Fact or Fiction for the Dallas Cowboys' Biggest Offseason Question Marks
As with any team in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have a few question marks heading into training camp. Whether it's a position up for grabs or whether a player will improve enough to make a significant impact, some things need to be figured out by training camp's end.
The Cowboys always have speculation running rampant around them for one reason or another. It may be hard to sort what is true or is likely true from what is completely and utterly false.
It's impossible to have all the answers when even those inside the organization don't yet have them, but we can make a few educated guesses.
Let's call Fact or Fiction on some of the Cowboys' biggest offseason issues.
Fact: Morris Claiborne Will Have His Best Season in 2014
Morris Claiborne has not lived up to the lofty expectations that come with being the sixth overall pick. He has had to battle through injuries that have severely limited his ability to develop thus far in his career.
For the first time in his NFL career, Claiborne is 100 percent entering training camp. With Claiborne finally healthy, some have noticed that he is a more confident, stronger player. ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer reported coach Jason Garrett as saying:
He's more mature physically, and I think his technique is getting better. I think with that, you develop some confidence, and you need confidence in any position you play, but you certainly need it if you play corner in the NFL. You're out there by yourself a lot.
This is a great sign for Claiborne and the Cowboys. If you expect to be a great football player you have to play with confidence, especially at cornerback, where you line up across from great receivers like Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree and Andre Johnson from week to week.
With Claiborne developing better technique, there is nowhere to go but up. At the moment, he is behind Orlando Scandrick on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean he won't have a great year.
With the evolution of the passing game in the NFL, teams are playing in nickel packages more and more. In 2013, the Cowboys played 61 percent of their snaps in some type of nickel formation. In this package, Scandrick will likely slide into the slot, while Claiborne will play the outside. So Claiborne will get plenty of opportunities.
All indications are that Claiborne has been playing well thus far during offseason activities. DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus wrote:
Claiborne finally looks healthy and it showed in these practices. His movement and reaction in coverage was outstanding and he looks ready to compete with Orlando Scandrick, who currently the starter at that right cornerback spot.
If Claiborne can carry this momentum through training camp and the regular season, there is no question that this will be his most successful year since he was drafted.
Fiction: The Dallas Cowboys Don't Have Enough Cap Room to Re-Sign Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant is a very important part of the Dallas Cowboys. He is their best wide receiver and biggest playmaker. The Cowboys' offense is often at its best when Bryant is involved.
Bryant is entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Cowboys, and some believe that because the Cowboys have mismanaged their salary cap it will be very hard to re-sign him.
Football Savages' Jake Brydson recently wrote:
There is not a single chance in hell that the Cowboys find a way to create the cap space needed to re-sign Murray or Dez Bryant (coming tomorrow) because they chose to pay Tony Romo, Brandon Carr, Doug Free, Tyron Smith, Henry Melton, and Jason Witten contracts that eat up a combined 79.311 Million, which is over half of the projected salary cap for next season.
However, what Brydson doesn't realize is that the Cowboys have been budgeting for an extension for Bryant's contract for quite some time.
Fox Sports Southwest's Mike Fisher wrote: "It is preordained. Every single dollar the Cowboys have used and every single dollar the Cowboys have saved have been part of a design to re-up those two before they hit free agency."
The Cowboys would be stupid to overspend at other positions so much that it wouldn't allow them to re-sign their star wide receiver. It would take a stunning lack of future planning.
However, the Cowboys will be just fine. ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins recently reported that the Cowboys currently have $8.5 million in cap space at the moment, which is a good sign for the possibly of a Bryant extension.
Finally, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones recently told 1310 The Ticket (h/t The Dallas Morning News) that a contract extension could be done before the 2014 season even starts.
No need to worry Cowboys fans: Bryant will be with the team for the foreseeable future.
Fact: The Defense Will Improve in 2014
The Dallas Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013. They weren't able to pressure opposing quarterbacks and were carved up week after week.
After the season, the Cowboys demoted Monte Kiffin while promoting his protege Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator.
The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin recently reported that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys' defense will be better in 2014 because "we were so bad last year there is no place but up."
At first glance it wouldn't appear as though the Cowboys could be better. They've lost arguably three of their best defenders from a year ago: DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher to free agency and Sean Lee to injury.
However, the main reason the Cowboys were so bad was because of injuries. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill quoted Stephen Jones as saying the Cowboys defense will be better in 2014 because it will be healthier.
If the Cowboys can avoid the injury bug, then there is a great chance they will improve at least a little bit.
It also appears as if the Cowboys will play more to their players' strengths then they did in 2013. Marinelli said, per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer: "These guys are really good man corners. They can go up and get you and press you. They really add something to the defensive package."
If the Cowboys' defense avoids the injury bug and plays defensive schemes that better fit their personnel then they have no choice but to be improved in 2014.
Fiction: Kyle Orton Will Be Backup Quarterback
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason has been the ongoing saga of Kyle Orton. Thus far, Orton has failed to show up to any of the offseason team activities.
According to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill, Jason Garrett expects Orton to be at training camp at the end of July.
At the moment, the Cowboys have a few options: They can wait and see if Orton shows up or retires, they can cut him now and save the headache or they can try and trade him.
First off, the Cowboys can't pander to Orton's demands and cut him just like they did Jay Ratliff last year. The Cowboys cannot set the precedent of letting the inmates run the asylum.
The best option for the Cowboys would be to just sit back, call Orton's bluff and hope he retires or try to get a draft pick in return for him.
Either way, Orton should not be on the Cowboys roster in Week 1. Brandon Weeden is an adequate enough backup for the Cowboys to feel good about their quarterback situation.
The fact remains that if Tony Romo is hurt for any significant period of time, they will not sniff the playoffs. Therefore, there is no reason to treat Orton like he has any bargaining power.
Plus, Orton has not had to time to learn the new playbook, concepts and scheme that Scott Linehan has brought in because he has missed the whole offseason. It is crucial for any quarterback to know the offense inside and out. Therefore, the Cowboys cannot be comfortable with Orton taking the reins if Romo is injured.
Whether he retires, holds out or is traded, Orton should not be the Cowboys' backup quarterback this season.
Fact: Bruce Carter Will Have a Breakout Season in 2014
Going into the 2013 season, Bruce Carter seemed primed for a breakout season. He had just had a fantastic rookie year and was playing in a defense that seemed to fit his abilities the best.
However, Carter did not live up to expectations. He started 13 games but was benched multiple times throughout the season for poor play.
However, people didn't realize how hard transitioning to a totally new defense is for a young player. The Cowboys switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense and from the enigmatic Rob Ryan to the more subdued Monte Kiffin.
The Cowboys are switching defensive coordinators again, but the change shouldn't be drastic since Marinelli is one of Kiffin's proteges.
Another year at the "Will" linebacker means Carter will be more comfortable and confident in this role. As with anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Jason Garrett said, "I think the second year in this system will allow him to kind of learn from his experiences last year — both good and bad —and grow," per The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin.
Thus far, Carter has shown significant improvement in his play. Per The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said:
It’s him getting his eyes on the quarterback and doing a great job of breaking on the ball. He’s doing what we’re asking him to do. He knows what he has to do. He’s trying to make a step every day to work to get better.
A new wrinkle that should help Carter is that he will always be covered by the 3-technique defensive tackle, a strategy Kiffin did not employ. This will allow Carter to better get to the ball without having to deal with offensive linemen in his face right off the snap. This should allow Carter to better utilize his athleticism by playing from sideline to sideline.
If Carter is more confident in the scheme and concepts he will be able to play to his full potential.
The small, subtle differences in this year's defensive scheme, along with Carter being more comfortable at "Will" linebacker, will lead to a much improved season.