We’ve already started opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Our Draft Advent Calendar is basically a (over)simplified way to appraise each team’s offseason moves to this point, and what roster needs still remain that could be addressed via the draft. We’ve all had those years when nobody, fucking nobody buys what we put on our list. We’ve all also experienced that shitty moment when we realize that the gift we want to get is no longer available in stores. As such, we’re not going to predict which college players will go to which team. Rather, we’re appraising each NFL team to this point, and what position(s) they might want to address when the last advent door is opened and the wise men start going off like a bunch of gun lobbyists.
Door #6 – The Cowboys
2012 finish: 8-8; missed playoffs
TOTAL PICKS: 6
It’s not hard to argue that the two most important things needed to build a solid NFL roster are a quality quarterback and salary cap space. The third thing – and perhaps most important – is a good general manager to make these things happen. Alas, Dallas doesn’t have one.
Much was made last November of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones responding to Bob Costas’ question about whether Jones would fire himself as his team’s GM. It’s all too likely that Jones – the man whom I often refer to as The Emperor, as in Palpatine – won’t zap his own job security with lightning bolts until he’s too senile to run the franchise himself. Until then, the team that is outdated-ly known as America’s Team is stuck with The Emperor as its personnel…guru?
Which brings us to the two other aforementioned aspects of roster building. It’s no surprise that those factors are currently defined by the same brash and single-minded approach of Dallas’ owner and the venue he recently financed. Cowboys Stadium is sadly emblematic of its namesake franchise: Texas-sized in reputation, a symbol of opulent spending, and once you see in on the inside there’s a LOT of space and money being wasted.
To be sure, the ’Boys’ roster is replete with overpaid players, and as such the team is gasping for breath with little space under the cap to address a myriad of needs. Dallas was, in essence, stuck in a corner they’d painted themselves into – unable to sign any good upgrades at any position – until yesterday’s widely debated contract extension for their star QB, Tony Romo.
It’s no secret to TFQ readers that I consider Romo even more overrated than his team. NFL analyst Donovan McNabb feels strongly that Romo’s new deal – 6 years, $108 million, with $55 million of it guaranteed – is a bad idea. McNabb said this on twitter yesterday: “Tony Romo 6 yr 55 million dollar extension. Wow really, with one playoff win. You got to be kidding me.” The former Eagles QB has a point, but as is often the case in these situations, a thorough assessment of a huge contract goes beyond its solitary dollar value.
Let’s make one thing clear: Contracts like Romo’s or Baltimore’s Joe Flacco’s shouldn’t be assessed by the full duration of their contracts. It’s a widely unspoken rule that deals like those will get reworked after three years or so, once time comes to reevaluate the players’ worth as it figures into the grater salary cap picture for the respective franchise. So let’s look more closely at the first three years, which, according to Michael Rappaport on NFL Network’s Total Access is about $57 million or $19 million per year. After that Romo will be 35 years old, and he and his team will have to think things over again. The three-year salary still keeps him in Flacco territory – translation: paid like an elite QB, while not having played like one yet. Is Romo worth more than Flacco? The former is five years older than the latter, and has more of a body of work in the regular season. However, Romo doesn’t have a sterling championship run with an NFL-record 11 TDs to 0 INTs in a single postseason campaign. (Not that such a run justifies $100-plus millions either, but that’s another story for another day.)
I don’t think that either Flacco or Romo is worth nearly as much as they’ve been signed to. But there are two important factors in the Romo situation: 1) Romo’s previous deal had a clause in it that prevented the Cowboys from applying a franchise tag to him after that deal was up following next season, and as maddeningly inconsistent as Romo is, this team needs him (boy, what a genius of a GM Jones has working for him, to allow that sort of clause….); 2) As mentioned above, Dallas was in an awful position in this free agency period, with almost no room under the cap. According to Rappaport during the same broadcast, Romo’s new deal give Dallas “about $5 million” more to spend this offseason.
So how should the Cowboys spend that money, and/or use their draft picks? What needs to they have? On offense, it’s safe to say that the line is in shambles. For all the credit Romo gets for being a mobile, improvisational thrower, he flat out sucks and makes dumb decisions when he’s in those situations. (In other words, he’s no Aaron Rodgers – the best at throwing at awkward angles.) Cincinnati’s LT Andre Smith is still on the market, but a player who has had discipline/fitness issues fits all too easily into the tendencies Dallas players have had since the departure of head coach Bill Parcells – a reputation they need to outgrow. Kansas City’s Eric Winston is also possible, but the Cowboys don’t really have enough of a future to trade away to get the talented tackle. They can address the need at O-line via the draft; Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper should still be available at #22 in the first round. This need is serious enough that Big D had better spend at least two of their six selections there.
Speaking of D, the team cut coordinator Rob Ryan loose, and replaced him with the venerable Monte Kiffin, the godfather of the famed Tampa 2 (aka Cover 2) defense. The problem is, Dallas is perilously weak up the middle of the defense – defensive tackles, inside linebackers, and safeties. LB Sean Lee fits the mold as a pass protector, but he’s very slight and weak against the run to play the vaunted role in that scheme, which players like Derrick Brooks, London Fletcher and Brian Urlacher have defined over the last two decades. Hmmm…. Urlacher, you say? He’s still on the market, waiting for himself to come to grips with his low value so that he can play a lesser role than he’d like. Urlacher’s old, and even he has admitted his knee is a shadow of what is once was, but I thought he still looked very good at times last year. He could be a useful mentor to the younger players on the defense, too. Just sayin’. As far as the draft goes, Texas S Kenny Vaccaro could be a great pick if he’s there in the first round, and for once the Cowboys have serendipity on their side, this being a draft that is very deep with defensive tackles, and they need to beef up there – to increase the talent level and add depth. (Typically the Tampa 2 depends on a rotation of middle linemen to stay fresh.)
As hilarious as Romo’s new deal looks on the surface, it might be the only thing this team could have done to improve substantially in the offseason beyond the draft. Now it’s up to Jones to tell Jones to take his head out of his own ass and make some savvy long-term moves on draft day. As Jones told Costas last fall, that’s easier said than done.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.