Dallas Cowboys

Just Chill: Cowboys fans shouldn’t panic, but should be concerned

There are two types of Dallas Cowboys fans these days. Those in full panic mode over the litany of defections in free agency and those who see the glass half full.

Hundreds of 2016 snaps walked out the door with safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, nose tackle Terrell McClain, defensive end Jack Crawford and guard Ron Leary.

The Cowboys sat idly by all but saying, "don't let the door nob hit you where the Good Lord split you".

Sure, the Cowboys offset a few of the departures with the bargain-basement free agent signings of cornerback Nolan Carroll and defensive tackle Stephen Paea.

But the facts are the Cowboys lost more than they gained and, as of now, they are a lesser team than they were at the end of last season when they finished 13-3 and won the NFL East before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs.

Yes, it's March. And the team doesn't play a game until September and they don't start training camp until July.

There is still time to improve.

But, as things sit right now, the Cowboys have taken a step back.

It's hard to deny that.

That could change in the upcoming NFL Draft and that's where the glass half full Cowboys fans reside.

The Cowboys have obvious needs at defensive end, safety and cornerback _ needs they should be able to fill in the draft that is especially deep in the defensive backfield.

They Cowboys didn't lose any great players in free agency. They lost some experienced ones. But they could find better talent in the draft and thus end up deeper and stronger than they were a year ago.

Those are real possibilities.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith, a 2016 second-round pick who missed all of his rookie season rehabbing a college knee injury, could play next season. Owner Jerry Jones and vice president Stephen Jones are counting on it. Smith looks good in workouts, but is still wearing a brace for a drop foot condition.

Defensive end David Irving could turn his moments of dominance last season into consistent play next season.

Could is the operative word.

Until it happens, it hasn't happened. Hoping and wishing is not the foundation of a sound personnel strategy.

So the Cowboys are what they are as of now.

If truth be told, the Cowboys should be at least as good as they were last year. The offense should be just as dynamic if not better with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott a year older and a year wiser.

Well, at least Prescott will be wiser.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant should be back in a dominant role after his first full off-season in two years. He spent the 2015 off-season in a contract dispute and 2016 rehabbing from a broken foot.

He is fully healthy and ready to take his rightful spot among the elite receivers in the game again.

The offensive line will still be the best unit in football even with the losses of Leary (Denver Broncos) and right tackle Doug Free (retirement).

Elliott didn't get Eric Dickerson's single season rookie rushing record, but he could challenge his overall single-season record of 2,105 as he is slated to have an even larger role in the ball-control offense designed to take pressure off the defense.

It always comes back to the defense. It remains a huge concern even with the possible influx of a couple of impact rookies in the secondary.

The team still has no real answer for its biggest question: the lack of a premier pass rusher.

Relying on a rookie is dicey at best as the Cowboys have found out with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, who had a combined one sack in their rookies seasons of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Owner Jerry Jones said one the team's two biggest goals of the off-season was finding a war daddy passer rusher.

Barring a major trade that allows them to shoot up the draft board, Jones is seemingly headed for a lump of coal in his off-season Christmas stocking.

The talent on offense will make the Cowboys contenders again next season.

But if you are not getting better, you are falling behind.

The Cowboys should be as good as they were last year, but they will not have as good a record.

Last year, they played a last place schedule after going 4-12 in 2015. They get a first-place schedule next season. That includes games against the Green Packers and Atlanta Falcons.

They trade the mediocre AFC North from last season for the AFC West, arguably the best division in football with the likes of the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

What's more, unlike the Cowboys, their NFC East rivals all got better in free agency, especially the New York Giants, who beat the Cowboys twice last year.

And like the Cowboys, they are pointing to the upcoming NFL Draft for further improvement.

It's March.

Much has yet to happen. Nothing has been decided.

Heck, Tony Romo is still on the roster.

So, it's too early to panic. But not too soon to be concerned.

Remember, this team has a championship pedigree and resides in North Texas, not Philadelphia.

And they don't hang NFC East title banners at AT&T Stadium.

It's been 21 years since the Cowboys played in a Super Bowl. A legion of fans have grown up never seeing the team become winners.

If the Super Bowl is your standard, what is the confidence level in the Cowboys finally ending the drought in 2017?

Don't panic. But be concerned.

2017 NFL Draft

Here’s a look at the NFL Draft first-round order. The draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

1. Cleveland

2. San Francisco

3. Chicago

4. Jacksonville

5. Tennessee (from Los Angeles Rams)

6. New York Jets

7. Los Angeles Chargers

8. Carolina

9. Cincinnati

10. Buffalo

11. New Orleans

12. Cleveland (from Philadelphia)

13. Arizona

14. Philadelphia (from Minnesota)

15. Indianapolis

16. Baltimore

17. Washington

18. Tennessee

19. Tampa Bay

20. Denver

21. Detroit

22. Miami

23. New York Giants

24. Oakland

25. Houston

26. Seattle

27. Kansas City

28. Dallas

29. Green Bay

30. Pittsburgh

31. Atlanta

32. New Orleans (from New England)

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