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5 Biggest Risks the Dallas Cowboys Are Taking in 2019

Jess Haynie

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Kellen Moore

The Dallas Cowboys are heading into 2019 with high expectations based on the perceived overall strength of their roster. But nobody's perfect; every team has a few liabilities. Where are the Cowboys biggest risks for this upcoming season?

A saying I've always liked, and I'm pretty sure it came from Bill Parcells, is that you can't have prime rib at every position. The salary cap forces NFL teams to live on a budget, and sometimes you have to settle for the chopped steak or the meatloaf to field a 53-man roster.

Not every starter is going to be a Pro Bowler, and not every backup is going to be a solid option if asked to play a major role. Some of the greatest teams who ever won a Super Bowl could've had much different seasons if the wrong injury happened at a critical position.

The Cowboys have certainly had their share of derailed seasons. In recent memory, Ezekiel Elliott's 2017 suspension and Tony Romo's 2015 injury wrecked what could have been playoff-bound teams. In both cases, the team was heading into those years with high hopes coming off a strong finish in the previous season.

This year's Dallas team is also looking to build on a good showing in 2018, but carries is its own set of weak spots. What are those, and just how risky are they?

We'll start with what I perceive to be the team's riskiest decision, and it actually doesn't involve the roster.

Kellen Moore

Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore

1. Kellen Moore, Offensive Coordinator

Say what you want about Scott Linehan, but he was a highly experienced coach who helped the Cowboys have four winning seasons and three playoff appearances in his five years here. This offseason, Dallas decided they could do better by promoting Kellen Moore to the job.

Moore has spent just one year as a full-time coach, serving in 2018 as the Quarterbacks Coach. The quick ascension to Offensive Coordinator is rare; even Sean McVay spent six years in lesser roles before becoming the Redskins' OC in 2014.

Many would argue that Kellen's practical coaching experience didn't begin last year. He has been seen as one of the assistant coaches even while playing, with an eventual future in coaching never in doubt.

Jason Garrett has said that Moore won't be thrown into the deep end. Tight Ends coach Doug Nussmeier, who has been the OC with major college programs like Alabama, Florida, and Michigan, is expected to assist Kellen with his duties. Dallas also hired Jon Kitna to bolster the QB coaching, and of course Garrett has plenty of his own experience to contribute.

All that said, you are still asking a 30-year-old to take over as the offensive boss for a team looking to win the Super Bowl. Even if Kellen Moore turns out to be a genius, growing pains with the new coach could affect the Cowboys' play early in the year. Maybe they lose a game or two because the chemistry isn't quite there yet.

Dallas is betting on Moore's innovation and upside as a coordinator, breaking their longtime strategy of going with proven experience. Will it be what pushes them over the hump, or what drives them off a cliff?

Cooper Rush

Dallas Cowboys QB Cooper Rush

2. Backup Quarterback

Let's go back to that 2015 season. The Cowboys had a proven problem, Brandon Weeden, as their primary backup. When Tony Romo went down, they panicked and acquired Matt Cassel. They already knew Weeden wouldn't get the job done, and yet they were fine with him until Romo's injury meant he'd actually have to play.

Four years later, Dallas is taking Cooper Rush and Mike White into training camp to compete for the backup QB job. Neither has a bad track record like Weeden, but they have no record to go by at all.

Let's say that Dak Prescott suffers a Romo-like injury late in the preseason. Will the Cowboys be content to allow Rush or White to run the show, or will they again find themselves trying to scramble and add a veteran?

Neither of those young QBs looked stellar in the 2018 preseason. Maybe they'd improve with first-team talent around them, but that also means facing the other team's starting defenders.

To be fair, most NFL teams don't have a Nick Foles. A major injury at quarterback will derail almost any club's season.

But you can do things to mitigate the risk, and right now the Cowboys seem a little too comfortable with their current depth. Developing young players is great, but you only get so many cracks at a championship before Father Time and NFL economics force you to rebuild.

If Dallas isn't careful, we could wind up bemoaning the lost opportunities of the Dak Prescott Era the same way we do Tony Romo's.

Do Tony Pollard or Mike Weber Have Starting Potential as Rookies?

Dallas Cowboys RBs Mike Weber and Tony Pollard

3. Backup Running Back

The logic here is similar to what we just discussed with the quarterbacks. Having suffered for losing Ezekiel Elliott in 2017, should the Cowboys be gambling on their RB depth this season?

Dallas saw what happened when Elliott went out that year. After going 5-3 to start the year, Dallas lost it's next three games when Zeke's suspension finally took effect. Had it not been for the cupcakes that came along in the Redskins, Giants, and Raiders, that losing streak likely would've gone longer.

The Cowboys are arguably thinner now at RB than they were in 2017. Then they had veterans Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden, and Rod Smith was in his third year with the team.

Now Dallas is counting on a pair of rookies, Tony Pollard and Mike Weber, to carry the load if Elliott is somehow lost.

There's good reason to be excited about Pollard. The fourth-round pick has tantalizing athleticism, but also only had 243 offensive touches in his entire college career. Elliott gets over 300 caries in a single year, let alone his receptions.

Pollard may not be able to hold up to being an every-down back, and neither Weber or Darius Jackson may be good enough to be that effective. For a run-focused team like the Cowboys, that's a daunting lack of depth when you're aspiring for a championship.

Ezekiel Elliott is highly durable, but his personal conduct issues are perhaps the bigger concern. His high profile and history with the league office make him an easy target, and give him less cushion.

If something bad happens with Zeke, the Cowboys may wind up kicking themselves for not investing more in his backups.

Is Jeff Heath Set for Cowboys Captaincy in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Starting Talent in Secondary

No, the Cowboys didn't sign Earl Thomas this offseason. They also didn't add Eric Berry, Adrian Amos, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, or anyone else who might've been on your safety wish list. They didn't even draft one until the sixth round (Donovan Wilson), leaving the position relatively unchanged from last season.

Dallas did sign veteran George Iloka to hopefully compete with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods, but he spent last season as a backup in Minnesota. He may be nothing more than a versatile depth option.

At cornerback, Dallas decided to gamble on the third-development of Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis rather than add a more proven corner. Both had sophomore slumps in 2018, and the Cowboys are banking on them getting back to the promise shown as rookies. If not, Anthony Brown is their only recourse at a critical position playing across from Byron Jones.

Pass coverage is just as critical as pass rush in the modern NFL, and the Cowboys were not that strong in the secondary last season. Counting on Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods to all blossom in their third season could be dangerous.

Sometimes you have to take what the draft and free agency options give you. But in this case, Dallas had plenty of opportunities for some immediate upgrades and passed. With Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and others all on the 2019 schedule, the Cowboys will find out fairly quickly if they made the right move.

Trysten Hill

Dallas Cowboys DT Trysten Hill

5. Defensive Tackle

After giving up an embarrassing 273 rushing yards in their playoff loss to the Rams, the Cowboys seemed destined to upgrade the middle of the defensive line. But other than the second-round pick spent on Trysten Hill, Dallas did not add any significant upgrades at defensive tackle.

The Cowboys appear content with the reality that Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were both not at 100% in that Rams game, dealing with illness and injury. Considering that Dallas had the fifth-best run defense in the 2018 regular season, it's wise not to overreact to one awful day in January.

But still, that bad day happened. And like we just discussed with safety, Dallas had some opportunities in free agency to add proven players like Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh.

The Cowboys' focus this offseason was re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence and also upgrading the DE position with Robert Quinn. They seem to be hoping that the pressure on the outside, coming from both sides, will make life easier for the defensive tackles.

Maybe Trysten Hill will make an immediate impact, but that is another risky proposition for a Day 2 rookie. The Cowboys are again hoping to get more flavor out of the same basic ingredients, and in the end there's only so much these guys can do.

Sometimes you simply get what you paid for, and the lack of investment in the DT position could once again bite Dallas in the butt.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Defense

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Yesterday we broke down the current, pre-training camp job security of the offensive players. Today we turn our attention to the defense.

Remember, these tiers aren't just about making the 53-man roster. It also has to do with the players' roles within the roster. Are you a sure starter, fighting for playing time, or just hoping to avoid the practice squad?

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Jaylon Smith, CB Byron Jones

There is no debating these four players. Three of them are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and Jaylon Smith could've easily been right there with them. They are the new leaders of the defense and will be back in their featured roles in 2019.

None of these players will be challenged for their jobs. Even if Byron Jones doesn't get a long-term extension beyond this season, he will be back as the primary corner and playing for his free agency leverage next year.

These guys are easy. Let's move on.

Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

Dallas Cowboys S Xavier Woods

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, S Xavier Woods

The Cowboys hope that adding veteran Robert Quinn to Lawrence at defensive end will give them their most dangerous pair of pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The job is Quinn's to lose; only the decline of age can stop Robert from being a key player in the defense this year.

Maybe putting the Woods boys up here is a little optimistic, but it just seems like the arrow is very much pointed upwards on both Antwaun and Xavier at their positions. If they continue to build on last year, there's little reason to think they won't be starters this season.

Dallas has good reason to be invested in both of them. With Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins both likely playing their final seasons here, Antwaun Woods gives them a secured talent going forward. Ideally, Woods and Trysten Hill will be your starters in 2020.

The same goes for Xavier Woods at safety.  Jeff Heath has an expiring contract and George Iloka has just a one-year deal. The Cowboys want Xavier to become a fixture that they can add to going forward.

Assuming all of these players play up to current expectation, they aren't budging.

Leighton Vander Esch Can Prove Value for Good Against High Scoring Saints

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

DE Taco Charlton, DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Tyrone Crawford, DT Maliek Collins, DT Trysten Hill, LB Sean Lee, LB Joe Thomas, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Anthony Brown, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Jeff Heath, S George Iloka

Most of the Cowboys defensive roster will be filled out from among this group. They should all make the team, but in what capacity? And how much will it matter, particularly on the defensive line, with the rotations that Rod Marinelli uses?

It probably seems odd to have former stalwarts like Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee listed here, but that's the new reality. I'm actually surprised both are still on the roster at this point, expecting at least one to be released for cap space this offseason. Both veterans will not be as featured as in the past, and I could even still see Crawford being released at final cuts.

Guys like Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are also fighting for playing time against younger options on the defensive line. Will Dorance Armstrong and Trysten Hill push for snaps, and consequently push the older players into lesser roles?

How will things shake out in the secondary? Will Jourdan Lewis be able to find a larger role after being buried behind the top three corners last year? Will Anthony Brown or Chidobe Awuzie be the number-two CB?  And at safety, who emerges as the second starter between veterans Jeff Heath and George Iloka?

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

DE Kerry Hyder, DE Joe Jackson, DT Christian Covington, DT Daniel Ross, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Chris Covington, CB Michael Jackson, CB Donovan Olumba, S Kavon Frazier, S Darian Thompson, S Donovan Wilson

We've used up 19 of our 25-26 roster spots already. That means only 6-7 of these 11 players will make the team.

Dallas took a flier on Kerry Hyder as a rehab project, and the veteran DE is already impressing in the offseason practices. That could make it impossible for rookie Joe Jackson to make the team, getting crunched by the numbers.

Veteran Christian Covington feels like a solid pickup at DT, but what if he struggles to convert to the 4-3 scheme? A guy like Daniel Ross could be ready to steal the spot out from under him.

At cornerback, are rookie Michael Jackson and second-year prospect Donovan Olumba fighting for the same roster spot? What if Dallas doesn't even keep five corner, like they did last year, and leave both guys out in the cold?

The competition is really heating up at safety. Kavon Frazier's in the last year of his rookie deal and may not be able to fight off Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick, or rookie Donovan Wilson. Any one of these three could emerge.

None of these players listed here are guaranteed a roster spot. Even the newly drafted players will have to fight their way on, thanks to the strong talent acquisition the Cowboys have had in recent years.

Jalen Jelks

Dallas Cowboys DE Jalen Jelks

Tier 5 - Longshots

Considering the potential casualties from the Bubble Players, any of this last group making the roster is going to defy expectations. Even 7th-round pick Jalen Jelks will have a hard time making it, and may have to convert to linebacker to have a chance at competing.

Despite his intriguing 6'4" frame, CB Chris Westry will need to be truly exceptional to push past Michael Jackson or Donovan Olumba. Even if Dallas keeps six corners, he may be stuck as the seventh guy and headed for the practice squad.

It will inevitably happen that reports come from training camp of one of these guys, or some other longshot, making plays and creating a sudden surge of attention. You'll see them start popping up on 53-man roster projections while we anxiously await watching them in the preseason games.

Then maybe nothing will happen, and we'll forget about them all over again. Or maybe they do have some big games, but ultimately are among the final cuts despite all of the hype.

In the nearly two decades now that I've been really analyzing the Cowboys' offseasons, I can't remember a year where there seemed to be less opportunity for a dark horse to make the team. That's unfortunate them, but a great problem for Dallas' perceived roster strength.

We'll find out soon enough how it all unfolds.



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Michael Jackson Could Make Things Interesting at Nickel Corner

Matthew Lenix

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Michael Jackson Could Make Things Interesting at Nickel Corner

In a passing league, you can never have too many bodies in your secondary. By the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, the Dallas Cowboys had addressed both their offensive and defensive lines, as well as the backup running back position. It was time to add more depth at cornerback and with the 158th pick Michael Jackson was selected.

Currently Anthony Brown has the inside track to be the lead dog at that Nickel Cornerback, but his play has dropped off before in the past. Jourdan Lewis is right behind him still trying to find his place in the team's defensive system. Jackson is in the perfect position to make his move up the depth chart, and here are a few reasons why.

First, he has all the measurables needed to succeed in the Cowboys defensive scheme. At 6'1 210 pounds, with a 40.5-inch vertical, 32.5-inch arms and 4.4 speed he's definitely an early Christmas present for Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, and more specifically Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. Long and physical corners are what built the infamous "Legion of Boom" in Seattle under his watch.

His ability to be effective in press coverage is a huge tool in his bag. He does an excellent job jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. So much so, that quarterbacks only completed 5 out of 18 passes on go routes against Jackson last season at Miami. Good for a passer rating of 54.4 and a completion percentage of 27.7, with no touchdowns allowed.

Lastly, his versatility brings his skill set full circle. In addition to playing in the slot, he can also line up on the outside. This gives the Cowboys insurance if something catastrophic happens to the team's starters Byron Jones and Chido Awuzie. It doesn't stop there, however, as his stature gives him the added bonus of transferring to safety if need be. So many possibilities to work with.

The rookie hasn't wasted time impressing Kris Richard as the preparations for the upcoming season have kicked off.

"Very pleased with him. Intelligent. Picks up a lot of things quick. I think he's got corner and nickel combo ability for us. Obviously, the more you can do, the more value you present for yourself," Richard said.

As training camp approaches, Michael Jackson has his opportunity to compete. Every snap must be played like it's his last if he wants to be a big contributor in 2019. There's no lack of skill, only experience, and reps, which he'll get plenty of in late July until the season starts. The stage is set for him to possibly add his name next to starting Free Safety Xavier Woods as another late round steal for the Cowboys secondary.



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Offense

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2019. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter, roleplayer, or developmental prospect.

We'll start with the offense.

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, FB Jamize Olawale, WR Amari Cooper, OT Tyron Smith, G Connor Williams, C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, OT La'el Collins, OT Cam Fleming

There are no foreseeable issues that could change where these 10 players fit into the 2019 offense. Barring injury or some surprise trade, such as Dallas moving La'el Collins, we know exactly where these guys will fall if they're here and healthy.

Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are no-brainers, as are your five starting offensive linemen. I also included Fleming as he was clearly brought back to be the swing tackle this season. That could all change in 2020, but for this year at least his role is certain.

You may be surprised to see any fullback in this top tier, but the Cowboys gave Olawale a three-year contract to return this offseason. They made $2.8 million of it guaranteed; you just don't do that if you have any doubts about keeping him on the 53. There's no question that Jamize will be part of the team in 2019.

Some might argue that Connor Williams' starting spot isn't guaranteed, but I just don't see it. They lived the rookie growing pains last year and are hoping for much more going forward. A mid-season switch could occur if he struggles, but Williams will be the Week One starter at left guard.

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

WR Michael Gallup, WR Randall Cobb, G/C Joe Looney

I almost put Gallup in the first tier but "sophomore slumps" are a real thing. Until we see him building on last year as hoped, there is room for something to go awry.

That also brings Cobb's role into question. Any slippage in Gallup's game could lead to increased opportunities for the veteran. Really, even if both guys are bringing it in 2019, how exactly the targets and usage get split between them isn't entirely certain. If Cobb is back to his peak form in Green Bay, he will be hard to take off the field.

I also put Joe Looney in this second tier because I think he could be trade bait. If a team is hurting at center before Week One, is there a more attractive trade target in the NFL?

Dallas could afford to trade Looney if they feel good enough about Connor McGovern as a backup center. Adam Redmond could also be in the mix, serving as the backup last year when Looney was starting.

It's very unlikely that Dallas would give up one of the best backup offensive lineman in football. But if a team is desperate enough to dangle a third-round pick in front of them, the Cowboys might have an offer they can't refuse.

Blake Jarwin

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin (Kevin Terrell via AP)

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

RB Tony Pollard, TE Jason Witten, TE Blake Jarwin, TE Dalton Schultz, OL Connor McGovern

This tier is dominated by the mysterious tight end position.  How much playing time will Jason Witten really get? How have Jarwin and Schultz developed and how will it all shake out?

Witten should be the ceremonial starter, but what really matters are total snaps and targets. Even if Jason is the first man out on game days, Jarwin could still wind up being the most-used TE of the group. It all remains to be seen.

We are also expecting a lot from rookie RB Tony Pollard this year, but we don't know yet how much responsibility he'll be given. Will he be the true backup RB or more of a gadget player? Will he take the KR and PR jobs aways from Jourdan Lewis and Tavon Austin? Lots to still be determined here.

Another rookie with question marks is third-round pick Connor McGovern. Will he be given a significant job right away or be carried, perhaps with several game day inactives, for development towards 2020? It's doubtful that he could push Joe Looney out of a job, but will he show enough that Dallas is willing to part with Xavier Su'a-Filo?

Mike White

Dallas Cowboys QB Mike White

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Mike Weber, RB Darius Jackson, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns, WR Noah Brown, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT Mitch Hyatt

In the top three tiers we've named 18 players who are locks to make the 53-man roster. You generally have 24-25 player on each side of the ball, so that means only 6-7 roster spots left on offense. That means some of the guys named here won't make the team.

Will Cooper Rush and Mike White both have jobs? If Rush remains the backup QB, Dallas will probably hang on to White for another year. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys could easily let Cooper go to save a roster spot for another position.

Assuming Dallas doesn't add any veteran RBs between now and camp, it seems Darius Jackson and Mike Weber are competing for the same job. There's also a chance that neither makes it; the Cowboys could use Jamize Olawale as the emergency third back. They may be happy to stash with Jackson or Weber on the practice squad.

Things get really interesting at receiver once you get past the top three. Do veterans Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin's experience edge lift them above guys like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson? Or will Dallas choose the upside of youth and their cheaper contracts? The bottom half of the WR depth chart appears entirely open right now.

The Rico Gathers Experiment seems close to ending, but he's still here and has a chance to change perceptions. The one-game suspension won't matter if the Cowboys like what he has to offer the rest of the season. But keeping a fourth TE could be tough with the numbers at other spots, and Gathers is unlikely to leap above Jarwin or Schultz.

Numbers are also an issue for the offensive linemen. We know the top eight; five starters, Fleming, Looney, and McGovern. If the Cowboys keep nine guys, they may go with Mitch Hyatt as an additional tackle rather than bring Xavier Su'a-Filo back. They already have the interior line covered.

Codey McElroy

Dallas Cowboys TE Codey McElroy

Tier 5 - Longshots

We'll all have our "pet cats" and favorite underdogs over the next two months, but they will all be hard-pressed to make the roster given the current depth.

Maybe a guy like RB Jordan Chunn shocks us by beating out Weber and Jackson, or perhaps a dark horse WR like Jalen Guyton or Jon'Vea Johnson forces his way into the conversation. Crazier things have happened.

But this 2019 Cowboys roster is about as stacked and predictable as it's been in a long time. Strong drafting has give us a lot of young talent with years left on their rookie deals, and those guys are hard to budge.

The key for these players is to be too good to risk losing on the practice squad. Convince Dallas to make room for them, perhaps by keeping just two quarterbacks or going short somewhere else.

Because only 46 guys are active on game days, roster spots 47-53 can be dedicated to securing players and development. These young prospects want to force their way into those spots, and likely cost a veteran like Cooper Rush or Allen Hurns a job in the process.

~ ~ ~

Where players fall in these tiers could change once we start getting some reports form training camp. How expendable you are can shift depending on performance, or if the circumstances change at your position.

We'll hit the defense tomorrow.



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