Another week is somehow in the books -- time flies when you are having fun -- and we are down to 16 weeks until the regular season starts! What better way to spend a little of your Friday than with some Cowboys mailbagging!
Q: Where would a completely healthy Tony Romo rank among your top NFL QBs currently?
I think this is a pretty solid place to start and I guess it all depends on your level of optimism. So much of any Cowboys prediction rides heavily on what you believe about Tony Romo. He says all the right things and we all hope that he is telling the truth and everything turns out fine. We just talked about this on the radio yesterday because I am working on a project that asked me to look at all of the interceptions the Cowboys threw in 2015. My memory has already started to fade out the details of this very forgettable year a bit, but actually looking at each game brought a lot of things back to my attention. In my head, it was clear that the horrid play of all of the backup QBs was the biggest culprit (after we blame the collarbone sufficiently). But, as I looked at the 16 games, it was pretty shocking how poorly Romo played QB in those four games he did play. The throws were not good overall. He gave us a few moments of fun against the Giants and at Miami, but overall, Romo looked like he was playing hurt when he was out there. Even some of his good throws against the Dolphins, for instance, looked like looping throws, rather than the Romo fastball.
This puts you in a spot where that voice in your head is hoping that this was mostly a case of him rushing back when he wasn't quite right. He was bailing out of passes in November because deep down inside, he knew that his shoulder could go the first time he took a real hit (he was correct, by the way).
So, I say all that to say this: Watching his snaps in 2015 were a bit disconcerting overall. Statistically -- with a small sample -- he had his lowest QB rating and highest interception percentage of his career. This after the 2014 Romo had the highest stats of his career. He also turned 36, where we start to wonder when Father Time will start taking some of these extraordinary athletic gifts away from our athletes. So, does 2014 Romo still live here? Everyone is hoping.
So, where does a healthy Romo rank in the NFL? Well, the 2014 Romo had a gripe about the MVP award. That puts him in the top five easily and maybe higher. If that guy is still in that body -- and his body can take the hits that every QB (even with a great offense and a great line) must take -- then we can say that when he is right, he is still among the best. And clearly, every Cowboys decision seems to drip with the premise of "Tony Romo is still a great QB."
I guess we ignore our eyes and hope they are right. Not sure what other choice a Cowboys fan has right now.
Q: What's a realistic expectation for the Cowboys, record wise, in their first four games with their top two pass-rushers suspended?
The first four games of the Cowboys schedule are: Sept. 11 vs. Giants, Sept. 18 at Redskins, Sept. 25 vs. Bears, Oct. 2 at 49ers. There are no world beaters in this group and there are no projected playoff teams (at least in my head). So, with a defensive line of Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Benson Mayowa and Jack Crawford starting with David Irving, Ryan Russell, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper and Terrell McClain behind them, I think they should be in decent enough shape against those opponents. I would say you hope for 3-1 and you settle for 2-2. So much has been invested in this offense, so you would sure hope that everyone is healthy and ready to go crazy in the first four games. In the next four games you do have a couple playoff teams and that means a pass rush should be more vital. I think the Cowboys' goal is to get to 9-10 wins and to do that, they will need to get through September in a strong fashion without the two suspended players.
Q: So which is the best team in Texas in 2016: the Cowboys or Texans?
Great question. Because I really think the Texans have a chance to be pretty solid this season. Everyone will talk QB, but how about getting Lamar Miller from Miami? I think that would have been the move I would have earmarked for the Cowboys back in March. (I did!) The Texans also play in a division that doesn't scare anyone, so I will likely have both teams win totals in the same relative area. I would also love to put a super team together that allows the Cowboys' offense to join the Texans' defense to win the Super Bowl for Texas. And, while in fantasy land, I would also like to make it mandatory that the Cowboys and Texans play every year. But, I am king of nothing and don't get to declare things from the throne with any effectiveness. So, I will hope it is the Cowboys, but I will say that without much conviction until this defense shows me some things.
Q: Do you think Rico Gathers has a chance to make the roster out of camp or is he looking at a practice squad year?
I am relatively sure that the only way Gathers makes the 53 is if they are sure he will be snapped up by someone if they try to sneak him through to the practice squad. To do so, they must expose him to the league and if he does anything special in preseason, that could be an issue. But, if you keep him on the 53, then there is a chance you are playing with 52 this year -- unless he can figure out special teams in one summer (which seems unlikely -- or impossible -- if you haven't played football since 8th grade). The most likely scenario? If he is really good in camp, I would watch for the season-long IR for some imaginary or small injury to basically keep him team property for the season without having to do any of the above. Teams do this all the time, and if that happens in late August, remember who predicted this for the biggest project the Cowboys have signed up for in years.
Q: How much of a pass-rushing threat do you think Tyrone Crawford can be playing defensive end?
I assume that he will be decent. And it isn't like Randy Gregory is DeMarcus Ware. I think those suspensions hurt more in body count than in actual quality in the short term. Sure, DeMarcus Lawrence is this team's best pass rusher, but that doesn't mean he is great. That means he is good and could develop into very good. Gregory hasn't shown much of anything at the NFL level that we should cry about his absence. He has a long way to go. I think with two free-agent additions and two draft additions, this team should be able to survive September in decent shape.
Q: Which training camp battles would you be most excited to see come late July?
Well, to be honest, this roster doesn't seem to have a whole lot of competition to start. I will write the 22 starters out on May 20th and I bet (injuries pending) that I can go 20 for 22 for opening night: Romo, Smith, Collins, Frederick, Martin, Free, Witten, Bryant, Williams, Elliott, Beasley on offense (11 personnel). Then, on defense: Crawford, Crawford, Thornton, Collins (this one is the questionable one), Lee, McClain, Hitchens, Carr, Scandrick, Jones, Church.
The closest thing to battles will be free safety -- Byron Jones or JJ Wilcox -- and right tackle -- Free vs. Chaz Green. I don't really see either of those likely. Jones is the future at free safety no matter what and while Green may have some upside, I don't think they want him starting right away. Beyond that, this is your team, I believe.
So then the competitions become for depth, like who is the fourth and fifth WR, who is the fourth and fifth LB, who are your third-down rushers, and so on. But, this is a veteran team that has been built to win now. They have most of their starters squared away. Now, the question is about depth and quality.
Q: Saw ESPN projections story that had Cowboys winning East by four games over rest of teams. Sounds a little crazy to me, even in the best-case scenario. Your thoughts?
My thoughts are that almost nobody ever wins a division by four games. And the Cowboys have to deal with the defending division champs in Washington, a talented team in New York, and I doubt Philadelphia is a concern. I think 9-10 wins will win this division and I think the Cowboys can be that team, but I would never project a runaway laugher. I also think I am having a hard time predicting anything in May with that degree of specificity, so I will defer to projections for those who want them.
As for me, I will wait on everything else for next week. Have a fine weekend.