We end this week the way we try to end them all -- by taking your award-winning Cowboys emails. Let's get to this:
I'd like you to break down a realistic production road map for the Cowboys on getting to top-12 sack total. If Taco gets 5, Collins 6, etc. I personally think Maliek Collins can be a big difference-maker for other guys along the line, but don't see the individual 12-sack total.
Thanks, Joseph. I was just looking at sack numbers for the Cowboys and trying to evaluate just where they were in 2016. You will hear some people discuss that the Cowboys need to improve their pass rush above all other objectives for 2017, and then you will hear other people counter with the following truth: The Cowboys had 36 sacks last year in a league that averaged 35 and finished 12th in the league in total sacks, higher than the New York Giants. That is relevant, because visually, it seems that almost every football observer in the free world would like to see the Cowboys raise their pass rush to the standard of the Giants. The Giants are said to have a superior pass rush, right? Well, if so, how did the Cowboys have more sacks?
One thing to know is the following simple truth: The more time you spend with the lead in the NFL, the more passes you will have to face. And, of course, the more opportunities you have to get sacks. Therefore, we want to look at sack rate as a more relevant stat than total sacks. If Team A gets 35 sacks and Team B gets 30, we need to know that Team A had 150 more passes to defend and, therefore, 150 more chances to get to a quarterback. That would mean Team B actually was better at ending plays with the quarterback underneath a pile of bodies.
Let's look at the difference with a table of numbers from 2011-16:
This chart above shows the Cowboys in blue, the NFL average in red and the top team in sacks in green. As you can see, 2016 was not a great year for the sack. The NFL average fell pretty substantially, from 37 per team to under 35. Obviously, over the past four seasons (2012-15), the Cowboys have been below the NFL average. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. In 2016, they did, in fact, eclipse the NFL average, as teams averaged 34.9 and the Cowboys hit 36, ranking 12th in the league. It was actually pretty strong and better than 2011, when Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware walked the defensive front.
Now let's check that sack rate. Here, unlike sack totals, you want a low number. This is how many plays it takes to get each sack.
As you can see above, from this standard, the Cowboys were not better than league average. In fact, from this standpoint, the Cowboys actually had a worse sack rate than they did in 2015! But, in 2015, the Cowboys faced 537 pass plays for their 31 sacks. In 2016, the Cowboys did get to 36 sacks, but had 669 pass plays to achieve that total. So, in 2015, the sack rate was one per 17.3 pass plays. That number, 17.3, was the NFL sack rate in 2016. But this past year, the Cowboys required 18.6 pass plays per sack. So, the 12th-best sack total but the 18th-best sack rate.
I think there are two ways to have great sack totals. Employ an unstoppable edge rusher -- DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, etc. and the reason many of us were so obsessed with finding one of those in this 2017 draft -- or employ a deep group of guys who have high work rates and work together with stunts and games and eventually break through in concert the Rod Marinelli way. This one is the road the Cowboys are on, and by drafting Taco Charlton, they add to the group. What is amazing is that they got to 36 sacks last year without any one player exceeding six. In fact, only Benson Mayowa had six and only Maliek Collins got to five. Think about that: The top two pass rushers combined for 11 and the rest of the group accounted for 25 more! That is pretty remarkable, and I am guessing likely the best in the league at that (subtracting the top two rushers from each team's pass rush total).
Now they need DeMarcus Lawrence to exceed six. Let's put him at nine. David Irving and Mayowa with six. Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins with five each. That is 31 right there. Can Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, Cedric Thornton and my linebackers and defensive backs combine for nine more? If so, 40 can happen.
Will LB play be better with not-100% Jaylon Smith that loves football vs. 100% Rolando McClain that loves "purple drink"?
Great question. I am a huge Jaylon Smith fan, but I must admit the unknown quality of his play is a real issue. I also concede my love for peak Rolando McClain, even though we saw it so seldom. But, when Jaylon is right, I think I will take my chances with him. He is an incredible talent and a real strong off-the-field personality. I will always take my chances on players who are "all-in" and Jaylon is very much so. Now, is he still a first- or second-round talent? Time will tell us soon enough.
I am sure it has been discussed in detail, but what are the ramifications for the 2017 cap if the Cowboys can agree to an extension with Zack Martin? Can Stephen free up any cap space this year by cutting the base salary of Martin with the signing bonus this year, and push base salary cap hits back to 2019, 2020, 2021 when Romo's $19M cap hit is split over the next two seasons.
I doubt it. Believe it or not, Zack Martin's deal for this year sits at $9.34 million for 2017. His new deal will need to put him either at the top of the guard salaries or close. The top five guards in the league all make MORE than $9.5M per, with T.J. Lang now in Detroit at that number. The top four guards range from $10-12M a year, so the idea of saving this season is likely possible, but I am not sure I would backload deals anymore with Romo gone. Pay guys when you can, because Dak and Zeke will need deals before you know it. Use this window between to pay guys as much as you can and then you are in a great spot when others need deals. I think they are now in a pretty good spot cap-wise, and I bet Martin is next. I wonder if La'el Collins would be a good price sooner than later, even though they will keep him next year as a restricted free agent.
What record gets Garrett fired next season?
Man, I thought Jason Garrett was very close to being fired after 2012 and 2013. Then, 2014 happened, and aside from three different Tony Romo injuries, the Cowboys have ascended into a legit NFC power with a 29-19 regular-season record and a playoff win. That is not great -- they need to achieve greatness in the playoffs -- but it is basically a three-year run of 10 wins, something that is difficult for anyone and darn near rare around here.
So, would 4-12 get Jason Garrett fired this year? Possibly, but I doubt it. I think they are now his team and are poised to be very good for several years here now. He is starting his eighth season and seventh full year as Cowboys' head coach. I think the odds are great he will serve a full decade on the job and increase his lead as the No. 2 winningest coach in Cowboys history.