FRISCO, Texas – Monday’s news of the Cowboys’ contract restructures was fitting timing.
No, it doesn’t mean any deals are imminent or anything crazy is about to happen. But it’s a reminder that the new league year is right around the corner. The NFL opens for 2017 business on March 9, when all teams must be under the salary cap and ready for free agency.
With that in mind, the staff of DallasCowboys.com decided to take a look at the situation at hand and determine what awaits in the coming months. The Cowboys have a roster to build and some hard decisions to make, and all of that is going to play out in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft.
As the wait continues for the new league year, here is each staff writer’s opinion about the Cowboys’ top priority as the business portion of the offseason gets into full swing.
Nick Eatman: This is an easy question for members of national media or fans who simply can’t get enough Romo-talk. And while that is a big situation for the Cowboys, it’s not really something that will change the course of the franchise that much. Either they get more cap space by cutting him or they get a draft pick at some point in a trade. To me, the bigger issue for the Cowboys is getting defensive playmakers, particularly at the end position. This team must get more pressure. And while they’ve taken steps to get better in the past, by signing free agents or drafting players – most of the moves have been considered risks. This team needs to finally hit on a getting a quality defensive end, and if that means stepping out into free agency and spending some cash, then that’s what they need to do. Personally, I think there’s more upside in the draft. But that might mean they need to make some trades to get themselves higher in the draft to get a pass-rusher who can make a difference. No, not that high. I’m not talking about the kid who wants to be in Dallas. But a little bit higher in the first.
Rob Phillips: The biggest issue for the Cowboys besides the obvious – adding to the pass rush – is sorting out their secondary situation. As I wrote last week, this is the most underrated group on the roster when you think about the times Rod Marinelli went with three down linemen and relied on extra coverage to get off the field. Problem is, the team has three starters (Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church) and a key rotation guy (J.J. Wilcox) headed for free agency. I don’t know if they can keep them all. Doesn’t mean they can’t be replaced on some level through the draft or free agency, but it’s no secret the Cowboys value keeping their own players in part because they know exactly what they’re getting. And when you consider the quality of opposing quarterbacks they’ll face next year – Aaron Rodgers again, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr, to name a few – the secondary will need to be stronger than it was in 2016, even if the pass rush improves, too.
Bryan Broaddus: Taking a different approach. What is going to happen with Jaylon Smith? Will he be healthy enough to be counted on or will they be forced to go back to Anthony Hitchens or Mark Nzeocha? There are linebackers in this draft that are worth considering as well. Kendell Beckwith, Jarred Davis and Raekwon McMillan come to mind that you could plug in and be ready to play. If Smith in fact is healthy enough to go — then your problem is solved. But the question becomes: will they pass on other options and wait if they don’t know — which could be dangerous. This might not be as important as what happens at wide Receiver, cornerback or defensive end, but how they handle the Mike linebacker position is worth keeping a close eye on.
David Helman: I get Nick’s point that the Tony Romo Decision ultimately isn’t going to affect the on-field product that much. The odds are good that Romo will either be released or he’ll be traded for modest compensation. Despite all that, I just feel like the Cowboys can’t really move forward with their game plan until they ultimately make that decision. It’s easy to argue that Dak Prescott took the reins of this franchise last fall, given that he started 16 games and led the Cowboys to the playoffs. But Tony Romo is still a 10-year starter and a four-time Pro Bowler for this team, and his presence will loom large over the roster as long as he’s here. Whatever Romo winds up doing, his departure from the Cowboys would be the end of an era and a true changing of the guard. Again, it might not change much about the team’s on-field fortunes in 2017, but it’s a decision that will leave a lasting impact and signal a new period of franchise history. For that reason alone, I’ve got to look at it as the biggest decision the Cowboys have to make this offseason.