The Dallas Cowboys 2017 season is officially over. Kaput. It's not the way a lot of Cowboys Nation envisioned this year going, but we can't say it hasn't kept us on the edge of our seats. Now is the time to start looking toward the future and to start the evaluation process. Yes, the off-season is already underway for the Cowboys.
Honestly, I can't say I'm not looking forward to jumping into the off-season process. Yes, I would prefer the Dallas Cowboys still play and hopefully make a Super Bowl run, but I'm not the type of person who likes to cry over spilt milk.
It's time to move forward.
With that in mind, I thought I would share with you my five biggest concerns for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the off-season.
After a season with so many disappointments, from injuries to suspensions, it wasn't very difficult to narrow down my concerns. And as always, please let me know if you agree or disagree in the comment section located at the end of the article.
Tyron Smith's Health
I'm the type of person who believes in the trickle effect. I don't believe it was coincidence that when the Cowboys offense started to struggle was also the same time injuries started to hamper Tyron Smith's performance on the field.
For me, Smith's long-term health is the most concerning issue heading into the off-season.
Tyron Smith is regarded as one of the top left tackles in the NFL for a reason. He is equally dominant in the running and passing game due to his strength and athletic ability, but injuries are starting to affect his play. He had to miss a few games in 2016 due to reoccurring injuries and once again missed several games in 2017 for the same reason.
The biggest concern about Tyron Smith is his back injury. It'll will continue to be a problem throughout his career, but if it worsens it could end up putting his future in doubt. This has to be a huge concern for the Dallas Cowboys and their coaching staff.
In fact, it could cause them to look at a possible replacement through this year's draft.
Dak Prescott's Regression?
Dak Prescott had an outstanding start to his career, and ended up having arguably the best season for a rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL. He just seemed to have this magic touch in 2016 and could do no wrong, but it looks as if he lost that magic this season.
There are probably several reasons why Prescott regressed in 2017:
- Tyron Smith had to miss several games due to injuries, which created protection breakdowns.
- Ezekiel Elliott missed six games while serving his suspension, which hurt the production from the running game.
- Scott Linehan and his play calling became predictable, causing frustration from both Prescott and his wide receivers.
There has to be some concern about Prescott's play from within the Dallas Cowboys organization.
The Cowboys coaching staff will have to determine whether or not Prescott is a victim of things going bad or if he is the one most responsible. Unfortunately, that means year three is a prove it season for Prescott and could determine his long-term future with the organization.
Dan Bailey's Recent Inconsistency
The Dallas Cowboys have to be concerned with Dan Bailey after the way he finished the last few games of the 2017 season. There was a time when Bailey was pretty much an afterthought when he attempted a field-goal or extra point, but that wasn't the case the last few games.
I'm personally giving Bailey the benefit of the doubt for now because he has been so accurate throughout his career with the Cowboys.
He did suffer a groin injury early in the year that caused him to miss several games. Once he returned to the lineup though, he never looked quite the same.
I don't know if it was because he wasn't fully healthy or if the time away messed with his fundamentals. But, the Cowboys need to figure out what's going on.
DeMarcus Lawrence's Cowboys Future
DeMarcus Lawrence could have possibly played his last down with the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. He is set to become a free agent now, which puts his future with the Cowboys somewhat in doubt.
Lawrence without a doubt became one of the best defensive ends in the entire NFL in 2017. He finished the season with 58 tackles, 14.5 quarterback sacks (possibly 15 after review this week), and four forced fumbles.
He couldn't have chosen a better time to do all this than in a contract year either. Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys now have to figure out a way to keep Lawrence on the roster.
They can try to work out a long-term contract with him, but there are concerns about his health since he has had two back surgeries already in his NFL career. There is also the possibility that his season was just a flash in the pan. The most likely scenario is they designate him as their franchise player.
Regardless, the Cowboys need to figure out what Lawrence's future is with the organization.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan
Play calling became pretty predictable in 2017, and it might cost Scott Linehan his job.
The Dallas Cowboys definitely need to be concerned about the offensive coordinator position moving forward, whether Linehan is a part of the equation or not.
Dallas simply has too many weapons at their disposal to perform the way they did the second half of the season. Yes, Ezekiel Elliott would've helped during that time, but it's not like Alfred Morris and Rod Smith weren't able to find success in his absence.
No, the deficiencies mostly came in the passing game and the lack of production from the receivers.
Linehan failed to find ways to get Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley involved in the passing game. Opposing defenses shouldn't be able to take both of these players out of the game, but that's pretty much what happened.
Offensively, things need to change for next season. Whether or not that means Scott Linehan is out and a new coordinator is brought in is something that will have to be determined here shortly.
What are your biggest concerns for the Cowboys heading into the off-season?
What Are Realistic Expectations for Cowboys LB Sean Lee?
For many years, Linebacker Sean Lee has been the face of the Dallas Cowboys defense. However, that's quickly changing. The young duo consisting of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have taken over the linebacker position by dominating the field from sideline to sideline with their explosive talent. As a rookie, Vander Esch filled in for Lee at the weak linebacker position when the veteran went down injured and never gave the job back.
Currently, uncertainty surrounds Sean Lee, who took a pay cut earlier in the year to stay with the franchise he's played for since the beginning of his professional career in 2010. What will his role be in a young fueled defense in the upcoming season?
As we've all been able to see throughout his career, Sean Lee is one of the best in the game when he's healthy. Unfortunately, that's not very often. His injury proneness led him to a position change years ago, when he was moved from the MIKE (middle linebacker) to the WILL (weak side linebacker) position. Now, those two spots are taken care of.
Where does this leaves Lee? The main question is whether or not he'll move to the strong side. Many question if this would be the correct call, given that he could be at even more risk of suffering yet another injury in a position that leads to more contact. The other option would be for him to be Vander Esch's backup at WILL.
Lately, it seems like the Cowboys will indeed move him to the strong-side. After all, it only makes sense to have your best three players on the field at the same time. On minicamp, the Cowboys have been playing the veteran at SAM, letting him get reps and grow comfortable in what seems to be his new job.
But even if Sean Lee starts lining up on the strong side, what can we expect from him next season? The way the NFL offenses operate now leads to teams sending their nickel packages to the field more often than not. For the Cowboys 4-3 defense, that means three cornerbacks, two linebackers. When that's the case, it will be Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith who we see out there, not Lee.
Damien Wilson was the team's "starter" on the strong side, and he only managed to get 286 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. That represents 28% of the team's total snaps. Even if Sean Lee becomes the starting strong side linebacker, we likely won't be seeing him as much.
Even still, I'd expect Sean Lee's experience to play a big factor when the team needs Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch to catch their breath. Lee could jump in and play a few snaps at any LB spot and do a good job at it.
After all, we can't forget that despite his injuries, Lee is a remarkable player on defense. He should still be one of the smartest linebackers with extraordinary instincts. There's a reason why, before Vander Esch arrived to America's Team, the defense crumbled without him. Last year, despite losing the starting gig, Lee still had 118 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and an interception. The longtime veteran can still play.
It will be odd for Cowboys Nation to watch Lee on a completely new role. It's also hard to put the finger on what his production will look like at the end of the year. If there's one thing we know though, is that the veteran will work hard every practice trying to get the most playing time he can. We should be excited about the team's top three linebackers.
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
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