2012 was another season full of high hopes for the Dallas Cowboys, but it once again ended in bitter disappointment. Let's look at the Cowboys as we examine the off-season State of the NFC East.
2012 finish: 8-8, 3rd place
Changes already made: Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fired and replaced by Monte Kiffin; Wes Phillips promoted to tight end coach; Frank Pollack hired to assist Bill Callahan; Derek Dooley hired as new wide receiver coach
Decisions still to come: Need to hire a running back coach.
I was curious how the Cowboys were going to spend their off-season, and they didn't waste any time on Black Monday when they fired Ryan. Several writers from SB Nation's Cowboys web site, Blogging the Boys, were interviewed for this article: some were happy to see him go and others were upset.
KD Drummond of Blogging the Boys gives some insight on the firing and why it never truly worked out with Ryan in Dallas.
"Our defense had it's problems, there isn't any question there," said Drummond. "In Year One of Ryan's D, we heard it was too complicated and that the lockout robbed him of a chance to teach it properly. In Year Two, the injuries robbed him the chance to play the way he wanted. Yet, throughout his tenure there were multiple times with 10 or 12 men on the field, players looking confused in coverage, bad tackling, untimely penalties ... things that are the coach's responsibility to correct. In the end, that had to be addressed and a change to the detail-oriented [Monte] Kiffin from loosey-goosey Ryan should bear the fruit Jerry is looking to consume."
Kiffin has experience at both the pro and college level and could be a good fit in Dallas. As Drummond mentions above, the flow of the defense could change for the better.
"Never entertained the thought of Kiffin, but once he was hired I was willing to give him a chance," said Drummond. "His pro record is phenomenal; 12 of 13 years top 10 in scoring, 11 of 13 top 10 in yardage. Things should be interesting and we'll look for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter to become a Brian Urlacher/Derrick Brooks combo."
As someone who is a Giants follower, I think Tony Romo is a very good quarterback. However, when it comes to bigger games he can't seem to get the job done and it's always puzzled me. Despite his troubles with bigger situations with the season on the line, Romo should still be the guy at quarterback for the Cowboys -- and rightfully so.
"The problem with Romo and the 'big game' is that he has, to a large degree, been the difference between the team being in the 'big game' and not having a chance in the first place," said Tom Ryle, also of Blogging The Boys. "The most recent loss to Washington looked much like a player trying to do too much because he is trying to lift the team. The issue is that any other solution is likely to be a step back. If the team could see into the future and spot a Russell Wilson out there, then it would make sense to move in that direction. But Wilson was a gamble that paid off, and those don't generally come through. For 2013, Romo is still the best bet. The team does need to start looking at the next quarterback, but barring a real miracle, no one is going to win more games for the Cowboys than Romo next season. If you think the fan base is angry at Jerry Jones now, imagine if the team dumps Romo and goes with a rookie that doesn't pan out."
With the upcoming draft, the Cowboys have a few positions to look at -- particularly in both the offensive and defensive lines. Last year they Cowboys made a big trade up to get cornerback Morris Claiborne in the first round. Claiborne makes their secondary stronger, but the line needs some work.
"I think they'll target defensive linemen in the first round, focusing on quick, undersized tackles like Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, Florida's Sharrif Floyd or Purdue's Kawann Short, and look to bolster the interior offensive line in the second round, hoping that a guy like Kentucky's Larry Warford will be available at pick number 51," said BTB contributor rabblerousr.
"Tyron Smith will still be the main left tackle and Nate Livings likely left guard, but the center position and the right side of the line could be in flux. Dallas needs a running back to pair with DeMarco Murray. Felix Jones as a free agent could likely be done in Dallas," said BTB editor Dave Halprin.
Finally, the Cowboys have some decisions to make in terms of free agents and contracts that work well against the cap. Some changes will be made within, however, high-priced free agent signings don't seem to be on the horizon for this team.
"I expect the housecleaning that has characterized Jason Garrett's tenure to continue," said rabblerousr. "He has done a good job of getting rid of bad contracts. This year, the guys who fit the bill are backup linebacker Dan Connor and fullback Lawrence Vickers. In addition, they will have to let go of at least two former first rounders form the Wade Phillips administration in Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins and, most likely, a third in Anthony Spencer. In addition, there are two players who haven't performed to the level at which they are getting paid -- Miles Austin and Doug Free -- whose contracts will have to be renegotiated if they are to avoid the cutting block."
Check out Blogging the Boys for more on the Cowboys.
You can follow Kelsey O'Donnell on Twitter @KelsODonnell