Troy Aikman fractured his collarbone in Week 2 of the season. Aikman was remarkably effective in the first few weeks back as he battled that painful injury all the way to the playoffs, where he provided a lackluster performance and it became evident that Aikman was suffering. Jason Garrett stepped in and displayed precision passing and strong knowledge of the offense during Aikman's absence proving capable of leading this team on a temporary basis. Mike Quinn is a developmental player with a nice upside and future.
Emmitt Smith rushed for 1,332 yards and 13 touchdowns displaying much of the talent that people thought had disappeared. Chris Warren was the player brought in as insurance in case Smith could not handle a big load in '98. As it turns out, Warren was the one that became injured and missed eight games of the season. When he did play, his production spelling Smith was good and he is an effective receiving option out of the backfield. FB Daryl Johnston returned from neck surgery and went about his business as usual. Sherman Williams is an UFA that came up big when the Cowboys needed him but he hasn't received much interest on the market.
Michael Irvin's days as a dominant WR seem to be over. Ernie Mills was reviving his career until a perforated small intestine ended his season early. Mills knows the system well and showed some ability to make the big plays. Billy Davis saw a significant increase in playing time proving his worth as a blocking receiver but will have to fight for the No.3 position with Patrick Jeffers, who was productive down the stretch. The addition of Carolina's "Rocket" Ismail strengthens the starting, adding the deep speed necessary to stretch a defense vertically.
Eric Bjornson saw his output drop significantly due to the new scheme and development of David LaFleur. LaFleur's blocking skills gave a boost to the running game and could take over the position entirely if he improves as a receiver. Gailey will always want a pair of quality TE's due to their integral role in his system.
The resurgence of the offensive line was one of the keys to the Cowboy's early success. LOT Larry Allen had another Pro Bowl season. OG Nate Newton returned to the Pro bowl but his skills are obviously diminishing. Huge ROT Erik Williams remains a tough, physical tackle, but needs to stop shooting himself, and his team, in the foot with penalties. OG Everett McIver was better than most expected him to be, but his health is a concern in '99. In McIver's absence, Flozell Adams was forced to move from tackle to guard. Adams showed promise as a blocker, but should be more of an impact player when moved back to his original position of tackle. OC Clay Shiver was replaced by Mike Kiselak. Both players are intelligent, but were physically overmatched exposing an area in need of an upgrade.
Leon Lett is still a presence in the middle, drawing double teams that open up opportunities for the rest of the line. Despite the fact, no defensive lineman finished in the top six on the team in tackles. DT Chad Hennings needs to rejuvenate his game after a sub-par year. DE Kavika Pittman was active in against the run '98, but needs to improve his pass rush. Rookie Greg Ellis was solid against the run and should become a premier player after refining his technique. The Cowboys desperately need to upgrade their pass rush and are counting on the younger players to benefit from playing experience and an off-season in the weight room.
This unit was active in '98 and did a good job especially in run defense but lacks big play ability. Fred Strickland, Dexter Coakley and Randall Godfrey all had solid seasons and finished among the top four tacklers on the team. The Cowboys are contemplating the notion of moving Godfrey to the middle and replacing Strickland, who recently signed with arch-rival Washington. The problem is Dallas must find a quality OLB in FA before that move can be made.
Deion Sanders completely takes away opponents top wide receiver. DC Kevin Smith has been beat deep too often early, but battled confidence problems and finished the season strong. Kevin Mathis replaced Smith when he was injured and will compete for a starting job in '99. SS Darren Woodson returned to the Pro Bowl. Omar Stoutmire and George Teague will compete for the FS spot. Izell Reese is a quality backup.
Gifted punt returner Deion Sanders led the league in punt returns, taking two back for TD's. Kevin Mathis was a solid, straight-line return guy that should return from injury to retain his kickoff return duties. PK Richie Cunningham nailed a career-long 54-yard FG and converted 29-of-35 attempts for the season. Toby Gowin had a club record 31 punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 43.4 yards on his punts.