Wins and losses may not matter for the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason, but individual players can certainly win and lose as they try to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster in 2017. Their struggle doesn't just happen during these five exhibition games but also every day on the practice field and in other team functions.
After three weeks of camp and two preseason games, what three bubble players have done the most to try to earn their way onto the roster? We're not talking about a guy like Rico Gathers, who's certainly had a great preseason but was already likely to make the team. These three players had either long shots, or at least were 50/50, to survive final cuts.
QB Cooper Rush
Nobody has had a bigger stock rise so far than the undrafted quarterback out of Central Michigan. Rush looked decent in the Hall of Fame game but then really showed up on Saturday night, completing 9-of-11 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. While veterans Kellen Moore and Luke McCown struggled, the rookie was sharp and executed with little room for complaint.
Coming out of college, Rush actually drew comparisons to current Cowboys backup Kellen Moore. If he has similar mental acumen to Kellen in a taller and more athletic body, Cooper will certainly make Dallas think twice about casting him aside. If he has another game of two like what we saw against Los Angeles, Rush may not make it to the practice squad if released.
We've seen intriguing QB prospects cut before. Dallas did not keep guys like Matt Moore, Alex Tanney, or Dustin Vaughan on the 53-man roster even after strong preseason play. With Dak Prescott firmly entrenched for years to come, there's little need to worry about a developmental player. The team's historical philosophy has been to go with just the starter and a backup unless there is some injury concern.
Last year may have led to a change in strategy. The Cowboys were down to their third quarterback when Dak Prescott became starter, having lost Tony Romo and Kellen Moore to injury. That experience could cause them to look at Cooper Rush differently than they have other QB prospects in the past.
DE Damontre Moore
The veteran free agent was hardly a lock to make the roster, especially with a two-game suspension hanging over him. Dallas has plenty of incentive to find other options at defensive end, and none greater than needing guys who can actually play in Week One. Moore has also failed to catch on in previous stints with the Giants and Seahawks, who normally get the most of defensive end talent.
However, Moore's performance so far in preseason and from camp reports has made him almost impossible to part with. With the Cowboys desperate for help in their pass rush, Damontre has been the most consistent so far in disrupting the backfield. He has not registered a sack, but you've seen him applying pressure and getting in some post-throw hits more than any other defensive lineman so far.
Not only does Moore give a pass rusher who can go up against left tackles, but he could even be used as a strong-side linebacker. This could be important if Damien Wilson ends up suspended for his assault arrest in July. Moore will only miss the first two weeks, allowing someone like Lenny Jones or Lewis Neal to make the initial 53-man roster. While both of them have had some good reports, and Jones showed up well on Saturday night, neither will likely hold that spot once Moore returns.
WR Noah Brown
After a quiet Hall of Fame game with only one target and no catches, Brown was thrown to three times on Saturday and had three catches for 41 yards. While this isn't a dazzling stat line, it was Brown's physical play and moves after the catch that were noteworthy.
Listed at 6'2" and over 220 pounds, Brown is built similarly to Dez Bryant. Noah's moves with the ball in his hand also remind you of Dez, especially how he doesn't shy away from contact. On a WR screen that went for a first down, Brown absorbed contact from a Rams defender and bullied through him for extra yardage.
Brown's biggest play was a 19-yard catch that was unfortunately ruined by a fumble. Noah certainly can't afford those blemishes, and he needs to make some more positive plays to secure his place on the team. However, he's shown excellent signs so far of being exactly what people thought during the draft; a project player with solid upside. The key now is making enough noise that the team doesn't want to risk him on the practice squad.
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstatement Decision Due Soon
The Dallas Cowboys should know by the end of this week if Defensive End Randy Gregory will be reinstated by the NFL from his indefinite suspension.
Gregory, who has missed nearly two seasons with drug-related bans, requested in May for Roger Goodell to allow him to return to football. The exact date of the request isn't known, but multiple sources put it somewhere around May 18-20.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL has 60 days to rule on a reinstatement request. That would put the approximate deadline no later than this Friday, July 20th.
Gregory was a second-round pick for Dallas in 2015. He was considered to have potentially elite pass-rushing skills but red flags about behavior and drug use hurt his draft stock.
Obviously those warning signs were warranted. Over three seasons, Randy has missed 30 out of 48 games due to suspension.
But reports from around the Cowboys organization and others who've dealt with Gregory rehabilitation efforts are positive. His appeal request appears strong, backed up by several testimonials that he's turned his life around.
Will Roger Goodell agree? Will Randy Gregory return to the Cowboys 2018?
We should know the answer soon.
Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL
Last season could've gone a lot better for Dak Prescott. After a remarkable rookie season, he wasn't able to meet the very high expectations put on him after leading the Dallas Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC in 2016.
Inevitably, the "sophomore slump" managed to get to Dak, even though the numbers make it seem worse than it really was. From his 13 interceptions in 2017, not even half can be completely blamed on him. However, even though he made improvements in his game, it's fair to admit that there was indeed, a slump in his second year in the NFL.
Earlier this week, NFL.com published an article listing the most and the least consistent quarterbacks in the league last season. The way the list works is measuring "their average 2017 swing in week-to-week passer rating." In the list, Dak Prescott is listed as the third least consistent QB in the league, with only Cam Newton and Derek Carr behind him.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys' had a roller coaster for a season, constantly shifting between winning and losing, Dak Prescott also struggled at remaining consistent. It makes a ton of sense, of course, for the Cowboys' 9-7 season had a lot of swings throughout the year.
At times, the team was missing its most important defender in Sean Lee. At others, Tyron Smith and/or Ezekiel Elliott weren't on the field either. This is not an attempt to excuse Dak, for he is partly at fault here, as is the entire team.
From week 10 to 12, Dak failed to throw for a touchdown but ended up throwing five interceptions. Later in the season, failing once again to get a TD pass in two straight weeks, he threw for two interceptions at Oakland then another two when hosting the Seahawks in Dallas.
In a season that will likely determine his future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dak needs to find a way to be more consistent week after week regardless of circumstance. Hopefully, with an improved offensive line and with Ezekiel Elliott leaving every suspension drama behind him, his offense will put him in position to have his best year yet.
In 2016 and in 2017, his Total Quarterback Rating has been in the top 4 among all quarterbacks, per ESPN. Now, this is not a stat that tells the whole story, but it does give you an idea of each quarterback's play. In a run-first offense and with a safe passer like Dak, I'm sure consistency will not be hard to deal with for the young QB next season.
As long as he takes advantage of the new set of targets he'll have at his disposal and his offense's powerful running back with recently-signed draftee Connor Williams, this offense will look a lot more like the one we saw in 2016.
We know Dak Prescott has a lot to prove. He has to make longer throws, throw more aggressively to get his receivers open, and more. But consistency is just as important. In order to be continuously successful and to be a contender year after year, you need that in your signal-caller. Even if key players on the team are down, he needs to be able to shine. It's a sixteen-game season, after all.
It's time for Dak to prove he can handle that.
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