Cleat Geeks

On The Clock: Dallas Cowboys 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 32 teams as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on who to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the Dallas Cowboys.

2015 Record: 4-12
Draft Pick: #4


Season Summary

Dallas-Cowboys-Tony-RomoAfter going 12-4 and winning a playoff game in 2014, the Dallas Cowboys entered last season with aspirations for a Super Bowl championship. Unfortunately for them, their hopes and dreams quickly came crashing down just a few weeks into the season. Long-term injuries to both Tony Romo (collarbone) and Dez Bryant (foot) left the Dallas offense in shambles. Add in DeMarco Murray’s departure, and it’s easy to see why the Cowboys finished second-to-last in points per game.

The defense wasn’t much better. The Cowboys defensive line simply couldn’t generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, despite spending big bucks on star pass rusher Greg Hardy in free agency. The defensive backs combined for just five interceptions all season, but first-round pick Byron Jones showed that he can play at a high level. With Romo’s expiration date creeping up, it’s now or never for the Cowboys.

Re-Signings & Cuts

GregHardyThe biggest decision that the Cowboys will have to make revolves around defensive end Greg Hardy. With Randy Gregory already suspended for the first four games of next season, Dallas may be tempted to re-sign their only other formidable pass rusher. My sense is that due to all of Hardy’s off the field issues – with both his teammates and the law – they will at least let him test free agency. Since he’s considered untouchable by many teams in the NFL, they may take him back if the price is right.

Two players Dallas should make an effort to bring back are LB Rolando McClain and RB Lance Dunbar. Before Dunbar’s season-ending knee injury, he was one of the league’s premier pass catchers out of the backfield. I would expect that they could bring him back for reasonably cheap. Rolando McClain is still a decent player; they could sign him to another one- or two-year extension until they find another linebacker for the future via the draft.

Dallas didn’t pick up the option on Morris Claiborne’s contract, and I doubt that they re-sign him after not living up to his first-round potential. They should also part ways with another defensive back – CB Brandon Carr. Cutting him would open up $6.3 million in cap room.

Free Agency Needs

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas CowboysDarren McFadden had his best year as a pro in 2015, but between his age and injury history, Dallas can’t go into 2016 with him as their lead back. Free agent RBs Lamar Miller and Doug Martin will be in high demand, and either one of them could step in behind the Cowboys dominant offensive line and become an extremely productive three-down back. However, with Dallas’ limited cap space (roughly $12 million as of now), they may look for a cheaper option. RBs such as Chris Ivory or Alfred Morris could operate as early-down backs, with Lance Dunbar filling in on passing downs.

The only other position I would expect the Cowboys to shop in free agency is cornerback. With the probable departure of Claiborne, the possibility of Carr being cut, and Byron Jones likely moving to safety, they have a massive void to fill. Casey Hayward and Trumaine Johnson are two viable options.

Potential Draft Picks

The Cowboys could do a ton with their first round pick. The biggest decision they will have to make is whether they want to bring in a player that will make an immediate impact, or plan for the future by drafting Romo’s successor. Many believe that Paxton Lynch has the highest upside of any QB in the draft class, although he might not be the most “pro ready”. The situation in Dallas would be ideal for him, since he would get time to develop and learn behind one of the best passers in the game.paxton-lynch-memphis

If they opt to take the other route, potential draft picks include UCLA LB Myles Jack, Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey, and Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott could develop into an all-pro talent behind that offensive line, but the fourth pick seems like a reach for a runningback, no matter how good he is.

Second-round options include Heisman-winning RB Derrick Henry, as well as wide receivers Michael Thomas, Tyler Boyd, and Sterling Shepard. The Cowboys offense needs another playmaker to line up opposite Dez Bryant, and any one of these WRs could help take that offense to another level. Going into the third round and later, Dallas should focus on adding pass rushers, and building the depth of their defensive line and secondary. Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon would be a very good add in the mid-to-late rounds.

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  1. Pingback: On The Clock: Full 20-Team Directory – Cleat Geeks

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