Cowboys earn C+ grade for relatively quiet offseason

Senior Analyst Sam Monson breaks down the Cowboys' offseason thus far, taking a look at the biggest transactions.

| 7 months ago
(Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

(Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

Cowboys earn C+ grade for relatively quiet offseason


The Dallas Cowboys’ 2015 season was largely a disaster, with much of their trouble arising from Tony Romo’s injuries. Heading into the year, however, this was a team many thought could contend, and they may not be too far from doing just that in 2016. Let’s look at the offseason moves for the Cowboys up to this point as they try and reset heading into the new season.

Offseason grade: C+

Free agency and trades

New arrivals: DE Cedric Thornton, RB Alfred Morris, OLB Benson Mayowa, C Joe Looney

Re-signings: LB Rolando McClain, RB Lance Dunbar, G Ronald Leary, CB Josh Thomas, TE James Hanna, OT Charles Brown, S Jeff Heath, LB Kyle Wilber, DT Jack Crawford, CB Morris Claiborne

Departures: G Mackenzy Bernadeau, QB Matt Cassel, DE Greg Hardy, DE Jeremy Mincey, S Danny McCray, FB Tyler Clutts, DT Nick Hayden, WR Donte Foster

2016 brought a relatively quiet free-agency period for Dallas. The biggest moves came from retaining their own players, with LB Rolando McClain in particular being an important asset to keep around on defense. McClain may carry with him a certain stigma given his draft position and issues during his NFL career, but he is a talented player and has been a key member of this defense since his arrival. With the linebackers around him being injury concerns, McClain is an critical player to have on the Dallas roster.

Cedric Thornton represents the biggest addition through free agency, and should add some steely run defense in the middle. Thornton has played in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme and been a two-gap player oftentimes, so he could slot in at either defensive tackle spot for the Cowboys after three straight seasons of positive run grades. His pass-rush has been far less impactful, but that may improve, too, when freed from the constraints of a two-gap system (if he is given more license to attack gaps). Letting Greg Hardy walk may not be the best decision from a football perspective, but even the Cowboys had finally had enough of his antics, and he had been quietly underperforming on the field anyway after a hot start.

2016 NFL draft

  • Round 1 (pick No. 4) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
  • Round 2 (pick No. 34) Jaylon Smith, ILB, Notre Dame
  • Round 3 (pick No. 67) Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
  • Round 4 (pick No. 101) Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma
  • Round 4 (pick No. 135) Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
  • Round 6 (pick No. 189 from Oakland) Anthony Brown, CB, Purdue
  • Round 6 (pick No. 212) Kavon Frazier, S, Central Michigan
  • Round 6 (pick No. 216) Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
  • Round 6 (pick No. 217) Rico Gathers, TE, Baylor

Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys should be a match made in heaven, but the pick may be defined by who they passed up to make it happen—Jalen Ramsey. Elliott was the best back in the draft, and behind the best run-blocking line in football, he should be a dominant force right away. Jaylon Smith is an injury gamble who may not play in his first season, but the Cowboys have as much medical insight as anybody given that their team doctor actually performed his surgery. Given the reports, it seems very early to take that kind of risk, but maybe they know better.

Maliek Collins provides an interior upgrade, and the team waited all the way until the fourth round to select a quarterback after all the talk that they could nab Tony Romo’s successor in the first. Dak Prescott has raw physical tools, but was only the 14th-highest-graded passer in this draft class last season, and the 18th-best at passing alone. He has a lot of work to do to become a viable asset for the Cowboys at the next level.

Conclusion

This offseason was one of quiet conservatism from the Cowboys, which may not be a bad thing for a team that was expected to contend last year, only to lose their quarterback and any chance of that happening along with him. With Tony Romo back healthy, Dallas immediately launches back into contender status, and therefore dramatic offseason overhauls were not necessary.

The Cowboys stayed pretty quiet in free agency, and the draft was relatively low-key, as well, as they failed to execute a move for QB Paxton Lynch. Elliott should be a huge presence from day one, but you have to wonder whether they will ultimately look back at that pick and wish they had chosen Ramsey when they had the chance. This team is still in need of some talent upgrades in the secondary, and they missed an opportunity to improve there over the offseason.

Dallas Cowboys’ projected base defense in 2016:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.40.43 AM

Dallas Cowboys’ projected base offense in 2016:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.41.07 AM

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    It’s not easy to find good things to say about Jerry Jones but to his credit he didn’t panic after the disaster of last season. A healthy Cowboys team looks just as capable of winning the NFC East as any other team provided they don’t have the worst turnover ratio in the league again.

  • Bruce W. Cobb

    On the offense, Collins is a much better lineman than you think.He is a fine run blocker: he just needs to work on his pass blocking. But, he is a second year player with great potential.

  • CB

    Dallas is the best 4-12 team there has been in recent memory. Injuries alone affected the season. Don’t know many others team that could compete without their star QB and WR. As long as Romo and Dez stay on the field… this is a playoff team… barring that Linehan and garret forget to call some run plays

  • Jeff

    Just one question: what grade did you give Philadelphia….last year?

  • Raijin Luppi

    So Dallas has a C+ because they didn’t resign hardy and didn’t draft a QB and Jalen Ramsey?

    What did Philadelphia and Washington get?

  • redsoxu571

    Every wise person in the industry (Bill Barnwell) insists that the best way to handle the offseason is to retain your own talent and refrain from heeding the siren’s call of free agency (outside of value signings), and yet every year many of those same people praise teams who sign guys to a lot of money and shrug at the teams that “did little”. It doesn’t make much sense.

    Meanwhile, it would seem that people are putting WAY too much stock into the draft in terms of the near-term outlook of teams and how that affects offseason grades. Elliot may be something of a luxury (and I personally did not like the pick given the alternatives), but he is also about as safe a bet to contribute and actually be an IMPROVEMENT as you’ll find in a rookie (experts routinely label so-and-so CB or WR an “instant upgrade”, only to see players at those positions do little for a year or two as they pick up the NFL game). So Elliot, along with the two DL picks, seem to offer something for 2016, and Smith and potentially Prescott offer plenty for after 2016. So if the draft offers likely (not “possible”) improvements through talent and depth right away, with plenty of potential in the medium term, how is that such a negative?

    I wouldn’t view the Dallas offseason as anything special, but given the scale that most use (A+ to C-), that means an average offseason tends to get a B, not a C, and so a C+ is BAD. And the Dallas offseason was far, far better than that.