Despite another disappointing, middle-of-the-road finish at 8–8, despite missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, despite boasting a roster of very few defensive stars and more than a few offensive underachievers, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has remained optimistic, saying that he expected his team to be a Super Bowl contender in the 2012–13 campaign.
In the first two days of NFL free agency, Jones put his money where his mouth was. Despite being slapped with a $10 million fine by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for salary cap transgressions during last year’s uncapped season (I know, how can you transgress against a nonexistent cap, unless you are violating a wink-wink collusion agreement?), Jones and company stepped into the batter’s box, swinging for the fences.
Two days and eight FA signings later—the most in franchise history—the Cowboys have upgraded their roster and positioned themselves to be a strong contender in the NFC East, where they were edged out by the 9–7 NY Giants last season. (You know, the Super Bowl-winning NY Giants.)
The most significant signing was CB Brandon Carr, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Carr was perhaps the best defensive back in the FA market. He recorded four interceptions last year and has posted eight during his four-year career. After saying goodbye to Terence Newman, the Cowboys had to address cornerback either in the draft or free agency.
Jones made Carr a rich man, signing him to a $50 million contract, $26.5 million of it guaranteed.
Jones and his Cowboys also shored up the quarterback position, signing Kyle Orton to back up Tony Romo. Besides being one more statement that this is Romo’s team for the foreseeable future, the Orton signing gives the Cowboys a quality, capable caretaker should Romo go down to injury.
On day one of free agency the Cowboys also signed fullback Lawrence Vickers. With the one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones at running back, Vickers should help put the running game over the top. Vickers was easily the best fullback available on the market. He is known as a knockout blocker, which is good news for the ball carriers and for Romo.
“I am a West Coast fullback. That’s what they don’t understand,” he said. He said he became typecast as a “knockout fullback” the past two years because that’s how he earned playing time. “I was on a team where they don’t even use a fullback,” he said of the Browns’ offense under former coach Eric Mangini. “Mangini’s era wasn’t really a fullback era. I played just on [the belief that] ‘this person has to be on the field.’ Everything I got wasn’t given. I took it. Our offense was based on New England’s. They don’t even have a fullback.”
Cowboys fans may be as excited about the signing of linebacker Dan Connor as any other. The 2012 edition of the Dallas Cowboys defense was among the worst in team history. They gave DoomsDay Defense new meaning, because their team was inevitably doomed any time they were asked to hold a lead or keep a game close. They failed at the most inopportune times.
The Cowboys have a legitimate game-changer at outside linebacker in DeMarcus Ware. They have a rising star at inside linebacker in Sean Lee. The ‘Boys used the franchise tag to make sure the solid, but not spectacular, Anthony Spencer remains at the other OLB position.
Veteran Connor will compete with second-year man Bruce Carter for the ILB position. Regardless of who wins that competition, the Cowboys will be younger, faster and better at linebacker in 2012.
Safety has been a position of need for the Cowboys for years. Brodney Poole, another Rob Ryan guy, may take the place of Abram Elam, last year’s Ryan guy. Whether Poole is an upgrade or not is debatable. He is younger and has proven himself a solid player, cut from the same cloth as the man whose position he may take.
Along the offensive line, the Cowboys added guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. These signing, apparently, spell the end for Kyle Kosier as a Dallas Cowboy. With tackles Doug free and Tyron Smith swapping spots and the center position still in question, the OL could be completely revamped for the coming season.
No doubt, Tony Romo is fervently praying that revamped means improved.
The eighth—and least intriguing—signing was a re-signing. WR Kevin Ogletree is being brought back to compete for the third wideout position. Hard to get very excited about that, really.
Still, Jerry Jones & Co. have made a splash and served notice that they do not intend to take 15 years of mediocrity lying down. After months of pummeling Jones, I am prepared to give the Devil his due.
Here’s hoping that deal he once claimed, tongue-in-cheek, to have made with God for that third Super Bowl trophy has reached its statute of limitations and the curse of idiocy and ineptness can finally be lifted.
Let’s all join Romo in that that prayer meeting, shall we?