FRISCO (105.3 THE FAN) – Among the greatest and most empty cliches in the NFL regards a team’s desire to “have an identity.’’
“What is their identity?’’ “When are they going to develop an identity?’’
In truth, most football teams want to do all the same things: Run. Block. Score. Tackle. Takeaway. Prevent scores. And in truth, most “identities’’ are actually the result of successfully stellar names and faces (think Brady and Belichick in New England) or the result of NFL Films creating an team image that mirrors a city’s reputation (so the Packers have small-town humility, the Steelers are men of iron, and everybody in New York lives on Broadway.)
The Dallas Cowboys have an “identity crisis’’ of sorts, and it’s self-created. On the one hand, this club — presently at 5-6 as it plays host to Washington on Thursday night — loves to boast of its “star-studded’’ pedigree and “all of the Pro Bowlers’’ (something young QB Dak Prescott referenced just this week. On the other hand, the defense in particular under coordinator Rod Marinelli has somehow created a reputation for being “underdogs.’’ Marinelli over the years has talked about “The Rushmen’’ coming at the opponent in “waves,’’ seemingly because Dallas wasn’t talented enough to do it more conventionally. Marinelli likes to call his guys “The Orphans,’’ as if he oversees a roster of unwanted misfits.
So which is it? Are the Cowboys overloaded with superstar talent? Or are they keyed by overlooked underdogs?
How about … neither.
Let’s do a check on the Dallas roster, the Chargers roster (from last week) and the Redskins roster (for this week).
Dallas started the year with 30 guys on its roster who were drafted in the fourth round or higher. (I’m going to count the undrafted La’el Collins here, because God knows Cowboys management views him as a blue-chipper. And I’m also counting second-rounder Randy Gregory, who remains on the team’s ledger, and someday, in its plans.) The departures of Stephen Paea and Darren McFadden mean that number’s been reduced to 28. The addition of Datone Jones jumps it to 29.
Meanwhile, the Chargers employ 25 such players.
Meanwhile, the Redskins employ 32 such players.
So Dallas does not have substantially more, or substantially fewer, “high-round’’ picks than either of its two most immediate neighbors.
How about first-rounders on the roster? The Cowboys have nine. The Chargers have eight. The Redskins have nine. Again, the playing field is even. The reputations — “blue-chip stars’’ to “orphans’’ — should be the same.
How about specifically on defense, where the Cowboys have created an image of “getting players off the couch’’? Nope. Sorry. Count up the first- and second-rounders. The Chargers have seven of those on defense. The Redskins have 10. The Cowboys have nine.
Like all teams, some of those guys contribute more than others (Dallas isn’t the only team with a Gregory in its employ) and like all teams, some came to their present employers in a roundabout way (Justin Durant was a second-rounder, but that was many years and many teams ago).
But the point, I think, is important:
The Dallas Cowboys do not devote substantially more or less draft currency to defense than to offense, nor do they devote substantially more to one side or another than the other two NFL examples we’ve used as our Thanksgiving sandwich. The Cowboys don’t, as a result of their drafts, have more “superstars’’ than anyone else, nor do they have more “orphans’’ than anyone else.
The 5-6 record — and the mathematically chance to be 8-8 or even 10-6 bears all this out, obviously. There is no “Dallas-superstar’’-driven reason why the Cowboys themselves, or Cowboys Nation, should think this team is automatically better than the Chargers or the Redskins or anybody else. And there is no “Dallas-orphan’’-driven reason why the Cowboys and their fans should think this team is automatically worse than the Chargers or the Redskins or anybody else.
Stop me if you’ve heard me say this before, but … the NFL is an 8-8 league. There is no “identity’’ that alters than beyond outplaying and outcoaching the Chargers and the Redskins and the rest of your partners in parity.