After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 8-8
Projected current salary-cap space (according to Spotrac): $20.9 million over the cap
Key free agents: DT Jason Hatcher, DE Anthony Spencer, C Ryan Cook, G Brian Waters
Possible salary-cap casualties: WR Miles Austin, CB Brandon Carr, DE DeMarcus Ware
Draft situation: The Cowboys will draft 16th in the first round. Dallas has an extra seventh-round pick, and traded its sixth-round pick for Kansas City's seventh-round pick.
Revisiting 2013: 8-8. Of course. That's the third straight year of flat mediocrity for the Cowboys. The offense was respectable but the defense was absolutely atrocious, giving up the most yards in the league. Dallas still had a chance to win the NFC East up until the end, but Tony Romo's back wouldn't allow him to play the season finale against the Eagles, and Dallas' inspired effort behind Kyle Orton came up short. At the end of the day the Cowboys were your run-of-the-mill flawed and average team, except it's one that gets way more attention than almost any other franchise.
Reasons for optimism: Hmmm. This isn't easy. Well, let's go to the offense. Romo is still a very good quarterback, even though he's going to be 34 coming off back surgery. DeMarco Murray had a fine year, although Dallas' play-callers always seemed to forget about him during games. Dez Bryant is a superstar at receiver, which helps, and the line is good. Defensively, perhaps some better luck with health, mainly to linebacker Sean Lee, can help. And switching defensive coordinators, from Monte Kiffin to Rod Marinelli, was a wise move.
Glaring hole to fill: You can count almost the entire defense here. That side of the ball was atrocious in 2013. Safety is a major problem, the cornerbacks played poorly, linebacker is an issue especially if Lee can't stay healthy and free agency might ravage the defensive line. Other than that, things are going really well for Dallas' defense. And, with the team an estimated $20 million or so over the cap, and drafting in the middle of the first round thanks to that 8-8 record, there's probably no huge fix coming this offseason. Then figure that Hatcher, who is coming off a fine season and was probably Dallas' best defender, is a free agent and the Cowboys have no cap space to pay him, and there's another issue that needs fixing.
Toughest decision: What will the Cowboys do with DeMarcus Ware? On one hand it seems inconceivable that the team would let go of Ware, its most talented defensive player. But he counts about $16 million against the cap, and the Cowboys need to create room. He said he will restructure but made clear that he does not want to take a pay cut. Ware is going to be 32 and coming off an unproductive and physically taxing six-sack season, his career worst output in that area. The Cowboys' woeful defense isn't going to be better off without Ware. And it's hard to imagine Dallas simply letting Ware go, considering he and Romo have been the faces of the franchise for so long. But given Dallas' salary-cap issues, it's certainly a challenging issue for the team this offseason.
Best-case offseason scenario: Dallas needs Romo to be his usual self by the time the season rolls around, If Romo isn't the productive quarterback he has been for many years, the Cowboys are in a ton of trouble. The most optimistic path for the Cowboys to be 2014 contenders would be through the offense outscoring most teams and the defense returning to respectability through improved health and much better coaching. There just aren't many quick fixes aside from hitting some home runs on a few draft picks. They aren't going to be major players in free agency unless they get incredibly creative. Despite all of last season's issues the team was in contention for a division title until losing the last game of the regular season, and that's the thing that should give Cowboys' fans hope.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants; 20. St. Louis Rams; 19. Chicago Bears; 18. Pittsburgh Steelers; 17. Baltimore Ravens
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