Mar 26, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to reporters at the NFL Annual Meetings. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
In the 2014 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected two extremely talented difference-makers with their top 2 draft picks. But for as good as Zack Martin and Demarcus Lawrence appear to be, they may not be enough to improve the Cowboys in 2014. And subsequently not enough to save Jason Garrett’s job beyond 2014.
Most will agree, Jason Garrett enters the 2014 on the figurative “hot seat”. On a team like the Dallas Cowboys, three consecutive 8-8 seasons will not buy a coach job security. It doesn’t matter how good the coach’s relationship with ownership is, if a winning season isn’t attained in four years, something’s gotta give.
The Cowboys entered the offseason with both talent and salary cap issues. They pushed back money by reworking contracts, and cut high priced veterans to replace with cheaper alternatives. Most of the offseason was about correcting mistakes and less about improving the team. Through the draft the team upgraded talent on the roster. But was it enough?
According to most scouts, Zack Martin and Demarcus Lawrence are absolutely fantastic players who have real Pro Bowl potential. Every team has different player rankings and value charts, but for the most part, they were drafted at appropriate places in the draft. The problem is how much will they help the Dallas Cowboys now?
Martin is expected to start immediately at either guard or right tackle. Doug Free improved enough last season that the Cowboys can feel confident heading into the 2014 with him at RT. Besides, his last experiment at guard didn’t go so well so moving him may not be in the best interests of the team. The most likely scenario is Zack Martin replacing Mackenzy Bernadeau at guard for 2014, and then Martin moving to RT to replace Free in 2015.
Dec 28, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin (70) is awarded the game
Adding Martin to the offensive line substantially improves the unit from day 1. His movement, knowledge, technique, and strength, are all enough to confidently say the pass protection and run blocking will be better in 2014. That’s a very good thing for a team that relies on its offense so heavily, and needs to protect its injured/high priced QB, Tony Romo.
What it doesn’t do is help the worst defense in the NFL. The same worst defense that lost Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher this offseason already. With the addition of Henry Melton, Tyrone Crawford, and Anthony Spencer (all returning from injury), the unit could possibly improve over last year – but by how much? A 2014 first round draft pick to the defensive line could have certainly done wonders to improve the defense, and it would have taken pressure off the offense to do it all themselves.
The Cowboys brass knows this, but at the time, didn’t have a player worthy of picking at #16. The Cowboys even tried trading back but couldn’t find any takers. Should the Cowboys have reached for a defensive lineman at #16 and let need totally trump everything else? An argument for that could certainly be made. Especially if you’re a coach on the hot seat who needs significant results immediately.
Upgrading free safety would have also made a substantial difference on the defensive side. The Cowboys were an embarrassment last season in the secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor were both available but the Cowboys never entertained the idea. They would rather pin all hopes on 2nd year player, J.J. Wilcox. That’s fine. He has great potential and most of us like what he has to offer, but it was risky nonetheless.
Without a trade partner and without a defensive player appropriate for the #16 pick, the Cowboys selected offensive linemen, Zack Martin. A great pick in my opinion. He stabilizes the line, improving both phases of the offense and is a cornerstone for the future. Plus he’s seen as one of the safest picks in the draft. It’s hard to argue with the pick as it’s clearly in the long-term interests of the Cowboys franchise.
Oct 19, 2013; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (8) chases down Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo (17) at Bronco Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Lawrence also projects to be a difference maker in the NFL. The Cowboys, as well as numerous other NFL scouts, see true Pro Bowl potential in Lawrence. The problem is that it may take a year before potential starts being realized.
Lawrence has limited experience as a DE in a 4-3 defense. Playing with your hand in the dirt is plenty different than rushing from a 2-point stance. Just ask DeMarcus Ware. It takes time to work on technique and hone specific skills needed.
Lawrence will also need to add some weight, so time in the weight room is needed. Lawrence doesn’t have a huge frame and can’t be expected to add much, but an increase of 10lbs would do wonders to his game. That also takes time.
Jason Garrett had this to say about Lawrence,
"We see him [Lawrence] as a 2nd and 3rd down pass rusher on day one…We see him as an eventual starter at that position."
Lawrence will one day be a dynamic every-down player for the Dallas Cowboys but that will probably not happen right away. The draft offered plenty of players who would be able to contribute more in year one than Demarcus Lawrence is expected to. But they didn’t offer a ceiling nearly as high. Like Martin, he was a great pick for the Dallas Cowboys but may not be in the best interests of Jason Garrett.
Win Now for Jason Garrett
With the head coach on the hot seat, a couple play now players on defense would have been in the best interests of Jason Garrett. Zack Martin certainly improved the offensive line and should be impactful from day 1. But a lesser-than defensive player would have improved the defense more than Martin improved the offense.
Garrett is under pressure to win now and the Cowboys face a very tough schedule in 2014. The team is better with their draft picks but how much better? It’s good to see the Cowboys were drafting for long-term rather than only the immediate, but that doesn’t really help Jason Garrett if he is coaching year-to-year.
It will be a tough year ahead for Garrett and only time will tell how these picks pan out and how hot Garrett’s seat really is. But I have to wonder – Will these top two picks be enough to save Jason Garrett’s job or did they just cost him his job?
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