Is Mike McCarthy helping Cowboys get smarter at player acquisition?

Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Newly hired Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy looks to have a different approach to player personnel than previous coaches. Will this make the team better?

Over the last decade, the Cowboys have developed an excellent reputation for team building. It’s been a pretty constant refrain over the last few years that Dallas has one of the most talented teams in the NFL.

Many observers felt that the team’s lack of success in the playoffs had more to do with the coaching than in player quality. I won’t argue that point. Former head coach Jason Garrett obviously didn’t get the most out of his players. If he had, he’d still be the coach.

But the argument could also be made that even though America’s Team has been more talent-rich in recent years, coaching biases might have held the team back, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Much has been made of former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s preference both for smaller defensive tackles and for his penchant for taking the cast-offs from other teams and coaching them up. Also obvious has been the team’s lack of prioritizing the safety position, though it’s never been clear what part of the organization this particular bias sprang from.

Regardless of reasons, none of these contentions are arguable. Last year’s starting tackles were Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins, who weigh a combined 584 pounds. Woods was an undrafted free agent who joined the Cowboys from the Tennessee Titans practice squad.

The first thing Marinelli told Woods was to lose twenty pounds. Collins was a third-round draft choice. And the only draft picks Dallas has used on safeties in the last four years have been six-rounders (on both Xavier Woods and Donovan Wilson).

And though they’ve flirted with several high-profile safety free agents and trade targets (hello Earl Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens and Jamal Adams of the New York Jets), in the end, nothing happened until this offseason.

Ever since new head coach Mike McCarthy joined the team, these priorities have begun to change. In fact, McCarthy said that directly, right from the start according to USA Today.

"“The defensive system is going to change. I think if you have a system of defense where you need a certain type of player to fit your scheme, you’re limiting your personnel department. Let’s get as many good football players as we possibly can.”"

McCarthy went on to explain that it is the coach’s job to make sure the scheme allows the team to acquire the best players available and make the best use of them. I imagine some fans actually burst out in tears of joy at hearing these words. I almost did myself.

Since then, the one specific policy change that both the coaching staff and team officials have stated publicly is that the team would now be pursuing bigger defensive tackles. The last few weeks have shown that McCarthy and the team ain’t just whistling Dixie here.