The Dallas Cowboys haven't been very active in free agency over these past several years, but you never know when that will change. There are several positions that will need to be addressed after the season, and they all can't be filled through the draft. Free agency is there for a reason, which is why I decided to put together a wish list of the 2018 free agents for the Cowboys.
There is no way of knowing how active the Dallas Cowboys will be in free agency or which position they might like to target, but below are some of the players I think they should target. As always, please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions in the comment section at the end of the article.
The odds are Josh Gordon becomes a free agent after the 2017 season. But, the Cleveland Browns could decide to place a tender on him making him an exclusive-rights free agent because Gordon doesn't have enough accured seasons. Depending on his availability, I believe he should be at the top of the Dallas Cowboys wish list.
There has never been any denying that Josh Gordon is one of the more talented wide receivers in the NFL. Unfortunately, his downfall has been his off the field issues that has kept him off the field. Gordon would be an immediate upgrade to the Cowboys receiving core and likely step in as the #1 WR. Due to his checkered past, Gordon likely wouldn't break the bank to bring in. Sounds like a win-win for the Dallas Cowboys.
Davante Adams is another WR that could come in and upgrade the Cowboys receiving core. He has been stuck behind Jordy Nelson in Green Bay, but is likely looking to be the top dog wherever he ends up. The Dallas Cowboys might not be his top choice because of that, but that could depend on Dez Bryant's future with the team.
Adams has developed into one of the top WRs and would be looking to be paid like one. The Dallas Cowboys have shied away from spending big money on free agents, but it certainly looks as if Dak Prescott could use another toy at his disposal in the passing game. Plus, signing him away from the Packers would weaken a conference opponent who has been a thorn in the Cowboy side.
Unlike Davante Adams, Sammy Watkins might end up being in the Dallas Cowboys price range due to his history of injuries since entering the NFL. But, despite his injuries, Watkins is still considered to be one of the most talented WRs in the NFL.
Watkins is able to take the top of the defense with his speed, something the Cowboys offense is lacking right now. He also possesses the talent to high point the ball and win the majority of the time in those contested catch situations. The talent is there to become a true #1 WR, but he has to remain healthy first.
The Dallas Cowboys were high on Paul Richardson coming out of Colorado, but the Seahawks snatched him up first. Richardson isn't what you would really consider a #1 WR, but he has elite speed that scares opposing defenses. He would likely be a compliment WR in Dallas, but would definitely be an upgrade over what is currently on the roster. He should be able to be acquired at a favorable price.
The Dallas Cowboys will be extremely thin at the RB position after the 2017 season. Both Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris will be gone, leaving Rod Smith as Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. That is why I believe Rex Burkhead should be at the top of the Cowboys wish list. In fact, I wanted to bring him to Dallas last off-season.
Burkhead to me is the ideal backup. He is capable of running the ball successively between the tackles and also has the speed to capture the corner. He is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a core special-teams player. Those are exactly the kind of tools you look for in a backup RB. I personally believe he would be an upgrade as a backup RB.
DeMarcus Lawrence is a free agent after the 2017 season and it's unlikely the Dallas Cowboys let him get away, but nevertheless, Ziggy Ansah should still be on their wish list. Pairing Lawrence with Ansah would give the Cowboys a dynamic pass rushing duo and immediately upgrade the defense. Of course, it all comes down to the price tag which could be out of the Cowboys range. But, Ziggy likely won't be in the top tier of FAs because he is never quite developed like many believed. That could work in the Cowboys favor.
It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys need more help that the linebacker position. It is probably the top draft need, but going after the best FA LB should be examined closely. Zach Brown would immediately step in and upgrade the LB position for the Cowboys and provide some much-needed depth. Sean Lee simply can't stay healthy and no one really knows what to expect from Jaylon Smith yet. Of course, the Cowboys could choose to resign their own and keep Anthony Hitchens.
Last off-season one of the biggest needs was at the safety position, and nothing has really changed nearly a year later. The Cowboys hoped Jeff Heath could improve and lock down the other starting safety position, but that has been a failure to say the least. Eric Reid comes with baggage and hasn't quite lived up to his draft pedigree, but a change of scenery might be all he needs. He has the talent to start in the NFL and be a difference maker, which is why I believe the Cowboys should have him on their wish list.
The Dallas Cowboys could use some veteran experience in the secondary and Kyle Fuller could definitely provide that. I kind of doubt Orlando Scandrick remains with the Cowboys after the 2017 season, so that would leave a lot of youth at the cornerback position. Fuller is a talented player but has never really lived up to his potential. I think he would come in and start on the outside for the Cowboys, while also providing valuable depth/leadership at the position.
The Dallas Cowboys definitely need to upgrade the defensive tackle position. Out of necessity, Maliek Collins has been playing at the 1-technique, but that's not really his best position. The Dallas Cowboys need a big bodied, space eating DT and Dontari Poe fits the bill. Poe has the size 4-3 defensive teams look for in their DTs, but he has rare athletic ability that most players his size don't. He could be a difference maker on the interior of the Cowboys defensive line.
Will any of these players end up in Dallas?
Will Throwing to New Set of Targets Be a Challenge for Dak?
Pass catchers talk is the talk of the 2018 Dallas Cowboys offseason. How wouldn't it be with Dez Bryant being cut and Terrance Williams being in trouble? Not to mention the retirement of 15-year veteran and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten?
It's a new era for America's Team. If everything works out according to plan, an era that will be led by Quarterback Dak Prescott. Hopefully, it's one in which the Cowboys will get back to glory and bring home the much-desired sixth Lombardi Trophy.
A 12-4 record and the #1 seed in the NFC had almost everyone in Cowboys Nation content with #4. However, a rocky 2017 season and a 9-7 record resulted in tough criticism for the second year QB. Although he showed signs of improvement as the team's passer, the team's performance through Ezekiel Elliott's suspension and Tyron Smith's injury earned Dak Prescott a ton of "haters."
Heading into his third year in the NFL, Prescott has a ton to prove. It's time to show whether or not he's the future of the franchise. A good year and he'll probably see a juicy extension soon. A bad year and the front office may find themselves re-evaluating the position for 2019.
Plenty of challenges will be on the way of Dak, including facing the defending Super Bowl Champions twice this season.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the young signal-caller will be the players he's throwing to. During his first two seasons, Prescott has been mainly throwing the football to the same guys. His main targets in the span of two seasons have been Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.
Witten and Bryant are both out of the picture now. Williams just might be in the future. He's job in Dallas was relatively safe because his contract really provided job security. However, after bringing in a ton of wide receivers in the offseason, he has to earn himself a spot.
Unfortunately for him, he's sitting out for offseason practices due to a foot injury. On top of that, we all know how T-Will got into trouble last week. You see, even before the accident, he arguably was the fourth best WR on the team, with Hurns, Gallup and Beasley over him.
If a suspension does come, Williams will likely be released since his guaranteed money will take a hit. The Cowboys may decide to stick with him, but with the receivers they have on the roster, they may want to use the roster spot on somebody else.
Let's say T-Will is ultimately released. That'll take away three targets that have always been there through Prescott's short career. In order to have a truly successful 2018, he'll have to overcome the absence of these guys and adapt to the new faces. Even if he isn't cut, he likely won't be a starter.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup are both expected to start once the season takes off. On the tight end side of things, the starting role is still up for grabs. Whether it's Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim or even Rico Gathers remains unknown. The point is, it won't be Jason Witten.
In a year in which Dak has to prove he's the franchise quarterback this team needs, doing so with some of his main targets gone could make things a bit harder... or perhaps not.
At the end of the day, the receivers they brought in are supposed to be the kind of receivers they want on the so-called Dak-friendly offense. Prescott recently pointed out that he doesn't think a team needs a #1 WR.
If the team's plan works out and these receivers are better for a Dak-led offense and the identity they want to take as an offensive unit, the receiving corps should be seen as an upgrade rather than a downgrade. Of course, Witten is the exception. Even still, maybe they try new things with a younger TE lined up.
The new era the Cowboys are about to go into hinges on the success of this offense. Hopefully, both the receivers and the quarterback are able to step up. Let's get excited about it.
Can WR Noah Brown be a Surprise Starter in 2018?
With all of the new faces the Dallas Cowboys added to the wide receiver position it's easy to overlook someone like Noah Brown. Everyone is anxiously awaiting to find out what the "new toys" can do, but they tend to overlook an ascending player who's already on the roster. That is exactly what I believe Brown is in his second-year and why he could be a surprise starter in 2018.
Noah Brown didn't have a large offensive role as a rookie in 2017, but he did show flashes of a player whose arrow is trending upward. And now that the Cowboys have revamped pretty much the entire receiver position, Brown has a chance to climb the depth chart and become much more than just a role player.
There is really no way of knowing exactly where and how the Dallas Cowboys plan to deploy their WRs this season. The only thing we really know right now is that Cole Beasley will once again be the slot WR. Everything else is completely up for grabs, which is why this could be the position battle to watch throughout the remainder of the offseason.
With Dez Bryant, Ryan Switzer, and quite possibly Terrance Williams all gone, someone is going to have to catch passes from Dak Prescott in 2018. Allen Hurns, who the Cowboys signed as a free agent, is expected to replace some of that lost production as either the X or Y WR. But, behind him there's a lot of unknown.
The third-round draft pick Michael Gallup has the skill set to also play either X or Y, and should be part of the equation as well. But, you never really know how these collegiate players will transition to the speed of the NFL.
That is why I believe Noah Brown has a real shot at becoming a starter this season. This is especially true with Terrance Williams recent off the field troubles. I kind of doubt he has a job much longer.
With Williams likely on his way out, Noah Brown moves up the depth chart. I believe he can immediately step in and replace #83's production in the passing game and as a blocker in the running game as well. We got a glimpse of him doing just that last season, which might be why he's getting first-team reps in organized team activities (OTA's).
Second-year WR Noah Brown got a ton of work with the first-team. Lance Lenoir did also
It's easy to forget, but Noah Brown was mostly utilized as a blocking WR/TE last season. At 6'2", 225, Brown is now the biggest and most physical receiver on the Cowboys roster. His blocking ability is what got him on the field as a rookie, but he's no slob in the passing game if given the chance.
Brown is already a solid route runner, but he has been working during the offseason with a WR Guru, David Robinson, to improve this area of his game.
Now, I may be a little biased since I was a fan of Noah Brown's before the Cowboys drafted him. I actually had a fourth-round grade on him coming out of Ohio, so I was ecstatic Dallas was able to get him in the seventh.
But, despite my favoritism, I can really envision him becoming a surprise starter when the season opens up. He not only has the skill set to do it, but a year in the system could gives him an advantage over these new additions. It could of making all the difference.
Do you think WR Noah Brown be a surprise starter in 2018?
Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line
After years of building, drafting, and retooling, the Dallas Cowboys have completed their offensive line. And in the process, they've created a monster. The addition of Connor Williams in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft has reasserted the Dallas Cowboys offensive line as the best in football -- and it may not be close.
The team has been on this path since 2011 to create an identity for their football team that starts up front on the offensive line.
What transpired in the 2009 and 2010 seasons had a lot to do with the direction the team has taken over the last 8 seasons to ensure they were great up front.
The End of 2009
In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East and proceeded to win their wild card game to reach the divisional round for the second time in three years, only to be beaten by the Minnesota Vikings 34-3.
What transpired in that game should have been enough for the Cowboys to address their offensive line in the 2010 draft as quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times and threw an interception.
On the season, Romo was sacked 34 times, which is more than twice a game. Perhaps the wins on the season and the division title masked the issues the team had up front.
The Debacle of the 2010 Season
The team had lofty expectations heading into 2010. They had been to the playoffs three of the previous four seasons and, despite the drubbing at the hands of the Vikings, were still a formidable offensive team with some star power on defense in DeMarcus Ware.
Unfortunately, it was never to be.
Tony Romo only started six games and was sacked seven times in that span. Cowboys quarterbacks were sacked a total of 31 times, which would be right outside the top ten for most sacks allowed in the NFL in 2010.
Tony Romo went 1-5 in his six starts that season, getting sacked seven times in those six games before giving way to Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee for the final ten games of the season.
Head Coach Wade Phillips was replaced by Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start that culminated in an embarrassing loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
More Than a Coach Was Changed
The change in coaching signaled a change in philosophy from a 3-4 defensive minded head coach to an offensive one who was rooted in the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys of the 90's.
Those teams were known for their elite offensive line play that set the tone for the rest of the team. They protected Troy Aikman, who is in the Hall of Fame, and paved the way for the NFL's All-Time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.
The impact that the offensive line had on the Cowboys teams of the 90's can't be understated.
So in 2011, Jason Garrett's first NFL Draft as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, he convinced Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones that they needed to do more to protect their most valuable asset (Tony Romo) while becoming a team that could run the ball and control the clock.
With the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Tackle Tyron Smith.
That selection was history making. It was the first time in the Jerry Jones era that they had spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman. A span of more than 20 years saw the Dallas Cowboys never invest a first in the offensive line.
Jason Garrett's work to make the Dallas Cowboys in the image of the Super Bowl glory days of the 90's finally came to fruition.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line led the way for Running Back DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing. They protected Tony Romo to have the best season of his career, leading the NFL with a passer rating of 113.2.
Everything looked to be coming together for a team that went 12-4, won the NFC East, and beat some notable teams like the Seattle Seahawks along the way.
Then the "Dez Caught It" moment happened and we all came crashing back to Earth.
That season, though it didn't end in a Lombardi Trophy, was still a success as it created a template that could be successful in the NFL. As teams attempt to spread out their formations to throw the ball, the Dallas Cowboys, while still using a lot of 11-personnel, showed the NFL that you can still be a run-first, physical football team and win.
With the template set, all the Dallas Cowboys have to do is to continue to retool.
Creating a Monster
Let's review how the Dallas Cowboys have collected this impressive group of humans to block for their football team.
- Tyron Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Though he started out as a right tackle his rookie season, he made the move to the left side in his second year and has been considered one of the best tackles in the NFL since. Back issues have slowed him down, but he's still in his prime heading into his eighth (!!!) NFL Season.
- Travis Frederick was the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of the draft analysts around the league believed that to be a reach at the time when the Dallas Cowboys traded back to 31 to select Frederick. They don't think it's a reach now.
- In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys, yet again, selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was widely reported that if Ryan Shazier would have been there at pick 16, that he would have been the selection. Shazier's been a great player in the league, but I'm actually glad that they got Martin. He's considered the best guard in the NFL and will probably be so for the next ten years.
- Right Tackle La'el Collins would have been a first round draft pick had his name not been attached to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of being a first round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys, led by GM Jerry Jones, wined and dined Collins into signing a pretty nice deal for a UDFA. After rotating with Leary for a couple of seasons, he's now the RT for the best offensive line in football.
That brings us to the newest addition of what has been coined The OLuminati.
Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world knew -- or hoped -- the Dallas Cowboys would address the left guard spot early on. When the first round came and went, most of us, including this writer, thought they'd likely have to trade up in the second to still come away with a plug and play guard at pick number 50.
So when they landed Connor Williams while staying put at 50, Cowboys Nation erupted with joy.
Connor Williams is strong enough to play on the interior but comes with the movement and flexibility to get to the perimeter and the second level. Though he was good last year, Jonathan Cooper was the weak link because of his movement limitations.
Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy
I just watched season one of the YouTube Red production Cobra Kai, which follows the lives of The Karate Kid's main characters Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults.
Johnny, broke as a joke, relaunched the Cobra Kai karate brand based on the philosophy, "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy." While it's a harsh philosophy to be teaching a bunch of teenagers, it certainly has its place with the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
This group has the attitude and the ability to ruin days for opposing defenses. They aren't just going to get in your way, they're going to hit you and go through you.
This group of lineman has no weaknesses and if we talk about the signing of Cam Fleming, now you have a guy that played tackle for the New England Patriots during the Super Bowl as your tackle off the bench if you need him.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run inside and outside and to both sides of the offensive line with regularity because of the strength, physicality, and movement ability of their starting five. Opposing defenses aren't going to be able to load up on one side of the line because of a perceived weakness on the other side.
With Ezekiel Elliott running behind them, who's shown the ability to stretch a play outside and make a big run or find a crease in the middle of the line for a huge play, this is the Dallas Cowboys running game that Jason Garrett has been looking for since he took over in 2011.
While they've had success in the past, I have huge expectations for this group in 2018. 1,600 rushing yards for Elliott if he plays 16 games should be the floor. There's no reason he shouldn't flirt with a 2,000 yard season.
Now, whether that leads to a Super Bowl Championship remains to be seen, but we've seen in the past that when the Dallas Cowboys have success in the run game, it usually leads to wins, and lots of them.
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