The NFL trade deadline came and went with a handful of teams having sought improvement and hoping to have made a dent. Playoff-contending teams – attempting to acquire available talent to fill critical holes – can look back with relative confidence that what they could be done (for the stretch run) was accomplished so their team could best thrive on their postseason drive.
While (from the rest of the league) the Dallas Cowboys are technically no different, their near-midseason improvement efforts (like anything else “America’s Team” does) are allowed no gray area and given no quarter. They are either highly praised or viewed as completely out of order.
The Cowboys certainly have their needs – “true number one” wide receiver and stud safety among them – for which Cowboys Nation (increasingly and regularly) pleads. After an entire offseason and right up until “The Snappening” (of a certain safety’s leg, not another Thanos reference, silly), fans thought an Earl “Come Get Me” Thomas trade was happening. Once his devastating injury (rather than any temporarily-deficient trade offer) t-boned that potential exchange, the focus of both the Cowboys and their fans had to rearrange.
Before that talent search redirect could take full effect, none other than Desmond Demond Bryant made Cowboys Nation lose its collective mind on Twitter by proclaiming he would rather return to playing in Dallas than go anywhere else to chase a Super Bowl chalice. Owner Jerry Jones quickly responded with appreciation for Dez’s sentiment and a reaffirmation that his return to the Cowboys would be a mutual detriment.
GM Jerry, however, took things a bridge-burning step deeper with his former long ball leaper. Jerry (on his radio show in 105.3 The Fan) claimed “. . . that hasn’t been our case for several years here that we’ve had a true No. 1, not a true No. 1. And those guys are — would like to have one, would have liked to have had one, but we haven’t.”
High Picks For Cruel Tricks
The past few weeks saw rumors begin to swirl about trades to address the Cowboys’ “glaring” need at wide receiver. Players like the Raiders’ Amari Cooper, the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker, and the Bills’ Kelvin Benjamin were alleged to be at the top of the list and only (totally) unreasonable trade value requested in return would have (and perhaps should have) made Dallas resist.
GM Jerry (however and with the best of intentions) has done his team no favors with his trade targeted wide receiver flavors. The Jerry Jones of today (with constant encouragement from son Stephen and Cowboys’ assistant director of player personnel Will McClay) has largely bought into the concept of draft picks being most valuable towards a homegrown roster more malleable. The Jerry Jones of yesteryear was always willing to stretch his salary cap cash to make a season-saving splash.
Dallas (following the devastating, career-ending injury to Michael Irvin in 1999) still had Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Jerry was (understandably) desperate to prevent “The Triplets” from fading into myth. Seattle had sustained an extended contract holdout by their best deep threat, and Jerry felt obligated to make a splash. Something seriously wet. Dallas thusly acquired wide receiver Joey Galloway in February 2000 for their 2000 and 2001 first round draft choices, damn the counterargument voices. Few could have foretold (from that infamous trade) how high the Seahawks would float and how swiftly the Cowboys would become so depressingly smote.
While no one could have known that – in his very first game as a Cowboy – Galloway’s ACL would have blown, the lack of those precious picks (over the next two seasons) set a horrifying tone. He would return to catch 151 passes for 2,341 yards and 12 touchdowns for Dallas in 48 games, but Galloway was undone (not by any protracted ACL recovery but) by a franchise that (from aging stars and poor personnel decisions) was going up in flames.
The Cowboys (years after and to resounding laughter) would sacrifice first-and-third round draft choices (right before the 2008 NFL trade deadline) to lure wide receiver Roy Williams from the Lions’ den. The reasonably-held belief was that Williams simply needed a change of scenery, but the only change was seen in his bank account greenery.
Williams was pre-boarded on a $54M contract extension of which he never proved worthy of being rewarded. Williams (during his less-than-dazzling Dallas days) caught just 94 passes for 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns in 40 games. He played practically all but one game (against the Saints) in a seemingly disconnected haze.
Though Williams was by far GM Jerry’s worst-ever trade acquisition, Jones pursued him – like Galloway – with only the best intention. The projected pairing of JJ. Stokes, err, Roy Williams and Terrell Owens was propped up with hope, but Williams’ flameout left Jerry (once again) looking like a hasty dope.
Though a rib injury to Williams would allow reserve receiver Miles Austin to step up with 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns (including a 59-yard game winner in overtime) to BBQ Kansas City, Cowboys Nation would have loved to bypass Williams’ mediocrity.
When it was announced that GM Jerry had traded yet another future first round pick for yet another struggling star wide receiver that may ultimately prove unable to stick, a significant portion of Cowboys Nation thought out loud, “Jerry! You incredible pr-ck!” Most fans (understandably) could not fathom further trades of high picks for (inevitably) cruel tricks.
Some even associated the move with another dark day in Dallas history . . . when Jerry effectively fired Jimmy Johnson and set in motion the end of the Cowboys’ 1990’s dynasty.
“They finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Ahh, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” – Charlton Heston as Cowboys fan George Taylor upon seeing the charred remains of the Statue of Dynasty in “Planet of the Mistakes.”
Craft By Draft
Jerry Jones really did it, and time will tell if he – yet again – he ends up regretting it. He traded the Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 first round draft pick to the Raiders for wide receiver Amari Cooper. Dallas will at least (or at most) have him under contract for the next year-and-a-half. And for everyone who was up in arms over how this treacherous trade would cause more draft day harm, there is a small but defiant number of prognosticators who insist that an equivalent first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft would realize no better than a raw receiving pooper.
While that reasoning portrays Jerry’s tinsel-covered transaction as (eventually) delivering the requisite satisfaction, maybe GM Jerry will need that pick for the “War Daddy” he will have to replace if the Cowboys and DeMarcus Lawrence cannot keep it real and come to terms on a new, long-term deal. This is reinforced by the legitimate possibility that – by season’s end – Dallas and the oft-troubled David Irving could be headed for divorce.
Maybe GM Jerry will need that pick for (GASP) another center, guard, or tackle to fortify the “Good (But No Longer Great) Wall Of Dallas” that may still need a lot more than new coaching spackle. When your current quarterback (for the entire football world to see) does not possess the unicorn-like predictive basketball court vision, downfield eagle eyes, Houdini escapability, breathless hair trigger, big play bravery, hint-of-daylight-accuracy, and tremendous lead-your-receiver touch of his undrafted predecessor . . . the success of your pass protection and run-blocking remains of monumental importance towards recapturing your (artificially-constructed?) 2016 identity as a point-scoring aggressor. Without that treasure trove of talent yet still with enough (robotic?) skill to reasonably thrill and without that impenetrable wall – combined with an almost defiant unwillingness to take risks – your offensive footprint becomes increasingly, sometimes terminally small.
Maybe GM Jerry will need that pick to (GASP) select another quarterback to compete with Prescott if he fails to overcome “Dakuracy” or recapture enough (or any?) of his year-one legitimacy, even with a new number one target and an offensive line scheme reset. When your risk-hating habit is to target your hot read or the very first receiver you see break free-and-crystal-clear, and when your throws are more often like frozen ropes than accurately-lofted hopes, and when the run part of your RPO looks as reluctant as your desire to fling the downfield sling, the more disconnected you become from the vertical opportunities your team holds so dear.
“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . or the one.” – Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.”
When you continue to craft by draft (at least since Jason Garrett’s “ascension” to the head coaching position), every pick will count when an imbalance towards one player’s needs continues to mount.
Now And How
“If ifs and buts were candies and nuts.” The here and the now begs a singular question: “How?”
How will the Cowboys get to enjoy Cooper’s abilities on quick screens, reverses, back shoulder fades, and go routes if (like the 2017 Raiders) they suffer game-losing flops because (in part) they cannot solve Amari’s drops? He had 18 in 2015, 4 in 2016, and 10 in 2017. If Dallas wants to have any chance to right the ship, they will have to significantly lower that clip, and keep the Dak-to-Coop crisp and clean.
On the flipside and since 2015, Cooper (over the past few years) has been a long touchdown trooper. He is tied for third place (with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, and Odell Beckham, Jr.) for most 25-plus yard touchdown plays. You know, the kind that helps generate offensive flexibility and really pays.
While the Raiders’ Derek Carr has had to endure most of those drops, he has not clumsily contributed accuracy or deep ball flops. Even after Oakland’s mediocre Monday Night bay showing against the 49ers, Carr remains one of 2018’s top passing accuracy headliners. Dak Prescott (known for sustaining his fair share of receiver-caused drops), is nowhere near as accurate as Carr . . . even when his receivers are wide open, whether near or far.
The blame for the Cowboys’ well-documented offensive woes (aside from unforeseen injuries and the lack of reliable, big-framed targets at flanker and tight end) has by and large been consistently laid at the feet of the coaches and the GM in charge. The final nine games of the 2018 season will be an imperfect audition for Dak Prescott to (not so?) clearly demonstrate how he, too, should not join Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan on the blame barge. And with each “passing” contest, the number of Dak-friendly, Dak-enabling moves will draw louder cheer or protest.
Then, again – for “The Tortured Cowboys Fan” – the consistent attraction, the cherished element of all sports throughout human history is centered on the journey towards success and how an individual or team has been able to evolve beyond limiting circumstances or that rare, seemingly impossible mess to (eventually and consistently) win. The alternative, of course, is the consistent detraction, when an individual or team too often culls curiosity in the face of the unknown, thus, ensuring opportunities (that may never again arrive) are blown, and THAT is an unforgivable sin.
Perhaps Garrett and Linehan will (incredibly) clean up their coaching act, the recently re-schemed offensive line will (possibly) re-engage its dual-purpose pact (to protect Dak and get Zeke untracked), and the receiver-by-committee (beyond just Cole Beasley) will begin to regularly show a more reliable pass-catching proclivity . . . setting the stage for Prescott and Cooper to enjoy some early-and-often productivity.
It is just a matter of time before fans learn which members of the receiver-by-committee are more likely to sustain a playing time droop in exchange for some (steadily increasing) Dak-to-Coop. Reality dictates it may be a few weeks before “the new guy” becomes THE guy. Whatever happens, the time is now, and the Dallas Cowboys must figure out how.
Short Shots And Hot Spots
The Eagles thought “highly” enough of Amari Cooper to only offer Oakland a 2019 number two before the Raiders’ trade deadline dealings were through. While that – in and of itself – may have been what officially forced GM Jerry to offer a one, The Tortured Cowboys Fan is more than willing to imagine what might have transpired if none other than (the far more cerebral, polished, and multifaceted) Golden Tate had been Jerry’s trade target when it was all said and done.
Tate (as reviled as he may still be for his 2012 demolition of Sean Lee) appears quite a deal for a three. Considering how the Broncos traded wideout Demaryius Thomas to the Texans for a four, perhaps the Cowboys could have collected both Tate and Thomas for far less than one right out the door. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Cooper is only 24 and can potentially enjoy a long career with Prescott, who is but 25. While both Tate and Thomas are 30 years old, perhaps on their collective capabilities and experience fans can more easily be sold.
It is unfortunate on a variety of levels that outgoing offensive line coach Paul Alexander had to be relieved of his duties, as it was his ability to teach and support multiple blocking and protection schemes (potentially freeing the Cowboys from a one-and-done approach) that originally landed him such critical responsibilities. Cowboys Nation would do well to remember the very scheme(s) to which Marc Colombo is returning the offensive line (with supervision from beloved Hudson Houck) were viewed with vicious venom following last year’s mental and physical lapse in Atlanta that (in part) led to Dallas’ brutal 2017 collapse.
The Tortured Cowboys Fan has always been a big fan of Colombo (and the nastiness with which he performed as a player), and few-to-none can knock Hudson Houck. Perhaps going from Alexander to Colombo will be similar to transitioning back from the “no wrong answer” approach of common core math to the more traditional “one right answer” path. And while it is (now) clear that Jason Garrett was in LA to make consultant arrangements with the Cowboys’ former o-line master, he seemingly learned nothing from Tony Romo’s untimely trip to Cabo, which created a (similar but far more impactful) media disaster.
Speaking of players who impact the passing game out on a route and in on the line, tight end Geoff Swaim sprained his MCL during the Redskins game, and it may be 1-3 weeks before he is feeling fine. This puts undesirable pressure on the Cowboys’ tight end-by-committee (Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers, and rookie Dalton Schultz) to dig down deep and become competitively gritty. While each may look to be that pass-catching individual, support for a scheme-transitioning offensive line may prove far more critical.
Linebacker Joe Thomas was a great offseason signing, but persistent injury challenges may (eventually) force Dallas’ defensive depth plans to undergo some refining.
Defensive end David Irving out with an apparent ankle sprain, but fellow lineman Randy Gregory (who recently had arthroscopic knee surgery) will hopefully be able to play through any residual recovery pain.
Will They Or Won’t They?
The (3-4) Dallas Cowboys are set to host the (3-4) Titans under the Monday Night lights, with each team suffering similar offensive blights. One might say this is a trap game if the two teams were not performing so much the same.
America’s Team is coming off a much-needed bye week. Will their tilt with the Titans provide proof that offensive revisions (from the roster to coaching) will produce better results and smarter decisions instead of perpetuating their performance leak?
The writing is, once again, on the wall (and not merely Eli Manning’s infamous locker room scrawl). Will the Cowboys begin to steadily and consistently rise – with fans praises for all phases – or continue to fall?
Will Cowboys Nation be able to start chanting “Welcome to the party?” Or will they have to settle for a Roy Williams redux with “So sorry, Amari?”
We shall see. We always do.
You can chat with or follow Eric on twitter @emscharf