Every season, rookies come in with the pressures of being the future of the franchise and are often expected by everyone to be able to contribute right away. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Not many of these rookies will be day-one starters, but most will be given the opportunity to take playing time away from some of the veterans.
The team is without Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Orlando Scandrick after years with the team. This season, there will be new faces getting more time due to the huge holes left by the departure of their aging vets.
Some rookies are going to be asked to start right away, while others are only going to play selectively. It's probable that all will see the field at some point this season, but only a few will need to make an immediate impact from day one.
Leighton Vander Esch
The Cowboys will probably start off with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as the starters in the linebacker group. This means Leighton Vander Esch likely will come off the bench to fill in at both the MIKE and WILL linebacker spots in rotation.
It's uncertain which spot will be his spot for the future, but with the health history of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Vander Esch is going to see plenty of time this season. Going forward, his true spot will reveal itself the more he plays.
Connor Williams is the only rookie that I'm comfortable saying is a day-one starter.
The only hole in the starting group among the offensive line was the left guard. Williams comes off a stellar college career at Texas where he only allowed one sack in his time there. Not only does Williams fill the final spot along the line, he could potentially be the next pro bowl offensive lineman among a group of already elite players.
His priority will be at left guard, but with the injury history to Tyron Smith, he also gives the Cowboys some extra insurance at left tackle. Connor Williams is not only a starter right away, but is probably the team's most valuable rookie.
What Dak Prescott needed was players who are good at route running, separating from coverage and that don't drop passes. Michael Gallup checks all three boxes.
The starting trio of wide receivers at the moment looks like Allen Hurns and Terrance Williams on the outside, with Cole Beasley in the slot. I think it's likely that we see Gallup play all over the field given his versatility and Dallas's need for play-makers.
Gallup was among my top-5 best wide receiver prospects in the draft, so hopefully it doesn't sound too biased when I say, I expect Gallup to be one of Dak's most frequently targeted receivers this season.
The team doesn't have Dez Bryant, Brice Butler or Ryan Switzer anymore and the team needs to find their next number one. Gallup will be given a shot throughout the year to be just that.
Dorance Armstrong Jr.
The good news for Dorance Armstrong's development is also bad news for his playing time; the Cowboys are flushed with defensive end talent and won't need his help very much right away.
He likely won't get a lot of playing time this year, almost as a defacto red-shirt year, but he can use it as quality learning time and play some when needed.
Dalton Schultz may have lucked into a starting job. The retirements of James Hanna and Jason Witten created a huge gap for the Cowboys at their number one and two starting tight end spots. The team also has Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim on the roster, but it'll be interesting to see if Schultz not only has the blocking skills to take the number one spot, but also the receiving skills to do so.
The team may end up keeping all four tight ends but Schultz might be given every opportunity possible to earn a starting spot. If not, he'll take over Geoff Swaim's role as the third tight end, who only comes in on special teams and sub packages.
The hope is the former but he's going to see the field no matter what due to the large need at the position.
Mike White was brought in to compete with Cooper Rush for the team's number two quarterback spot. He has the ball skills to compete for the position but he'll start off as the team's third string quarterback.
If he can push Rush the way Rush pushed Kellen Moore last season, the team may go another direction yet again at the back up position.
As a rookie, he may be stuck as the third quarterback, meaning he won't see any action at all in 2018, even in blowouts. He also likely won't be put on the practice squad neither, likely being too valuable of a prospect to let go. Don't expect to see White this season, aside from preseason.
Chris Covington gives the team valuable depth for the linebacker group. Except for injury, Covington will only be used on special teams or rotations. He was a late round pick, meaning he needs more time to develop than some of the other picks.
He may get his shot at a starting job in a year or two, but 2018 probably isn't his year. He's got plenty of talent but he isn't the rookie linebacker that will be given the most looks this off-season.
Cedrick Wilson is going to come in and play the position that Brice Butler had a season ago, but might have a higher ceiling thanks to his more impressive college career when compared to Butler's. He will be the team's deep threat and his skills compare to Michael Gallup.
While this year Wilson is likely the fourth or fifth wide receiver, and the team's deep threat option, by this time next season, we may see Wilson be named as the other starting wide receiver on the opposite side of Gallup. For this season though, he may not get as many chances early in the season as he will as the year goes along.
The team has its lead dog in Ezekiel Elliott, and their speed/receiving threat out of the backfield in Tavon Austin. Scarbrough will have to compete with Rod Smith as the team's short yardage back. Rod Smith gives the team position flexibility, and plays several different roles, which may give Scarbrough a chance.
He is not in any way going to take carries away from Elliott, and won't be the first change-of-pace option the team has, not with Tavon Austin. We may only see him 5-10 offensive plays a game, especially on two yards or less to gain, or maybe even goalline situations.
He was an exciting player at Alabama, but he'll be a role player in Dallas.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
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