OTA's are finally getting started this week which means that position battles and fights for roster spots are about to kick off.
Of course, the real battles won't be decided until Training Camp opens up in late July and the team has a chance to evaluate the players while they play actual football.
For a few Cowboys veterans, however, the battles have already begun.
Last week, I discussed the ever fading chances for Darren McFadden to make this roster and have an impact in 2016. McFadden is going to have to compete with the 4th overall pick in this years draft, a new free agent addition who is clearly the better scheme fit, and now another 6th round pick who seems to have all the youth, athleticism, and breakaway speed which McFadden lacks.
Well, if you think it looks bleak for McFadden, consider the situation that free safety JJ Wilcox is now in.
In a season which featured a whole lot of darkness for the Dallas Cowboys, rookie defensive back Byron Jones shined through with some light. He showed versatility, playing at both safety and cornerback when needed, and playing well at both positions.
Jones especially excelled at free safety, however, and is expected to make a push for the starting job this summer, and to eventually be the week 1 starter at the position.
This puts Wilcox on the outside looking in.
On the other side, Barry Church has been all but cemented into the strong safety role in Dallas, at least until the team can find an adequate replacement.
The Cowboys re-signed free safety, special teams contributor, and fan favorite Jeff Heath to a 4 year $7.6 million deal this offseason, and then drafted Central Michigan's Kavon Frazier in the sixth round.
With these moves comes more competition for Wilcox to face as he fights for any playing time he can find in 2016.
Starting 29 games over the last two seasons, fans have had to accept the bad that comes with Wilcox's good. Having only played safety one year during his time at Georgia Southern, the Cowboys knew that a steep learning curve was ahead of Wilcox when he entered the league.
The infamous bad pursuit angles, poor coverage at times, and overall inconsistent play from Wilcox has all been apart of that learning experience. But, entering his fourth season, the time for learning is over, and the time for performing has come.
What will Wilcox have to overcome to guarantee himself a spot on this roster?
Well, we know that Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be there, leaving just rookie 6th round pick Kavon Frazier to be competed with.
I have already broken down some of Frazier's game during my "Draft Film Review" series, but to sum it up, I see potential in Frazier.
Frazier has NFL size as a rookie, and has the athleticism which could impress coaches that see an upside in him which they may think has passed Wilcox by.
But, Kavon Frazier will face a steep learning curve as well. He is still shaky in coverage at times, and tends to be overaggressive in the box, leaving receivers open downfield after he bites on the play action fake.
Similar to McFadden's battle with Darius Jackson, the team may decide that Wilcox's experience should win out over a sixth round pick with an athletic upside.
However, I think Frazier can contribute on Special Teams right away, and could very well turn into a contributor on defense in a year or two. The Cowboys may agree, and conclude that Frazier's upside is higher than Wilcox's perceived ceiling.
Who makes the team?
How about both? I think the Cowboys will keep Wilcox around to finish out the final year of his contract which expires at seasons-end. After that, who knows what Wilcox's future holds, as it is hard for me to imagine him being re-signed by the Cowboys unless he shows dramatic improvement this season.
The team has already locked up Heath for four more years, and Byron Jones isn't going anywhere. That doesn't leave a lot of room for Wilcox on this roster after 2016.
But, I expect Wilcox to contribute on Special Teams this season, and to see some time on defense in different packages and to spell Jones or Church.
In my estimation, Frazier will make the 53 man roster as well, but will be designated to the practice squad for most of the season. But, after Wilcox is gone, Frazier very well may be asked to fill his role in 2017 and beyond.
What do you think?
Is JJ Wilcox worth the Cowboys time? Do you think it is fair to expect an improvement in his game after having only four years playing the safety position?
Let's debate in the comment section.
Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline
This week, Stephen Jones discussed the difficulties of making a trade, saying "it just seems like in the NFL trades are hard to make, to make it all come together for two teams".
The two teams that could be lining up to change that are of course Jones' Cowboys as well as John Gruden's Oakland Raiders. Yet another Raiders player has been in the headlines as a trade target, 24-year old Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
WR-needy Cowboys doing their due diligence on Raiders' WR Amari Cooper: https://t.co/pE2wmrzCXu
Playing at the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys will have yet another reshuffled lineup at wide receiver, playing without Tavon Austin. Their biggest offseason addition to this unit was Allen Hurns, and he's been underwhelming with just eight catches.
Thus the Cowboys are reportedly doing their "due diligence" on Cooper, sensing the need for a mid-season acquisition at WR for the right price. The Cowboys ability to potentially find that price in a deal advantageous to them, given how the Raiders handled the departure of Khalil Mack in a trade to this Chicago Bears, is what makes this story relevant.
A lot has been said about Cooper since his name emerged as the latest player potentially out of the Bay Area. Whether you believe he's still an impact receiver with the potential to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016 or one that "doesn't love football," as some have been inclined to say, the former fourth overall pick represents an investment into the WR position that the Cowboys have not made in some time.
In those Pro Bowl seasons, Cooper averaged over 77 catches a season while putting up over 1,000 yards in both. The Raiders have used this to justify their reported asking price of a first-round pick for Cooper, something the Cowboys are not alone in their reluctance to give.
With Cooper, the Raiders are holding onto their last bit of relevancy. A reeling 1-5 football team that needs to maximize their return on trading Cooper, the Colts and Redskins are also following in the Cowboys footsteps by preparing as much as they can on the player.
Cooper has caught 22 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown through six games this season.
For as desperate as the Raiders are to jump-start their organization, the Cowboys should be just as desperate to add a threat like Cooper to their passing attack. Unlike the Raiders, they're in the hunt for a division title, something much harder to put a price on when it comes to the Jones' finalizing any deal for Cooper in the coming days.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 3 PM Central Time. The Cowboys will be two days into their bye week, not in action again after Sunday until November 5th.
Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018
A groin injury sustained last week against Jacksonville won't send Tavon Austin to injured reserve, at least for now. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has elected to forego surgery at this time, giving him a chance to return to action in 2018.
There was concern that Austin could land on IR initially following the Jaguars game, but he sought a second opinion this week. It appears that this new information was enough for Tavon and the Cowboys to decide that surgery can wait.
Sounds like WR Tavon Austin will not have surgery at this time after getting a second opinion on his groin injury. He could miss a few weeks, however. #cowboyswire
Austin should miss this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. He has been the team's punt returner this season and a useful tool on offense, playing mostly receiver but also lining up the backfield at times.
Despite his limited opportunities, Tavon is tied with Cole Beasley for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns in 2018.
How long Austin will remain out is unknown at this time. After the Washington game, Dallas will have their bye week and then host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.
Both of these are games that the Cowboys, feeling good after a blowout victory over Jacksonville, should be able to win without Austin. But they would certainly like him back for the Week 10 road game with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Tavon's absence, Cole Beasley will likely field punts. We may see more of Deonte Thompson in the speed routes that Austin ran on offense, though Dallas could also finally see what recently returned Brice Butler has to offer.
With an expiring contract this year, Tavon will likely want to get back soon and trying to improve his stock for the 2019 offseason. Hopefully, he can still have a positive impact on his value and the Cowboys season in the weeks ahead.
Terrance Williams: Details, Impact of 3-Game Suspension
Terrance Williams was already missing games on injured reserve, but now the Dallas Cowboys receivers is going to lose some money as well. Williams was finally hit with a three-game suspension by the NFL, starting immediately, for his public intoxication arrest last May.
Dallas placed Terrance on IR in Week 5 just a day before their game against the Houston Texans. Williams had been struggling with a foot issue since the offseason, which included a surgery that he hadn't fully recovered from.
Many were surprised that Williams wasn't suspended to start the season, given that his arrest occurred several months prior. But when charges were eventually dropped after Terrance took part in some required alcohol education courses, it appeared the league might be letting the issue go.
However, as Cowboys fans know all too well, Roger Goodell's NFL operates its own judicial system.
In Williams' case, the suspension will only result in lost game checks. Players still get paid when on IR, but Terrance will lose that amount of his $3.5 million base salary.
Because he can serve the suspension while injured, Terrance will still be eligible to be recalled from injured reserve in December after sitting the mandatory weeks.
The real issue for Williams now is how this event, and his general fall from grace in the Cowboys offense, will affect him in the next offseason.
Terrance is in just the second season of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed in 2017. If he's released after this year, Dallas would save $2.25 million of his scheduled $4.75 million cap hit in 2019.
Williams' cap hit isn't the issue by itself. That would be a bargain for a significant contributor in your offense, even if he was just the third receiver.
But Terrance appears to have fallen well below that spot on the depth chart. Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup are the top three receivers these days, and veteran Deonte Thompson has also been getting looks. Dallas also brought back Brice Butler a few weeks ago, though he hasn't really been worked in yet.
Not only that, but the Cowboys will have the option to recall Noah Brown from IR in just a few more weeks. He was one of their more intriguing young prospects prior to getting hurt.
Dallas could let Terrance come back next year to compete, hopefully with full health and less personal baggage. But after six seasons, they may be ready to move on to players with more room to grow.
For now, though, Terrance Williams is out of action and out some money. We'll see what the future holds.
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