Projected Lineups: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have a lot of work to do on defense and it won't be easy to fix considering the horrible cap situation that Dallas finds itself in.
Projected Lineups: Dallas Cowboys
Heading back to the NFC East, our look at the state of lineups league-wide takes on the Dallas Cowboys after a frustrating and disappointing 2013 season. Radical changes in defensive approach did not yield the desired results in Year 1 as the Cowboys squandered a golden opportunity to win the NFC East and break a playoff drought which is now four seasons long.
The Cowboys are short on unknowns but when you look at the state of their defense that isn’t necessarily a positive, at least with the specter of the unknown there would be some room for optimism which many Dallas fans may find hard to muster. Paired with the league’s worst cap figure for the new league year, you have a situation that is going to take some excellent management by the front office to remedy and allow for big strides to be made this season.
Jerry Jones chose to stick with Jason Garrett for another season though Monte Kiffin was moved aside as defensive coordinator making way for Rod Marinelli as he tries to turn the Cowboys’ defense into a unit akin to those he ran in Chicago for Lovie Smith. The Cowboys, as always, have key pieces in place but how much will they have to disrupt that in order get under the cap and create the room to fix fatal flaws in the defense?
– Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
– Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
– Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
– Red player names suggest injury risks.
– Click on the image to enlarge.
– No surprise at the relative lack of green on defense after the season the Cowboys’ D put forth. With Jason Hatcher due to hit free agency, the worst spot in a sketchy defense is defensive tackle where a number of options were tried in 2013 and (aside from Hatcher; +27.3) none were successful.
– Can Sean Lee stay healthy for a full 16-game season? If he can, there is nothing in his last two seasons (1,048 snaps combined), in either his run defense or his pass coverage, to suggest that he couldn’t be the league’s best middle linebacker. The sole question mark here is health.
– The Cowboys boast one of the league’s best tackle pairings with the potential for them to get even better. After both struggled with the initial switch in 2012, Tyron Smith and Doug Free flourished in 2013 showing the kind of form they displayed on opposite sides in 2011. On the left, Smith didn’t surrender a hit or sack after Week 7. This duo, paired with the impressive Travis Frederick at center, give Dallas three-fifths of a terrific offensive line with the added bonus that they all have room to improve further.
– Picking holes in the Cowboys’ defense feels a little like flogging a dead horse but the secondary is an area that needs to raise its game in 2014. Morris Claiborne hasn’t come close to delivering on his pre-draft potential while Brandon Carr has been better opposite him, though still fallen short of his big free agent contract. In the slot, Orlando Scandrick (+4.9 coverage) was the bright spot in an otherwise disappointing grouping.
– Looking to finish on a high note, the Cowboys have two-thirds of their triplets entrenched and Tony Romo, for all of his faults, is an under-appreciated quarterback in the grand scheme of things. Putting the controversial topic of Romo’s merits to one side, the Cowboys have scintillating playmaking ability in the shape of DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant that — if the Cowboys can strike the right balance and get Murray more involved — could power one of the league’s best offenses in 2014.
2014 Cap Situation
No team is in worse shape against the cap than the Cowboys who are projected to be $24.6 million over (according to overthecap.com). Part of the problem is that only two teams carry more dead money into the new league year than the Cowboys’ $11.8 million.
The Cowboys don’t have many easy, big-ticket cuts that will eat into their cap deficit quickly. Three cuts on the offensive line will bring some relief though with Phil Costa, Jermey Parnell, and Mackenzy Bernadeau each saving $1.5 million against the cap though that still leaves in excess of $20 million of cap space needing to be created by restructures.
Opportunities on the Roster
Bright spots on defense were few and very far between but on offense Cole Beasley could be viewed as a player with a minimal cap hit ($571k) to take an expanded role in the receiving game having impressed (+4.5 receiving) on less than 250 snaps this season. In line with a league-wide trend for smaller slot receivers, Beasley would bring something different to the Dallas receiving corps with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams taking the lead on the outside.
Projected lineups by team:
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.