The 2016 Dallas Cowboys are on a mission to re-create their winning ways of 2014. Led by their offensive line that season, DeMarco Murray led the league with 1,845 rushing yards.
Murray's dominance made things easy for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, as he called his number to carry the football about 24 times a game on average (24.5).
When Murray wasn't churning out yards on the ground, a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant feasted on defenses through the air as a result of Murray's production. This Dallas offense was good enough to win the NFC East at 12-4, and march down the field when it mattered the most at the end of the Wild Card Playoffs to defeat the Lions and send the Cowboys to Green Bay.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the offense should have again had their signature moment, as Romo and Bryant channeled their inner Aikman and Irvin on a late fourth-quarter, fourth down attempt that was wrongly reversed from a goal-line reception to an incomplete pass.
This ended the 2014 season, and sent the Cowboys into a tailspin that few saw coming in 2015. Suffering through the bulk of their 16 game season without Tony Romo or Dez Bryant, Darren McFadden became the team's best weapon week in and week out.
This was far from the expectation fans set entering the season, as the departure of Murray left Linehan with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar. Jerry Jones would come out and say before the season that he felt the offense, at the running back position, was better off than it was with Murray - since the combination of all three backs brought more to the table.
Almost unfairly, we would never get to see how Linehan planned on utilizing these three to emulate the 2014 running game, as the only back that survived the season was McFadden. DMC was force fed the ball with the likes of "Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore starting at QB, and was able to have some success once the Cowboys shifted their entire running game philosophy away from the zone blocking scheme.
The blessing in disguise from this season ended up being Ezekiel Elliott, who was in a prime position to be grabbed by the Cowboys with their 4th overall pick. Elliott has a chance to be Linehan's new Swiss army knife in the backfield, as the entirety of the Cowboys staff agreed that adding one solidified player on offense like Elliott - who can run the ball in the zone scheme, catch the ball out of the backfield, and block in the passing game - could have huge implications for the entire squad.
Scott Linehan will certainly be putting Elliott to the test right away, as the Cowboys have little time to waste if they want to build a Super Bowl contending team with Romo as the starting QB.
The danger of trying to do this simply through turning the clock back to 2014 is that the word is out on exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did to be so successful. While the offensive line is still in place, opposing defensive coordinators are going to be diving into the film to try to exploit any weaknesses they may see.
To counter this, it will be up to Linehan to creatively use all of his weapons in place. Elliott, Bryant, and Romo will get the bulk of the attention, but players like Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Darius Jackson, and Cole Beasley will be just as important in keeping this offense fresh and creative for Linehan.
If Scott Linehan can adjust to make Darren McFadden the fourth best rusher in the league, behind the same offensive line that Zeke Elliott will run behind, there should be no excuses for his offense to put up very many clunkers this season.
The 2014 Cowboys were a joy to watch, and Cowboys Nation is eager to see that same type of team take the field in 2016 after what we witnessed in 2015. The key for this to happen?
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
Maverick Carter: LeBron James Considered Cowboys During NBA Lockout
Maverick Carter is a pretty important man in the world of sports. As a business man, entrepreneur, and manager of one of the best basketball players of all time in LeBron James, Maverick Carter is certainly used to making headlines.
This week, while on former NFL running back Arian Foster's podcast "Now What? with Arian Foster," Carter claimed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once attempted to negotiate a contract with LeBron James.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Carter claims that Jones contacted LeBron James and discussed bringing him in as a Cowboy while the NBA was without games.
"Jerry Jones, being the smart marketer he is...one day out of the clear blue sky LeBron got a contract I think it was for like one year, a couple million bucks to play for the Dallas Cowboys." - Maverick Carter.
Carter then states that LeBron may have the paperwork framed in his house to remember these discussions with Jerry Jones. LeBron's fandom for the Cowboys has been well documented, as has been his high school football prowess.
We may never know how "real" these discussions were, and of course it is long over now, but just imagining LeBron James getting a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys would break the internet.
You can check out the full episode of the podcast here, and I highly suggest listening to the other episodes Arian Foster has to offer.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
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