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.
Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?
Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.
I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.
Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.
Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.
Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.
After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.
Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.
This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.
If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.
With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.
He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.
Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?
Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys
Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.
The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.
Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.
Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.
Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.
Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.
The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.
Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.
The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.
The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.
The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.
Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history
Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.
Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.
~ ~ ~
Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.
Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.
Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.
Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.
The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.
Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.
It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.
I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.
Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.
As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.
His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.
Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.
Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.
As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.
Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.
Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
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