The 2017 NFL season has certainly been full of ups and downs for the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries and suspensions have been at the forefront of the Cowboys problems this season, but despite that they still have a chance to make it into the postseason. It's strange isn't it?
Cowboys Nation has been taken on a roller coaster ride in 2017, and strangely enough the ride isn't quite over yet. There are still two regular-season games left on the schedule this year and a possible playofff berth. But despite everything that has already happened, the off-season evaluation process should be much easier.
You see, the Dallas Cowboys and the coaching staff should have a better understanding of their "true needs" because of everything that's happened throughout the 2017 season. They have had to deal with multiple suspensions and injuries, which has caused them to dive deeper into their depth chart than they probably would have liked. Fortunately though, this could end up being a blessing in disguise.
The roster depth on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball has been exposed this season in particular probably more than any in years past. The Dallas Cowboys have had to depend on their backups more than usual, which has really exposed their off-season needs. Let's dive into this a little deeper and try to determine some of the Cowboys off-season needs.
The Dallas Cowboys wide receivers have been a huge disappointment this season and I think it's time to insert some new blood. Opposing defenses have found ways to pretty much take Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley out of the game and unfortunately nobody else has really stepped up. This became an even bigger problem without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup.
I wouldn't at all be surprised if the Cowboys decided to draft a wide receiver early. Dez Bryant isn't getting any younger and it might be time to find his eventual replacement. Dak Prescott needs more help from his WRs in the passing game, and a young new weapon might help improve the team more than any other position.
Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is pretty much set in stone, but the left guard position is still up in the air. Jonathan Cooper finally won the starting job in 2017, but he is a free agent after the season. The Cowboys could choose to re-sign him once again, but finding a long-term solution would probably serve them better.
Zack Martin will without a doubt receive a contract extension after the season, which means the Cowboys already have a lot invested in their offensive line. This probably means they won't draft an OG early, but you never know how things will play out. But regardless, the LG position could stand to be upgraded.
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins should be the starting tackles for the Dallas Cowboys for years to come, but both players have dealt with back problems in 2017. Smith has even had to miss a few games because of injuries, which exposed the Dallas Cowboys lack of depth at the position.
Not a single Cowboys fan wants to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell on the roster next season. Both players have been exposed as an extreme liability, which means this is definitely an area in need of upgrading in the off-season. Again, like OG, I doubt they draft a player early with so much already invested in the OL, but never say never.
Honestly, having Ezekiel Elliott available for an entire season makes the running back position less of a concern, but one slip-up could put that availability in jeopardy. With Alfred Morris set to become a free agent after the 2017 season, the Dallas Cowboys could use another young RB capable of becoming Elliott's backup.
We can argue that Rod Smith might be able to handle that role, but we really haven't seen him be the primary back in 2017. There are still questions how he would be able to hold up, which means finding an upgrade might be more of an off-season need than we think.
The linebacker position might just be the Dallas Cowboys biggest off-season need. Sean Lee has proven time and time again that he is incapable of staying healthy and Anthony Hitchens is set to become a free agent after the season. There are also still questions about whether or not Jaylon Smith is capable of becoming a starting caliber LB.
The Cowboys are without a doubt in need of depth at the position, but they need to start to prepare themselves for life without Sean Lee in the lineup. Unfortunately, we have all witnessed how production dips without him in the lineup and it's probably time to find his replacement.
The Dallas Cowboys don't really value the defensive tackle position very much, but that kind of came back to haunt them this season. Right now, they are depending on players they have called up from the practice squad and the lack of talent there is really hurting them.
They could really use a big bodied/space eating 1-technique, someone who would command double teams and clog up the middle. They haven't really had that type of player in some time now, and it might be past time to address the position.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive end position is a huge question mark after the 2017 season. I don't think they will let DeMarcus Lawrence getaway, but I'm not sure they can afford to sign him to a long-term contract. He will likely receive the franchise tag, but the depth behind him is concerning as well.
Taco Charlton has continued to improve throughout the season, but he still relatively unknown. The Cowboys will have Charles Tapper and Randy Gregory returning next year, but they are still young unproven players, much like Charlton. Pass rushers are hard to come by, so drafting one early might be a top priority.
The Dallas Cowboys pretty much had a complete makeover in their secondary this season and for the most part it has paid off. But, they probably took a step back at the safety position. Byron Jones has seen his playing time recently decreased and he might be better as a CB from here on out. Jeff Heath on the other hand has continued to make plays, but is probably still best as a reserve player.
Finding a difference making safety is just about as hard to do as finding a dominant pass rusher. They are a rarity in the NFL and typically drafted early. That is what the Cowboys will likely have to do if they want to upgrade the safety position, but it has become a need based on the way their players have performed this season.
Which positions do you think have been exposed in 2017?
Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett?
Training camp is always an exciting time for the Dallas Cowboys, with 2018's proceedings being no exception. A major difference this year is the hype carrying over to the Cowboys coaching staff, featuring newcomers at the positional level everywhere but running back, safety, and defensive tackle.
Experienced coaches like Kris Richard, Paul Alexander, and Sanjay Lal will have a big impact on the Cowboys development as a 9-7 team that's only gotten younger this offseason. Still likely in need of a playoff appearance to save the job of Head Coach Jason Garrett and his coordinators, one can't help but question Garrett's effectiveness with this year's team.
The Cowboys appearance on NFL Films' latest All or Nothing series offered Cowboys Nation a rare look inside this team's day-to-day activities, including Garrett's role as a motivator and leader to many coaches no longer with the team.
Garrett's walk through a proverbial hall of mirrors at The Star reflects much deeper though. Ultimately, it's the players that decide games on Sundays, and the Cowboys didn't have enough of their blue chip ones on the field together for 2017. Whether or not this changes in 2018, the Cowboys can do little to shake the truth that conditions must be perfect for Garrett to captain this team to success.
If having a future Hall of Fame tight end like Jason Witten around wasn't enough for Garrett, going all in on this team in their first year without not only Witten but Dez Bryant feels foolish.
This underdog status and youthful nature may very well bring the Cowboys back to their 2016 form. I've already mentioned mirrors however, and how about the smoke? Garrett's best year out of eight full seasons, that 13-3 campaign was surely not all 'smoke and mirrors', but it is now far enough in the past to expect improvement from the Cowboys head coach.
Garrett must overcome massive changes on the offense he once coordinated to see third-year Quarterback Dak Prescott put this team back in the playoff picture, or the Cowboys will only continue to change face even more dramatically for 2019.
Long gone are the innocent days of Garrett playing catch under the California sun with a rookie Prescott, who had no idea the impact he'd make on the entirety of this franchise so quickly. Now, the Cowboys may have to quickly separate this duo if looking to preserve a window of contention under Dak's rookie contract.
It truly will be fascinating to see the new points of emphasis this revamped Cowboys coaching staff brings to the team not only on the field in Oxnard but through their team meetings and into the regular season. As Garrett allows the likes of Richard and Lal to oversee important changes at CB/S and WR respectively, his overarching message of character, competition, and respect will still echo throughout the team.
Whether or not the slew of new players Garrett has to coach can inspire him to implement this message effectively, or if his days are numbered given the slack the Cowboys have already provided, is the most important story line for the Cowboys in 2018.
By most team's standards, a 9-7 season given the circumstances around the Cowboys a year ago is acceptable -- which it ultimately was for Dallas as they kept Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli.
This team's shortcomings through a disappointing season was enough for the Cowboys to begin reevaluating the coaches below this trio though, leaving only their ninth year head coach to fall victim to the level of turnover NFL teams are experiencing on the fly right now.
The Cowboys roster has received this message loud and clear. Will Garrett's carry the same impetus, and will it truly matter for the 2018 season?
Is WR Cedrick Wilson the Player With Most to Gain in Training Camp?
Within the Dallas Cowboys' uncertain wide receiver core, is sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. Considered a draft steal by many, Wilson's name is often lost in the mix among Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and third round rookie Michael Gallup. Just days away from the start of the 2018 training camp, Cedrick Wilson might be the player with the most to gain on the team.
Wilson comes from the Boise State Broncos, where he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,511 last year. As a sixth-round rookie, the young 22-year old receiver has an uphill battle ahead of him to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if he emerges victorious in this battle, though.
You see, the lack of a #1 receiver has been one of the main story lines for the Cowboys and for good reason. Heading into the preseason, there is no clear-cut "#1." But even though there isn't a big name such as Dez Bryant, I'm sure we'll feel way better about the wide receivers once the season starts and the offense manages to sustain a good passing attack led by Dak Prescott.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup seem like the two front-runners for being the "X" receivers on offense, the position in which Wilson lined up at Boise State during his last year in college football. It's tough to imagine a sixth round rookie being the starting "X" receiver in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he can't earn an important role at some point of the year.
In 2017, the offense struggled due to the receivers failing to create separation downfield. Wilson, although a raw route-runner, was a very dangerous vertical threat in Boise State and could be just that for the Cowboys down the road.
He needs to improve as a player, but with Sanjay Lal focusing hard at route-running with his receivers, Cedrick could become an important target for Dak earlier than expected.
In order to do so, the young wide receiver will have to find success in training camp. Wide receiver will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing position battles on the team, with many young yet unproven talent.
There's too many receivers that will be fighting for a roster spot over the following weeks, so Cowboys Nation is bound to be disappointed with so many so-called "pet cats." One or two of these guys will be released and I bet it'll hurt, just as it happens every year.
In all seriousness, though, with his ability to stretch the field and be a vertical threat plus his experience as an "X" receiver, Cedrick Wilson might not only make the roster, but become a significant piece for this new-look offense in Dallas during his rookie season.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
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