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3 Free Agent Targets for the Cowboys with Compensatory Pick Period Closing

John Williams

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Cowboys Potential FA Target: Former Chargers FS Tre Boston

The next important date of the offseason comes tomorrow when the window of free agency that affects compensatory picks closes. Prior to Tuesday, free agents signed -- that weren't released by a team -- counted against the formula that the NFL uses to award compensatory picks in the NFL Draft. This year's free agency additions will affect the 2020 comp picks. Starting Tuesday, however, teams can go after those free agents without hurting their compensatory pick status for next year. It would seem that the Dallas Cowboys have finished their free agent shopping as there are few holes on paper for this year's squad.

However, there are still a few free agents that the Dallas Cowboys should take a look at signing to get their team ready for a Super Bowl run. Make no mistake, this team has the looks of a Super Bowl contender, now they just have to take what looks good on paper and translate it to the field.

It's unlikely that the Cowboys will be aggressive in this period of the offseason as there will already be a lot of competition for roster spots. That said, here are the best available free agents that fit what the Dallas Cowboys could use in 2019.

Jamie Collins, Linebacker

Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have really good depth at linebacker with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Joe Thomas, but they don't have a guy that can play the strong side linebacker position vacated by Damien Wilson. The guy best suited for the job is Jaylon Smith, but I'd rather not move a guy that's shown All-Pro potential. You don't want Sean Lee or Leighton Vander Esch to have to take on blocks as they work best in space. Joe Thomas is more of a middle linebacker or weak side linebacker.

Enter Jamie Collins formerly of the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns.

Collins has good size at 6-3, 250 pounds and has experience playing outside linebacker. In 2018, he had four sacks for the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys could use him as a situational blitzer in base packages and would help them set the edge in the run game.

Collins played in seven playoff games with the New England Patriots and won a Super Bowl in 2014. In those seven career playoff games, Collins recorded 50 total tackles, three sacks, five tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, two interceptions, and five passes defended.

The guy is a playmaker.

For a team that has Super Bowl aspirations, adding veterans with deep playoff experience at strategic positions can only help your young team get over the top.

Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle

The Dallas Cowboys have gone a long way to help shore up their defensive interior with the additions of Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder through free agency and Trysten Hill in the second round of the NFL Draft. They could take another step toward that end by adding Ndamukong Suh, most recently of the Los Angeles Rams.

In the divisional round of the playoffs, we saw first hand what a game wrecker Suh can be. While the Cowboys were able to limit Aaron Donald's splash plays, Suh was in the Cowboys backfield throughout the game, causing havoc in the run game. He came up with a crucial fourth down stop late in the game after it looked like Elliott might have a hole.

Suh is a very physical player at the point of attack and still, at 32, has the quickness to get upfield and make plays.

Playing primarily the nose tackle in the Rams 3-4 Wade Phillips defense, Suh recorded 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hits, four passes defended, and recovered two fumbles. During the playoffs, Suh had 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits.

Even at 32, Suh can still be a disruptive player for the Dallas Cowboys. Like Collins, he brings playoff experience. Suh would draw a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines, which would open things up for your 3-tech and the defensive end playing next to him. He brings an edge and an attitude that would fit in quite nicely with DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tre Boston, Safety

Pick 58 in the second round came with several safeties still on the board that the Cowboys showed interest in. Juan Thornhill and Taylor Rapp -- Cowboys pre-draft visitors -- were still available when the they opted for 3-tech Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill.

After the draft, the Cowboys alluded to the idea that they value the box safety position less than other positions on the team. They did draft Donovan Wilson in the sixth round and he sounds like a player worth watching in camp, but it's hard to rely on sixth round safeties to be day one contributors.

Though the Cowboys look to have several players who could fill the box safety role, they shouldn't feel completely comfortable with those players in coverage. Though we've said it a lot, a guy they should consider bringing in is Safety Tre Boston.

In the last two offseasons they've shown zero interest in Tre Boston, but I'm gonna keep trying to speak it into existence.

It surprises me how little interest the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFL, have had in the former Chargers and Cardinals safety. In 2017, Boston had five interception with the Chargers and added three more with the Cardinals in 2018.

Generally speaking he's more of a coverage safety, but the Cowboys could add him to be a back up free safety and the second safety in passing situations. In a passing league, you can't have enough guys who can cover. The Cowboys could use some combination of Heath, Iloka, Frazier, and Wilson in the box safety role, allowing Woods and Boston to be their cover guys when the Cowboys defense gets into obvious passing situations.

It's very unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys are going to pursue any of these guys, but they should. Though they've done some work to fill holes on their roster, these three guys would give more help and  upgrade the defense tremendously.

The Dallas Cowboys are on the verge of something great in the next few years and now is the time to take advantage of this young team with some savvy veteran additions. Jamie Collins, Ndamukong Suh, and Tre Boston would bring playmaking ability to a defense that has been good, but could be great.

Winning windows come and go quickly in the NFL and while the Dallas Cowboys look to have a team built to win for a long time, nothing is guaranteed. Now's the time to go all-in.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.

Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.

Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.

This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.

Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:

  1. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
  2. Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
  3. Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall

There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.

Joe Thomas, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.

Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.

Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.

One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.

It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.

Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?

But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

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Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



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Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

Matthew Lenix

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Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

The Dallas Cowboys find themselves facing an interesting situation heading into training camp later this month. They've stockpiled enough talent on the offensive line that now they have multiple players who can play multiple positions. This is better known as "Position Flex" around the Cowboys team facility, and it's highlighted by Connor Williams and rookie Connor McGovern.

Williams was drafted in the second round in 2018 out of Texas. Even though he logged 28 starts at left tackle during his days in Austin, he was brought in to play left guard opposite All-Pro Zack Martin. As a rookie, he started the first eight games before suffering a knee injury Week 10 against the Titans. He struggled due to his smaller size and being a natural tackle, showing he definitely needed to bulk up if he wanted to start on the interior of the offensive line. His back up Xavier Su'a-Filo was serviceable in his absence.

However, he did start two games at right guard in place of Zack Martin and performed pretty decent. This gave him much-needed experience in case of an injury in the future. He's shown he can adjust and be a solid lineman at more than one spot.

When All-Pro Tyron Smith had veterans day off during OTAs, Williams was seen taking snaps at left tackle, his natural position. La'el Collins is the starter at right tackle but is currently in a contract year. Set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and with uncertainty, that he'll perform to the level needed to keep him as the starter or garner a big payday, the Cowboys have some insurance. This could create a situation where Williams is flexed outside if Collins hits the open market next year, only time will tell.

Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options 1

McGovern comes into the NFL with an advantage over his fellow lineman Williams. He was able to gain experience at multiple positions on the offensive line at Penn State. He started 21 games at right guard (9 as a freshman, 12 as a junior) and 14 games at center (13 as a sophomore, 1 as a junior). He's ideal to play on the interior seeing as he is naturally a little bigger than Williams, who had to pack on the pounds this offseason to deal with the responsibility of playing guard.

Now, the Cowboys can really see, if this is their thinking, who the five best guys are on the offensive line. If it were up to me, I would put Williams in direct competition with Collins for the right tackle position. This would allow McGovern to battle Su'a-Filo for the left guard spot. Also, with the health of All-Pro Center Travis Fredrick still up in the air, until the pads come on, McGovern's flexibility has added more insurance along with back up Joe Looney in case there's a setback before the season starts.

Multiple players with the skill set to move across the line if called upon. What more could you ask for as an offensive line coach? Plus, neither will be over the age of 22 during the season. The Cowboys have masterfully built the line of scrimmage on offense through the draft since 2011. Their dedication to dominating the trenches has them loaded with talent in said area. The only thing left is to wait for training camp to see where the chips fall.



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