It’s been a difficult task the last few days deciding on what Cowboys news to write about. Not because worthy topics are lacking, but instead due to the plethora of inadequate assessments of the current Cowboys roster. Even more bothersome, the Cowboys brass is at it again brainwashing many fans into thinking Dallas has made vast improvement towards becoming a legitimate playoff contender. Has anyone compared Dallas’ signings to the many impressive improvements to rosters of legitimate NFC competitors? Or even glanced at the significant roster upgrades made within the NFC East division? To say the least it’s rather unsettling in comparison. Most of these teams set out to secure several solid, proven starters to fill major holes and greatly succeeded. By solid starters I’m referring to the type of player who can effectively man a position without being exposed often and prohibit competing for a division title and playoff berth.
Up to this point in the off-season, Dallas has realistically signed a few quality starters and several nifty backups. As expected, that’s not the company line being served up again in Big D. As usual, fans are being sold that the team just landed several quality starters and are well on their way to glory. The hard truth is many of these new replacements for the departed starters couldn’t sniff a starting role with real competitors in the NFC. The delusional management of the Cowboys once again is drinking and selling knockoff Kool-Aid to anyone who’s buying. News flash Kiddos, it’s not Kool-Aid Principal Jones is serving up, instead it better resembles old tap water masked in pretty red dye. If some of these new additions remain starters come September, the season once again ends without a playoff berth, and many Cowboys fans will finally realize it tasted bland and tart going down from the first sip.
I’m certainly not grouping all Dallas fans in the category of lost in the smokescreen. I’ve read my share of logical assessments of the sham going on here, they just pale in number compared to the contrary. Nor am I saying the condition of the Cowboys is beyond immediate repair. Yet, with a roster consisting of a high number of open starting positions, what really has been accomplished to this point to upgrade to a true contender? After cuts and free agent losses, I’m counting 8 starting positions Dallas had to either upgrade or replace through free agency and the draft to realistically reach the playoffs. Center, both guards, fullback, #3 wide receiver, cornerback, strong safety, and inside linebacker. There’s no need to further analyze the once vacant starting fullback and cornerback positions. It’s widely accepted both slots have been filled with highly capable players in Brandon Carr and Lawrence Vickers. Hats off to the General Manager for making it happen there. I’ll even scratch inside linebacker from the list as Dan Connor is at least equivalent to the combination of Bradie James/Keith Brooking…another smart move by Jerry Jones. Bruce Carter is already on the roster to give it a go in the middle as well. So let’s take a look at the remaining 5 starting positions that were supposedly addressed already, or more fittingly still require strong attention to become a playoff contender.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
With Kyle Kosier getting the axe, all three interior line positions severely lacked quality starters before any new additions were made. Phil Costa (ranked 27th of 32 starting centers) and Bill Nagy (56th of 82 guards with 250+ snaps) are not currently solid starters in this league that will help Dallas earn a playoff berth. However both would be high quality backups with starting experience, and may earn a starting spot at some point with more strength development. The Cowboys chose to address these three glaring needs so far by adding Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. Bernadeau lost his starting job in Carolina in 2011 which already speaks volumes to his value as a starter. Although last season he improved his play some from the past when given limited playing time, he wasn’t on the field enough to project solid improvement. As a starter in 2009 and 2010 in Carolina, his weekly grades faded horribly the last half of the season in both years. Not sure if he just isn’t in condition to last a full season or lacks the necessary resolve to be consistent. Whatever it is, so far it’s not good enough to start on a competitive football team in the NFL, and counting on Mackenzy for anything above depth is unwise.
While Nate Livings has already been blindly anointed as the next version of a younger Kyle Kosier and a free agency steal, where’s the past production to support such grandiose claims? Aside from droves of Cincinnati supporters chuckling as they say “good riddance”, Livings has graded dead last of all Bengals guards to take a snap in every year from 2008-2011. Is Jerry really trying to sell me that he’s the new jewel and leader of the interior offensive line!?! Okay, well let’s throw in more stats to consider…in 2010 and 2011 Nate allowed a defender to sack or hit his QB 13 times, while surrendering an awful 42 combined QB pressures. Both categories combined placed him in the bottom third of NFL starting guards. Unfortunately the sky becomes even gloomier, Nate’s run blocking graded the worst of all Bengals guards that played a down in both those years. Furthermore, he played next to Kyle Cook, a much better center than Phil Costa. Are we really supposed to believe he will vastly improve this year with a downgrade in center calling out blocking assignments? This new batch of Kool-Aid is starting to taste real stale and familiar.
- Moves Needed to Become a Contender:
First and foremost, sign a quality free-agent center to replace Phil Costa. Jeff Saturday would be an ideal stop-gap for a year or two until Dallas has better means to focus on adding a long-term center. Saturday may be in the twilight of his career but still graded in the top 5 of NFL centers in each of the last two years. This move would scream upgrade and drastically help all the younger guards tremendously. And Costa may benefit greatly from focusing on guard instead of center where he is overmatched. Adding David DeCastro with the 14th pick would also be ideal if available. Either way, picking up another starting guard is still an unresolved must to compete with better defenses. He can be found very early in the draft or with another free agent like Montrae Holland. Yet I repeat he is not on this roster yet.
To address the second starting guard I’d be okay with the winner of an all-out competition between what Dallas already has on the roster and the guards signed as new additions. First of all, somebody would be playing at an improved level to win that spot with all the heated competition between Livings, Bernadeau, Nagy, Costa, and Arkin. And if not, Montrae Holland would still be a nice add in a pinch. After all, his grades and stats have been far better than all of those players. Most of all, with a solid veteran like Jeff Saturday calling the shots, I’d assume the play of both starting guards would raise a notch at least. The center position is greatly underestimated in how critical it is to the success of the guards. If Dallas could field the offensive line front of Tyron Smith, David DeCastro, Jeff Saturday, Nate Livings (or best left on roster), and Doug Free…a certain weakness in 2012 will have become a huge strength next season. Go with Bernadeau, Costa, and Livings starting together in the middle, and expectations to eclipse .500 with the new schedule become a pipe dream.