With free agency coming up first in the offseason process, the Dallas Cowboys will explore every avenue to find players who can help their team win. If they find a free agent fit that makes sense -- both for the team and at a price they like -- the front office will make a move.
In the past few offseasons, we've seen Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay go into free agency looking to fill holes on the depth chart before the draft so they can attack the draft with an open mind. I don't see anything changing this offseason.
While it's much simpler to go after unrestricted free agents (UFA), there are several restricted free agents who could make sense for the Dallas Cowboys.
David Irving is obviously at the top of this list, but being as how we know his story, and I think it's very, very likely that he will return, we'll save him for another day.
If Dallas were to sign an RFA, they would have to give up a draft pick to do so, making this highly unlikely, but given that they have three picks in the fourth round, the possibility exists that there could be a guy with a mid-round tender who interests them. I've got some names you may have heard before, and a couple that have likely never crossed your mind.
Here are some interesting restricted free agent names.
TE Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
At only 26 years old, Tight End Cameron Brate may have played his last snaps for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected tight end O.J. Howard out of Alabama in the first round, which limited Brate's role in the offense this season.
Still, he scored six touchdowns and had more than 500 yards receiving. This just one year removed from leading all tight ends in the NFL with 8 touchdowns in just 15 games played (10 starts) in 2016.
Jason Witten is still the Cowboys' starting tight end, but if they wanted to find a guy who could begin taking over at the position now, Brate could be that guy. He is a good receiver and has been durable in his time in Tampa Bay.
WR Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
Tyrell Williams, who ran a 4.43 at his Pro Day heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, has speed and downfield ability that could help the Dallas Cowboys.
The Los Angeles Chargers -- that still doesn't sound right -- could opt not to bring him back, as they need to find more snaps for 2017 first-round pick, Mike Williams, and Keenan Allen is their WR1.
Williams, no relation, averaged 15.3 yards per reception in 2016 when he had his first 1,000-yard receiving season as the leading receiver for the Allen-less Chargers. In 2017, he averaged 16.9 yards per reception, while still posting a respectable 728 yards for a deep Los Angeles receiving group.
Earlier in the offseason, I discussed some unrestricted free agent options at wide receiver with some deep ball ability, and Tyrell is another option for the Dallas Cowboys to pursue.
DT Xavier Williams, Arizona Cardinals
The other day, I talked about Dallas' need to sign a legitimate 1-technique defensive tackle (or nose tackle), and here is another option. At 6-foot-4 and 311 pounds, Xavier Williams has the size to be an interior anchor for the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2017, Williams, also no relation, showed some promise in his third season with the Cardinals. He played in 11 games for Arizona and finished with 20 total tackles, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a sack; while recording multiple tackles in seven games.
WR Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
Another wide receiver who could be available, and actually may fit Dallas' profile of free agent targets, is Willie Snead from the New Orleans Saints.
In the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Snead averaged 70.5 receptions for 939.5 yards and 3.5 touchdowns, while eclipsing 13 yards per catch. He was seemingly phased out of the offense in 2017 after serving a three-game suspension for substance abuse stemming from a DWI last offseason.
Prior to the Ted Ginn signing by the Saints last offseason, Snead was a favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees, as he saw more than 100 targets in 2015 and 2016 each. In 2017, he bottomed out with only eight receptions for 92 yards, and no touchdowns.
Heading into his 26-year-old season, he will have a lot to prove and would likely only cost a late-round pick if Dallas were to sign him to an offer sheet.
LB Mike Hull, Miami Dolphins
This is a guy who will not garner a lot of publicity. Just like the Dallas Cowboys like it.
Primarily a special teams player for the Miami Dolphins over the last couple of years, linebacker Mike Hull saw an increased snap count with the defensive unit from year two to year three. Hull, a Penn State alum like Sean Lee, started three games for the Dolphins, including a 10-tackle game to open the season before settling into the depth chart as a backup.
He won't be a starter for the Dallas Cowboys, but he could provide valuable depth with a bit of starting experience, and Hull can play special teams.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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