The NFL is a lot of things.
The largest and most powerful professional sports league in the United States is a game, a corporation, and in many ways a reality show. We tune in week after week hinging on the storylines and being emotionally attached to specific characters.
If the NFL is a reality show, then the Dallas Cowboys are its superstar. America's Team - a humble sort of nickname - is always center stage while being simultaneously loved and hated. The drama is always seemingly more juicy when it accompanies the football club that boasts an iconic star upon their helmets.
Let's talk about that word - drama.
Drama typically runs parallel with big storylines, and boy oh boy have the Dallas Cowboys had their fair share. Over the course of time, the Cowboys were established in 1960, they have always been at the center of drama: last-second comebacks, epic victories, and an occasional off-the-field "can you believe this is happening?" moment or two.
On Thursday night the Dallas Cowboys, thanks to a Philadelphia Eagles win over the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football, locked up what every football team wants: their division, a first-round bye, the number one overall seed in their conference, and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Huzzah, baby.
The 2016 NFC East Crown was certainly not achieved without quite a bit of drama, and that's what's been on my mind ever since Eli Manning's game-clinching interception (love that dude, man). Think about the ridiculous circumstances that have served as obstacles for America's Team this season:
- Coming off a 4-12 season that was such because Tony Romo was hurt, the Cowboys failed to trade back into the 1st Round to get Memphis' Paxton Lynch.
- Later in the draft Dallas saw Michigan State's Connor Cook taken a pick ahead of where they wanted him. They'd go on to settle for someone else in the 4th Round.
- The Cowboys took a player in the 2nd Round, Jaylon Smith, who would likely wouldn't (he's on IR now) play a snap all season.
- MLB Rolando McClain didn't show up for Training Camp.
- DE Randy Gregory had offseason hiccups and was absent as well (not to mention Damien Wilson was shot in the eye with a paintball!).
- The 3rd Round Pick, Maliek Collins, got hurt and missed a ton of time.
- The reigning 4th leading rusher in the NFL, Darren McFadden, hurt his elbow.
- QB2 Kellen Moore was hurt. The settled for rookie ascended on the depth chart.
- The 1st Round Pick, RB Ezekiel Elliott, had hamstring issues at camp and was a question mark.
- QB1 Tony Romo - who's absence plagued 2015 - was hurt. The rookie inherited the keys to America's Team and all the drama that came with that title (and would definitely come).
- The first 4th Round Pick, Charles Tapper, discovered a new injury and was put on IR.
- The perceived best CB on the team, Orlando Scandrick, was hurt.
- A new star cornerback rose from his phoenix-made ashes, Morris Claiborne, and he got hurt.
- The best Left Tackle in football, Tyron Smith, got hurt.
- Stud sophomore Guard La'el Collins was hurt. Ron Leary, who had his own drama during camp, filled in.
- Dez Bryant got hurt.
- The Dez Bryant MRI Saga happened.
- Dez Bryant's father passed away.
- Gavin Escobar's father passed away.
- Tony Romo got healthy, demoted himself, and then drama really happened.
- The Cowboys lost a second game, and panic was at an all-time high.
- Jason Garrett rallied his team.
- Dallas beat Tampa Bay.
- Ezekiel Elliott raised a ton of money by jumping into a Salvation Army kettle.
- Philadelphia beat New York.
When you look through that sequence of events - one that isn't totally in chronological order for those detail-minded folks - you think... there's no way on Earth that this season could go well for this team.
It's Friday, December 23rd and the Dallas Cowboys are 12-2, NFC East Champs, the NFC's #1 seed, and the road to Super Bowl LI goes through their house (not to mention that every single game of importance from here on out will take place in Texas). It literally went as best as it possibly can... with two weeks to spare.
It's not real. It really isn't. You look at what went into it and what came out of it, and it doesn't make sense. It's not supposed to happen like this, it's not supposed to be this easy.
That's the Dallas Cowboys way though, isn't it? Everyone else lives in a world with specifications and parameters that are defined for mortals, but the legendary Dallas Cowboys find ways to conquer all.
December 21st, 2014: #DallasCowboys Clinch NFC East. December 22nd, 2016: #DallasCowboys Clinch NFC East and #1 Seed in NFC. Amazing.
The Cowboys captured their second division title in three years literally two years and one day apart. That's not real! You couldn't write that even if you tried! I'm sitting here - writing - and I'm telling you that you could not dream up this dream that has become the 2016 Cowboys.
That division title in 2014? It only featured a quarterback playing at an MVP level (he'd finish second in voting) and the NFL's leading rusher. This season, 2016, LITERALLY HAS THOSE EXACT SAME THINGS... AND THEY ARE ROOKIES! If Jason Garrett doesn't win Coach of the Year, I am going to lose my mind.
Ever since Dez Bryant caught that ball at Lambeau Field it's felt like the Dallas Cowboys have been scratching and clawing for their chance to get back to that same position - one game away from the NFC Championship. On Thursday night they officially did as they are back in the Divisional Round, one game away from the NFC Championship. It actually happened! Two years later. No big deal.
It takes you beyond the grains of modern logic when you try to fully comprehend what the Dallas Cowboys have done this season. You can't even qualify the whole thing by saying that they've defied expectations because there are no expectations for what they've done... it's that ridiculously uncommon.
The only explanation for the phenomenon that has been the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season - down to the detail that the Philadelphia Eagles were the ones that in fact clinched everything for them - is really just five simple words.
This is the Dallas Cowboys.
This is life. And what a life it is.
NFL to Study Marijuana Use, Will It Impact Randy Gregory’s Status?
The NFLPA and the NFL have reached an agreement to research alternative pain-management tools for the players. They'll form joint medical committees to study different strategies, among which will be the use of marijuana. It's important to make it clear that said committees will not be exclusively about marijuana, but a lot of different issues related to pain-management in the league. However, it'll likely be one of the most important aspects of their work.
Marijuana continues to be a highly debated topic and it's no different when discussing the NFL. Dallas Cowboys fans should be very familiar with the situation. Earlier this year, David Irving "quit" on football during an Instagram live stream while smoking weed. In the video, Irving talks about how he thinks it's better to be addicted to marijuana rather than certain medications used by NFL teams to treat their players.
Although David Irving is not an authority on substances, that is where all of this debate centers around. Throughout the league, players are given strong medication to deal with injuries and the physical pain of playing pro football. I'm not an expert either, but it's more than fair to say there's a strong argument here. Specially in a country where marijuana has already been legalized in 10 states and the trend points toward legalization continuing.
The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) between the NFL and NFLPA will expire after the 2020 season and how the league's drug policy looks like in the new agreement will be a huge factor for reaching a satisfactory CBA for both sides.
Of course, the fact that the NFLPA and the league are working together on such an important task doesn't mean we will see any immediate changes or that the NFL's ban on marijuana will be lifted anytime soon. Many big question marks will have to be answered before we hear about teams implementing this substance as a pain management tool.
For the Dallas Cowboys, this will be a relevant narrative down the line. Pass rusher Randy Gregory was reinstated after serving an indefinite suspension due to substance abuse prior to the 2018 season. After a dominant year, Gregory was suspended again by the NFL and it all points toward him sitting out this upcoming season and perhaps even more.
Even still, the Cowboys are still standing behind their 2015 second round pick. If the league ends up lifting its ban on marijuana, they'll have to decide what they will do with players already serving a suspension for this reason. Guys like Randy Gregory, for instance. If it's decided they'll be reinstated to the NFL, the Cowboys will sure be glad to have supported Gregory all throughout the process.
Last year, the pass rusher proved how effective he could be even with a short period of time training. Hopefully, the Cowboys are able to get him back on the field eventually, where's been consistently dominant. In the meantime, we'll see how recently acquired Robert Quinn does in Dallas.
The NFL won't be lifting its ban anytime soon, but it's good to know they're at least open minded to changing the league's policy and consider alternatives that could benefit the players' health. We'll see how these new medical committees work and keep you updated here at Inside The Star.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
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