Thanks to KD Drummond of Blogging the Boys for taking some time to answer our traditional five questions.
1.) Let's start with the draft. The draft grades seemed to be pretty low for Jerry Jones. How do you feel the Boys did in terms of drafting for value, and who can contribute this year?
The first thing to establish is that I find insta-draft grades to be some of the silliest things in existence; but they have tremendous traffic value so everyone and their momma does them. I think my mom gave the Cowboys a C+ on Reddit because she liked the late-round values. Everyone knows you can't judge a draft until a couple years down the line, so does it matter what people think matches pre-draft mocks that aren't done by team executives? In a flat draft where everyone said the value was in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and not the top, the Cowboys failed because they got two of those players instead of 1?
By now most have seen the draft board that BTB cracked. Look at the values they saw in their picks--
Along the grading lines though, there were 'draft experts' that think the Cowboys did fairly well in the draft. I know Redskins fans will scoff at this, because that's what some do for all things Cowboys, but Jerry Jones and his front office weren't the only ones that liked the Cowboys draft. The draft team at NFL.com graded all seven Cowboys picks as 2nd and 3rd rounders pre-draft. CBS Sports Rob Rang gave them a B-. There are multiple others.
I think the 'Boys got pretty good value out of the draft. They have their second high-pedigree offensive lineman to team with Tyron Smith, which is paramount in today's NFL (see SF, SEA, BAL, NE starting lines last year). In drafting Frederick, they stuck with their trend of drafting the top player at his position with their first rounder (Frederick-Claiborne-Smith-
Bryant). They have put players in the pipeline to replace high-salary vets such as Jason Witten (Escobar), Miles Austin (Williams) Orlando Scandrick (Webb). They added a third young safety to the mix in Wilcox, and a clone for their oft-injured running back DeMarco Murray (Randle).
Frederick starts from Day One. Escobar and Randle will get plenty of snaps. Webb will at least be the dime corner and Williams will have packages. Would I have conducted the draft with the same haul? No, but I see the strategy they employed and I endorse that.
2.) The health of the Oline and RBs seem to be a problem every year with Dallas in recent years. How is that shaping up for training camp in 2013?
So far? Not good. Murray already missed some of OTAs (I know, it's only OTAs) due to a hamstring injury. He says if this was the regular season it would not be a thing, but it is a thing because he's not practicing when others are. Joseph Randle has a club on his hand and isn't participating either. Fortunately, the reports are that Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner have made great strides and it looks like the stable of backs will legitimately be four deep this year.
As for the line? Ugh. Last year's lack of line cohesion in camp led to a rough season. I'm pretty sure that Dallas didn't have more than one week of practice with their projected starting lineup intact since 2011. Already, Mack Bernadeau is out, still recovering from shoulder surgery. Nate Livings tweaked his knee in OTAs. The opportunity is there for young guards Ron Leary and David Arkin to grab a starting spot, and in all honesty they need to. Our guards are a problem and it's why Dallas would have moved up to Miami's slot in the draft if Cooper or Warmack had fallen.
3.) What moves did Dallas do in Free Agency that help? Cutting Sensabaugh and Marcus Spears seem to be the highlights.
You've never heard of Anthony Spencer, huh? The one-year deal Spencer received was our biggest coup of the free agent session. He's kind of a big deal and should excel with his hand on the ground, no longer having to fall back in coverage and now getting more than 300 pass rush snaps (average 4-3 DEs rushed 500 times in 2012). The free agent market, which by and large is an over-rated exercise, was pretty lackluster this season. I'd have preferred if they reached out to Andre Smith to replace Doug Free, but where were the impact players that changed teams? Not many were out there. I count four players that I'd feel confident giving big-money long-term contracts to at positions of need.
We also signed a starter at Sam Linebacker in Justin Durant. The Cowboys began the offseason with some tight restrictions based on the cap, but they now sit with more '13 space than 21 other teams. If they extend Spencer, that number grows and rolls into '14 cap space; which they'll need.
4.) Monte Kiffin and the switch to the 4-3 is a talking point. Are there any concerns there and how does the personnel look up front and at the safety positions?
I argued over and over again that I didn't think the Cowboys were in dire need of defensive linemen, and Kiffin apparently agreed. The Cowboys didn't draft any and didn't even sign rotation players like Israel Idonije that had played for Defensive Coordinator Part 2, Rod Marinelli. Demarcus Ware- Jay Ratliff- Jason Hatcher- Anthony Spencer... that's a Top 5 defensive line when healthy. Last year's 3rd and 4th rounders Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber will be the top backups. As they did when Rob Ryan took over, I envisioned the team would allow the new regime to learn the players before seeing what is needed and that appears to be the strategy. The starters are old, but they aren't going to turn to dust during the 2013 season.
The safety spot is still a question mark. Barry Church, who won a starting spot in 2012, was lost in Week 3 to an achilles tear. He's back and seems to be at full speed. He's not John Lynch, but can play the John Lynch role; in the box, intimidator in the secondary. Redshirt rookie Matt Johnson will compete with Will Allen for the other spot. Johnson has tremendous safety measurables and great small-school collegiate stats. There's a lot to like about him, but he needs to get on the field and prove it. With the amount of single-high safety we'll be playing, range will be the determining factor.
5.) I've read many cap experts say the Cowboys are in big trouble moving forward since they restructured so many contracts to get under the cap. I recall BTB painting a rosie picture, but seeing the Redskins screw themselves many times with this practice, do DAL fans have concern?
I'll let you know in a week or two as I currently have my 'future cap' article in the preliminary stages. Here's the thing about the cap experts. They add up the numbers on the future cap and say Dallas has X amount of dollars tied into Y amount of players. This bad. This no good. Yet, none of them actually take the time to say, looking at Dallas' history, how are they going to address this XY situation? There are solutions to these problems. They probably don't include signing high-price free agents for the next couple of years, but looking at the history of free agency is that a bad thing? Is dead money a worse situation than the one in cheapskate Philly when the same amount of cap space goes unused year after year?
When Dallas is purging useful players with more than a year of contributing life left, then I'll get with the masses. But Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams, Marc Colombo, Marion Barber... who is seriously missed, much less starring somewhere? If Dallas can retain their core of young up and comers, then I'm not seeing the cause for hand-wringing. It's not going to be easy for the money men in front office; Jerry likes to overpay his guys sometimes. The important thing is to continue to draft well as they have these last three years.