Thursday, March 21, 2013

How The Cowboys Were Built

There was a little communication this week between the brass of the Dallas Cowboys and the beat writers who gather for every word, and Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star Telegram found something worth discussing in his conversation with Jason Garrett on Wednesday from the NFL Owners Meetings in Arizona.  

Let's take a look at what he offered:

As he prepares for his third draft class, Garrett says his program is firmly in place with his type of guys and 2013 is a big year to take the next step. 
"Absolutely, that’s why this draft is so critical," Garrett said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. "You want to be able to continue to add to the culture we’ve developed the last couple years, and a lot of the culture has to do with who you are as a head coach, who your staff is and what they represent. A lot of it has to do with the people you bring in, the players you bring in, and what they’re all about. We’ve tried to do a really good job of that. We feel good about how we’ve drafted, how we’ve kind of structured our football team, and the kinds of people we’re bringing in.” 
Only 16 players, including just seven starters, are left on the roster from the team that Garrett took over in 2010. 
"I think we’ve done a good job over the last couple years, like we talked earlier, transitioning our roster from a lot of older players to some younger players, still keep ourselves in competitive situations at the end of the year, having a chance to compete for the division," Garrett said. "We brought in some young players who can be the cornerstones for us going forward to add to the Tony Romos, the DeMarcus Wares, the Jason Ratliffs, Jason Wittens, those guys who have been big, significant players for us in the past. Now you think about Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, all those guys. 
“The identity we’ve established together gives us a chance going forward."

Read more here:

This is a topic worth visiting about that I am happy the coach brought up.

Listed below is a chart that will show you with relative clarity how the Cowboys were built and you will see that the majority of the roster has been put in place since Jason Garrett took over the team in November of 2010.  Even though he has had just 2 drafts, 29 of the 47 players who have made this roster can be traced back to Garrett.

Hill writes that only 16 remain - I count 18 - but, the point is the same.  This is mostly Garrett's team from a quantity standpoint.  The question continues whether or not it can be said that from a quality standpoint.  Are the 29 names listed in grey in 2011 and 2012 players that are carrying most of the weight on this team?  Or, do we still look at 2003-2006 as containing most of the quality back when Bill Parcells roamed the halls of Valley Ranch?

And, of course, listen in blue from 2007-2010, the Wade Phillips/Jerry Jones war-room that we would all like to forget about for the most part - save that 2010 when Dez Bryant and Sean Lee salvaged an entire era with their acquisitions.

Check out the chart below:

2012 Claiborne, Crawford, Wilber, Johnson,
Hanna, Coale, McSurdy
Livings, Bernardeau,
Orton, Vickers, Carr,
Sims, Moore
Beasley, Leary, Dunbar, Bass
2011 Smith, Carter, Murray, Arkin, Harris
Kowalski, Tanner, Callaway,
Albright, Jones, Bailey
2010 Dez Bryant, Sean Lee,
Sean Lissemore, Josh Brent
P Costa, J Parnell,
B Church, D McCray

2008 Orlando Scandrick
2007 Anthony Spencer, Doug Free
2006 Jason Hatcher Miles Austin
2005 DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff LP Ladocuer

2003 Jason Witten Tony Romo

Currently, there are way more names on their active roster than 47, but I only list the names who have proven they have made a roster at some point here.  Most of these players have at least worn a jersey for one game or in Ron Leary's case been basically guaranteed a roster spot with his contract.

We should also note that there are a few more players lingering out there that could be re-signed (Felix Jones) that would help prop up 2008 and he would still be considered a continuous service Cowboy.  But, I am not holding my breath that he is in their plans.

It is also interesting to see what a small effect that free agency has had on this team.  They do have the reputation of not "growing through the draft", but as you can clearly see, this team is built almost 100% through the draft - and undrafted free agents signed every April - except for the players they have brought in during 2012.

This team - for better or for worse - is home grown for the most part.  They are primarily players who have never played for another team and have been here long term.  In fact, as you look at it, the most disconcerting element is the fingerprint that Parcells still leaves 7 seasons after he has left.  Only now, after the 2011 and 2012 seasons of Bryant and Lee can we say that Parcells didn't put the entire "best 5" Cowboys on this roster.

Garrett has tried carefully to find the "right kind of player" who understands all of those character traits that he believes are part of building a team properly.  He has pushed for them to target players who were captains on their college teams or have held other leadership positions.  And the jury is obviously out on whether this has dramatically changed the fabric of the organization.

Why?  Because, in the end, it comes down to whether they are able to win games, divisions, playoff games, and hopefully, a Super Bowl.  You can have the best leaders in the NFL, but they better be able to block and tackle on their way to leading.  And that has been the rub here.

But, if we can understand that it is tough to turn a program around in the blink of an eye, we must at least consider the fact that there is a bigger picture to consider here.  Are we seeing slow growth and youth development going on underneath the surface of conversations of play-calling and Romo's future?  Is there something being built as Garrett references?

One would hope so.  Garrett has a hand in what is going on and a plan for how to get there.  Of course, so has - we hope - every coach who has ever taken over a team at the professional level in any sport.

The trick is to hang around long enough to see it through.  And that is the question for any owner running any team.  To figure out if their coach is on to something awesome that requires 5 years or if they are just wasting resources for this guy to figure it all out.  Is this Bill Belichick in Cleveland?  Jerry admits he should have given Chan Gailey longer to sort through a very complicated situation when he took over the 1998 Cowboys.  Or is this Dave Campo or Wade Phillips?  Because some coaches are miscast as architects who have a global vision.  You can wait 15 years and it might only be getting worse.

I think most people agree that tangible results need to happen this year for Garrett to feel safe about coaching in 2014 here.  There is plenty of pressure and not a ton of patience for this upcoming season and it all starts with getting this draft right.

And perhaps that will be his calling card.  Looking at the chart, it seems that if anything can be considered a clear upgrade since Garrett's arrival, it seems that potentially, the process in the draft room has clearly exceeded his predecessor.  Is that more of a praise of Garrett/Jones or underscoring the poor job done by Jones/Wade?  Fair question.  And as we look at Garrett's challenges, is one of them that is not discussed enough trying to pull this thing out of the personnel ditch that Wade/Jerry had put them in?

If DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Dwayne Harris continue to develop, Tyron Smith and Mo Claiborne continue on their road to being long-term building blocks, and we see much of the 2012 draft class emerge, maybe this slow-build technique will have long-term results.

The question is whether Garrett will be here to enjoy it or whether the next guy will see that maybe the cupboard is not that bare.

Regardless, I thought it might help to see just when and how everyone on the roster has arrived.  This didn't happen overnight and the fix won't happen quickly either.

But, Garrett now feels like his team is in place.  Let's see what that means on the field in 2013.

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