Despite finishing .500 again, Cowboys do have hope for the future
JAN 06, 2014 3:52p ET
One of the easiest assignments I've had in some time was identifying the problems with the Cowboys organization. In my first installment, I wrote 1,200 words in about 20 minutes. America's .500 Team has so many flaws that you need a 25-part series to really cover everything.
But surely there's some hope for the future, right? OK, wait a few minutes before responding. For the first time since the '07 season, the Cowboys have the makings of a decent offensive line. Former first-round pick Tyron Smith emerged as one of the top left tackles in the NFL this season. His technique appears to have caught up with his freakish athleticism. And the much much-maligned playcaller/offensive line coach Bill Callahan deserves some credit for his development. The Cowboys also received a big bounceback season from right tackle Doug Free, who regained his confidence and helped a fuel a potent running game down the stretch.
Rookie center Travis Frederick showed improvement on a weekly basis. He's a highly intelligent player who simply needed to work on his footwork and overall technique. And guards Ron Leary and MacKenzy Bernadeau were both solid at their respective positions. Bernadeau deserves a lot of credit for answering the ball when veteran guard Brian Waters suffered a season-ending injury.
That's not to say the Cowboys are set for years to come up front, but at least they feel reasonably good about one important aspect of this team. The Cowboys must spend much of the offseason trying to identify solid defensive linemen both via free agency and the draft. They will likely lose Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher to free agency. The Cowboys simply aren't in a position to win a bidding war for either player, and I'm not sure that's all bad.
Jones didn't have the salary cap space to make any noise in free agency last offseason. That caused the organization to place more emphasis on the draft. And while the verdict's still out on tight end Gavin Escobar (second round), Frederick and wide receiver Terrance Williams (third) both had excellent rookie campaigns. You also have to like how rookie linebacker Devonta Holloman (sixth) performed when pressed into duty late in the season.
Maybe Holloman will provide the Cowboys another option to the hugely disappointing Bruce Carter. And since I'm a veteran observer of these so-called "offseason wonders," watch out for Carter to receive all sorts of kudos from Jones and various others in the organization.
The other major positive this season was the emergence of DeMarco Murray as a feature running back. There was at least one report early in the season that Dallas no longer viewed Murray as a lead back. Murray's career continued to be undermined by injuries, but he finished the season as one of the team's most valuable players. I watched closely how he handled himself in that Week 17 game against the Redskins. I thought he put the team on his back in that game as he practically begged Jason Garrett to feed him the ball.
Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Tony Romo have been excellent players for the Cowboys, but it's time for them to share the leadership with younger players. If Murray and Lee could stay on the field for most of a season, that could happen. Dez Bryant has become an inspirational leader on this team. I think you can tolerate the occasional sideline meltdown from him because it doesn't appear to be coming from a selfish place. And even if it is, the guy is the No. 1 playmaker on the team and has earned the right to be heard.
The Cowboys should have a solid receiving trio that includes Bryant, Williams and... Beasley? I would try to identify a Tavon Austin-like player in the draft. Baylor has a player named Tevin Reese that fits the bill. He's taller and faster than Beasley, but not as strong.
The Cowboys weren't great on offense this season, but they certainly had explosive moments. It's time for Garrett to take control of the playcalling situation and succeed or fail on his own merits. There were simply too many people involved in the playcalling operation. And if Garrett wants to earn an extension, he'll have to convince Romo that he's the boss. Jones has created a situation where the quarterback has far more power than any of the coaches. Unless your quarterback is Peyton Manning, that seems like a bad idea.
The clock is ticking faster than ever on Romo's career, so Garrett and Jones can't just sit around and keep their fingers crossed. If we think Romo has two solid years left at the most, this is no time to be complacent.
Someone has to take the reins of this organization. But will Jerry allow that to happen?
You can answer that one.