Cowboys can learn valuable lessons from this season
By Tyrone Starr
Despite having their worst season in 20 years, the 4-10 Dallas Cowboys can still learn lessons from their 2015 mistakes.
Let’s face it.
You don’t really have a lot of options when you’re so deeply committed to something and it all goes bad.
The 2015 season for the Dallas Cowboys will probably end up being the worst season they have had under the ownership of Jerry Jones.
Sure, they might end up tying the three straight 5-11 seasons from the early 2000’s but it’s growing increasingly likely that is the height in which this team, this year can reach.
Since you can’t change what’s already happened, the best thing to do is look forward and find a way to turn the negative of this year into a positive future.
The first thread of positivity can be plucked from this year has to be the talent level on this team.
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Those abysmal years coached by Dave Campo featured a roster that was stocked with a few all-time greats at or near the end of their prime (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith), a few more greats in their prime (Larry Allen, Darren Woodson) and a couple of solid pros (Flozell Adams, Greg Ellis).
The rest of the roster would be graciously looked upon as hot garbage.
The Cowboys going into next season will have one shoo-in future Hall of Famer in tight end Jason Witten. They have a few other guys that, at minimum, will be looked back at as great players (Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee) and there is a core of young guys who have potential to be great as well (Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Byron Jones).
The next thing beacon of light can be found with the addition made to the roster of a top six pick in next year’s draft.
While Jones gets and deserves a lot of flack for some of his past drafts, whenever the Cowboys have a top pick, they usually don’t miss.
Eight times, the Cowboys have had a top eleven pick in the draft.
Those eight picks ended up being Aikman (#1 overall in 1989), Russell Maryland (#1 overall in 1991), Ellis (#8 overall in 1998), safety Roy Williams (#8 overall in 2002), Terrance Newman (#5 overall in 2003), DeMarcus Ware (#11 overall in 2005), Smith (#9 overall in 2011) and Morris Claiborne with this sixth pick the following year.
There is one guy already in the Hall of Fame from that list, another two who likely will be and three others that would be considered to be solid pros throughout their career.
Another positive to come from this wasted year is the intel that you get from the experience.
The coaching staff can gleam a lot from how guys practice and play when there is “nothing to play for.” Those guys who are still fighting, still working to get better, still giving their best efforts will be around next year. The rest may become someone else’s problem.
Also consider that it’s highly likely the Cowboys will play a fourth place schedule next year.
Gone from the 2016 schedule will be teams like the Patriots and Panthers, responsible the Cowboys two biggest losses and collectively 24 wins so far this year. Instead, Dallas will get to play the 49ers, Browns, Lions and Ravens. Those four teams have won just 15 games in 2015.
Largely though, the biggest positive may be that there is something tangible to reference back to for future reference.
There is something that both the coaching staff and, more so, the decision makers for this organization can do to make sure that 2016 and future seasons never replicate the horror of this past season.
That is to learn from the mistakes made this year.
So many things happened before a ball was ever snapped when it matter that paved the way for a negative year.
- The egotistical bravado of assuming that just anyone could run behind the best offensive line in football.
- The length of time it took to negotiate and finish a contract extension for one of the best players on the team.
- The failure to create a legitimate competition for the backup quarterback job.
- Choosing to not draft a running back once you let your leading rusher walk away for nothing.
All of these things created unnecessary drama while, at the same, weakening the structure and creating obstacles that stunted the continual plane of growth this franchise should have been on.
Teams like the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens win year after year because of their continuity and structure as well as their talent.
Sure the Patriots might let a good player go a year too early rather than a year too late but they have someone battle tested in their stead.
You can debate whether or not letting DeMarco Murray go was the right move or not. What is not up for discussion is the fact that Joseph Randle was neither ready nor able to handle the responsibility to replace him.
Notice that the Green Bay Packers made getting a contract extension for their star receiver, Jordy Nelson, done early a priority.
Yet. the posturing and haggling over Bryant’s contract in the offseason not only helped pave the way for Murray’s departure, it also allowed for the injuries and inconsistency of one of the best players on this team.
Fifteen other backup quarterbacks besides Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have started a game this season, going 17-22 in their 39 total combined starts. Weeden and Cassel have combined for a 1-10 record in their eleven starts.
Assuming Weeden would be capable of leading this team in the event Tony Romo got hurt when absolutely nothing in his history suggested so proved to be a fatal mistake.
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These mistakes cost this team dearly this year. How 2016 turns out will depend greatly on how the Dallas Cowboys make amends for them.
There are things to be positive about next season. The level of that positivity will coincide with how honest this organization is with itself.