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.

| 3 years ago

Projected Lineups: Dallas Cowboys

32-lineups-DALHeading 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.

Lineup DAL

Roster Notes

–  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 Part of the problem is that only two teams carry more dead money into the new league year than the Cowboys’ $11.8 million.

Potential Casualties

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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| 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.

  • ZackD

    I’ve seen Miles Austin’s name comes up a lot in release/salary cap talks because he has a 8m cap number, but if I read correctly, they only save 400k against cap if cut? Ouch.

    Same with Orton, combined they count 12.5m against the cap, and only save 1.3m if both are cut. That’s really bad cap management.

    • MrBoo

      I think they can cut Austin after June 1 and get more cap space. They have way to many overpriced medium players… no clue why they pay a backup qb this kind of money..

  • Phil

    Note to all Packer fans that want Ted to spend in Free Agency… The Cowboys, just in general – the cowboys… is that what you wanna be?

    • ZackD

      Funny part is their best players are guys they drafted (Dez, Murray, Romo, Ware, Lee, Smith, Frederick, Witten, Free, Scandrick). They just overpay their talent before they even reach FA.

      • G

        Romo wasn’t drafted…

        • ZackD

          Correct. But he’s still a guy they scouted, signed and developed.

          • mattatencio93

            Well said, ZackD

      • Jake

        They did spend pretty big on Brandon Carr who underperformed last year, but with a non-existent pass rush, most corners will struggle.

        • ZackD

          Fair point. And Claiborne disappointed too after they traded up to pick him

  • the kick is good

    Why isn’t every square red on defense?
    That was a historically bad defense.

    • fanman

      Numerous injuries to the defense and scheme switch are the biggest reasons why the defense was so bad. There are a lot of good individual players.

      • the kick is good

        Sean Lee and Ware are good when they are healthy. 2 out of 11= not a lot of good individual players.

  • twnick2014

    I think Romo should be dark green (he’s better than both Stafford and Cutler), especially since Eli is labeled as dark green.

    • Bob

      Yeah, it’s quite odd. Romo has been outplaying Eli for several years, and this past year was the icing on the cake. I really don’t see how you can make an argument for Eli other than “ringz!” and I know PFF is far above that.

      • Jeff

        Well said. Besides for two improbable Superbowl runs, Eli Manning has been adequate as a starter to terrible.

    • Jake

      This has been my biggest gripe with PFF. For guys who are supposedly all about the stats/film and don’t listen to the hype or media bias, it baffles me that they consistently put Eli in elite company when his numbers are horrible and have been horrible throughout his career.

      Their grading metric must put an unbalanced weight towards favoring players who pull a rabbit out of their hat in 2 seasons out of 10 and suck the rest of their careers. Makes it hard to continue to lend PFF credibility.

  • Tumblindice58

    It doesnt matter if they had the startig lineupfrom the NFC probowl roster Its the karma that Jerry projects onto the team that has a stranglehold on em,And why should he give a damn since he was able to swindle the city of Arington into building him a stadium,He continuously makes his money,Until he dies or relents control totally it will continue to be a 500 ballclub and I say that as a former fan,Jerry finally broke me and I started with the team in the 60’s as a fan,The way he treated coach Landry and Johnson will keep Karma haunting him!Lets hope his kid isnt as bad as he is!

  • mattatencio93

    DeMarcus Ware isn’t elite? As if!

    • Jake

      He wasn’t in 2013, he had 6 sacks while seeing less double teams than usual.

      • mattatencio93

        Well, he was also hurt for the majority of the season, he wasn’t 100% since the beginning of the preseason, yet he still managed more sacks than Ndamukong Suh and Dontari Poe, both pass rushers with the “ability to become Elite.”

        • ZackD

          Poe is a 3-4 NT, Ware is a 4-3 DE. Not sure how you can compare

          • mattatencio93

            The difference is not that vast.

    • pawg.hunter

      Jason Witten isn’t elite either, I guess

      • mattatencio93

        To be honest, I wouldn’t say he’s elite either. He’s more of a lethal weapon.

        • pawg.hunter