There is no doubt that this was an active off season for the Dallas Cowboys. We’re only one week in to the regular season but we’ve already seen the results of many of their personnel moves producing an epic win against the division-rival Giants. The season is off to a fantastic start but as many Cowboys haters have reminded me, “one game doesn’t make a season”. These grades may change as the season plays out, but here is a quick review of all of the moves and my thoughts on their impact.
1. Anthony Spencer Franchise Tag – Grade B+. Many fans were up in arms when the Cowboys made this move feeling it was time to part ways with Spencer and upgrade on the opposite side of Ware (me included). But, although I don’t think he will ever be the pass rushing force we want, I’m not sure in retrospect Spencer gets enough credit for his solid run defense and his coverage skills. Factor in that on obvious passing downs, we have pass rushing specialists like Kyle Wilber and Alex Albright we can call on and I think the Cowboys ultimately made a wise move compared to the quality and cost of the other options in free agency. The final grade will be whether or not Spencer plays well enough to earn a new contract after this season.
2. Releasing Terence Newman – Grade A. Not much to say here except our #1 corner last year is a backup in Cincinnati this year. His release cleared the way for us to fix a very sick secondary.
3. Signing Brandon Carr – Grade A+. This was an expensive move but after seeing him play in preseason and against the Giants receivers, does anyone doubt Carr was worth the money? If so, you’re not watching the same defense I am. Carr has been solid and is a huge upgrade.
4. Trading Up To Get Morris Claiborne – Grade B+. Most aggressive move of the draft. Claiborne has all the skills and this grade will eventually be an A+ if he stays healthy and gains experience. He played really well against the Giants overall but Rob Ryan also made sure he wasn’t on an island too often either. He is a rookie and is still learning. He’s going to make some mistakes and get beat here and there. But, even after just one game, it’s clear this secondary is playing at a different level.
5. Not Trading Mike Jenkins – Grade B. Once the Cowboys drafted Mo Claiborne, most fans were ready to jettison Mike Jenkins. But, I think the Cowboys were wise not to let him go with little or nothing in return. His depth in this long season is going to prove invaluable and he appears to be more motivated than ever.
6. Not Re-Signing Bradie James or Keith Brooking – Grade A-. Great players in their day but Father Time had just caught up with them. The Cowboys’ staff knew it was time to move on. The high grade here is because they were patient with Bruce Carter coming out of college with a knee injury. He’s now poised to be a solid play maker next to Sean Lee. The Cowboys also added depth in their linebackers by signing Dan Connor as a free agent.
7. Not Signing A Veteran Wide Receiver – Grade B. Almost no one shared the confidence the staff was showing the group of unproven receivers the Cowboys had on the roster past Dez and Miles Austin. But, clearly something has clicked for Kevin Ogletree after his breakout performance against the Giants. Wasn’t Miles Austin an virtual unknown before he had a breakout game against Kansas City? Maybe this is the start of something big for Ogletree. It will take more than one game to prove it and I’m not yet convinced he can be consistent. But, I’m sure hoping he can play at that level all year. It certainly didn’t take long for people to forget Laurent What’s-His-Name after last Wednesday night!
8. Trading for Ryan Cook – Grade A. Oh my! Talk about averting disaster! Most fans were happy to see the Cowboys getting some much needed offensive line depth but had no idea how soon it would pay dividends. Cook was in the Giants game after 3 plays and played the entire game. Was he perfect? No. But, he didn’t have to be. He was a little better than good enough against the unrelenting pass rush of the Giants – and after less than a week on the team. Pretty amazing story right there. With Costa still struggling with his back, this move by the scouting team may have saved our season. Let’s pray he stays healthy!
9. Signing Kyle Orton – Grade Incomplete. With Jon Kitna retiring and only Stephen McGee as the 2nd QB on the roster, this was an absolutely brilliant move. It’s an incomplete grade only because we haven’t needed him yet. But, odds are very good that Romo, like a majority of NFL quarterbacks in today’s game, is going to miss some time this season. I certainly feel better about a proven veteran like Orton -who could likely still compete for a starting job on some teams – coming in for Romo if necessary.
10. Not Re-Signing Martellus Bennett – Grade C. This is one that could and almost did come back to bite the Cowboys. Bennett was without a doubt a disappointment in Dallas, but he also played behind one of the best and most consistent TEs in the NFL. He already appears to be more motivated as a starter with the Giants. At the same time, the Cowboys are very thin at the TE position and could have been in real trouble if Jason Witten wasn’t such a warrior and came back to play in the season opener.
So, overall, not eveything the fans wanted and most were very nervous going into the start of this season. But, I think the wisdom of a lot of these moves are starting to show themselves. This team has a long way to go and plenty of things to improve upon (like penalties!), but every Cowboy fan has to be pretty pleased about getting the season off on the right foot.
Now, the key is to get by Seattle. For most Cowboy fans, this game coming off a big win over a division rival is the perfect time for them to come in and lay an egg. In seasons past, the Cowboys have shown a maddening tendency to sometimes play down to the level of their competition. Not that Seattle is a terrible team – and they have a raucous crowd at home – but on paper this is a game the Cowboys should win even on the road. It would be easy for them to read their own press clippings and bask in the new found respect the league is giving them and relax a bit. But, I really don’t see Garrett and his coaching staff letting that happen. This team is already starting to feel special. The Seahawks will not be able to run on our defense and that puts the game in Russell Wilson’s hands. I like our chances there with our new secondary. I see it Cowboys 31 Seahawks 13. Go Cowboys!