Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys 10 offseason questions

10 offseason questions: Is Bryant elite?

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
The Dallas Cowboys have major decisions to handle regarding their franchise this offseason. Todd Archer and Calvin Watkins, along with some guests, answer some of biggest issues for the Cowboys this week.

Is Dez Bryant an elite receiver now?

Todd Archer: I don’t want to go all Tony Gonzalez here, but how are we defining “elite receiver?” If we’re talking 90 catches, 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, then yes. If we’re talking the best of the best, I don’t think so. By best of the best, I’m talking Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald types. Bryant is close, but he still has to close the gap. He has improved in just about every facet of his game since coming here, but he needs fine-tuning at a lot of things too. He can get off his game too easy if he faces physical corners. He can get off his game too easy if the ball doesn’t go his way early in games. He has momentary lapses of concentration. Hey, all receivers do, even guys in the elite category. Bryant is entering the final year of his contract, and the Cowboys want to keep him. He can do things at the position few players in the NFL can. He can make those breathtaking plays. I still can’t believe the catch against the Lions where he pinned the ball against his helmet. If we’re talking top five receiver, he’s close and can get there. And for that reason, the Cowboys will do everything they can to keep him around for a long time.

Tim MacMahon: That probably depends on your definition of elite, one of those buzz words that tends to generate a lot of controversy because it’s so vague. You could argue that Johnson is in a class of his own, making him the only truly elite receiver in the NFL right now.

But there’s no reasonable way to make a case that Bryant doesn’t belong in a conversation about the league’s best handful of receivers. Just look at the stats over the last two seasons. No other receiver has more touchdown catches than Bryant’s 25 (tied with tight end Jimmy Graham). He ranks sixth in yards (2,615) and seventh in receptions (185) during that span. And remember that he got off to a slow start before in 2012 before his spectacular second half of the season.

But the most exciting thing about Bryant is that it seems like he’s still only scratched the surface of his potential.

Truth be told, this season was a bit of a disappointment for him. He finished with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns, but there were too many long stretches when the ball didn’t come his way and not enough big plays. Hence, the Scott Linehan hire as the offensive playcaller.

Bryant already ranks among the league’s best, and he still should get much better.

Calvin Watkins: Bryant always believed he would become an elite receiver, and in 2013 that happened. He finished 13th in yards (1,233), eighth in catches (93), tied for third in touchdowns (13) and fifth in first downs (67). He became the No. 1 force on the team's offense and his numbers should have been better if not for some questionable play calls. Bryant continues to improve with his route running and his command of the offense shouldn't be questioned.

10 offseason questions: Marinelli's fixes

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
The Cowboys have major decisions to handle regarding their franchise this offseason. Todd Archer and Calvin Watkins along with some guests answer some of biggest issues for the Cowboys this week.

2. Can Rod Marinelli fix the defense?

Todd Archer: I’ll give you a short answer on this one: no. Now, I’m not saying the defense won’t be better in 2014. I just don’t know how it will be fixed. There won’t be much visible difference between what he will do and what Monte Kiffin did. Honestly, the Cowboys need their better players to play a lot better and they need, well, better players. That’s what makes this scheme. Marinelli had a good run in Chicago because he had Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton. With the Cowboys he needs Sean Lee to stay healthy, Bruce Carter to figure it out, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to figure out, DeMarcus Ware to return to form and hope they can find a three-technique to replace Jason Hatcher, whom I can’t see returning as a free agent because of the price tag. That’s a whole lot of ‘ifs.’ This scheme is not about tricking people. It’s about rallying to the ball, creating turnovers and playing fast. Marinelli can motivate and get the guys believing, but if the talent is not upgraded, the ‘fix’ will not be a complete turnaround.

Dan Graziano: Can he keep it healthy? I think Marinelli showed this year that he can get production out of defensive linemen who may not be highly regarded. And I think he's smart enough and a good enough coach that he can make the Cowboys' defense better. But until they stop losing key pieces (Sean Lee, hello!) for large chunks of the season, they can keep changing coordinators every offseason and it's not going to make a difference. I think if they add some depth up front and keep guys at least relatively healthy, Marinelli can make them a top-10 defense in 2014. But this is a couple of years in a row now where the whole thing fell apart over poor health, and I'm not sure what he or anyone else can do about that.

Calvin Watkins: No. The Cowboys need a overhaul of their defense and it's not about what Rod Marinelli can or cannot do. The problem with this teams' defense is the personnel. The front four will miss Jason Hatcher (free agency) and there is some concern about the return of DeMarcus Ware at defensive end and whether or not George Selvie (end) and Nick Hayden (defensive tackle) can become productive members in 2014. The secondary has major issues outside of leading tackler Barry Church and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Linebacker Sean Lee can't finish a season without getting hurt and Bruce Carter and Justin Durant, the other starters at linebacker were inconsistent last season. Durant's health also affected him, too. Marinelli can't solve these problems. The Cowboys need to improve the depth of age of the defensive unit. It needs to get younger and find better players in the draft and free agency. If the Cowboys can't do that, it doesn't matter who the defensive coordinator is.