FROM HOME, Texas – Now what?
Free agency has come and is quickly drying up.
Seemingly long gone is the NFL Draft process, and so, too, those mock five-point-however many.
The NFL Draft has come and gone.
We already have the presumptive 2020 schedules.
Rookie minicamp was no more than virtual streaming.
And coach-player interactions continue virtually.
Gosh, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck, we really don't have anything in the NFL to look forward to, well, except maybe if and when the NFL mandates the re-opening of team facilities and if there will be any semblance of an actual offseason training regime. Or if a shotgun start to training camp awaits.
Still, shots must carry on.
- Not So Fast: Keep hearing how supposedly easy the Cowboys schedule is, their strength of schedule's .459 2019 opponent winning percentage ranking 30th in the NFL. But in reality, their schedule is only two games different than that of the defending NFC East champion Eagles. Remember, both teams play the NFC West and the AFC North. Only difference being the Eagles play the first-place teams from the NFC South and North – New Orleans and Green Bay – and the Cowboys play the second-place teams from those respective divisions – Atlanta and Minnesota. Philly's would not necessarily be considered demanding, their opponent's .486 mark ranking 25th. So the difference being, both New Orleans and Green Bay finished 13-3, totaling 26 wins, and Atlanta and Minnesota totaled 17 wins. Also, since the Cowboys and Eagles must play the Giants and Washington twice, those teams combined for just seven wins last year, each counting twice in the equation, significantly lowering that opponent winning percentage. So the NFC East's four teams strength of schedules rank 25th, Giants 26th, Washington 28th and Cowboys 30th. Having to play the 2019 8-8 Cowboys is the only reason Giants (.482) and Redskins (.465) rank marginally tougher.
- Not Over-Easy: Plus, no matter the opponent records from this past season, here is a list of quarterbacks the Cowboys will presumably face if all are healthy at the time of the games: Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz (twice), Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson and Jimmy Garoppolo. That's nine games versus these top quarterbacks, seven of those QB's ratings finishing in the top 14 last year. Plus add in Roethlisberger, who played only two games in 2019. Pretty stiff gauntlet to run through. Then throw in games against Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. Meaning the Cowboys will play 13 games against QBs drafted in first rounds, including seven in the first eight games – the only exception being Wilson (third round), and that's no Saturday in the park, especially in Seattle where the Cowboys have won only twice in the seven meetings this century.
- Witten Back Then: When researching the 2003 post-NFL Draft, found my scouting report on Cowboys' third-round draft choice Jason Witten after watching him in the team's rookie minicamp: "Now, it's only a non-pad workout, and really, against a majority of guys who weren't even drafted or haven't played much, if any, in the NFL. But tight end Jason Witten sure showed an ability this weekend to get downfield, and he sure has some soft hands." Darn, might have missed my calling, the 11-time Pro Bowler Witten heading into his 17th season with 1,215 career catches, ranking fourth all-time in the NFL and second among tight ends.
- Cap Consternation: Wonder if teams, specifically the Cowboys, are factoring in the possibility of the 2021 salary cap, instead of a steady 6 percent rise annually, actually decreasing because of what might lay ahead with the coronavirus pandemic? Like, what if the NFL must cancel games or must play games with reduced attendance or empty stadiums? That certainly would affect the revenues, which the cap is based upon on a yearly basis. Seen where the projected 2021 cap is like $210 million per team under normal conditions. What if the cap decreases by, oh, say $30 million, to less than this year's $198 million? That certainly would significantly impact team salary cap room since the predetermined base salaries on high-priced, long-term contracts are structured to presume an annual cap increase. That, too, throws a wrench into how the Cowboys might structure a long-term deal for Dak Prescott, maybe another reason the Cowboys now are in no hurry to acquiesce to what Dak's people are asking for until they have a better handle on the financial future of the NFL. Free agency could be awash next year with talented players being released because of increased base salaries that assumed increased cap totals.
- Taco Last Time: Here is the benefit of being a first-round draft choice. No matter what's happened to you on previous stops, there is always another team thinking it can bleed something out of you. So goes Taco Charlton, the Cowboys' 2017 first-round draft choice hooking up with his third team in now four seasons, signing a one-year, fourth-year minimum deal ($825,000) with Kansas City. Nothing up front. No guarantees. Taco played 10 games with the Dolphins last year after the Cowboys released him two games into his third season. But even though he led the team with all of five sacks, the Dolphins not only didn't pick up his fifth-year option, they just flat cut him. Hope he realizes this is his last stop. He's quoted as saying, "My foot is on the gas for this one." And he had better floor it since the Super Bowl champion Chiefs are loaded at defensive end.
- Sack-Meister: There has been much made of DeMarcus Lawrence recording just five sacks this past season. But did you realize over the past three seasons he's totaled 30 sacks? No Cowboys player has totaled more over three years since DeMarcus Ware bagged 31 over just a two-year period (2011-12). In fact, since sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982, Ware holds the franchise mark for most sacks over three consecutive years with 46.5 from 2010-12, and weird, hit that three-year total three different times. Prior to that, Jim Jeffcoat owned the best three-year total with 37.5 from 1984-86, better than even Hall of Famer Randy White's 35.5 from 1983-85.
- Short Stacks: Thought of that since cooking pancakes on Mother's Day, and since we're on sacks, the Cowboys recorded 39 this past season, matching their 2018 total, one more than 2017 and just three more than 2016, so the 39 ranking 19th in the NFL last year, a stat in need of improvement … Not exactly something exciting to look forward to, but the NFL has extended those current virtual offseason workout programs scheduled to cease on Friday through May 29 … That certainly helps the five teams with new head coaches, including the Cowboys with Mike McCarthy … Since Dallas is scheduled to play the Hall of Fame preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, that means the Cowboys will play two preseason games against two regular-season opponents – Pittsburgh and then Baltimore in the first home preseason game.
Again, must preface all such things with, we hope.