The Cowboys started the season 2-0 and that alone kept them in playoff contention deep into November. Of course, no one saw Washington winning their last four to win the division in convincing fashion. Of course another thing no one saw was Tony Romo injuring then re injuring his collarbone and playing in just four games, a record of 3-1 for the Boys. 1-11 without Romo is not going to keep the team alive very long, and that is without mention of Dez Bryant who was injured in week one and was not the same in his comeback for eight of the last nine games. One would hope this team can dust off the injuries and come back next season as the division favorites, but only time will tell.
Jason Garrett has never been a top tier coach, but he has a system, he knows his team and he trusts Romo. I would expect Garrett back as well as both coordinators, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli. Marinelli in particular did well in rebuilding the Cowboys defense and developing pressure from the defensive front. Linehan in his second year was dealt a bad hand and will look to head into 2016 with some new, healthy talent.
The position should clearly improve with Romo healthy next fall, but the Cowboys and the rest of the league should take notice that every team should have a backup in which they trust. Trading for Matt Cassell and keeping Brandon Weeden on a short leash put their whole team chemistry in flux, and it isn’t like either was going to stunningly outplay the other. Kellen Moore is capable in the way of being a team’s third quarterback and can be that for Dallas if they want, but the key here is they do need a back up and they do need a future option if this is the beginning of the end for Romo.
Running back Play
Most people have already forgotten about Joseph Randle and the saga that he created in his demise, but I am sure that the fantasy owners who invested in him don’t forget. Randle showed that on certain days anyone can succeed in Dallas. He also bought Darren McFadden enough time to get ten games worth of real work without breaking down. Dallas does have a solid offensive line, but McFadden does deserve some credit. Everyone knew the run was coming and he churned out 4.6 yards per carry. He will be the leader in the clubhouse to start next year and has a chance to earn another contract after that, assuming Dallas doesn’t make a major move in free agency.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
The injury to Dez Bryant showed where this team is at the wide receiver position. Cole Beasley somehow became the most trusted option, and when looking forward with Bryant back and healthy and Beasley being fine in the slot, the need for another outside threat is needed. Terrance Williams and Devin Street are on the roster, and both are signed for the future, but neither has proven they can be effective with Bryant, and under the bright lights neither stepped up to the plate without Bryant. A mid round draft pick or low cost veteran would be the route here, but you have to want to improve on that spot in this off season.
As for the tight end, neither Gavin Escobar, who had some injury problems, nor Jason Witten thrived without Tony Romo. Nevertheless with Romo back, both are signed long term, and neither have been a problem to the point where this team needs to make any moves.
Offensive Line Play
The offensive line leaves little to no worries for the Cowboys after the play in 2015. Many came into the year wanting a historically great offensive line, but in truth there is a decent amount of youth on the line still. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick are only 25, and La’el Collins is now 22 after starting in 11 games in his rookie season. He replace 26 year old Ronald Leary who may play the role as swing lineman, and may even bring competition for 31 year old anchor Doug Free. In sum, this line should only be better in 2016 than it was in 2015.
The defensive line had to be the most pleasantly surprising unit and that is even without mention of the unpleasant Greg Hardy who is a very talented lineman. Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence however were the team’s’ most impressive performers. Crawford had just signed on to an extension, and he is a major bright spot on the interior line. Lawrence also provided eight sacks from the outside, and while he is in his rookie contract, he may be a player to extend before a breakout season comes. With Randy Gregory seeming to come on late, the decision to sign Greg Hardy will be interesting. It is tough to see Hardy with a lot of leverage so it should be feasible, but one wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to be forced into breaking the bank for Hardy. Hardy can slide inside at times next to Crawford and with Nick Hayden being a free agent it could make signing Hardy more important, although even with Hardy, tackle depth should be a position to address.
The linebacker core is a unit that could really use some work. Sean Lee is a guy who, when healthy can be a leader, a play caller, and a top performer. You just have to go into seasons knowing that he will miss time. The depth for this position is just poor. Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain spent most of the time playing beside Lee and both are about at replacement level. Hitchens is signed on and not making anything worth losing him, although it would be ideal to use him as a depth linebacker. McClain comes with the question whether he is worth bringing back. Until the market opens up it is hard to tell if Dallas can improve, but they certainly aren’t going to let him walk because of the in house talent. Linebacker will be need to addressed at some point in the draft in Dallas.
Dallas had a decently successful season against the pass, and that is without the presence of starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick all season. He sat out all year with an ACL injury. Fortunately for them they got a lot of time to see how Byron Jones looks and while he had his rookie lows, he had ups that show he can hold down and play corner in this league. Brandon Carr is another nice option at corner, and the Cowboys can look to a 2016 with Scandrick, Carr, and Jones. With those three down it is presumed that former first round pick Morris Claiborne will be leaving the team via free agency.
The safety position saw Barry Church go down early and was a bit of a revolving door from that point. With that said, there is little this team is attached to at the safety position. It makes it a position this team can address, potentially via free agency.
Where do they go?
With the fourth pick you could see an addition to the secondary or you could see a luxury wide receiver pick to ease the pressure of Bryant off of an injury. Truly evaluating the backup quarterback, as well as the linebacker position should be the most pressing needs for this team to work on before the draft. Fine tuning the defense, and adding a running back via the draft should be the plan and if this team stays healthy they should be contenders next year.