The NFL is a copycat league. That’s not anything new, in fact, it has become a cliché. But it usually comes up when talking about the latest trends centered around the X’s and O’s of the game.
The Legion of Boom. RPOs. Match coverages. ROBOT technique for linebackers. Spread offenses.
I mean, I can keep going.
However, this time around, what teams like the Dallas Cowboys might be interested in “copying” is a different kind of thing.
I’m talking about front-office strategy. The Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI by doing things differently. Among other things, they have not made a single first-round draft pick in five years.
Talk about unconventional.
Such a trend -and the success to which it translated- has caused many in the media to discuss if other teams should follow. That includes those who cover the Cowboys. But of course, the context in Dallas is different from the one in Los Angeles.
Today, we’ll try to dive into what a Rams-like, all-in approach would look like for the Cowboys.
*Disclaimer: This is not a prediction article. I highly doubt the Cowboys’ front office would be as aggressive as they’d have to be to make this happen. Consider this a simulation of a fun offseason plan to try to get back to lifting up the Lombardi Trophy.
Are the Cowboys even ready for an all-in season?
Sheil Kapadia from The Athletic published a 10-step guide for NFL teams to avoid a disastrous offseason. One of the steps talked about the Rams model and why teams should be careful to follow it blindly.
“But if other teams look at the Rams’ model and think, “Hey that could be us … ” they’re probably going to end up being disappointed. […] There is no one right way to build a Super Bowl champion. Teams should take honest inventory of their strengths and weaknesses and avoid recency bias before chasing the Rams’ model.” – s. kapadia, the athletic
The Dallas Cowboys would then need to ask themselves if they’re in a position to go all-in. There are plenty of arguments to determine why they’re not. But indicators also exist that argue otherwise.
After all, the Cowboys have had a productive offense over the past few years. Sure, they’ve had their ups and downs. Most notably, in the second half of 2021 when troublesome trends and execution derailed the team’s offensive output, even when relatively healthy.
Yet, the Cowboys offense ranks eighth in the NFL in EPA/play and third in success rate since 2019, when Kellen Moore took over as offensive coordinator, according to RBSDM.com. Unlike the Rams, the Cowboys have a quarterback and don’t have to swing for the fences and trade for one like LA did for Matthew Stafford.
On defense, they have foundational pieces to build around. Including Micah Parsons, who received five votes for Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie.
And on top of it all, the NFC picture could look drastically different in 2022. With Tom Brady retired, Aaron Rodgers potentially leaving the Packers, and even Russell Wilson having differences with the Seahawks, the conference will be up for the taking.
Why shouldn’t the Cowboys go all-in?
What would it look like?
This is where things get tricky. Cowboys Nation loves the idea of throwing all the chips on the table if it means an intense run for the Super Bowl. It’s been far too long. But to be in a position to roll the dice like this, there are long-term sacrifices to be made.
And the Cowboys would likely need to go on a contract restructure spree. Stephen and Jerry Jones are no strangers to restructuring contracts and it’s a common offseason practice in Dallas. But to go all-in, they’d have to restructure even those whose futures are uncertain.
Specifically, I’m talking about Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys’ left tackle is frequently injured and many would prefer to leave the door open for a goodbye after 2022. The same for the star running back, whose contract doesn’t offer any flexibility right now.
Per Over The Cap projections, the Cowboys could open up approximately $40M by restructuring Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins. That would put them at $30.6M under the cap. Right now, they’re $22M over it.
Adding Elliott and Smith to the mix would leave the Cowboys with $48M in available cap space.
Sure, there would be long-term concerns about those moves. But it’s an all-in approach. You can’t have it both ways.
Suddenly, the franchise tag of Dalton Schultz for $11M doesn’t sound as complicated to pull off. In fact, it starts feeling like a no-brainer.
Re-signing Michael Gallup is doable. Or even breaking the bank for an upgrade. Chris Godwin to dominate the slot? Mike Williams to strengthen the red zone offense? Allen Robinson, to do a bit of everything?
All of these are going to be very expensive in the market, but it’s about getting a handful of guys that would truly make a difference.
Going for a top free agent like center Ryan Jensen, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, or an edge rusher like Chandler Jones or Von Miller is also a possibility in this scenario.
The Cowboys could even explore the trade market. Why not trade away a Day 2 draft pick for Brandin Cooks, who’s set to have a $5M cap hit in 2022? Or secure a cornerback like Marcus Peters to take the secondary even further than it went in 2021?
All of these ideas might sound like playing Madden in franchise mode to you. But let’s be real: that’s pretty much what the Rams did.
Based on what we know about the way the Dallas Cowboys run their operation, we’re likely better off re-installing the video game in our consoles than expecting it to actually happen.
This strategy would really put Dallas in a tough spot in the future and it’s difficult to feel as confident about the team as the Rams did about theirs.
Starting with the facts that Sean McVay doesn’t coach the Cowboys and Les Snead isn’t the GM, either.
Featured image via Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports