The Dallas Cowboys 2017 season didn't quite end the way many of us would have liked. We would all prefer that they were still alive for the playoffs and making a strong push for the Super Bowl, but that just wasn't in the cards for them this season. But, that doesn't mean there aren't some good things that can be taken away from the way this team performed this year.
It's a little difficult to focus on the positives right now after still hurting a little bit with how the Dallas Cowboys season ended.
All they had to do to keep their playoff hopes alive was beat the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks ago, but they decided to beat themselves instead. The pain is real, but only as long as we continue to focus on it.
I think it's time to switch our focus to the future.
That is why I decided to put together a list of five positive things to happen to the Dallas Cowboys now that they are heading into the off-season. Please continue reading below to see my positive outtakes from the 2017 season. And as always, please feel free to use the comment section at the end of the article to voice your own thoughts and opinions on the topic.
Jaylon Smith's Future
The Dallas Cowboys took a chance when they selected Jaylon Smith with their second round pick in the 2016 Draft. No one really knew whether or not he would be able to play again, but it looks as if that gamble is paying off after the year he had in 2017.
If someone would've said to you that Jaylon Smith would play all 16 games and finish the year as one of the Cowboys' leading tacklers before the 2017 season started, would you have believed them? Probably not, but that is exactly what happened.
Smith got out to a slow start, but he continued to progress throughout the year to finish the season with 81 tackles, one QB sack, and two forced fumbles.
The exciting thing about this is Smith said himself that he is finally starting to feel "elite" again, which should make him even better in 2018. He was nowhere close to playing at the top of his game this year, but he should be nearly 100% before the season starts next year.
The Dallas Cowboys could certainly use his play making ability at linebacker, especially with the uncertainty at the position heading into the off-season.
La'el Collins' Move to Right Tackle
I'm not ashamed to admit I was a little bit skeptical with the Cowboys' decision to move La'el Collins from left guard to right tackle. I believed Collins' skill set better fit him as a guard in the NFL, but that he could survive as a RT.
But, he ended up playing above my expectations and really solidified the right side of the offensive line.
What I really admired about La'el Collins this season was his toughness and availability. Like Tyron Smith, Collins was also dealing with a back injury that kept him out of practices towards the end of the season. But, he continued to battle through it and didn't miss a game the entire year.
I commend him for that, especially since some players will shut it down after they receive an extension like he did this season.
It will be really interesting to see what the Cowboys do with Collins next season.
They can continue to play him at RT, but if they draft another tackle, they could kick him back inside to LG. His versatility to play either position could come in handy at draft time, allowing the Cowboys to take a guard or tackle if they choose to do so.
Dallas Cowboys Secondary Makeover
One of the biggest concerns for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2017 season was how they were going to replace all of their secondary after pretty much gutting it.
Gone were veterans Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and J.J. Wilcox. That's a lot of people walking out the door with no clear answers as to who replaces them. Fortunately, the Cowboys addressed that need through the draft, and did quite well if you ask me.
With their second round draft pick, the Cowboys selected cornerback Chidobe Awuzie out of Colorado, and then followed that up in the third round by taking CB Jourdan Lewis out of Michigan. But, they didn't stop there. They then traded up to take CB/S Xavier Woods and finished off by taking Marquez White in hopes of upgrading their secondary.
No one could have possibly imagined how well these rookies would play.
It took a little while for them to get going, due to injuries, but Awuzie and Lewis look like future studs at the CB position, and Woods proved his versatility is a valuable asset for the defense.
The Cowboys coaching staff couldn't be happier with the way the rookie defensive backs played this season and should feel encouraged about the future of their secondary.
"War Daddy" DeMarcus Lawrence
No one in their right mind could have predicted the year DeMarcus Lawrence would have heading into the 2017 season. In fact, there were several people who had a hard time seeing him even make the final 53 man roster.
It's funny how things can change in a short amount of time. Now nobody wants to see the talented defensive end leave Dallas.
Lawrence couldn't have chosen a better time to break out than in his contract year. He was arguably the best DE in the entire NFL and will likely want to be compensated as such. It's unlikely that will happen since he has already had two back surgeries in his NFL career, but he should and probably will be handsomely rewarded, eventually.
Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys hold all of the cards right now.
They can try to work out a long-term extension that benefits both parties, but the more likely scenario is they designate him as their franchise player. It's doubtful another team will try to snatch him away if he's franchised, which means Lawrence will be back for at least the 2018 season.
Taco Charlton's Progression
With their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected defensive end Taco Charlton out of Michigan.
That selection didn't go over too well with a lot of Cowboys fans. Nearly everyone wanted them to take T.J. Watt instead. That unhappiness continued throughout the season because of the way Watt played.
Taco Charlton was constantly bashed for his lack of impact by a lot of fans, but he continued to improve as the season progressed and finished 2017 strong.
Charlton wasn't a starter like Watt was with the Steelers. He was relegated to backup duty and didn't receive a lot of playing time. But, I find it encouraging that Charlton ended his rookie season with similar stats as the same player Cowboys fans continuously compare him to.
Taco finished his rookie season with 19 tackles, three QB sacks, and one forced fumble. For comparison, T.J. Watt finished his first year in the NFL with 54 tackles, seven QB sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception.
The big difference is Watt probably had nearly double Charlton's playing time. So, maybe the Cowboys scouting department was right about Taco all along. I know I'm excited to see his progression next season.
What positives do you like about the Cowboys heading into the off-season?
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback
With offseason training activities and minicamps coming to a close, now begins the wait for July 27th and the first day of training camp practice in Oxnard, California for the Dallas Cowboys. In my nearly 20 years following the Dallas Cowboys, this is the deepest and most talented roster I can remember the Cowboys taking to training camp.
Of course, there are areas of weakness, especially when you compare them to other position groups. Unfortunately, there isn't always a simple fix to said area of weakness. If you're looking for one area of complaint, you could point to backup quarterback.
Cooper Rush and Mike White have a combined three regular season attempts between the two of them. I wouldn't hold that against them though, because the reason they only have three attempts between them -- and really it's just Cooper Rush has three attempts -- is because Dak Prescott has been such a durable quarterback that those other guys aren't getting into games.
The only time Cooper Rush has appeared in a game was during lopsided wins against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The reports coming out of OTAs and minicamp are that Cooper Rush and Mike White haven't had very good practices. Reports of interceptions have a portion of Cowboys Nation concerned about the quarterback position after their franchise quarterback.
Those reports can offer some insight into how things are going, but they should hardly be taken completely at face value. Remember what Allen Iverson said, "We talkin bout practice." Just like we shouldn't get too hyped about what Dorance Armstrong or Dak Prescott are doing in practice, we shouldn't overreact to some bad practices by your backup quarterbacks. Remember, they're largely throwing to guys who are undrafted free agents and are likely to be released when the team trims their roster to 53.
So much of where the concern about the backup quarterback position comes from is because of the recent history this team has had with losing its starting quarterback to injury. Tony Romo missed games in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. That's six out of 11 seasons where he was the starting quarterback heading into training camp in which he missed at least one game in a season.
Dak Prescott hasn't missed a start since his sophomore season at Mississippi State in 2013. That's five straight seasons between college and the NFL that Dak Prescott has been available for his team. In 2013, he was splitting snaps with the Bulldogs senior quarterback, but since 2013, has been available for 88 of his team's 90 games. Dak's started 51 straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in three seasons and has the strength and durability to continue to do just that.
Dak Prescott isn't Tony Romo. According to DallasCowboys.com, Dak Prescott measures at 6-2, 238 pounds. That's huge for an NFL quarterback. Romo was 6-2, 230. Romo, however, never looked as strong or thick as Dak Prescott. He always looked more slender playing the quarterback position and his durability was a concern. So far in Dak's career, durability hasn't been an issue, therefore the quarterback position is less of an issue.
The recent history of 2015, when Tony Romo went down and the season went with it, has many leery of going into a season with unproven commodities. But in that 2015 season, they had "proven" commodities at the quarterback position and those players went 2-11 in the starts that Tony Romo missed.
The free agent quarterback market doesn't look all that enticing at this point in the offseason. And that should be obvious. Any quarterback that was worth signing is already on a team. What you're left with is a who's who of bad quarterback options that wouldn't give you much more confidence in that Rush or White if necessary.
- Matt Cassell - Been there, done that.
- Brandon Weeden - See above.
- Mark Sanchez - See Above.
- Brock Osweiler - Miami, Denver, and Houston did that, chose to go another direction.
- Derek Anderson - not a terrible option, but not necessarily better than what you have.
- Josh Johnson - Pass.
- Geno Smith - The New York Giants didn't want him. Very Hard Pass.
There isn't a free agent quarterback that makes sense. They're either old descending quarterbacks or young retreads that have been through a few different organizations and haven't been able to find a landing spot. Let's get into training camp and the preseason and see what Mike White and Cooper Rush do in a game-like situation before making a definitive evaluation.
With Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna as Dak Prescott's main coaching influences in 2019, there's no need for a veteran backup quarterback to "mentor" Prescott at this point in his career. Moore was always considered a very smart player that was viewed as a future coach. Kitna was one of the better backup quarterback options during his career and has spent time coaching in the high school ranks. Dak couldn't have two better guys in his ear during the week or on gameday. A veteran quarterback doesn't really add anything to what these two already bring.
The Cowboys are content to see how the backup quarterback battle plays out between Mike White and Cooper Rush. Let these guys get as many snaps as they can in training camp and the preseason and if, for some reason, neither guy steps up and you feel like you need to add a veteran, then go grab Mark Sanchez since he knows the offense and has a good relationship with Dak Prescott.
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.
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