Counting undrafted free agents, the Cowboys added 20 new players over the weekend - so basically Football Christmas is the best thing ever and we should all be excited about these new members of America's Team.
Equally as excited should be a few Cowboys that I think were given a vote of confidence by the team based on their roster status and the positions targeted in the draft.
Here is whose fan club in Cowboys Nation could be growing very soon.
CB Anthony Brown
Sure, the Cowboys drafted three cornerbacks in this draft, but each was selected with a direct acknowledgement of the existing CB depth in Dallas. The highest defensive back drafted, 60th overall pick Chidobe Awuzie, is already being considered as a "chess piece" player with the instinctive cover skills to play both outside and in the slot as well as at deep safety.
Awuzie will join Byron Jones as the match up weapons for the Cowboys' secondary, but players like this can only go so far without solid starters locked into roles like Anthony Brown's. The second-year player may not dominate at multiple positions, but he proved an above-average starter at CB as a rookie sixth round pick.
The Cowboys are so committed to their youth at cornerback that rumors have even surfaced about trying to trade veteran slot CB Orlando Scandrick, a move that would only further bump Anthony Brown up the depth chart.
What Anthony Brown will bring to the back-end of Rod Marinelli's defense at cornerback in 2017 is invaluable, and the Cowboys realize that.
QB Dak Prescott
You've likely heard already this offseason that, "Dak Prescott was only good in 2016 because of his offensive line, Ezekiel Elliott, and wide receivers", and these conversations likely took place with Eagles, Redskins, or Giants fans.
There is no question at all that the Dallas Cowboys are committed to Dak Prescott as their franchise quarterback, with a core in place ahead of the draft to feel pretty good about Prescott leading this offense to great things once again.
With that said, the NFL Draft should also be looked at as an opportunity to add to your existing strengths in addition to addressing needs. A case could have been made for an early pick to be used at RB, WR, RT, or TE.
Instead, the first of just two picks the Cowboys dedicated to Scott Linehan's offense came in the form of North Carolina WR Ryan Switzer at 133rd overall - followed by Ohio State WR Noah Brown in the seventh.
Excitement is already building for the role (or multiple of them) that Ryan Switzer could carve out in Dak's offense, but the point remains that Dallas' offense is ready to dominate so long as Prescott remains sharp entering year two.
S Jeff Heath
Instilling confidence in the greatest football player to ever walk the earth may have been an easy task for Will McClay and the Cowboys front office this weekend, but nonetheless the veteran safety and special teams ace still looks to enter 2017 with an expanded defensive role following a draft that brought in just one safety - Xavier Woods.
When the Cowboys' safeties were at their best a year ago, they were able to rotate in fresh legs with the likes of the now-departed J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church. This rotation included Jeff Heath, who most notably was all over the field in Dallas' home playoff loss to Green Bay.
Jeff Heath being a magnet for the football is something Cowboys Nation wants to see more of, along with rookie Xavier Woods. Both will have to earn their chances to play this summer in training camp, and you better believe these Cowboys coaches will be pushing to get the most out of Heath.
RT Chaz Green
As somewhat expected, the Cowboys felt good enough with the job they did adding depth at RT following Doug Free's retirement to not use a draft pick on the offensive line. While Byron Bell and Emmett Cleary remain in place to add some solid depth, Chaz Green is certainly Dallas' preferred starter on the right side.
Green's biggest issue in the league since 2015 has been his durability, as he's proven on the field to fit in perfectly with the likes of Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, and Ronald Leary filling in for LT Tyron Smith.
Chaz Green will face competition to earn this key starting job, but it won't come from any rookie draft picks.
TE Rico Gathers
Another spot the Cowboys did not address in the draft was TE, despite having many more questions than answers at the position currently. For a short while, tight end was in the conversation for the 28th overall pick should an O.J. Howard or David Njoku slide, but even Njoku being available to them didn't prompt the Cowboys to let pass rusher Taco Charlton get away.
The TE spot doesn't need to be a focal point of the Cowboys offense thanks to their running game and presence out wide, but relying on two injured players in James Hanna and Geoff Swaim to backup Jason Witten is questionable team building.
Still a "secret weapon" to many, Rico Gathers could also be factoring into the Cowboys' plan at TE - as he has made strides to learn football ever since being placed on the practice squad for 2016. While there, Gathers was paid that of a full-time player, an early sign that the team was committed to seeing the end results of his transition from basketball to football.
Should this transition work out and Rico Gathers wears out the middle of the field in the passing game while using his frame as a blocker, the former Baylor hoops star will literally become a big part of the silver and blue's success moving forward.
These are five Dallas Cowboys that will have to live up to some heightened expectations following the last integral part of 2017's roster build - the NFL Draft. Where the Cowboys decided to allocate their draft assets shows confidence in some, and puts even more pressure on others facing job security questions.
That is a topic we will explore here at Inside The Star later in the week, but for now be ready to keep a closer eye on these five players over the summer. Every time Jason Garrett pushes the mantra "Compete", the guys on this list should pay special attention.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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