Among the 20 Cowboys bound to hit free agency, star running back DeMarco Murray is the biggest question mark. Following an All-Pro season that featured more than 2,200 all-purpose yards, 13 touchdowns and the NFL rushing title, Murray's future in Dallas is foggy. The 2015 Offensive Player of the Year played the entire season en route to setting a franchise rushing record. The former 3rd round pick out of Oklahoma should gain plenty of traction in contract talks with interested teams.
Dallas may be forced to choose between Murray and Bryant this offseason. Bryant's elite status as a receiver, paired with Murray's injury history, the Cowboys are likely to lock-up Dez long-term and have expressed their willingness to tag him if a deal isn't reached during the offseason. The running back position is arguably the most dispensable in today's league, particularly when running behind the NFL's best offensive line.
In the event that DeMarco Murray signs elsewhere, there are viable replacement options via the draft and free agency.
Randle would assume the role if Murray were to leave Dallas. We've seen flashes of his speed, patience and vision while he averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 51 attempts in the 2014 season. Randle's issue isn't his performance on the field, rather his conduct off the field. In October 2014 he was arrested for shoplifting. Then, earlier this month, he was arrested for possession of marijuana. If not for his behavioral issues Randle is the clear-cut favorite to be the starting running back in Dallas.
The former Alabama star and 1st round pick has had a somewhat disappointing career thus far. In four seasons with the Saints, he compiled just over 2,400 rushing yards. Ingram has suited up for all 16 games just once, and he isn't quite the receiving threat Murray has provided. Ingram, 25, has youth on his side. The 2014 season was a career year for the former Heisman Trophy winner, logging 964 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. He's a tough runner and a strong pass blocker. His hard-nosed rushing style could be a devastating duo with speedster Lance Dunbar.
The 28 year-old former 1st round pick missed the final 13 games of the 2014 season after tearing his ACL. He showed his potential when healthy in a week 1 victory versus the Patriots, torching them for 134 yards and a touchdown. Moreno is an all-around back that has been hobbled with injuries throughout his career. Durability is his biggest issue, but when healthy he can be great. He rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns during his 2013 season as a Bronco.
A long shot for sure, but still worth mentioning. The 2012 MVP is returning to the NFL after serving a suspension in 2014. He was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child after pictures surfaced on the internet of bruises he inflicted on his 4-year old son.
The Texas native has expressed interest in coming home to play for the Cowboys. Unless the Vikings cut him this offseason, a trade would be required for Peterson to play in Dallas. Peterson has been the NFL's best back since his debut in 2007. He fell just 9 yards shy of surpassing Eric Dickerson's single season rushing mark during his MVP season. Jerry Jones faced tampering charges this past August after an Outside the Lines report revealed a phone call between the Cowboys owner and Peterson. Jones admitted to being a fan while Peterson informed him of his desire to play for the Cowboys. But there are a lot of moving parts at play for Adrian Peterson to wear a star on his helmet.
Regardless of where he plays next season, it will be interesting to see how the NFL and fans welcome his return.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay projects the Cowboys will choose the Wisconsin running back with the 27th overall pick. Gordon is the consensus top back in a draft that is rich in running back prospects. He ran for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns in the 2014 season. The Heisman finalist capped off a stellar collegiate career with a 251 yard, 3 touchdown performance in an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn. It will be interesting to see if Dallas is willing to use their first round pick on a back rather than fill one of many bigger needs on defense.
Other names to look out for in this year's draft include Todd Gurley, Jay Ajayi and Duke Johnson.
An offense that features three first round lineman has evolved into a run-first attack. Replacing Murray and his 1,845 yards will come easier due to the fortified offensive line in Dallas.
Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: TE Geoff Swaim
For the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the retirement of Tight End Jason Witten was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. It leaves a gaping hole in their offense, and no major free agent or high draft pick was added as a clear replacement. As such, fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim may be in line for a breakout season.
A seventh-round pick in 2015, Swaim has stuck in Dallas with strong run-blocking and special teams play. His offensive production has been limited to just nine catches and 94 yards, thanks largely to the stranglehold that Witten kept on the TE position. Geoff has only been targeted 11 times in the passing game over three seasons.
But with Witten leaving, as well as veteran backup James Hanna, Swaim is now the elder statesman of the TE group. Even his limited playing time in the NFL thus far puts him way ahead of Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz.
Based on reports from the offseason practices and camps, Geoff is getting the first crack at becoming the new starter. It makes sense given his experience edge, but also his proficiency as a run blocker.
The Cowboys will likely lean on Ezekiel Elliott heavily this year, particularly early in the season. The passing game will need time to find itself with Witten and Dez Bryant gone. They'll want to ease Dak Prescott into heavier workloads as he and his new receiving options get acclimated.
Geoff Swaim will be one of those new options. And even though his reputation is for blocking, don't take that to mean he's not athletic.
We've seen Swaim on the move as a blocker and also in the passing game, and he's certainly got some wheels. That could make him a deceptive weapon on play-action and other passing plays out of running formations.
In some ways, losing Witten and Bryant makes the Cowboys' offense less predictable than in the past. Defenses will be less sure who to focus on, and that also creates opportunities for the new receivers.
Obviously, Swaim's breakout potential is dependent on Prescott looking his way. But unless Dak has undergone a major change in his playing style, a TE working in the short and middle parts of the field is someone he'll rely on plenty.
With training camp and preseason still to come, calling Geoff the starter right now is just an assumption. There is still time for one of the other prospects to impress and climb the ladder.
But right now, there's clearly no better candidate to claim the spot than Swaim. He has the most critical skill as a blocker, and his potential in the passing game is underrated. It's his job to lose.
The guy with only nine career catches could get that in a single game this year. Therefore, Geoff Swaim is clearly one of the major breakout candidates for the 2018 Cowboys.
Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: LB Jaylon Smith
No single player on the Dallas Cowboys roster right now may be more primed for a breakout season than Linebacker Jaylon Smith. His ascension as a player isn't just a big gain for the Cowboys defense, but it may be vital to their success in 2018.
Smith joined the Cowboys as a high second-round pick (34th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Potentially a top-five elite talent in that class, Jaylon's stock fell after a severe knee injury in his final college game. It was unknown if he could ever play football again, but Dallas took the risk based on Smith's incredible upside.
After Jaylon sat out his rookie year to fully rehab. In 2017, he was able to play all 16 games and started in six. That alone was a huge win for Smith and the Cowboys.
Jaylon's performance last year wasn't great, but understandably so after all the missed time. He also had to regain confidence in his knee, which is critical for a linebacker with all of the directional changes during plays.
Still, Smith got better as the season went. And even amidst the struggles, there were flashes of his instincts and potential.
This offseason, reports of Jaylon's improving health are fueling increased optimism. He is now playing without a knee brace and that means more confidence. If Smith fully trusts his body now, it will make him far more dangerous on the field.
With Anthony Hitchens leaving in free agency, Dallas needs Jaylon to be a bigger factor this year. If he doesn't take the next step, it could leave the Cowboys vulnerable at linebacker in 2018.
True, Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. But it's always dangerous to ask a rookie to do heavy lifting, and especially one who is seen as a raw talent like Vander Esch.
Ideally, anything Dallas gets from Leighton this year will be gravy. Their goal is to rely on veteran Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, with Damien Wilson also available as a solid fallback option.
But when you mention Sean Lee, you have to mention health concerns. After two encouragingly healthy seasons in 2015 and 2016, Lee was back to having some issues last year and missed five games.
That is all the more reason why Dallas needs Jaylon to be ready for more this year. If Lee misses time again, Smith is the best suited to take over the roles that Sean leaves behind.
Thankfully, all signs point to big things for Jaylon Smith in 2018. His body appears healed and there's no questioning his work ethic and desire. If the mental aspect of football has also developed, he could be everything the Cowboys hoped when they drafted them.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
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