Jun 17, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett smiles as the team huddles during minicamp at Cowboys headquarters at Valley Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Watkins: 'I Just Don't Think The Cowboys Have Gotten Better'

The current state of the Dallas Cowboys is always a hot topic in the offseason. We are in this weird limbo of time when the Cowboys roster is in a state of uncertainty and there seem to be more questions than answers. But those answers will not start coming until well into training camp. On paper at least, it may seem that this group of players pale in comparison to last year’s squad. Especially considering the loss of four former All-Pro players from the 2013 roster (defensive end DeMarcus Ware, wide receiver Miles Austin, defensive tackles Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff) and the recent season-ending injury to middle linebacker Sean Lee.

And it was that sentiment that was echoed by ESPN Dallas writer Calvin Watkins when he was asked about the possibility of the Cowboys going 4-12 this upcoming season via a fan’s Twitter question.

“Not 4-12. Cowboys are better than this, yet the past three seasons this team has finished 8-8. During that time, the roster got younger thanks to the draft and some free-agent moves, and the talent base is inexperienced and comes with questions. Replacing Sean Lee at middle linebacker and finding a pass-rusher to cause problems in the pocket are the biggest issues for the defense. Tony Romo‘s recovery from back surgery and whether Scott Linehan can push this offense to greater heights than Bill Callahan did last season, are other storylines. I just don’t think the Cowboys have gotten better. Younger? Sure. Better? No. I think this team is 7-9.”

Whether Watkins is right about his 7-9 season prediction, only time will tell. But I’d like to focus specifically on the statement: “I just don’t think the Cowboys have gotten better.” To do so, I’d like to compare last year’s Dallas 53-man regular season roster to my own projected roster for 2014. Then we can analyze the two. Below is the roster after the Cowboys initial cut for 53 players. Next to those names, in parentheses, are my prediction for their potential 2014 replacement or a new player at that position, if it’s any different.

Dallas Cowboys 2013 53-Man Roster/Projected 2014 Replacements

QB Tony Romo
QB Kyle Orton (QB Brandon Weeden)

RB DeMarco Murray
RB Lance Dunbar
RB Phillip Tanner (RB Ryan Williams)
RB Joseph Randle (FB J.C. Copeland)

WR Dez Bryant
WR Miles Austin (WR Devin Street)
WR Terrance Williams
WR Dwayne Harris
WR Cole Beasley
(WR L’Damian Washington)

TE Jason Witten
TE James Hanna
TE Gavin Escobar
TE Dante Rosario
TE Andre Smith

OT Tyron Smith
OT Doug Free
OT Jermey Parnell
OT Darrion Weems

OG Ronald Leary
OG Mackenzy Bernadeau
OG David Arkin (OG Zach Martin)
OG Nate Livings (OG Uche Nwaneri)

C Travis Frederick
C Phil Costa

DE DeMarcus Ware (DE DeMarcus Lawrence)
DE Anthony Spencer
DE Kyle Wilber
DE George Selvie
(DE Tyrone Crawford)
(DE Jeremy Mincey)
(DE Ben Gardner)

DT Jason Hatcher (DT Henry Melton)
DT Nick Hayden
DT Sean Lissemore (DT Terrell McClain)
DT Ben Bass
DT Landon Cohen (DT Amobi Okoye)

LB Sean Lee (LB Anthony Hitchens)
LB Bruce Carter
LB Justin Durant
LB Ernie Sims (LB Will Smith)
LB DeVonte Holloman

CB Brandon Carr
CB Morris Claiborne
CB Orlando Scandrick
CB BW Webb (CB Terrance Mitchell)

S Barry Church
S Will Allen (S Jakar Hamilton)
S J.J. Wilcox
S Danny McCray
S Eric Frampton
S Jeff Heath

PK Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones (P Cody Mandell)
LS LP Ladouceur

Outside of the back-up quarterback, the loss of DeMarcus Ware and injury to Sean Lee,  I actually think this team is better than 2013′s roster. And one thing Mr. Watkins isn’t counting on is the growth and maturity of the aforementioned younger players. Players like safety J.J. Wilcox, defensive end Tyrone Crawford, tight end Gavin Escobar, wideout Terrance Williams, linebacker DeVonte Holloman and center Travis Frederick. All of whom should provide a boost of play at their relative positions.

Our running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, interior defensive line, cornerbacks and safeties should all be improved in 2014. Throw in new offensive and defensive coordinators, and I think this Cowboys team is trending upwards, not down. I think Dallas has absolutely gotten younger and better this offseason. Do you agree?

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  • Jim

    I agree 100%. I see a playoff birth based on 10-6 season. Romo throws for most yards in his career and Dez has his most TD’s. Offensive line proves to be one of the best and the Cowboys actually run the ball well. Defense gets better as it can’t get worse.

  • whook`

    First of all, Jay Ratliff did not play, so you cannot consider him part of last year’s defense. Ware has been a shell of his former self the last 2 years, so there will not be much missed there. And Miles Austin, how much did he contribute last year? Hatcher will be replaced with Melton.

  • Ken

    I think Dez said it best when it comes to Watkins.

  • Earl Robertson

    Cowboys have improved greatly at the O line which is a huge deal. They improved a little at Qb I would take Weeden over a has been Orton. They have improved a lot at WR and TE. And probably stay the same at RB unless Dunbar can play all 16 games. Defense the DLine may be less then last year unless the new Demarcus can get 7 sacks. The LB would have improved greatly if not the lost of Lee but Holloman going to be special. The Corners will improve if they play more Man. Safeties will improve greatly if they cut Heath

    • Russ

      Agree about Heath. 55 year Cowboy/NFL fan. Worst safety I’ve ever seen in my life. What about Matt Johnson?

      • David

        All the Cowboys safeties are average to terrible. It will be a big reason Dallas wont make the playoffs again..

        • Russ

          Right. People talk about Church like he’s an All Pro. Dude wouldn’t be starting for about 75% of teams. Journeyman at the very best. Wilcox seems like the only one with the natural ability to ever be worth crap, but he needs to pick it up. Why did they pass on Clinton-Dix?????

      • Scott.

        Johnson can’t stay healthy to show anyone what his skills are or are not. If he doesn’t stay healthy this year (the 3rd straight) he will be cut.

        • Russ

          Uhhh yeah. I think we’re all painfully aware.

  • Jay

    I’m not really optimistic for the 2014 season but, I do think we are headed in the right direction. it’s a young man’s game. I think getting younger (swapping Hatcher for Melton, Austin for Street/Beasley, Ware for Lawrence, no one for Ratliff because he didn’t play for us) is a good way to go and will pay off. I think a lot of times writers get hung up on names and past success. it’s funny these same writers criticize the boys for failing to part with aging veterans and holding onto underperforming players too long. Now that we’ve changed that people can’t possibly see how we could be successful without those guy’s.