STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Wade Phillips' first regular season in Dallas was a resounding success. He was as good as advertised as a defensive guru, guiding an extremely talented unit into the top 10 in rushing yards/game allowed (6th) and sacks (3rd) in 2007, while giving the offense room to blossom under coordinator Jason Garrett.
Tony Romo, Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware all emerged as fantasy studs, the team won 13 games and (at least in the first half of the campaign) the offense seemed to score points at will. The Cowboys weren't as perfect as the Patriots, as the pass defense especially showed some cracks (including a further drop in Roy Williams' performance at strong safety), but they were good enough to seize the No.1 seed in the NFC heading into the postseason.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl, however... they never made it out of the divisional playoff round. A loss to the eventual champions, the Giants, doesn't look so bad in retrospect, but, given the expectations surrounding the team, a one-and-done in the playoffs for a second straight season could only be seen as a huge disappointment. Owner/GM Jerry Jones resisted the urge to make sweeping changes, instead making Garrett the NFL's highest paid assistant to prevent him from taking a head coaching job elsewhere. He also spent money to keep the offensive line, one of the best units in the league, intact.
Heading into 2008, the Cowboys once again have to be considered one of the favorites to win it all. The talent level in the secondary was improved with the addition of (insert synonym for "guy who doesn't appreciate how lucky he is to be a professional athlete" here) Adam "Pacman" Jones and the drafting of Mike Jenkins in the first round, while Garrett got another toy to play with on offense with the drafting of Felix Jones. Some depth was lost as a number of veteran players such as Jason Ferguson and Akin Ayodele joined former coach Bill Parcells in Miami, but in most cases replacements were already on the roster and ready to step in, and none of the players who headed east (with the exception of special teams star Keith Davis) were key parts of their units.
The Cowboys have Pro Bowl talent all over the lineup, from quarterback to linebacker to punter, and most of their skill players are either in or just entering their prime years. It's as formidable a roster as the Cowboys have assembled since the Jimmy Johnson days. If the team can't at least win one playoff game, however, look for Jerry Jones to bring out the axe, starting at the top with Phillips.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (25) Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
Effective all-around corner will provide injury (and Pacman) insurance as a rookie.
5. (143) Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State
Day One talent with major character issues. Could be a special teams weapon.
6. (167) Erik Walden, DE, Middle Tennessee State
Another pass-rushing DE who will be shifted to LB if he wins a roster spot.
Zach Thomas, LB (Dolphins)
His migraines hopefully behind him, he should again collect tackles by the bushel.
Akin Ayodele, LB (Dolphins)
Useful depth defender rejoins Bill Parcells in Miami.
Keith Davis, S (Dolphins)
Special teams captain will be missed on and off the field.
WILL Tony Romo CONTINUE TO MATURE?
Rising: Marion Barber has 24 rushing TDs over the last two seasons, but there's room for him to improve now that he's the official starter for Dallas.
DeMarcus Ware, LB
Gets sacks like an elite DE; gets tackles like a linebacker.
Greg Ellis, LB
Rebounded from a 2006 injury to rack up a career-high 12.5 sacks.
Zach Thomas, LB
145-plus tackles in six straight seasons prior to 2007.
RotoWire Rank: 5
Article first appeared 6/02/08