Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why the cowboys should have made a deal before the trade deadline.

I cannot shake the feeling that my beloved hometown Cowboys blew their season by not making an NFL trade deadline move.  That feeling was dramatically increased after learning that Brian Waters would miss the season.

The importance of Brian Waters

Last season, the Cowboys rolled out the worst offensive line I can recall.  IMO only one of their OLs, OT Tyron Smith was an average or above player.

This preseason Dallas was looking only slightly better due to injuries.  Doug Free had bounced back from his collapse last season and was playing with much better technique.  The trouble is Free has a definite ceiling.  He is a left tackle type player (ie. good pass rusher, poor run blocker) who is not good enough to protect a QB's blind side long term on a top team.  Plus Dallas invested so much in Smith that they feel Smith has to play the LT spot.  This creates a situation where even when Free is playing well, he represents a positional deficiency as a run blocker for us.

Rookie Travis Frederick has played well, but well for a rookie.  He is at least an average NFL starter today.  He is a good run blocker.

In the pre-season our guards were 1) constantly injured and 2) horrible.  That meant we would only have 2 (possibly 3) average or above spots on the line.

Brian Waters is a Dallas guy (former UNT player!) and former pro bowl guard.  He had been retired last year, but clearly wanted to play for the Cowboys.   I thought signing him would raise the level of play at all spots on the line.   I have listened to Nate Newton talk about how Larry Allen drove the other linemen to new heights and have thought for the last 3 seasons that this team is in crying need of a dominant pace setting guard.

Dallas signed him and Waters has provided that leadership and played very well.

Dallas was the worst rushing team in the NFL last season.  They were playing dramatically better in that regard until RB Demarco Murray again went down and Joseph Randle proved physically unready to be a feature back.

Even before Waters went down, I still felt Dallas should have acquired a competent veteran starting caliber guard for a late pick in next year's draft prior to the trade deadline as it would improve both the starting five and the depth.

Now Waters may be gone.  There are reports that Free may play some guard again as he was in the pre-season.  He is below average at guard.  I can only hope that Waters can deal with the pain enough to stay on the field (without causing some chronic injury that will haunt him after football), as without him this team's OL is once again below average.

Dallas Cowboys' fans are melting down about the yards the defense has given up, but when you force four turnovers and your OL can't do much but punt the ball away, is that a defensive problem?  What problems there are on defense are really that is just a syptom of a new scheme combined with defensive injuries decimating the OL and secondary and, since Murray was lost, an often ineffective offense.  The offense bit boils down to no Murray and injuries taking out Waters last week.

The OL is the key.  Everything else would respond if that were fixed.  IMO, you can't win in the playoffs with a substandard OL.

Why trading would have fixed these issues and was the right play

This post is all about overcoming bad conventional wisdom.  Today NFL CW regarding draft picks is that you don't do it.  Fans regularly read articles quoting former GMs on how teams should hold on to all of their picks.

"You have 53 players and only seven draft picks," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, who was the general manager of the Redskins and Texans for 18 seasons. "Those are like gold."

This is bad conventional wisdom and is especially bad CW in regards to the Cowboys.

Not all draft picks are created equal.  If they were Jimmy Johnson would not have assembled a trade chart to assign worth to picks for trading purposes.  The idea that they are all "precious organizational assets" is poor logic. The value of a first or second rounder may equate to "precious" to NFL owners and GMs, but a 5th-7th round pick?

Jimmy Johnson's infamous draft value chart valued the first pick in the draft with a value of 3000.  The values of the picks in the 5th -7th rounds value between 43 and .4 points.  How valueable are those late round picks really????  And yet NFL GMs have bought heavily into this CW creating a great opportunity for the Cowboys.

The Jimmy Johnson chart has proven it's worth as a "quick and dirty" guide for assembling trades.  Most of the NFL front offices appear to use it a a guide, suggesting it has proven to be a fairly widely accepted approximator of draft pick values on the open market.

Recently Kevin Meers of The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective published a similarly formated chart that looked at the value of historic picks.  This totally disregards demand for the higher picks and simply looks at historic value of the picks themselves.  In that way, it makes even a stronger argument for dealing later picks while the deals are favorable.

His chart more or less computes the average "career approximate values" of NFL picks.  He values the top pick at a little over 494 and the 5th to 7th round picks range from 75.6 to 39.8.  He sites the 94th pick (30th pick in the 3rd round) as the normal pick.  He advises valuewise one might expect a player to have a career the level of a Josh McNown. That's a guy who might start for a few years before losing his job- Basically a below average NFL starter/ backup.

Now if you really think highly of your scouting department you can try to play the odds in the fourth round.  By looking at prospects who were likely devalued in the evaluation process either for unruly behavior, lack of intelligence, playing a position that is valued less, or playing at small schools, maybe you can stretch that window into the fourth round.

Precious picks in the 5th to 7th round?  Not really.

Over the last decade the Cowboys have tended to hold on to their late round picks (guys who are working their butts off to make a roster) and let more talented early and mid rounds ones go. Physical talent measurables tend to drive earlier selection in the draft.  Keeping later picks over earlier ones effectively lowers the talent level on the Cowboys roster vs. their opponents.  This is a long standing problem.  There are several top of draft Cowboys picks playing well for other teams.

Now you can still steal a nice developmental QB, or even an immediate middling starter at DT, LB, or Safety in the fourth round.  But the fifth through seventh rounds?  Trade that crap.  You are bucking the odds big time with those picks and in Dallas they add to the problem of thin depth.  You may get someone who will make your roster, but the odds are way against you that you will get an average or better starter.

And the NFL is perfectly set to help you maximize the value of those picks.  It is not uncommon to land a semi-bust former first rounder for a 5th to 7th round pick.  (By semi-bust I mean a guy who was a poor fit for his drafting team's scheme, but would fit a different team much better. A player like Reggie Bush, for example...) That is far better value than picking someone with a 6th round pick.


Now lets be clear.  I do not advocate trading late picks for big money players.  Note even ones on ending deals.  No Darren McFadden.  No 35 year old DEs for example (or even expensive 23 year old DEs).

My thinking is that you have already identified and drafted the players you trust and want to reward with big money in the early rounds of your drafts.

Dallas Cowboys' "insider" Mike Fisher is a bit of a troll when the idea of trading for players comes up.  He likes to point at the really ridiculous trade ideas (from a cap perspective) and say no deals can be made due to a lack of cap space.  I am not inclined to buy that line of thinking.  Dallas always seems to have cap trouble and then a deal is re-worked and suddenly cap space is available, so to me those kinds of arguments just seem silly.

If Jerry wants someone, the space is made available.  I think Dallas could open up $2M in cap space fairly easily by renegotiating a deal or two.  The question is always, "Does he see the need?"


So lets think about cost effective trades for expendable assets

Now most may think we need DLs, especially pass rushing DE help.  I would not be opposed to pursuing a run stuffing 0 technique who the defensive coaches endorse, but I think the defensive coordinators aren't really interested in that and their are better ways to spend our assets any way.

I think Dallas has done a great job picking up linemen who fit a 4 man front who were playing in the wrong pro schemes.   I would say Dallas should take a look at Vernon Gholson, former Ohio State Star and former NYJ bust #1(6) pick.

Now Gholson was admittedly bad in NY.   Actually not just bad. Abysmal.  Gholson is certainly not the first elite 4-3 DE prospect who looked very ordinary as a 3-4 OLB running around in space.  (Anthony Spencer anyone?  Having a pass rusher running around in space on over 50% of your plays is inviting poor performances.)

Gholson was not a Rob Ryan guy in addition to being a piss poor fit in that scheme.  Dallas's current situation is the perfect one to see if this guy has anything.  Dallas can bring him in and let him play 10-15 snaps a game (mostly passing downs) for the rest of the season.  It isn't like the other guys we have at DE (with Ware out) have higher pass rush ceilings.

Gholson had a weeklong cup of coffee with Chicago when their defense was run by current Dallas DL coach, but that was a very different scenario.  Chicago had a solid core on the DL.   Dallas is in tryout mode on their DL, trotting people in they maybe wouldn't normally consider for extended regular season tryouts. 

Why not give this top talent an extended tryout?  I have included a video of Gholson in college put together by a Gholson groupie.  I do not think he looks dominant at all, but he was productive in college and he does look productive here like a quality second DE and the combine proved he has a fantastic mix of 4-3 DE size and speed.

Now who would I have gone after...?


I was a proponent of signing former NYG free agent guard Kevin Boothe this offseason.  My thought was Boothe would fill a guard spot competently and force the Giants to spend another early draft pick on an OL.  My logic was "Add to your team and hurt your conference opponent".

Boothe is a good run blocker and an OK pass blocker who stays healthy.  He is essentially a slightly above average veteran starting OL.  He can play center in a pinch.  He maybe has 1-3 more solid years.

Dallas did not sign Boothe and New York was able to sign him to a cost effective one-year deal.

If Dallas acquired him, it would give Dallas 5 competent starting OL and would create playoff caliber depth on the OL, something Dallas just doesn't have right now.

Additionally, it would allow Eli Manning to take more of a beating.  There is a point where an NFL QB has taken so much of a beating that his end of game play suffers.  That is the best part of Manning's game.  Anything that can be done to excellerate that helps Dallas long term.


I think Dallas could very possibly have acquired Boothe for next year's 6th round pick.  While NY doesn't have many healthy OLs making keeping Boothe to be their first thought, they signed this guy to a 1 year deal.  It is pretty clear what they think of his long term future.  I am assuming NFL CW on draft picks would have been in play in the Giant's front office. Being able to acquire a pick for a guy who is probably playing his last half season for NY may have been too much for the Giant's brain trust to pass on.

I'd have gladly taken any similar guy to Boothe at that cost.


Dallas has a RB they like in Demarco Murray.  He looks like a bit of a plodder, but actually has good speed.  When you watch him run he seems to have great balance and does no dancing behind the lines.  He looks like a strider perfectly comfortable in snow shoes.  He picks up his blocking assignments well and is a great receiver out of the backfield.  He competently finishes his runs.  He runs with power when needed and sees the holes well and gets there.  He would be a perfect fit here but he seems to get injured ever 5 games or so.  His history of injuries dates back well into his college days and is consistent.  Even though he plays at a near pro bowl level, you cannot count on him long term.

Dallas signed UNT star Lance Dunbar as a free agent a while ago.  Dunbar would be a prototypical 3rd down back but he lacks true elite speed.  He lacks the size and power to be a featured runner at the NFL level.  That said, Dunbar is a deadly open field runner who has an uncanny knack for breaking big plays.  If he got ten receptions a game, I think he'd likely break at least one for a huge gain/TD.  He may lack the size to stay healthy though.

Dallas drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round.  He is pretty typical of what you get in the fifth round.  Randle should have stayed in college another year and gotten bigger and stronger.  He runs a LOT like Murray, but he isn't a great blocker yet and lacks the power that Murray shows.  He is also not as good at finishing his runs. If Randle gains weight and power without his body becoming brittle, Dallas might have a great backup/replacement for Murray, but those are big ifs.

And then they have Phillip Tanner.  Tanner is a typical 3rd RB in the NFL.  He can do everything at a tolerable level if forced to play, but I have not seen anything special out of him.  He is probably the team's second best short yardage back, I guess, but really he is a fringe roster player who makes this team every year because the players ahead of him have huge flaws and cannot be counted on (long term and as needed).


I think Dallas alone would have been able to pry away former Heisman trophy winning RB Mark Ingram from New Orleans due to Jerry Jones' connection with Sean Payton.

For those of you unfamiliar with the dynamic there, Ingram was a guy Saints Coach Sean Payton lobbied for the Saints to trade up to get.  The Saints traded a second round pick and the following year's first to land Ingram.  This makes Payton very unwilling to deal Ingram, but no one is denying it hasn't worked out for Ingram in New Orleans.  Saints fans largely dislike him and consider him a huge bust.  Even the fairest of Saint reviewers find his game lacking.

I don't think calling him a bust is quite accurate.

Now certainly, Ingram is not all that, but he still could be VERY useful for the right team (DALLAS).

Ingram drew some comparisons to Emmitt Smith coming out and it is understandable.  Like early Emmitt, Ingram is no physical specimen as merely a midsized back with average speed, but he can carry a feature load, works hard to get the most out of his runs, and doesn't fumble much. 

Like later Emmitt, Ingram is a bit of a backfield tap dance, tip toe burgler when the hole is not readily evident, but his vision is much poorer than later Emmitt's and he lacks any apparent skill at cutting back (which later Emmitt lived on in the early 2000's).

While Ingram has become solid at picking up his blocking responsibilities and is a pretty solid receiver out of the backfield, the best parts of his game are lost in New Orleans.  Ingram is a thick, heavy load, passionate runner who continues to run hard as his opposition wears down.   He is a guy who breaks his 16th and 22nd carries in a game. Ingram will never get the 20+ carries a game he needs to meet his potential in New Orleans.

Additionally Ingram showed some ability to set up his blockers and follow his blockers in college.  That is largely wasted in New Orleans where most OL cannot hold a run block.  As a stutterer with mediocre speed, he is slow to the hole.  Backs who hit the hole quicker do much, much better in New Orleans.

Ingram's issues are compounded by the fact that he almost always starts his runs 8 yards deep in the backfield in that offense.  Ingram is generally caught upright waiting for a hole to open so his ability to finish runs is largely compromised. He is often utilized as a short yardage back in New Orleans, but he is so slow to get there that his tough running is often fruitless.

In Dallas, Ingram could be much better utilized.  Often Dallas will line up their running back about 5 yards back next to Romo in passing sets.  Romo is now heavily involved in calling the plays and favors heavy passing play calls.

That 3 yards would help Ingram immensely by reducing his time to the hole.   In addition, the addition of Travis Fredrick and Brian Waters has transformed Dallas from having one of the worst OL's in the league to having an average to maybe even above average one.  Dallas with Waters can run block.  Dallas would be able to maintain a run block allowing Ingram to better maximize his ability to set up, play off blocks, and finish his runs.  I think he would yield an extra yard a carry at least in Dallas and very likely could be an effective short yardage back.

My thoughts are that Dallas could start Murray when healthy and give him all the snaps and when Murray goes down hand almost all of the snaps to Ingram.


I think Dallas could have landed Ingram for next year's 5th rounder as long as the deal was dressed up to be face saving for Payton and the Saint's leadership.  Offering to upgrade the compensation to a first if Ingram hits 1000 yards this year or a 3rd if he hits 600 yards would have made it tolerable to the Saints front office and sellable to the fans.  And that is the thing.  To get Ingram, Dallas would have to make it look tolerable to NO fans. 

It would not be a bad offer.  If Ingram was the same bust in Dallas, NO would get a 5th --- as much as any Saints fan could expect.  If he looks a lot better, they would get an equally appropriate value and can just mark it up to "he didn't fit here".

Alternative solution

The Detroit Lions had declined Cleveland's early season overtures for Mikel Leshoure, but were reportedly calling around looking for takers right before the trade deadline.

Given the current talent in Dallas, Leshoure is the kind of back Dallas absolutely needs backing up Murray.  Leshoure is not what you want in a starter overall, but can absolutely fill the rushing load if Murray misses a game. A mix of Leshoure and Dunbar could actually competently replace Murray.

Leshoure is a somewhat big power back.  He is a straight ahead runner who has the power to turn a crease into a hole.  I absolutely love to see how often Leshoure gores a defense right up the gut.  While it translates into a shorter career, it is uncommon and very much improves an offense.  He is a good short yardage back.

While not elite breaking open gaps, he has much better power than Ingram.  He is not a polished or developed as Ingram in all the other areas.

He had an Achilles injury, but came back from that strongly.  There is little to suggest he is injury prone, although I think anytime you have that injury you won't have a long career.

While he can catch a pass, he was displaced in Detroit because Reggie Bush was such a dramatic (and needed upgrade) in their passing game.  In Dallas that would be far less of an issue as Dallas has a far better 2nd -4th receiving option than Detroit.  Leshoure is very competent as a team's 4th or 5th receiving option.


I think Detroit would not have taken less than a third round pick.  I would have been comfortable with that because that is about the caliber of back you can land in the third round in a good year.

I think you could have gotten 3-5 good years out of him --- basically the Tony Romo window.  That seems worth it to me, but Ingram would have been the cheaper pickup and maybe the longer career.

But that is my two cents.  Now I am left hoping Brian Waters can play to prevent a second half collapse.

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