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Has The 2017 Season Exposed The Cowboys “True Needs”?

Brian Martin

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Has Sean Lee Become A Liability For Cowboys?

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.

Offensive Needs

Could The Cowboys Keep 6 Wide Receivers?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver

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.

Offensive Guard

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.

Offensive Tackle

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.

Running Back

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.

Defensive Needs

Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Jaylon Smith

Linebacker

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.

Defensive Tackle

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.

Defensive End

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.

Safety

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?

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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3 Comments
  • Kevin Black

    It’s a shame about the weak side DE still being an issue. They could have addressed that in the last draft with T.J. Watt.

    Dallas already has a potential replacement for Bryant in Noah Brown. He’s raw, but he definitely has the ability. It will take about 1-2 more seasons, but he could definitely replace Bryant. Still, if an amazing player is on the board and he’s a WR, I’d still want Dallas to take him.

    What’s odd about the LB situation is our weak side that Lee plays. We don’t have a potential replacement on the roster for him and it’s time we start looking. Wilson was talked about as a weak side LB, but he’s been moved to the strong side and doesn’t appear to be in the coach’s confidence enough to try him on the weak side any more. If Hitchens signs elsewhere because another team offers him stupid money, a backup MLB will need to be addressed, but Jaylon Smith will be your starter next year most likely. One more thing in Hitchens camp is he can play some weak side linebacker, but he doesn’t have the speed you’d prefer at the position.

    I’m fairly sure that Cooper will stay in Dallas, but he could bolt if the money elsewhere is just too much to turn down. That would move that position to the top of the list for Dallas and based on where they are drafting, they could still get a top-flight guard around the middle to back-half of the first round. That would still leave the backup tackle position up for grabs. Green obviously regressed this year and I’m not sure Dallas has a ton of respect for Bell’s ability to be the long term answer. I could see a tackle being drafted in the top three rounds.

    Safety and running back would be much lower concerns. We will still have Jones, Heath, Woods and Frazier on the roster next year. We will also have Elliott and Smith on the roster and I would not be surprised if Morris is resigned. So unless a player drops to them in the draft, I don’t expect to see either of these positions being looked at before the fifth round.

  • Hector Espindola

    Sure yes! And not having a backup for Lee is scary.

  • EverybodyTalks

    Conservatively speaking, I believe we could have 9 or 10 picks – 4 compensatory( 4th, 4th, 5th, 5th) plus 5 or 6 regular picks. I know we gave up our 5th round for Xavier Wood, but I’m not sure if we lost our 7th round for Benwikere. I’m curious how you see the priority by round. Last week I was sure we should go after a Roquan Smith(ILB/Georgia) to strengthen our Linebacker core, even after we resign Hitch. Then after the Raider game with Tyron going down, I had visions of Chaz Green covering for him again (OMG!) I gave serious thought to Connor Williams( OT/ Texas) in the 1st, As hard as this is for me to say, I think it is OT may be the priority in the first.The O line is what makes this whole thing go. Now go LB in the 2nd or 3rd. RB in the 2nd or 3rd. DT &WR with the 4th round picks.The two 5th round picks used on OG and S. We may use the 6th to move up. I think CB is covered if we move Byron out of Safety to CB, plus we still have White on the practice squad. I don’t think we need to go after a DE either. We have Tapper and Gregory on the back burners, so to speak. Let’s see if either fits before using a pick on another DE. How do you see it breaking down/

Star Blog

Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

The Dallas Cowboys clearly had a specific role in mind for Ryan Switzer when they drafted him 133rd overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Come to find out, that role didn’t include being involved much on the offensive side of the ball, at least not as a rookie.

After watching the way the Cowboys utilized Ryan Switzer in 2017, it’s pretty obvious the sole purpose he was drafted was to improve the special-teams play in the return game.

They clearly didn’t envision him being a part of the game plan on offense, despite the continuous outcry from fans.

Like most rookies, Ryan Switzer didn’t really get off to a fast start, and took a while to get used to the speed of the NFL. But, once he calmed his nerves and regained his confidence, he proved to be an upgrade in the return game.

Switzer ended up ranking third in kickoff returns, averaging 25 yards per return in 2017 and 12th in punt returns with almost 9 yards per return.

He also became the first Dallas Cowboys player to return a punt for a touchdown since 2013. He accomplished this against the Washington Redskins, in Week 13 when he took an 83-yarder to the house.

Surprisingly enough, using Ryan Switzer solely as a return specialist wasn’t enough for a lot of Cowboys Nation. A lot of fans wanted to see his talents utilized more on the offensive side of the ball as well, but were only left disappointed.

Ryan Switzer

Dallas Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

Getting Switzer involved in the offensive game plan just wasn’t in the cards in 2017.

He only managed to catch six passes for 41 yards and rushed four times for 5 yards. This isn’t exactly what Cowboys fans envisioned after hearing Switzer was opening a lot eyes in training camp and organized team activities (OTAs). That was the main problem.

He was hyped up so much heading into the season that fans expected to see him involved much more on offense.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, had something else in mind, but I doubt that’s the case for the upcoming 2018 season.

I really think we’re going to see an increased role for Ryan Switzer next season.

The Cowboys coaching staff should have a much better understanding of his strengths and weaknesses now that he has a year in the system under his belt. And, they’ve seen firsthand how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands.

What the Cowboys coaching staff will have to determine this offseason is just how big of a role Switzer will have next year.

Should Switzer take Cole Beasley‘s job?

Cole Beasley, like the rest of the Cowboys receivers, had a down year in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that his job is safe, especially with someone like Ryan Switzer waiting in the wings. But, is Switzer ready to take over full-time?

Tough decisions will have to be made eventually, but such is life in the NFL.

Will Ryan Switzer see an increased offensive role in 2018?

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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