 53 piece puzzle that when fully assembled, is a championship team. Football is and always will be a team sport. All I keep hearing is the Dallas Cowboys need to sign him to a long term deal or use the franchise tag on him. But….. how will that effect completing the puzzle?

dez bryant

I love Dez Bryant as much as the next fan, but as an analyst I don’t have the luxury of allowing my personal feelings to override sound football logic. Most fans don’t understand the concept of salary cap and/or the fact that the Cowboys currently have 23 free agents: many of which are starters on defense, major role players, or starters on the recently rebuilt offensive line.

 How important is defense to a championship team?

Tony Romo completed 78.9% of his passes and had zero interceptions for a passer rating of 143.6 against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the 2014-15 NFL playoffs and the Cowboys lost because the defense couldn’t get off the field on third and long. Why? Because Aaron Rodgers had all day in the pocket for plays to develop down the field. I don’t care if you have Revis and Sherman back there, if a QB has that much time, someone is going to get open. Pass Rush Matters!

 It’s easy for fans to grasp at straws and blame the entire outcome of the game on the overturned catch by Dez Bryant, but nothing could be further from the truth. Russsell Wilson completed 48.3% of his passes, threw a staggering four interceptions and ended up with a passer rating of 44.3. The Seahawks had a total of five turnovers in the game and Wilson still walked away with a win because their defense kept the Packers out of the endzone. Sorry folks, defense does matter.

Cowboys Key Defensive Free Agents:

  • CB Sterling Moore, Starter
  • ILB Bruce Carter, Starter
  • OLB Justin Durant, Starter
  • DT Nick Hayden, Starter
  • DT Henry Melton, Starter
  • ILB Rolando McClain, Starter
  • DE Anthony Spencer, Starter
  • DE George Selvie, Starter
  • OLB Cameron Lawrence, Backup/special teams ace

Granted, only one of the above mentioned players is a pro bowler, but the front office needs to make a decision as to whether they want to resign them, or upgrade their position. The reality is, if the Cowboys want to have a reputable pass rush, they are going to have to not only get a stud in the draft, but go out and spend some money in free agency to sign a proven pass rusher like Justin Houston or JPP. Then there is the matter of pretty much the entire LB staff being free agents.

Rolando McClain came on to the scene as a high risk high reward player and played like a high first round pick was expected to play when the Raiders drafted him top 10. Unfortunately, the tape is out and he will have some suitors. The price will go up. With the question marks surrounding whether or not Sean Lee will ever be able to stay healthy or not, McClain has become a must to resign. The same question marks surround Henry Melton who has also been injury laden of late and the only Pro Bowler on the list. The Cowboys may need to spend some money to replace him as well. The point I am trying to make here is, a lot of these guys came off of the street and at the time were cheap, but with the excellent coaching they have received from Rod Marinelli, there are teams who will be willing to pay them more than their current league minimum salaries.

Key Offensive Free Agents:

  • WR Dez Bryant, Starter
  • RB DeMarco Murray, Starter
  • LG Ronald Leary, Starter
  • RT Doug Free, Starter
  • OT Jeremy Parnell, Swing Tackle
  • FB Tyler Clutts, Starter
  • WR Cole Beasley, #3 receiver

The Dallas Cowboys are already spending approximately $10 million more on offense than defense which creates a serious imbalance. One of the keys to the Cowboys success in 2015 has been the emergence of the offensive line. Again the front office has a decision to make. Despite being suspect in pass protection, Leary has been a dominant run blocker. He is currently on a rookie undrafted players salary. If they want to retain his services he is going to command a starting left guards salary which will be a substantial pay raise for him adding to the cap space allotted to the offense. Doug Free has also been suspect in pass protection and had some injury issues lately. Parnell is a serviceable backup, but even Free, who has been average at best, is a better RT. Which leads me to believe that the Cowboys need to decide which one they let walk and will then be faced with the decision as to whether to draft a RT or sign a veteran in FA. Tyler Clutts has proven to be the best FB the Cowboys had in years and played a major role in the recent success of the running game. It is a must to retain his services. Lets take a look at the Cowboys current cap situation.

cowboys salariesThe 2015 salary cap is expected to be around $142 million. Currently about $64 million of that is designated to only 8 players. That equates to 45.1% of the cap space allowed for 53 players. This means 15.1% of the players are taking up almost half of the salary cap. Dez Bryant’s  2014 salary only accounted for $2.36 million of the total cap. If the Cowboys use the franchise tag of about $12 million on Dez Bryant, 52.1% of the cap will be used up on 17% of the players and there will be $20 million more designated to the offense than the defense. This will not do.

At the end of the day Cowboys Nation, you have to decide whether you are a fan of Dez Bryant, or a fan of the “TEAM” because football is won in the trenches. One piece of the puzzle isn’t worth sacrificing 3-4 other pieces. The Cowboys have had a top ranked offense every year, but continue to watch the Super Bowl from the couch. Whether you want to accept it or not, defense wins championships. If the Cowboys continue to put all of their resources in to the offense and neglect the defense, it will be another 20 years without a championship.

The only way I would use the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, would be with the plan of trading him for a 1st and at least a third round pick to team like the Raiders who are way below the cap, have a high first round pick, and are desperate for a weapon for their young QB. In that scenario the Cowboys could draft a decent pass rusher and a top WR in the first round while saving $10 million in valuable cap space. This would give them an added bonus of an extra day two pick. When Jerry Jones made the decision to trade Hershel Walker, most thought he was mad, but it was brilliant. The window is closing for the Cowboys veterans and it will take too long waiting for the picks to fall. Trading Dez Bryant affords the Cowboys the opportunity to complete the puzzle much sooner.

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  • Gabriel Carrasco

    I’m starting to wonder if Jason Witten will ever retire.

    • Al

      I expect him to play at least 4 more years.

      • Big Harb

        I hope you are right big Al. I will definitely miss him when he’s gone. A class act in every way on & off the field.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        I can’t for the life of me figure out why we don’t use Hanna more. He does more than Escobar. Hanna is by far a better blocker, and has improved in that area every year since he’s been here. He also has more ability than Escobar. The Patriots will pick him up and he will light the league on fire probably.

        • Al

          I have a bad feeling him and Beasley both end up there. McDaniels knows how to use them.

    • boysdeporvida

      not until Cowboys win it all.

  • Big Harb

    While agree with your premise, I disagree that it applies in this scenario. I believe you also have to determine value by the anticipated drop off from a replacement or group of replacements. A great wide receiver, and Dez is great, shifts the field to one side for a defense & causes it to back off preventing 8 man fronts an allowing less talented running backs than Demarco Murray to have success. A receptions by committee loses this which was extremely important to this teams offensive prowess while running by committee can be just as effective if the commitment for carries is the same an the O line is dominant

    • Al

      Odell Beckham was right on his heels as a rookie. Where are the teams with the highest paid Rec’s? On the couch with the Cowboys. Sea has no big name RECs they have a defense. Dez gets way too much credit for a guy who still only runs the 3 routes he ran in college. I bet romo lights up the pro bowl with Beckham and Cobb. Dez disappears when he is doubled because he can’t read the D and doesn’t know all the routes to run the option. He relies solely on his athletic ability. The greats are doubled all the time, but get open by understanding protections and outsmarting the DBs. Drew Pearson already called him out on this and said he needs to step up his game if he wants #1 money. Him and Irvin both knew all the routes.

      • Big Harb

        Come on Al. Of course Romo can light up the Pro Bowl in that scenario. He’s a top five QB all time in accuracy and he’s playing against 1 undisguised defensive coverage. I don’t think Dez gets enough credit for how important he is to the team. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and everyone in that locker room says he sets the tone for the entire team in practice much like Irvin did in the 90’s.

    • Al

      Beasley forgot more than Dez knows about protections and the route tree. If they used him as much he would have top 10 numbers.

      • Big Harb

        I know you love Beasley & I do too but his success, to a large degree, is based on the fact that the next time he runs a route against an opponent’s #1 corner will be the first. Beasley is phenomenal as a matchup nightmare for 4th corners and 3rd safeties because his high football IQ makes up for his physical limitations against inferior defenders who can’t press him based on where he lines up in the formation. He is a great example of a player that has maximized his god-given ability but to project more than that is a common scouting mistake.

        • Gabriel Carrasco

          Dez takes away coverage. Sure he gets shut down, but then it’s up to other guys like Beasley to make plays and Williams. The focus is always on Dez. And yes he needs to run more routes. But the issue is that, is the player or the coaches. How long did it take these coaches to finally use a bubble screen to Beasley that I have been asking for for years? Heck they run a bubble screen with Bryant and it worked. I seriously think it’s more the coaching than the player not running all the routes.

          • Big Harb

            I agree Gabe. I think the coaching has limited what both Beasley & Dez have been able to do until this year when Scott Linehan brought a fresh set of eyes to the offense. Hopefully he will allow them to continue to develop under Dooley who I believe is an underrated WR coach.

        • Al

          Please don’t take this the wrong way, but when you start watching tape and grading players before the draft with a history of success you will understand where I am coming from.

          I stood on the sidelines and watched all these guys up close and personal in camp. None of our DBs including Scandrick and Carr could cover Bease 1on1. He was to quick off the line for them to get a hand on him to jam him. His change of direction and shiftiness broke their ankles. His ability to read protections as a former QB and find soft spots goes unmatched. He is the best route runner as well. I would put him in the slot against any CB in the NFL only I would send himl on more than just quibck outs and shallow crosses. This is an analyst talkin not a fan.

    • Al

      I will post some scouting reports of ample replacements. If this team had Sea’s d romo could win with T.O at his age

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    Al have you looked at Dante Fowler from Florida yet? I have fallen in love with him since the middle of the year.

    • Al

      I am focusing on all trenches first WRs will come later.have you looked at Tre’ Jackson the OG from FSU yet? The kid is a mauler!

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        Fowler is a DE/LB. And yes I have already taken a look at Tre Jackson, he’s the big nasty I like. Also Ogbuehi is the OT from A&M, who tore his ACL I believe, could be looked at in round 3 or 4 if Free is resigned, and Ogbuehi could learn.

        • Al

          I would rather finish the stud/youth movement on the OL than extend Free or pay Leary starting LG money when a rookie contract is cheaper.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            That’s why I brought up Ogbuhei, since he is hurt, and Free could just be extended for a 2 year deal.

          • Al

            I haven’t looked at many tackles yet but I like the kid from Colorado state.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Ty Sambryilo or something. I have yet to look at him. Nice pass protector, but strength is lacking.

          • Al

            An NFL strength and conditioning program can remedy that. I look for technique IQ and athleticism in a tackle.

          • Al

            He reminds me of a young Nate Solder. NE bulked him up in one offseason

          • Al

            Knee injuries on the line are extremely high risk and scare me. I would like to avoid Free unless he is dirt cheap.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Free will be cheaper, coming off injury, over 30. He also wants to come back. He would probably play for around 3 million a year.

          • Al

            I would go along with that price tag for a year while we develop a kid. I don’t see Parnell as a starter.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Parnell is ok. But if I want to develop a player I would go with Free until that player is ready, will be cheaper with Free than with Parnell anyway.

        • Al

          Having 2 firsts and two seconds or thirds could solidify the trenches

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            That would be ideal.