After three straight 8-8 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys broke the trend in 2014 with a fantastic offense and an unusually decent defensive unit. The team finished 12-4 and made it all the way to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers.
Now that America’s Team has shown they have the potential to win, America will start to expect a little bit more from the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo. Fortunately, the team was able to avoid losing too many of their key players. Star running back DeMarco Murray walked to join the Philadelphia Eagles; but, more importantly, superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant was franchise tagged to prevent him from leaving Dallas.
Bryant is the real star of the Cowboys’ offense, so even without Murray on the field the team should have no problem maintaining the same high-powered offense they had in 2014. Sure, Murray was the NFL’s leading rusher with Adrian Peterson missing the season; but the Cowboys’ offensive line deserves just as much credit for that feat as Murray himself.
Former Oakland Raiders 4th overall draft pick Darren McFadden will be the Stars’ go-to guy this season, and everyone can expect a career-year from the 27 year old. Since being drafted in 2008, McFadden hasn’t had a good offensive line or team in general. The Cowboys retained their top-ranked line, and even brought in LSU tackle La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent—a guy who was supposed to be a top 10 pick but never heard his name called amongst murder allegations.
As for the defense, the Cowboys brought in Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory as well as resigning linebacker Rolando McClain. Gregory will be a solid end for the defensive line; however, the Cowboys will have to wait before utilizing Hardy. Fans thought their team really got a steal signing the former Carolina Panther Pro Bowler, but Hardy will be sitting out the first 10 games of the season for his domestic violence punishment that forced him to miss last season as well.
The biggest improvements to the team’s defense came in the NFL Draft. With the 27th overall selection, the Cowboys addressed their glaring need for secondary talent by bringing in Byron Jones from Connecticut. Jones was a highly-scrutinized pick at first, being touted as nothing more than a late-round talent who is really good at working out, but the first round was correct for such an athletic player. Jones will not only contribute his own skills to the Dallas secondary, he will also whip players like Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr back into shape by threatening their futures with the team.
In the second round, however, the Cowboys made what could become one of the best picks of the draft. Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory is a top-five talent with an amazing pass rush ability. The only potential problem with this pick is that the Jerry Jones is taking a kid with failed drug tests and other off-the-field issues and putting him in the same locker room as Dez Bryant and Greg Hardy.
Gregory was heavily criticized heading into the draft, and some NFL executives were quoted saying that they don’t think he’ll last five years in the league. The Cowboys will need to really keep an eye on this man to keep him out of trouble and playing at full potential. If everything works out, Dallas acquired a heck of a pass rusher and a franchise player at No. 60.
Overall, the Cowboys had a good enough offseason to keep their spot on top of the NFC East; however, the competition this season will be much tougher. The New York Giants had an equally great draft, and the Philadelphia Eagles…well, they did a lot. If Dez Bryant is on top of his game, and this offensive line can continue to move bodies and keep Tony Romo on his feet, the Cowboys may be able to go even further in 2015.