IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys conclude organized team activities (OTAs) on Wednesday, so what better time is there to wonder some things about the team?
In fact, we’ve got Five Wonders.
Away we go:
I wonder who will lead the Cowboys in sacks this year. Randy Gregory will miss the first four games because of a suspension. DeMarcus Lawrence is looking at a similar suspension. He led the Cowboys in sacks last year with eight, but can he do the same in 12 games if his punishment is upheld? Tyrone Crawford had a career-high five sacks last season. Can he double that this year and be as productive as, say, Jason Hatcher was in 2013? Benson Mayowa, my pick to be the starting right defensive end in Gregory’s absence, has two career sacks. I’m sure we were wondering these things in 2014 when the pass rush looked as weak as it does now. George Selvie was coming off a seven-sack season in 2013 but that proved to be a one-hit wonder. Jeremy Mincey led the Cowboys in sacks in 2014 with six. That low total could be the leading number this year as well.
If there has been one constant in the first two open OTA sessions to the media it’s how Tony Romo has pressed the ball down the field. The cynic will point to the Cowboys’ pass rush and secondary as to reasons why Romo is looking deep but I wonder if there are some philosophical changes coming to the offense this year. The Cowboys’ offense struggled to come up with big plays in 2015. Blame Romo’s absence. Blame Dez Bryant's injury. Blame the quarterback subs. For all of the talk about the Cowboys’ commitment to the run, points come out of the passing game. Big plays lead to points. The Cowboys had 40 pass plays of 20 yards or more last season and eight came in the season finale. In 2014, they had 53 pass plays of 20 yards or more in the regular season. I’m not ready to draw any conclusions from an OTA but it will be worth noting in training camp if it continues.
I wonder if the two-year extension Ryan Kalil signed with the Carolina Panthers on Monday plays a part to jump-start discussions between the Cowboys and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick. The Cowboys picked up Frederick’s fifth-year option for 2017 already but they could look to do with Frederick what they did with Tyron Smith in 2014 and sign him to a long-term deal. In 2011, Kalil signed a six-year, $49 million deal with Carolina. In free agency, the Atlanta Falcons signed center Alex Mack to a five-year, $45 million deal that included $28.5 million guaranteed. Kalil’s extension is reportedly worth roughly $8.4 million a year. Frederick is just 25 as he enters his fourth season and has not missed a game. There has to be some common ground.
On a conference call with season-ticket holders earlier in the offseason, executive vice president Stephen Jones praised second-year tackle Chaz Green and wondered if Green could be the Cowboys’ starting right tackle in 2016. I wonder if those wonders need to be put to bed. Green has potential but he did not play as a rookie because of hip surgery. He battled through injuries in his career at Florida, too. Free played through some foot issues that didn’t land him on the injury report last year, but made it difficult for him at times. He has moved more freely this offseason and his experience gives him a huge edge over Green. I just don’t see a change without an injury.
I wonder if the Cowboys will keep a fullback on their 53-man roster. I’ve wondered this before and haven’t been right. They’ve moved linebacker Keith Smith to fullback. They have converted Rod Smith from tailback to fullback. Without pads during offseason work, fullbacks aren’t going to get much notice. The question the Cowboys will have to answer is whether a fullback at five or 10 snaps a game is worth the roster spot of a sixth receiver, fourth tight end or even another offensive lineman. They made the case that the cost of a long-term veteran like Tyler Clutts isn’t worth it. Rod Smith counts $525,000 against the cap. Keith Smith counts $600,000 against the cap. Special teams could be a difference-maker but the Cowboys have made financial commitments to guys such as Jeff Heath, Kyle Wilber and James Hanna to be special-teams stalwarts.