Many of us around Cowboys Nation had high hopes for Randy Gregory after the way he played in 2018, but unfortunately those hopes have now all but died thanks to his most recent suspension. To make matters worse, the Dallas Cowboys now have to find more depth at the defensive end position through either free agency or the draft. The former is what I want to focus on today.
Since the Cowboys are planning to pay a hefty price to extend DeMarcus Lawrence's contract it's doubtful they will pay out for one of the top tier DEs available on the open market. Instead, they will likely focus on the mid to lower tier players. Determining who might be on their radar though is nearly impossible, but familiarity with a certain player, however little, could be a giveaway.
Here are five potential Randy Gregory replacements who have ties to Dallas:
Here is a name Cowboys Nation should be pretty familiar with. Benson Mayowa was a member of the Dallas Cowboys for the 2016 and 2017 seasons before eventually getting buried on the depth chart in the final year of his contract. He was actually the sack leader (6 QB sacks) for the Cowboys in 2016 when DeMarcus Lawrence only managed to play nine games.
Mayowa could be exactly the kind of cost-effective free agent defensive end they are looking for to provide more depth at the position after Randy Gregory's most recent suspension. He still has enough juice left to get after the QB. He managed to accumulate four quarterback sacks for the Arizona Cardinals last year, and accomplished that with very few opportunities behind Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
Preston Smith is someone the Dallas Cowboys should be pretty familiar with in more ways than one. Not only has he played for their division rival, the Washington Redskins, for the past four years, but he was also a college teammate of Quarterback Dak Prescott's at Mississippi State. That kind of familiarity could end up bringing the two sides together this offseason.
Smith might not be as cost-effective as Benson Mayowa, but we all know you get what you pay for. He has accumulated 24.5 QB sacks in his career and would definitely be an upgrade, even though he's been an outside linebacker with the Redskins since entering the league. I personally believe he's better suited to play in a 4-3 defense and has the size to do just that (6'5", 265). There's also the added bonus of weakening an opponent while also strengthening yourself.
Cowboys Nation has been hoping for over a year now Kris Richard's ties to former Seattle Seahawks players would net the Dallas Cowboys Earl Thomas, but it could end up helping them replace Randy Gregory for the time being. Bruce Irvin was with the Seahawks the same time as Richard and that could help lure him to Dallas.
Irvin probably wouldn't break the bank due to his age (31), which in itself could make him an attractive option for the Cowboys. But, you throw in the fact that he's still more than capable of harassing opposing QBs and you've got yourself a player capable of making a difference on an already talented defense. He may just be a stopgap until Dallas finds a long-term solution, but he's an intriguing option nonetheless.
This is a little outside the box thinking since Anthony Barr has been an outside linebacker in the Minnesota Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme, but it wasn't that long ago Rod Marinelli was supposedly looking at him as a defensive end. If Marinelli still believes Barr is capable of putting his hand in the dirt as a DE, he could try to recruit him once again to the Dallas Cowboys.
Barr has the size (6'5", 255) to play DE with the Cowboys, but no one really knows what he is capable of if asked to be a full-time pass rusher. It would seem like a risky move because of the unknown, but at worst he could be a situational pass rusher and the replacement at outside linebacker for Damien Wilson. I'd be willing to take the gamble. He does have 13.5 career QB sacks after all as an OLB, so it's not that big of a stretch to think he could be successful as a DE.
Alex Okafor is a born and bred Texan who came right out of the heart of Dallas and could be looking to make his way home. He was a talented pass rusher with the Longhorns at the University of Texas and continued to be so in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals as an outside linebacker and once again with the New Orleans Saints as a defensive end. His versatility and productivity are definitely intriguing.
Okafor is yet another cost-effective option to replace Randy Gregory in Dallas. He's averaged at least four QB sacks the last two years with the Saints as mostly a backup/role player, and could do the same with the Cowboys. He's just 28 years old and should have more than enough left in the tank to contribute until a better option becomes available.
Any of these Randy Gregory replacements make sense for the Dallas Cowboys?
Cowboys Wishlist: 3 Things I Want to See in Kellen Moore’s Offense
The Dallas Cowboys offense will mostly remain the same in terms of players. However, a big change is coming with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore taking over the talented unit. In a special edition of Cowboys Wishlist, I'll share the three big things I want to see in Moore's offense in 2019.
Let me know what you want to see in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Frequent Read Option
Despite Dak Prescott's skills as a runner, rarely did we see the Cowboys run read option plays. For a team that seems to have the perfect duo for these plays, they certainly seemed to have wasted it over the last few years. This is an offense that has plenty of talent to be struggling as much as they did in the red zone last year.
Imagine being concerned about Ezekiel Elliott getting the ball and Dak Prescott keeping it at the same time? Not to mention the play action threat with a group of receivers led by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb... oh, and a veteran tight end in Jason Witten who might be older but whose hands are very reliable.
The Athletic's Bob Sturm pointed out Prescott's average of 4.46 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns in the red zone between 2016 and 2018. The league average for all players is 2.64 and there's no one close to over four yards and over 10 touchdowns in the league. Dak has been dangerous when using his legs and yet, the Cowboys haven't used the read option as much. I hope that changes with Kellen Moore taking over.
Wish #2: Use Tight Ends More
I'm still impressed by how little the Cowboys utilized their tight ends in 2018. In fact, as Bobby Belt noted on Twitter a few months ago, this has happened consistently in Scott Linehan's career.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Last year, Blake Jarwin had only three games with more than three targets. In those games, he racked up 56, 45 and 119 yards. This makes me wonder if the real problem at tight end last season was more about how they were utilized rather than the players at the position.
With Jason Witten back, Jarwin and the future Hall of Famer could split the snaps. Hopefully, Kellen Moore gives them a more active role on the offense. I really think we'll see way more from them.
Wish #3: Pre-Snap Motion
Pre-snap motion is truly a thing of beauty. The simple fact of getting a player in motion before the ball is snapped can go a long way to keep a defense in its toes and cause confusion to set up a successful play. In Boise State, Moore ran an offense that heavily relied on pre-snap motions.
The first year offensive coordinator won't turn the Cowboys into the new L.A. Rams but he can add this kind of trickery to help Dallas take the next step offensively. Dak Prescott will be playing his fourth year of professional football and adding this to the offense will only help the young QB by making his reads even easier.
How Will Coaching Changes Impact Cowboys’ Backup QB Battle?
There has been a big shakeup on the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff in 2019. Scott Linehan is out, Kellen Moore was promoted to Offensive Coordinator, and Jon Kitna was hired as the new Quarterbacks Coach. What impact will the changes have on the QB position, and especially when it comes to the battle for the backup role?
The contenders remain Cooper Rush, a third-year player who joined Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and 2018 fifth-round pick Mike White. Rush was the backup QB last season, but had a major experience edge over his rookie competition. That playing field will be more level now in White's second season.
The changes in the coaching staff even things out all the more. There is a new OC with new ideas and things to learn, and new QB coach with his own style and preferences. Rush and White are starting over together, in a way, with this new personnel.
Jon Kitna is especially intriguing in this conversation. Moore was here last year but Kitna brings a fresh set of eyes to the QB position. He also brings the resume of being an exceptional backup quarterback during his playing career, understanding what it takes to be a success in the role.
Kitna may see and appreciate things that neither Kellen Moore or Scott Linehan could.
For example, what made Cooper Rush take a backward step in his play from the 2017 preseason to last year? He was the undrafted underdog that took the backup QB job away from Kellen Moore two years ago, but last year was the incumbent trying to hold on to his spot against a new prospect.
Did Mike White being a drafted player get in Rush's head?
Jon Kitna spent a long time fighting off younger options. He may be able to help Cooper deal with that pressure.
Or perhaps it will go the other way; Kitna's fresh perspective could help push White up the depth chart. From the new QB coach's own lips, he's approaching this situation without preconceived notions:
"For me, it’s more of a clean slate. I just want to come in and help those guys and help them progress in their careers. If you get the best out of them, that’s going to be good for us at an organization.”
A few months ago I was pushing for Dallas to sign a veteran backup. With the Super Bowl in reach, I don't want to see the season go down the drain if something happens to Dak Prescott. It'd be nice to have our own Nick Foles ready to go.
While it doesn't appear the Cowboys will go that route, I'm at least comforted by having Jon Kitna's voice in the room. He could have a tremendous influence on Cooper Rush and Mike White, and perhaps upgrade the QB2 position even without a roster move.
If nothing else, I'm going to be more confident in the backup quarterback decision knowing that Kitna was involved in making it.
Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
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