The time period between when mini-camp practices end and training camp begins is arguably the slowest and most worrisome for NFL teams, players, and the fans alike. Just about anything that is newsworthy around the NFL is of the negative nature.
This is something the Dallas Cowboys know all too well with the announcement last week that linebacker Rolando McClain will be suspended 10 games in 2016 and also that DeMarcus Lawrence's appeal to reduce or eradicate his suspension was upheld.
I know it's hardly worth mentioning now, but this puts the Cowboys defense in a really difficult situation, especially if you throw in the fact that Randy Gregory is also part of the suspension club. If you're counting, that's three players along the front seven of the defense that will miss at the very least the first month of the season.
Rolando McClain's suspension in particular is a hard-hit to the defense, but fortunately the coaching staff is all to familiar with finding someone to fill in for him when he is suspended. Last year he missed the first four games because of a different suspension and Anthony Hitchens took over the responsibilities at middle linebacker during those games.
As it stands now, Hitchens is probably the favorite to once again stand in for the suspended McClain, but with training camp yet to get underway there's still plenty of time to evaluate the linebacker position.
But, that might not be the biggest news in regards to Anthony Hitchens' off-season.
You see, Anthony Hitchens decided that it was time to tie the knot with longtime girlfriend Ashley Presutto and said I do over the Fourth of July weekend.
Wedding Day !!!
Hitchens joins teammate Ronald Leary as the second Dallas Cowboys to take the plunge into matrimony this summer and like I did with Leary last week I wanted to congratulate the new couple on behalf of all of us here at Inside The Star.
Of course, even a few of his teammates decided to congratulate him via twitter as well.
Congrats on your big day today man @AnthonyHitchens
Ryan Russell is another defensive player like Hitchens, that could possibly benefit from the suspensions to McClain, Lawrence, and Gregory. He has a chance to earn the coaching staff's trust and start at one of the defensive end positions.
Congrats to my man @AnthonyHitchens getting married today. All the best to both of you.
Mark Nzeocha could possibly be Anthony Hitchens main competition to lay claim to the middle linebacker position, but that didn't stop him from congratulating his teammate.
Just in the past few days, Anthony Hitchens has had a big off-season. He has been promoted to be the Cowboys middle linebacker, at least for now, and he has gotten married.
Of course, Hitchens isn't the only one who decided that the Fourth of July weekend was a good time to get married. Former safety Matt Johnson also used the holiday weekend to tie the knot.
Matt Johnson may not be a current member of America's Team, but being a former player earns him the right to get a shout out.
So, join all of us here at Inside The Star in wishing the newly married couples congratulations and best wishes.
Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Hitchens! Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Johnson!
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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