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.
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:
Dallas Cowboys’ projected base offense in 2016: