Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Dallas Cowboys.
Last year’s record: 8-8
Coach: Jason Garrett
2014 is about… Finishing above .500. The Cowboys have have faltered to 8-8 the last three seasons, failing to reach the post-season each time. Despite an impressive offensive trio in Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, Dallas always finds a way to blow it late. Coming into a year where more players left town than moved in, the Cowboys may finally finish with a record other than 8-8… it just probably won’t be the change fans are hoping for.
Core players: Tony Romo (QB), Dez Bryant (WR), Jason Witten (TE), DeMarco Murray (RB)
But they lost… DeMarcus Ware (LB), the Cowboys’ all-time sacks leader. The exit of the punishing pass rusher will be devastating to a group coming off one of the worst defensive seasons the league has ever seen. Dallas also lost its leading interior rusher in 2013, Jason Hatcher (DT), to free agency after the big man signed with division rival Washington. Making matters even worse is another season-ending injury to Sean Lee (LB), a leader and difference maker on the field when fully healthy.
Yeah, but they got… Embroiled in salary cap hell, the Cowboys were unable to make splashes in free agency and the results may be too dire to overcome. But they still brought in Henry Melton (DT), to help fill the void left by Ware and Hatcher. The former Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season.
Growing from within: Without a doubt, Tyron Smith (OT) is the Cowboys’ top young player. He’s just 23 years old, but Smith has already established himself as one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. At six-foot-five and 320 lb., Smith has the size to dominate the league’s top pass rushers, but it’s his agility and quickness that set him apart. Travis Frederick (C) is also a young lineman to watch. Many scoffed when Frederick was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, but the rookie centre played in all 16 games last season and made an immediate impact. Look for him to build on that success this season. Finally, Morris Claiborne (CB) has a lot to prove in 2014. Dallas traded up to select Claiborne sixth overall in 2012 but the former LSU Tiger hasn’t lived up to the bill. This could be a make-or-break season for the young defensive back.
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Why this team? Because Tony Romo isn’t as bad as everyone makes him out to be. The Cowboys quarterback catches a lot of flak, but Dallas’s post-season absence is far from his fault.
And because the offence can put on a show. With Romo at the helm last season and two of the most dynamic pass catchers in Bryant and Witten at his disposal, the Cowboys racked up 439 points in 2013—good for fifth in the NFL—and put at least 30 on the scoreboard seven times. An offensive unit that can put up that amount of points, coupled with a defence leakier than a Swiss cheese rowboat is bound to produce some entertaining games (see: 2013’s Cowboys vs. Broncos).
Why not? Because, even though most of the criticism is unwarranted, Romo will continue to be berated by the entire NFL community. You just know that at least a couple of the Cowboys’ games will be thrown away by Romo, once again trying to do too much. Do you really want to be a fan when that goes down? ‘Cause it will. And that defence, oh boy, that defence. With the losses of Ware, Hatcher and Lee, it’s only going to get worse for a team that allowed the third-most yards in NFL history (6,645).
Perfect for fans of… The Toronto Maple Leafs. The similarities are uncanny: Rich and storied franchises with some of the most passionate fans on the planet; year after year of sky-high expectations and an innate ability to bitterly disappoint. It’s a match made in sporting misery heaven.
How much hope? 3/10. There really shouldn’t be any hope for the Cowboys heading into the 2014 season, but the NFC East is so unpredictable that another 8-8 finish from Jerry Jones’s team could land them the division title. But don’t hold your breath.
Will you be mocked for front-running? Relentlessly. Becoming a Cowboys fan now is jumping on a bandwagon about 20 years too late. Why would you do this to yourself? Not only will you be mocked, your team will let you down in some of the worst ways imaginable.