Looking at the Cowboys depth chart is the best way to determine whether or not they are prepared to enter the 2016 NFL draft. They are not. Unfortunately, the team we love is in dire straights. Again!
The average fan never looks at the Cowboys depth chart: I get it. They don’t watch the combine, study game film, draw up scouting reports or put together mock drafts. They rely on the Dallas Cowboys scouts and the Jones family to put together a winning team and they rely on the media to keep them informed.
Unfortunately, as a draft analyst, I not only have to keep tabs on the Cowboys depth chart, but try and figure out how to improve it. The reality of it is: most fans just want to watch the games on Sunday and cheer for their favorite players. They put on their Cowboys gear and either crowd around the TV, or spend a kings ransom to take their family to the game.
The Dallas Cowboys not only have the largest fan base of any NFL team, they generate the most revenue. According to Forbes, the Dallas Cowboys are valued at $3.2 billion. Three point two billion dollars! Did you know if you started counting the moment you were born, counted non stop 24 hours a day and lived to be 100, you couldn’t count to a billion? That’s a lot of dough. By golly, if the fans are spending that much of their hard earned money: don’t ya think we deserve a better product Mr. Jones?
Apparently you are measuring the success of our beloved Cowboys by the bottom line with no regard for the fans who are putting that money in your pocket! You have made a huge return on your investment. What am I getting for mine? Two playoff wins in twenty years and by looking at the current Cowboys depth chart, no improvement in sight. While you are counting your money, I am stuck telling the fans what they DON’T want to hear. My job sucks.
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at the Cowboys depth chart entering the 2016 NFL draft. The first thing you need to determine is what the needs are entering the draft. Per an article by Mickey Spagnola on the Cowboys official website:
“Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford are free agents; Randy Gregory is suspended for the first four games of the season; and last year’s team sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off microdiscectomy surgery to repair a herniated back disk.”
“Nick Hayden is a free agent and who knows what they might get out of Terrell McClain, after he spent all but two weeks last season on injured reserve. Probably need at least two, and while they wasted no time in signing Thursday’s visiting free agent Cedric Thornton, who had started the past 45 consecutive games for the Eagles. He’s been a 3-4 defensive end, 6-4, 309, but showed up closer to like 299. He will be a 4-3 1-technique tackle who has some versatility to play the 3, too.”
The Cowboys pass rush ranked at the bottom of the league last year. The one thing all of the playoff teams had in common was a solid defense.
Obviously the weakest part of the Cowboys depth chart entering the 2016 draft is the defensive line and it was bad last year. How bad? The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the league with a meager 31 sacks as compared to 52 by the World Champion Broncos. They allowed 120.9 rushing yards per game (10th in the NFL), 113 rushing 1st downs (2nd most in the NFL) and 16 rushing TDs (4th most in the NFL). OUCH!
If you think it was bad last year, how will it be in 2016 when currently they have no starting RDE, (Hardy is a FA) a LDE (DeMarcus Lawrence) who is coming off of back surgery with no proven depth behind him (Mincey is a free agent), and a 3-4 DE (Thornton) that they hope can convert to the 1 tech DT, (being undersized for the position) with no solid depth behind him? He is a career 2 down run defender, not a pass rusher.
It gets worse: there is only one proven 3-tech DT (Tyrone Crawford) and no proven depth behind him. That means at the very least, the Cowboys need to be able to draft 3 defensive linemen who are capable of being day one starters. Not going to happen sports fans; because that is just the needs along the defensive line. Back to Mickey’s story.
“Cornerback, since Morris Claiborne is a free agent, Orlando Scandrick is coming back off his torn ACL, leaving the Cowboys with only Brandon Carr in the final year of his deal, the just re-signed Josh Thomas, young Terrance Mitchell and the highly-inexperienced Deji Olatoya, that is if Byron Jones is considered a safety, and he should be. All reason why free-agent corner Nolan Carroll was visiting on Thursday. Can’t have enough corners.”
Despite costing the Cowboys a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick, not one NFL team thought Morris Claiborne was worth any more than the 1 year deal the Cowboys gave him. The worst part is, he was average at best “When Healthy”, and has only started 35 of a possible 64 games: producing a meager 125 tackles and 3 interceptions. QBs were going after him too. You can’t say his lack of production was because they didn’t throw to his side of the field. Orlando Scandrick is not guaranteed to return to form immediately. He is not only the best slot CB on the team, one of the best in the league.
Incidentally, Brandon Carr is the best CB the Cowboys have to play on the outside and he is in the last year of his contract. In my opinion, he is getting a bad rap from fans. Brandon Marshal is a top 5 WR in the NFL (109 receptions, 1,524 YDS and 14 TDs in 2015) and despite the lack of a pass rush, Carr held him to only 4 receptions and no TDs, which was the 2nd least of any CB he faced. He only had 3 RECs vs Buf week 10, but one was for a TD. Keep in mind, Buffalo had a secondary that was ranked at the top of the league with 17 interceptions and 105 pass defenses. Carr fell victim to a weak pass rush, and poor safety play.
A lot of people want to cut him right now. Who are you going to replace him with? So basically: the Cowboys need to draft at least one CB who is capable of being a day one starter, just to be on the safe side this year. Back to Mickey’s story.
“Safety, since, look, even if we count Jones here, Barry Church is returning from a broken arm in the final year of his contract, J.J. Wilcox still hasn’t arrived entering the final year of his contract, Danny McCray, even if re-signed as a free agent, is mostly a special teams player, and Jeff Heath is a minimum-tendered restricted free agent.”
We have all seen the piss-poor safety play in Dallas. Jones is an immediate upgrade at FS, so check that off the list. To be on the safe side, the Cowboys need to draft a decent strong safety.
What about the Mike LB position? Rolando McClain is the only true MLB on the Cowboys depth chart. Hitchens can fill in with a significant drop off vs the run, but what about the future? McClain is on a 1 year deal. The harrowing fact of the matter is, the only Pro Bowl player on the Cowboys defense is Sean Lee, and he has settled in as the Will LB.
“Can you believe I didn’t even get to the offensive side of the ball yet? OUCH!”
The Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but almost no one stops to think what will happen if one of them gets injured. Mackenzy Bernadeu moved on to the Jaguars, which means the Cowboys don’t have a backup center. Ronald Leary is a restricted free agent. If no one signs the restricted free agent to an offer sheet the Cowboys choose not to match, at least they have a backup guard. If someone does sign him, they don’t have a solid guard to plug in if the rookie La’el Collins or Zack Martin get injured.
What happens if Tyron Smith goes down? We all experienced what happens to this team without Tony Romo. I strongly believe Kellen Moore is a capable backup QB, but in the event Romo goes down because he has a sub-par swing tackle protecting his blind side, Moore will be without good protection too.
Do you really trust Charles Brown to protect Tony Romo’s blind side? What about the 2nd year player, Chaz Green, who has never even suited up in the preseason?
Kellen Moore has a little bit better chance of surviving being left handed. But then again, does he? That means Doug Free is protecting his blind side. See what I mean? At the very least, the Cowboys need a plug and play center in this draft too. I’m serious: What if Travis Frederick gets injured week one?
So, before you start screaming for the Cowboys to draft a QB (remember we have a Pro Bowl starter). An injured Will LB like Myles Jack (When they have a pro bowl player at that position: Sean Lee). A RB, when at least they have a starter there (Darren McFadden), with the 4th overall pick in the draft, or even with the 2nd round pick. You better stop and think about the positions where the Cowboys not only don’t have a starter (RDE), but don’t even have a solid #2 at the same position. You better also consider the importance of protecting Tony Romo.
Since the 2010 draft, the Dallas Cowboys have had 45 draft picks. The current Cowboys depth chart has nine starters on it as a result of those 6 drafts. 10 if you want to consider Claiborne a starter, and he cost a 1st and a 2nd round pick. Of those 10 starters, six of them were first round picks. Two were 2nd round picks, Sean Lee and DeMarcus Lawrence. (The Cowboys actually gave up their 3rd round pick to trade up and get Lawrence that year.) Two were third round picks, Tyrone Crawford and Terrance Williams. Of those 45 draft picks, 20 of them are no longer on the team.
What does that mean? Not one starter has been produced after the 3rd round in 6 drafts. Sorry sports fans, with a track record like that, you have no choice but to be active in free agency. Jerry Jones did absolutely nothing to prepare for the 2016 draft other than sign an average defensive lineman (a former undrafted player) and hang on to failed draft picks no one else wanted in free agency, or resign free agents he could keep on the cheap. The Jones media machine spins it as good business. My question for the Cowboys brain trust is:
“How can you be ranked 28th in the NFL for available cap space and not even have 22 starters, let alone solid backups?”
I hate to be the barer of bad news, but by looking at the Cowboys depth chart, based on Jerry Jones track record in the draft, they need at least 3 first round picks, and several 2nd and 3rd round picks just to fill the glaring needs in this years draft. “Defense Wins Championships”, and the Cowboys’ defense looks like Swiss Cheese. Cap or no cap, without signing some proven starters in free agency, the message is clear. As long as the Jones’ are making millions, 4-12 meant nothing to them. I like Dez Bryant as much as the next fan, but believe it or not, it takes more than a $70 million wide receiver to win a championship Mr. Jones. That contract crippled this team moving forward.