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5 Underrated Free Agents the Dallas Cowboys Should Re-Sign in 2019

Jess Haynie

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Damien Wilson
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

We're just a little over a month until the start of NFL free agency in 2019. Like all other teams, the Dallas Cowboys are already looking at potential moves to make. Some of those could come from the open market, but they also have decisions to make with their own free agents.

You already know the big names; DeMarcus Lawrence, Cole Beasley, and David Irving. There has been and will continue to be plenty written on these guys in the weeks ahead.

But there are over a dozen other Cowboys whose contacts are expiring. Some have been with Dallas their entire NFL careers, while others were recent additions who were plugged in during last season.

How many of them are worth bringing back next year? Can they help to shore up some of your depth needs and give you more flexibility in the upcoming free agency period and draft?

Today, I wanted to showcase five players who I think could be re-signed and provide value for the 2019 season.

L.P. Ladouceur

Long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur in his natural position. (AP Photo/James D Smith)

LS L.P. Ladouceur

He'll turn 38 in March, which is old by any NFL standard and ancient for the youthful Cowboys. But nobody does their job better than Ladouceur, who has been perfect as the team's long snapper for 14 seasons.

If he still wants to play, Louis-Philippe would have plenty of suitors as a free agent. Dallas should go ahead and lock him up before anyone gets a chance.

Next year is a pivotal one for so many Cowboys, even up to the head coach. With a lot of jobs on the line, you don't critical games being lost because of miscues on special teams.

There are younger and cheaper options out there, and Dallas usually brings one in every training camp to take some reps off of their veteran. But stability is so valuable in the kicking game, and nobody offers it more than Ladouceur.

Depending on how this season goes, maybe afterward you try to find the next guy to take over the position. But 2019 is not a time for unnecessary change, even if it costs you some extra money.

Ladouceur is as good as they come, as Brett Maher, Chris Jones, and the rest of the team should get their best chance to succeed next year.

Geoff Swaim, Falcons

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

TE Geoff Swaim

It would be easy to forget about Swaim after last season. He only had 26 catches in nine games before missing the rest of the year with an injury. You're likely ready to move on to Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, or whatever fresh faces Dallas might be able to bring in this offseason.

But Geoff is a proficient run blocker and solid in the passing game, which makes him an ideal number-two TE on your depth chart. Plus, he could still probably be competitive for the starting job if brought back.

Even if the Cowboys are looking to upgrade the TE position, Swaim could likely be re-signed for a minimal contract. That's good value for a player with his system experience and overall ability.

It doesn't look like Rico Gathers has a future with Dallas or perhaps any other NFL team. The Cowboys would have a stronger group in camp this year with Geoff Swaim in the mix over Gathers, and the price difference between them isn't going to be much.

Ideally, yes, Dallas will be adding a TE this offseason who is better than any of the current options. But given his overall skill set and experience, Swaim may still be the next best guy. At the least, I'd like to see him competing for the backup job.

Damien Wilson

Dallas Cowboys LB Damien Wilson (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

LB Damien Wilson

Unlike Anthony Hitchens last year, Wilson's hasn't created a market for himself in the upcoming free agency. A team might want him to handle a similar role to the one he's played in Dallas an occasional starter in the base defense.

So, why shouldn't the Cowboys be that team? Why let him leave if you'd then have to replace him?

This decision is impacted by what happens with Sean Lee.  If Sean wants to keep playing and the Cowboys are willing to keep paying, then that doesn't leave much room for Wilson to stay.

In that scenario we'd likely see Jaylon Smith play the SAM role in the base defense. That was Wilson's spot the last few years.

But if Lee retires or gets released, then Damien gives you experience and solid play for the position. Plus, Dallas' other reserve linebackers are more suited as middle and weak-side players.

The Cowboys could let Wilson test the free agent market and see what's out there for him. Assuming it's not much, he could likely be re-signed at a bargain.

Dallas Cowboys Need More From RB Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith

While most of us would to see more sizzle from the backup running back, that doesn't mean Dallas should let Rod Smith get away. He provides solid depth and versatility both on offense and special teams.

The RB position is wide open behind Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas could let Darius Jackson go, as they have in the past, and keep Smith while also signing or drafting a more dynamic backup.

Rod would have incentive to stay in Dallas, wanting to remain with his brother Jaylon. It would come down to what other teams might offer.

While he's been good at times for the Cowboys, Smith hasn't shown enough that the rest of the NFL is going to make him a priority. Many would likely dismiss his performance as a product of Dallas' offensive line.

But Rod can be a productive runner and has the ability to play fullback. With Jamize Olawale also a free agent, Dallas could kill two birds by just re-signing Smith. He's also a core player on special teams coverage.

Even if the Cowboys look to upgrade the backup RB position, there is a strong case to be made for keeping Rod Smith as the third back, fullback, and just a generally solid player.

Caraun Reid

Dallas Cowboys DT Caraun Reid

DT Caraun Reid

Playing in 10 regular season and two playoff games for the Cowboys in 2018, Reid was a solid depth player who started to flash toward the end of the year. With the size to play at either defensive tackle spot, he'd be a good guy to bring back for next year's camp.

There could be a lot of movement at DT this offseason. Tyrone Crawford is a potential salary cap casualty while David Irving is a free agent with uncertainty even if he's re-signed. Even if they stay, many feel the Cowboys will pursue an upgrade at the position after getting decimated by the Rams' rushing attack in the playoffs.

A guy like Reid is the sort of value signing Dallas needs if it's going to invest more into the position. Putting more money up front necessitates value on the back end of your depth chart.

Depending on what happens in March and April there may not be roster spots for both Reid and Ross, among other prospects. But Caraun earned a chance to compete with his play last season.



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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Is Ezekiel Elliott the Most Dominant Running Back in the NFL?

John Williams

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Safe to Say, Ezekiel Elliott Not an Offensive Line Product

There's no player in football that is more hotly debated at the moment than Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Though much of the debate surrounds his potential contract extension, which would likely make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there's also been a lot of debate about his standing as the best running back in the NFL.

On Thursday, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox released his list of the most dominant players at each position. It's a fantastic read and not just because he listed Ezekiel Elliott as the most dominant running back in the NFL.

It's certainly easy to see where he's coming from despite the debate that rages across the NFL's fanbases. Ezekiel Elliott's lead the NFL in rushing two of the three season's he's been in the league. Both of those seasons, Elliott only played 15 games, getting the benefit of the Cowboys playoff positioning being solidified prior to week 17. In 2017, he would have probably ran away with the league's rushing title again, which would make him the three-time defending rushing champion heading into 2019.

In that 2017 season when he missed six games and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he only rushed for seven yards on nine carries, Elliott still finished in the top 10 in rushing.

In 2018, he bested Saquon Bakley by 127 yards rushing. Had Elliott played in the week 17 finale last season and rushed for his season average, he would have won the rushing title by more than 200 yards. And he did that in what many considered to be a down season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack. Pro Football Focus even graded Elliott as the 30th best running back for 2018.

In 2018, Elliott had 2,000 total yards, besting his 2016 number of 1,994 total yards as a rookie. His rushing total was down in 2018 from 2016, but he still had an excellent season.

No disrespect to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, or Chrisitan McCaffrey, but they don't have the credentials that Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table. Those guys are great running backs in their own right, but Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing in two of the three seasons he's been in the league and would have probably lead the league in 2017 had he not been suspended.

Per Game Table
Rushing Receiving
Rk Player From To Att Yds TD Rec Yds TD
1 Saquon Barkley 2018 2018 16.3 81.7 0.7 5.7 45.1 0.3
2 Le'Veon Bell 2015 2017 21.1 94.4 0.6 5.6 42.6 0.1
3 Ezekiel Elliott 2016 2018 21.7 101.2 0.7 3.4 30.0 0.2
4 Todd Gurley 2015 2018 18.0 78.4 0.8 3.2 32.5 0.2
5 Alvin Kamara 2017 2018 10.1 52.0 0.7 5.2 49.5 0.3
6 Christian McCaffrey 2017 2018 10.5 47.9 0.3 5.8 47.4 0.3
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2019.

Since 2015, only Le'Veon Bell has averaged more total yards per game than Elliott, but Elliott's close and he's not used as much in the passing game as Bell. Only Todd Gurley has a higher average of rushing touchdowns per game than Elliott.

Elliott's 3.4 receptions per game through the first three seasons of his career is only slightly better than Todd Gurley who ranks sixth among this group of players. The Dallas Cowboys attempted to get Elliott more involved in 2018 but didn't work him downfield enough in his targets for him to be anything more than a dump-off option. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys should work to get him running more intermediate routes in the passing game because as we saw in the Detroit game last season, Elliott's got really good hands.

Historically, Elliott is off to a great start to his career. His first three years in the NFL compare quite favorably to two Hall of Famers and one of the most dynamic running backs of the early 21st century.

No player with more than 100 career attempts in the NFL has averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott.

Think about that for a second. Through his first three seasons, he's averaged more rushing yards per game than Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, and the list goes on and on.

If you look at what he's done compared to other players during their first three years. Only Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott in the first three seasons of their respective careers.

One of the things that people have used to knock Ezekiel Elliott has been the volume of carries that he's received, but there's a reason that the Dallas Cowboys lean on him so heavily. They've created a run-first identity and though at times it has made the offense somewhat inefficient, it's not because the player they're handing to is not a good player, but because every team in the NFL is expecting the Dallas Cowboys to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott.

In 2018 in particular, the Cowboys offensive coaching staff, namely the departed Scott Linehan, didn't do enough to create favorable matchups in the running game. Too often it was a first down run out of heavy personnel that the defense was expecting.

With two rushing titles already in the bag, there's no reason to expect anything different from Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. It's anticipated that the offensive gameplan and execution will be better in 2019 than it was in 2018. The offensive line will be better and with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, there's a thought that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be less predictable moving forward.

The debate will continue to rage over the value of extending Ezekiel Elliott with a contract that will carry him to his age 28 or 29 season, but there is no debating that Ezekiel Elliott is the best and most dominant running back in the NFL.



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Is DeMarco Murray a Factor in Ezekiel Elliott’s Rumored Holdout?

Jess Haynie

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DeMarco Murray Expects Ezekiel Elliott to Rewrite Cowboys' Record Book

There's been a lot of talk this week about a rumored training camp holdout by Ezekiel Elliott, with the Dallas Cowboys' star running back seeking a renegotiated contract. If Zeke does actually hold out, I can't help but wonder if the Cowboys' handling of DeMarco Murray a few years ago isn't a factor in his decision.

Quick history lesson; in 2014, Murray ran for the most yards (1,845) in Cowboys history for a single season. But that was also the final year of his rookie contract, and Dallas chose to let DeMarco leave in free agency when the two sides were unable to agree on new contract.

Murray had just turned 26 when he hit free agency, and his four years Dallas had not had consistent production or availability. 2014 was the first time he was able to play at such a high level, or played a full 16-game season.

As you might remember, Murray left and joined the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly. As with most things during Kelly's time in Philly, it proved to be a disaster. DeMarco was released after one year and then had a couple of seasons in Tennessee before retiring.

The way it all turned out seemed to validate the Cowboys' decision. Perhaps Murray's big year in 2014 was more about adding Zack Martin and Ron Leary to the offensive line than DeMarco himself. He certainly didn't look like the same player at any other point in his career.

But Ezekiel Elliott and his agent may not be too worried about all of those nuances. They may be looking at the simple fact that the Cowboys allowed one of the most productive RBs in football in 2014 to just walk away in free agency.

Zeke may be worried that Dallas will allow him to do the same.

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

There are some important differences to note between Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. For one, Elliott's been elite every season. He's led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last three years.

Zeke has also been faultlessly durable, missing no games due to injury. Murray had already missed 11 games his first three years before we even got to 2014.

However, there are some similarities that can't be ignored. While Elliott's never missed time for health reasons, he missed six games in 2017 due to a suspension for a domestic violence accusation. He also came dangerously close to missing more time this year due to an incident with a security guard in Las Vegas during the offseason.

Availability is availability, whether it's for behavioral issues or injuries. The team assumes the same risk either way.

Also, Elliott has had the same benefit of running behind this great Cowboys offensive line for the last three years. It hasn't been quite as good as 2014, with Ron Leary never being completely replaced, but he hasn't lacked for superior blocking compared to most NFL running backs.

Another factor; Zeke is due to turn 24 next week. That means he'd be 25 next year when playing on the 5th-year option, and about to turn 26 when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2021.

DeMarco Murray was also 26 when he hit free agency in 2015. And he'd only played four NFL seasons, while Zeke would have just finished his fifth.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: DeMarco Murray Dominates #29 2

Former Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

I'm not saying that Murray and Elliott are the same player. Zeke has proven himself better over a long period of time and with less talent in front and around him. He's carried the offense without Tony Romo's passing or Jason Witten and Dez Bryant still in their prime, like DeMarco had in 2014.

But in 2015, with the prospect of competing for a Super Bowl well in reach, the Cowboys decided to gamble on the shaky Darren McFadden rather than pay DeMarco Murray market value. They trusted their system and offensive line to produce a successful running back.

Zeke may be worried that Dallas is preparing to take that same approach with him. They can keep playing him at a discount this year and in 2020, when even his raise to $9 million is still a bargain compared to guys like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell.

In 2021 the Cowboys could then hit Elliott with the franchise tag. He'd make a ton that year, but without any of the long-term security that other elite RBs are currently enjoying.

In that scenario, Zeke would now be turning 27 the next time free agency rolled around. And the window for getting a multi-year contract may have passed.

That's three more seasons for a major injury to finally find him. If nothing else, it's about 45-50 more games of NFL mileage that could scare other teams off.

Again, this notion of Ezekiel Elliott holding out is just a rumor right now. It may have been floated just to get some easy clicks at Pro Football Talk, which is hardly a new strategy for them.

But in all fairness, you can see why Zeke might be considering it. There's a fair reason to question the Cowboys long-term loyalty, and it goes back to how they handled their last star running back.



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Dallas Cowboys

History Suggests a Contract Extension for Ezekiel Elliott is a Crapshoot

Brian Martin

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Contract Extension With Ezekiel Elliott a Crapshoot at Best

If rumors are true, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon could be following in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell by threatening to hold out not only training camp, but the 2019 season if they're not rewarded with contract extensions from their respective teams. It's a bold strategy, especially considering the history of long-term extensions previously given to running backs.

Contract extensions for running backs is always a controversial topic. It's not only one of the easier positions to replace, but the shelf life for a NFL RB is a short one due to the physical nature of the position. Players bodies break down quicker, meaning their lifespan in the league on average is between just 3 to 5 years.

For the most part, the market value for running backs around the league would suggest the position isn't one teams like to invest a lot of resources in. Although, there was an uptick in the market last year when Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $14.375 million a year and then David Johnson signed for three years worth $13 million a season. Those two contracts could be the starting point for Ezekiel Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliott's camp knows all of this and so do the Dallas Cowboys. But, handing out upwards of $14 million to a position that has such a short shelf life in the league is a crapshoot at best, even to a player as talented as Zeke. History hasn't been kind to running backs who receive a long-term extension. In fact, it's really hard to put a finger on one single RB who has lived up to their contract extension.

Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley

RBs Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley

Take Todd Gurley and David Johnson for instance. Gurley already has long-term concerns about his health, and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to an injury. Both players are currently the top paid at the position right now, but they're not the only examples of why the Cowboys should be cautious offering Zeke a contract extension.

The RB tier below Todd Gurley and David Johnson are making around $8 million a year after receiving a contract extension. Unfortunately, the results are about the same. Devonta Freeman ($8.25 M) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 M) missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to injuries after being rewarded with long-term deals. Only LeSean McCoy ($8.01 M) has come close to living up to his deal, but even he has struggled off-and-on with injuries.

Need more convincing?

Let's take this back a little bit further. Chris Johnson, Johnathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice… I can go on and on. Even players such as Arian Foster who remained productive after receiving an extension struggled with injuries. If you haven't yet, you may start to see a trend here.

Now, I'm not saying the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't extend Ezekiel Elliott. Personally I'm on the fence about it and would be fine with them going either direction. But, they absolutely have to be cautious with the way they handled this. History is a good indicator they may not get the same kind of production from Zeke as they have previously.

Do you think the Cowboys should give Ezekiel Elliott a contract extension?



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