A lot has gone wrong for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys through the first five weeks of their season, as Dallas' early bye week now feels like it came at the perfect time. As the Cowboys look to regroup and get this young team on track sooner rather than later, they will need starters on both sides of the ball to live up to (or exceed) expectations.
Defensively, the Cowboys allowed 30 points in consecutive home losses for the first time since 2015 - doing so in two games without QB Tony Romo of course. This isn't to say that Dak Prescott's offense hasn't been held back by a few new faces in the starting lineup.
Before Dallas takes the field for a potential "get well" game at the 49ers on October 22nd, let's take a closer look at four players that I believe have unperformed to put the Cowboys in this spot.
S Jeff Heath
Growing pains are going to be an ongoing issue in the Cowboys secondary. Just as rookie CB Jourdan Lewis has emerged as solid starter on the outside, veteran S Jeff Heath has not adjusted well to his increased role at all. The word "rotation" is thrown around arbitrarily when discussing all three levels of Rod Marinelli's defense, and often times it simply means the starters the Cowboys have are not good enough.
A rotation at safety is needed for a defense that commits to playing in Nickel and Dime sets so often, and the truth through five weeks is that Jeff Heath needs to revert back to being this rotational piece. When asked to stick to his assignments in coverage on every down, Heath has been outperformed by rookie Xavier Woods - an encouraging sign for the sixth round pick.
Thanks to Woods and Chidobe Awuzie, the safety position could become a bright spot for the Cowboys on the other side of this bye week. Jeff Heath has already cost this team plenty of yards in the back end though, including late breaks on two consecutive plays, the second of which being the game winning score by Davante Adams (with Lewis covering).
DT Maliek Collins
Stop me if you've seen this before. With the Cowboys struggling to generate pressure off the edge for some time now, the hype for any interior rushers has often gone too far. First, it was Tyrone Crawford at the 3T position.
The reason Crawford now finds himself as a plug-and-play starter at every spot along the defensive line is because of Maliek Collins, who was the younger and cheaper option as a rookie in 2016.
With five sacks and a forced fumble in 2016, Maliek Collins thrived at the most important position in Rod Marinelli's scheme. After spending the summer furthering his game by working against - and beating - Zack Martin in training camp, Collins was due for a dominant season at DT.
There is no doubt that Maliek Collins can still be a difference maker this season, and start as a key contributor up front for the Cowboys for a long time, but he has not flown out of the gates as Cowboys Nation expected.
With a ton of issues at linebacker, the need for consistent play up front is even more urgent, and Collins can go a long way in improving both Dallas' run defense and pass rush efficiency.
DE Benson Mayowa
Sticking with the Cowboys defensive line, Benson Mayowa has struggled once again at the start of a season. His second with the Cowboys, Mayowa ended up leading the 2016 team in sacks after sitting out three games in the middle of the season due to his lack of production.
With zero sacks on the 2017 season though, Benson Mayowa is among the top under-performers on this team right now. Failing to play with good technique or utilize any rush moves on the weak side on frighteningly consistent basis, the Cowboys simply do not have a reliable player in Mayowa - who is getting the largest share of the work at RDE.
LG Jonathan Cooper
As mentioned, the Cowboys offense does not go unscathed here when it comes to players not performing at a needed level. The big plays have not been there in the running game for the Cowboys thus far, and much of this has to do with Jonathan Cooper taking over for Chaz Green at LG.
There was of course a time when La'el Collins was expected to get his job back at LG in place of FA departure Ronald Leary, but Collins has been a solid starter at RT while Cooper has failed to embrace the best opportunity of his career at guard next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Jonathan Cooper's issue has not been fitting the athletic profile for the linemen Dallas desires, instead struggling as he has throughout his difficult career with short-range power and block sustainability. Breakdowns on the second level for Cooper have not only caused some struggles from Frederick next to him at center, but have held back Ezekiel Elliott when looking to clear the linebackers and do his damage in the secondary.
I doubt the Cowboys make a switch at LG coming off of the bye, but Jonathan Cooper will need to be a completely different player if this offensive line is going to totally resemble the dominant units that led two separate running backs to league rushing titles in 2014 and 2016.
Whether or not you believe that more players deserve a spot on this list, or that these four are in good position to turn things around, will determine which direction this Cowboys season ultimately goes.
At 2-3 chasing the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them to rapidly improve on defense and patch up a few holes offensively.
Could a Former Division Rival be Cowboys’ LG Solution?
When it comes to prioritizing the Dallas Cowboys offseason needs, offensive guard is definitely near the top of the list. Opinions will certainly vary, but for me, solidifying the offensive line with a new starting left guard is the top priority for the Cowboys.
I know many of you will disagree and believe the Dallas Cowboys need to continue to upgrade their defense. But, this teams success or failure will be determined by how their offensive line performs. That's just the way the Cowboys are built, which is why they have invested so heavily putting this unit together.
Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, but there is currently no one on the roster to step into the vacant left guard position unless you want to see the coaching staff give Chaz Green another try.
No, I didn't think so.
With the start of the 2018 free agency just a few weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys have certainly narrowed down some of the potential free agents they would be interested in bringing aboard if the price is right. Remember, they have turned into "bargain shoppers".
There are a few intriguing free agent options who I believe could step in to upgrade the LG position for the Cowboys next season, and not break the bank. One such option is a former division rival of the New York Giants, Justin Pugh.
The former 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has spent five years in New York while playing out his rookie contract, but that time has come to an end. The Giants aren't likely to re-sign him, which means he will get his first taste of free agency.
Justin Pugh could step in and be an immediate upgrade over what the Dallas Cowboys employed at the left guard position in 2017. He has exceptional mobility. He reaches the second level with ease and plays with good body control and footwork. He is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys employ.
Pugh is also versatile. He has played both right tackle and offensive guard for the Giants. He of course would be asked to play between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith at LG with the Cowboys, but versatility to play another position is never a bad thing.
Unfortunately, Pugh doesn't come without baggage. He has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons with the Giants, including eight last season due to a back injury. This is definitely a huge red flag, especially for the Cowboys after dealing with the same issue with Tyron Smith.
But, this is why Justin Pugh will likely be in the Cowboys price range. Sportrac currently estimates his contract at 4 years at $23,983,847, which equates to $5,995,968 annually. I personally think that's a little low for someone of Pugh's caliber and versatility, but it certainly understandable when you take into account his recent injury history.
I personally think this is a longshot to happen because the Cowboys would prefer to go younger and cheaper, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Do you think Justin Pugh makes sense for the Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
Sadly, we can't wake up on Sundays to NFL football. The Dallas Cowboys are not on TV every week for us to watch them play. To make matters worse, we'll have to wait until September to get real football from our favorite team.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about until then! For the die-hard Cowboys fan, the offseason should be quite entertaining. Free agency will begin in March, and it should be an intense one for Dallas.
They need to handle a tight salary cap while trying to add a bit of help for this football team. Recently, Inside The Star Contributor John Williams wrote an in-depth piece about the Cowboys' cap situation and how they can manage to get things done, despite having little cap space right now.
Last season, I wrote a weekly Cowboys Wishlist about things I wanted to see for each game. Now there are no games, but I decided to write a special edition for this upcoming free agency.
Wish #1: Keep The Rushmen
The front office will have one hell of a challenge trying to retain all of its free agents. The two most important ones may be their two defensive linemen. If they can keep them, DL won't be a top need heading to the Draft.
Lawrence is one of the biggest names in free agency this 2018, but the Cowboys should find a way to keep him from ever being available.
If they're able to franchise tag him, that'd be the way to go since he's only had one elite season in his four-year career and they may not want to sign him to a huge long-term deal and risk not seeing the same guy next season.
David Irving is a more polarizing player, with off-the-field issues. However, he's been a very disruptive guy and he has the chance to be a unique player. His talent is really out of this world. Keeping him and Irving would give this franchise a top defensive line for the first time in many years.
Wish #2: Pay Anthony Hitchens
When healthy, Sean Lee is one of the NFL's top linebackers. He is simply an outstanding player who's always around the ball and seems to know where the ball is going before the opposing coach even calls the play.
The problem is, he has a lot of trouble remaining available. Anthony Hitchens is a guy who's found the way to step up every time the General is out, and he's shown a great progression as a player year after year.
Lee will be 32 by the time the season starts, giving Dallas something to think about. Hitchens is a guy capable of starting and competing in the NFL. If the front office finds a way to keep him, they'll be getting closer to being less "Sean Lee-dependent."
Wish #3: Get Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas
When we talk about a potential big name addition to the Dallas Cowboys, we're usually a bit pessimistic. This team isn't one that makes splashes like this, but Earl Thomas to Dallas makes a ton of sense. Former Seahawks' defensive coordinator is now the Cowboys' defensive backs' coach.
With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis (and maybe Byron Jones moving to CB), this team will have a promising secondary. Add Earl Thomas, and it will go from "promising" to "great" in a heartbeat.
The Cowboys could not only have a top DL, but a top secondary if they're able to get this veteran.
Let's hope the Cowboys listen to Thomas and they go get him.
Wish #4: Get Dez Bryant to Take a Pay Cut
When I started writing this, I wanted to add a "get this wide receiver in FA"... but I won't. A few weeks ago, I wrote a case in favor and one against Dez Bryant remaining a Cowboy in 2018. Personally, I would be fine with him parting ways with the team.
However, I'm aware of how hard it can be finding a replacement for a guy like #88. The biggest issue with Dez is definitely his cap hit. He hasn't justified the money he's being paid on the field as he should be.
If they can get him to take a pay cut, it may end up being the ideal scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.
It'll be a very interesting offseason, and here at Inside The Star we'll continue to provide you with content about it all.
Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason
When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation rejoiced. By some, including myself, the product out of North Carolina was considered a steal by America's Team. Taking a guy who could contribute from day one for special teams and for the offense was something to be happy about.
At the time, WR didn't look like much of a need. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley were staying in Dallas and Terrance Williams had just been re-signed (little did we know he'd fail to score a single touchdown in 2017) pushing the receiver position down the team needs list.
But the front office had landed a very productive slot receiver from North Carolina. On top of that, they found a guy to replace Lucky Whitehead as a return specialist. However, offseason hype took over a large amount of Cowboys' fans, writers and analysts and the expectations for Switzer were very big.
Naturally, he was compared to Cole Beasley since people started talking about him as an NFL prospect. His height, skills and playing style were similar and with the Cowboy veteran coming off from a big year in 2016, people were excited for what Switzer could do as a professional football player.
But it wasn't just about the rookie returning punts and kickoffs, it was about him contributing to an offense that already had a great slot receiver. Cowboys Nation was excited to see Switzer and Beasley on the field at the same time.
That never happened.
Switzer barely saw playing time in 2017 and when he was on the field as a WR, he was limited to running or faking jet sweeps. The coaching staff misused him and we didn't get to see him get a lot of snaps until the final week of the season, when #11 was injured.
And it was that same week when we saw what he was capable of. Switz showed how talented he is and how he can beat NFL defensive backs when he was asked to do so.
With a busy offseason and a tight salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys' front office will be considering a lot of possibilities. One of them will be the future of Cole Beasley. Releasing him would free up more than $3M in cap space.
I know a large amount of Cowboys' fans prefer to see Dez Bryant gone over him, but we can't deny that there's already a clear replacement for Beasley in Switzer.
The Cowboys wanted Switzer to be a returner and a receiver for them, but if they're going to use him just as a gadget player on offense... was the fourth-round pick worth it? If you're not going to use one of them, why have two players who are very similar on your roster?
Cowboys Nation loves Cole Beasley, as they should. I for one wouldn't want to see #11 on another team. Even still, it's only fair to admit that it would make sense for Dallas if they were to say goodbye to one of their most beloved players.
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