FRISCO, Texas – The month of February is always the transition period from one season to the next. The 2019 season is in the rearview mirror, especially with a brand-new coaching staff in place.
The next step for the team is player personnel, which mostly takes place in March with the start of free agency. The first day of the new league year is March 18, although the Cowboys will have several other decisions to make before then, thanks to 25 unrestricted free agents.
Before we get too far down the road, let's take an overview at each position, finding out what they've got, what they need and some big decisions to make.
Today, we'll break down the special teams position.
Coach In Charge: John Fassel
One of Mike McCarthy's first hires on the job was to add John Fassel, a longtime special teams coach who has nearly 15 years of experience coaching in the kicking game, including the last eight years with the Rams. Usually, coaches with that much experience will have their own set of rules and philosophies that they rely on. But Fassel said he tries to focus on knocking down those tendencies.
"When I come to a new team, I say what have I done in the past that I liked and what have I done in the past that I can do better," Fassel said. "And its' a chance for me with a new team to just reinvent myself and think about all the things I've done and how I can do it better."
Another thing Fassel tries to instill into his players is their importance on the team, regardless of where they might rank on the 53-man roster.
"A lot of the successes that come with special teams have to do with intangibles," Fassel said. "The personnel is a huge part of it and the player development is a huge part of it. But when you can get a group of running backs, linebackers, tight ends, receivers, DBs to become cohesive and make it seem like those guys are valuable to a team, that's probably the biggest component to being successful on special teams. Building chemistry and building pride and getting theme to feel like they're important when a lot of times they're backups on offense or defense, but they're a starter on special teams. That's kind of my message to them. 'You're important to this football team.'"
Biggest Question: Who's The Kicker?
The Cowboys have more than 25 free agents to make decisions on in the next month. While he's not seemingly atop the list of priority, Kai Forbath can't be too far down the list. If he's not retained, it'll be interesting to see what the Cowboys' options are with the kicker. Even if Forbath is re-signed, expect the Cowboys to have a variety of options regarding this position. Last year, Brett Maher was released in early December after too many inconsistencies, especially in the 40-49-yard range. Forbath stepped in and aside from a couple of kickoffs that went of bounds, he was perfect with his 10 field goals and 10 extra point attempts in the final three games. Regardless what happens in the next month, you can expect a competition at kicker during training camp and the preseason.
What They Have: Lots of Question Marks
The only significant special teams player under contract is punter Chris Jones and his numbers have dipped in recent years. While Jones could easily return for his 10th season, nothing should be assumed at this point. Last season, Jones averaged just 41.6 yards per punt – a full three-yard dropoff from his career average of 44.6 yards. Now, punting numbers can be tricky to quantify at times, especially considering the Cowboys did have the No. 1 offense in the NFL last year and often drove the ball near midfield, shrinking the field for Jones' booming punts. This past season was the first time since his rookie year that Jones didn't have a single punt over 60 yards.
Immediate Need: Answers
Nothing is really solidified on special teams, other than the coach. Both Forbath and deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur are unrestricted free agents. The team's primary punt returners last year – Tavon Austin and Randall Cobb are both free agents and the team's leading tackler on special teams – C.J. Goodwin – is also a free agent. These questions will get answered of course but as we stand here in late February, this position is anything but solidified.