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June 25, 2018

10 reasons the Cowboys will be a dumpster fire this season

This week, all week long, we're taking a brutal look at each of the teams in the NFC East, in detail. The first target will be the Dallas Cowboys, whose fans experienced the 2017 season in the following five stages:

Oh, and then they lost the ability to bail out of any losing debate with Eagles fans by resorting to, "You don't have any rings." Tough year.

To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. And yes, we'll try to torch the Eagles as well (though I'm not quite sure how yet).

1) The Cowboys have nothing at receiver

There was once a time when former star wide receiver Dez Bryant was thought of as one of the five best players at his position in the NFL. Now? Not so much.

By releasing Bryant, the Cowboys saved $8.5 million against the cap in 2018, which in my view was a no-brainer decision. And yet, they still managed to screw up that decision, as the timing of his release made no sense whatsoever for Dallas. There was no way in hell any team was trading for a declining player making that much money, who, oh by the way, also happens to be a colossal pain in the ass. So why wait? The Cowboys could have used that money, before, you know, free agency came and went, instead of in April.

The other downside of Bryant's release is that he'll count for $8 million in dead money in 2018, and the Cowboys are now left with the following at wide receiver:

Cowboys WRs 
 WR1Allen Hurns Deonte Thompson Noah Brown 
 WR2 Terrance WilliamsMichael Gallup Cedric Wilson 
 Slot Cole Beasley  

*It will also be interesting to see how the Cowboys misuse Tavon Austin, who is also on the roster.

While Bryant isn't the same receiver he once was, he was still the Cowboys'  best receiver, and they don't have anything in the way of a player who can replace him (or at least anything close to what he was).

To his credit, at least Terrance Williams is trying to make up for the loss of Bryant's distractions off the field:

Meanwhile, Cole Beasley, who is coming off a season in which he averaged a horrendous 4.98 yards per target, is apparently launching a rap career. 

I created the following gif just to watch while Cole raps:

2) They also have nothing at tight end

In previous Cowboys dumpster fires, we used to talk about how old Jason Witten was getting, and how old and damaged Tony Romo was.

Jimmy Kempski/PhillyVoice

Ah, memories. Both are now in the broadcast booth, and the Cowboys seemed completely unprepared for the end of Witten's career, which is crazy to me. Witten is 36 years old, and he has been in a steady decline for more than a half-decade:

Year Rec Yards YPC TD 
 2012110 1039 9.4 
 201373 851 11.7 
 201464 703 11.0 
 201577 713 9.3 
 201669 673 9.8 
 201763 560 8.9 

And yet, when Witten decided that he'd prefer to talk about the Cowboys' disappointments from now on instead of living through them, the team was basically like, "Wait, what?!?

While Witten was indeed in decline, he was still far better than anything the Cowboys had at tight end. In fact, with Witten now gone, the Cowboys' tight ends have a combined nine career receptions. Nine!

 PlayerRec Yards YPC TD 
 Geoff Swaim94 10.4 
 Blake Jarwin0.0 
 Rico Gathers0.0 
 Dalton Schultz0.0 
 David Wells0.0 

As you can see, all nine of those receptions were made by fourth year player Geoff Swaim. Here are Swaim's yearly numbers:

Year Rec Yards YPC TD 
2015 0.0 
2016 69 11.5 
2017 25 12.5 
 TOTAL94 10.4 

Can Geoff Swaim be the next Jason Witten? 

One thing I'll give Cowboys fans credit for is their supreme delusion to buy into literally anything. I mean, some were willing to believe that Greg Hardy was a victim and not a vile human being, ffs. 

Surely, they can get on board with Swaim being a viable starter if someone were to put together a "highlight reel," complete with the following three key components:

  1. Motivational rap song in the background.
  2. The same decent play being shown multiple times from different angles, and in slow motion.
  3. Stats that are presented to look impressive, but aren't. 

As a gift to those delusional fans nationwide, I have made that highlight reel for you:

After viewing his nine career catches, I fully expect Black Friday-type lines outside of Dick's Sporting Goods stores across the country tomorrow morning of Cowboys fans desperate to buy Geoff Swaim jerseys, as well as other assorted Geoff Swaim accessories and keepsakes.

3) Dak Prescott wasn't good when he needed to carry the offense

In 2016, Prescott had EVERYTHING going for him.

  1. His OL still had Ronald Leary and Doug Free, who were better players at LG and RT than Jonathan Cooper and La'el Collins, respectively.
  2. His three best offensive linemen stayed improbably healthy.
  3. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and (especially) Cole Beasley were better players than what they became in 2017.
  4. Ezekiel Elliott's immaturity hadn't caught up with him yet.

As a result, Dak was able to guide a ship that didn't have much in the way of holes, taking home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2017, the Prescott faced some adversity:

  1. The Cowboys lost two offensive line starters in Leary and Free.
  2. Tyron Smith got hurt for a few games, and the offense couldn't adapt.
  3. Bryant, Witten, and Beasley all declined to varying degrees.
  4. Elliott's immaturity caught up with him.

The result -- Dak was nowhere near as good, and did not look like anything resembling an elite quarterback capable of putting a franchise on his back. He finished the season with an 86.6 QB rating (certainly not the end-all, be all statistical metric, but still also not misleading in Dak's case), sandwiched between guys like Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton.

MORE: Here are the reported Madden 19 ratings for Wentz, Eagles

4) The Cowboys' offense is going to be laughably predictable

The departures of Bryant and Witten will leave the Cowboys with arguably the worst WR-TE group in the NFL. So, there's that, plus the fact that Prescott regressed in his second year in the NFL doesn't help. 

Even before Prescott's struggles, and before Bryant and Witten became ex-Cowboys, Jason Garrett was always going to run his offense through running back Ezekiel Elliott, as he wished to do in 2017. Even with Elliott out for six games last year, the Cowboys ran the ball 67 percent of the time on 1st and 10 or 2nd and 6-10.

With a passing game that scares precisely nobody, the Cowboys are unquestionably going to see packed boxes all season long, and they're going to have to keep running it into the line of scrimmage anyway.

5) Assuming he makes it through the season, Elliott is going to accumulate a lot of wear on his tread

Despite missing six games a season ago, Elliott is still second in the NFL in rushing attempts since he entered the league in 2016:

Player Rushing attempts since 2016 
 Le'Veon Bell582 
 Ezekiel Elliott564 
 Todd Gurley557 
 Melvin Gordon538 
 Jordan Howard528 
 Frank Gore524 
 LeSean McCoy521 
 Lamar Miller506 

The only other running backs on the Cowboys' roster currently with any NFL experience at all are Rod Smith and Trey Williams (again, tbd how the Cowboys misuse Tavon Austin). Smith and Williams have combined for just 59 carries over their careers. In other words, don't expect Elliott to get many breathers.

6) The offensive line remains overrated

There's no question that Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin are all excellent offensive linemen. As such, there's also little question that the Cowboys have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. However, the notion that it is just a given that Dallas has the best offensive line in the NFL because they have three great players remains one of the most confusing things (to me) in sports.

A season ago, the Cowboys had two very clear holes along their line in RT La'el Collins and LG Jonathan Cooper. Collins remains the projected starting RT, while Cooper is now on the Niners. 

Collins stinks, and as teams are beginning to move their best pass rushers opposite the offense's right tackle, he has often been exposed, whereas in the past, teams could live with just an 'OK' player at RT.

Worse, the Cowboys gave Collins one of the dumbest contracts of the 2017 offseason, and it doesn't appear as if anyone is calling them on it. Oh, you'd like me to explain? Will do.

When Collins was added as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and everyone and their mother was praising the Cowboys for adding "a first round talent" for nothing, Collins signed a three-year deal worth $1.6 million. They did indeed add a player with intriguing potential for next to nothing. 

At the conclusion of that deal, which would have been at the end of the 2017 season, Collins would not have had the requisite four accrued seasons necessary to become an unrestricted free agent. Instead, he would have been a restricted free agent, and thus, still very affordable in 2018. If the Cowboys would have tendered him at, say, the second round level during the 2018 offseason, Collins would have cost $2.914 million this year, bringing his total cost over those four years to roughly $4.5 million, which still would have indeed been a very good bargain.

Instead, during the 2017 offseason, the Cowboys gave Collins a two-year, $15.4 million contract extension that runs through 2019.

In other words, instead of having Collins for an extra year as an unrestricted free agent in 2018 at $2.9 million, they decided the hand him $15.4 million for two years, which is essentially the same thing as giving him the restricted year at $2.9 million, and then $12.5 million in 2019. Why in the hell would the Cowboys decide to give Collins $12.5 for the 2019 season when he hasn't looked anything close to the "first round talent" everyone called him three years ago? It's mind-blowing, and another example that the Cowboys' front office has no idea what they're doing.

Anyway, I went off on a tangent there. Allow me to refocus. 

RT remains a weak spot, and the LG spot is now projected to be manned by second-round rookie Connor Williams. At one time, Williams was projected as a potential top 10 pick at tackle (and a prospect I liked), but teams were concerned about his lack of size (particularly his T-Rex arms), as well as a down season in his last year at Texas. 

With the Cowboys, Williams will be learning a new position at guard. While many players have successfully made the transition from tackle to guard in the past, it's not exactly like in Madden where you just take a tackle and make him a guard, and you dust off your hands and call it a day. There will be growing pains, and I'd be highly surprised if Williams is a good starter his rookie year.

And then there's the matter of depth, which nobody seems to consider when judging offensive lines. A season ago, the Cowboys had no OL depth whatsoever, and when Smith was missing for a pair of games against the Falcons and Eagles in 2017, the offense completely went in the toilet.

During the 2018 offseason, the Cowboys signed Cameron Fleming (1-year, $2.375 million) and Marcus Martin (veteran minimum deal). Both guys were signed more than 10 days into free agency, in a league where teams are desperate for OL help.




7) There's no depth anywhere else either

Speaking of a lack of depth, it's not just limited to the offensive line. 

Cowboys fans, name a backup at any position that you can really feel good about. And not, like, in a homer kind of way where you're projecting success, or pointing out a rookie you hope will be good. Give me a guy who anyone would look at and say, "That guy can play." Here's an hour of Jeopardy music to stimulate your thinking:

Oh, and the backup quarterbacks are 2017 undrafted free agent Cooper Rush, and 2018 fifth round pick Mike White. (Insert cringe emoji here).

8) We haven't even gotten to the defense yet!

The Cowboys want to be an old-school type of team that pounds the rock on offense and tries to break the will of the opposing defense by controlling the clock and wearing them out. 

That approach only works when you have a top five type of defense. The Seahawks, for example, had a long, sustained run of success primarily running the ball, and playing great defense. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their defense is below average.

On a "per drive" basis, which in my view is the best metric for evaluating the play of offenses and defenses overall because it strips out the performance of the other side of the ball, the Cowboys fared very poorly in 2017.

 Cowboys defenseStat Rank 
 Yards allowed/drive32.3 25 
 Points allowed/drive 1.917 
 Turnovers forced/drive0.104 21 
 Plays/drive6.23 28 
 T.O.P./drive2:54 25 

The Cowboys simply don't have much in the way of difference makers on the defensive side of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence had a breakout season as a pass rusher. That's one. If David Irving could wake up and take his profession seriously, he could be another one, but he'll be suspended for the first four games of the season for the second year in a row. 

And then there's Sean Lee, who is a great player, except...

9) Sean Lee's soft tissue is made out of dandelions and papier-mâché

After playing 14 games in 2015 and 15 games in 2016, we left Lee out of our Cowboys dumpster fire piece last season. However, after missing five games in 2017, let's revive an oldie (but goodie) stick figure.

Jimmy/for PhillyVoice

While we're at it, let's also update Lee's injury history, going back to his time at Penn State:

• 2008 (Penn State) - Torn ACL.  Missed the entire season.

• 2009 (Penn State) - Sprained knee.  Missed 3 games.

• 2010 (Dallas) - Strained hamstring.  Missed 2 games.

• 2011 (Dallas) - Dislocated wrist.  Missed 1 game.

• 2012 (Dallas) - Toe. IR. Missed 10 games.

• 2013 (Dallas) - Hamstring. Missed 5 games, including Week 17 finale vs Eagles.

• 2014 (Dallas) - Torn ACL. Missed the entire season.

• 2015 (Dallas) - Concussion and hamstring. Missed 2 games.

• 2016 (Dallas) - No injuries. Missed a meaningless Week 17 with No. 1 seed wrapped up.

• 2017 (Dallas) - Hamstring. Missed 5 games.

Of course, the Cowboys would have won three Super Bowls last season had Lee stayed healthy.


10) Jason Garrett is still the head coach

And finally, the ever-clapping head coach. Ugh.

If you haven't watched Amazon's "All or Nothing" documentary about Dallas' 2017 season, I highly recommend it. It's an interesting look into the Cowboys' organization that exposes some bright spots (like Witten and Orlando Scandrick, for example), as well as some of the warts. The most glaring wart in that series is Jason Garrett, who seems wholly ineffective as a leader.

To begin, every other word out of his mouth is an f-bomb, which is fine, I suppose, but it all feels so forced. Here's Garrett giving a speech to his team (only one f-bomb here, which is way below his typical quota) that is otherwise straight out of 1957 (NSFW):

I mean, he sounds like Sean Astin in Rudy. It's laughable.

Except, the players in the Garrett video couldn't possibly be more checked out. Look at the guy on the bottom right. Dude is straight-up sleeping, and doesn't care.

I mean, Garrett's players don't even respect him enough to at least get a pair of those "fake awake" glasses that Homer Simpson wore when he had jury duty.

Garrett has now been Dallas' head coach for seven and a half years, and during that span, the Cowboys have one playoff win. And really, that playoff win should have never happened, as the officials gifted Dallas one of the worst calls I've ever seen:

In those seven and a half years, Garrett's record is 67-53 (0.558), which looks fine on paper, but isn't good enough for a team that had a legitimate franchise quarterback in Tony Romo, as well as other big-time stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tyron Smith, and Bryant (when he was still good).

As noted above, Garrett's leadership qualities aren't there. I can't say if Amazon's video editing is subtly undermining Garrett in team meetings, but the way it's presented, his players are often completely tuned out. When the team visibly respects the tight end more than the head coach, that's a problem. Oh, and it's also kind of a problem when the owner steps in and addresses the team in the locker room after a bad loss before the head coach.

Additionally, Garrett's in-game strategic calls are often horrendous. For example, in the game where Adrian Clayborn abused Chaz Green and Byron Bell for six sacks, Garrett never thought to step in and say, "Hey, maybe we should give our obviously overwhelmed LT some extra help instead of allowing their average starting DE to wreck the game."

Another less-publicized gaffe that I found hilarious was allowing Jeff Heath to kick PATs instead of just going for 2. I mean, what is Heath, a 50-50 shot to make a PAT, if that? To note, Heath was 2/3 on the season, but one of those attempts clanged off the upright and in, and none of his kicks looked aesthetically right. It really didn't look all that different from some of the better contestants in the Eagles' media field goal kicking competitions of recent years (R.I.P.). Garrett thought that a 50-50 shot at a PAT with Heath for 1 point was a better play than roughly a 50-50 shot at a conversion attempt for 2 points.

JImmy/for PhillyVoice

I mean, math is hard sometimes, but come on. 

For someone who doesn't even call the plays (those duties go to Scott Linehan), you would expect a head coach to at least be a strong leader or a really sharp game manager, but Garrett is neither.

So he doesn't call the plays, and he has very obvious leadership and strategic deficiencies. What exactly is he bringing to the table?

Oh, that's right. He's an agreeable puppet for the meddling owner who means well, but will ultimately hinder the success of the team as long as he stays extremely involved in the day-to-day operations instead of people who are smarter and better suited for those responsibilities.

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