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Are Cowboys Free Agent Signings in Position to Succeed?

Sean Martin

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What Happens if WR Allen Hurns Doesn't Pan Out?
(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

There are three avenues through which NFL teams acquire talent. The best franchises take advantage of all three to capitalize on small windows of opportunity, signing the right free agents, drafting well, and pulling off trades. Being applauded for their overall youth as a team entering 2018, the Dallas Cowboys are built this way thanks to their commitment to the draft.

The Cowboys even made two trades during this year's NFL Draft from AT&T Stadium, leaving the weekend with nine rookies, Tavon Austin, and Jihad Ward -- trading away WR Ryan Switzer.

It's free agency that's held the Cowboys back from regularly contending in the NFC East though. Gone are the days of the Cowboys breaking the bank for the best available names each offseason, instead opting to fill out their roster depth with free agents.

Not even this approach has worked in recent memory for the Cowboys though. Positions targeted in free agency remain the same ones with legitimate concerns on the depth chart.

Last season, it was a FA haul of Byron Bell, Robert Blanton, Nolan Carroll, Ronnie Hillman, Datone Jones, Damontre Moore, and Stephen Paea that collectively lead to the Cowboys stumble out of the playoff picture at 9-7.

Defensive Tackle Datone Jones is the only player to make it through the season, still with the squad for 2018. Expectations have been raised for the sixth-year veteran now, with Maliek Collins out with a foot injury and David Irving suspended for the first four games of the season again.

This pressure put on players brought in only to provide depth is how the Cowboys have set themselves up for failure by botching free agency. With last year's class hopefully behind them, let's now take a look at what the Cowboys should actually be getting from their 2018 free agent signings.

The Cowboys emphasis on signing their own free agents sees Guard Joe Looney and Long Snapper L.P. Ladoucuer return this season. New to the Cowboys are wide receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, offensive linemen Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin, Defensive End Kony Ealy, and Linebacker Joe Thomas.

The effectiveness of this FA class, and how well the Cowboys manage to snap their streak of shallowness because of it, falls squarely on the shoulders of Allen Hurns for now.

The Cowboys should feel comfortable in their investments on Fleming and Martin, both experienced backups to the league's best OL. If called upon, Martin's game may not be on par with the starting four around him, but Fleming is a two-time Super Bowl champion tackle for the New England Patriots that joins the Cowboys as a swing option.

At least on the surface, the Cowboys have seemingly done enough at linebacker to not ask too much of Joe Thomas. Mostly a special teams contributor for the Green Bay Packers, Thomas has some upside at linebacker in coverage, but so too does 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch.

Thomas2

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Paired with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and even sixth round pick Chris Covington, the Cowboys would have to lose significant depth at LB to be relying on Thomas.

Just how much the Cowboys will rely on Kony Ealy to aid their pass rush in 2018 is yet to be determined. Given the team's numbers at defensive end, Ealy can be anything from a training camp cut to starting right end at this time. On his third team since 2017, Ealy has yet to put together all of the traits that the Cowboys and other teams sought in the 2014 draft.

ealy1

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The second round pick will be competing with rookie Dorance Armstrong, Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton in Oxnard. It may very well be the reinstatement status of Randy Gregory that decides Ealy's faith though, with the Cowboys not in any hurry to move on from either Crawford or Charlton.

Which brings us back to not only Allen Hurns but Deonte Thompson. Rehashing the unproven nature of the Cowboys receivers is tiresome at best without any on-field activities to judge their progress. The Cowboys have put themselves in position where Hurns' past production will have to speak for itself however, easily the most proven WR on the roster with 2,699 career receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.

Hurns5

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Coming off of consecutive seasons where Hurns failed to break 500 receiving yards, playing in just 21 games during this stretch, Hurns will have every opportunity to grab the WR1 job that the departed Dez Bryant "left behind".

On one hand, the Cowboys have made moves outside of free agency to adapt to Dak Prescott's strengths and become a more open offense. With the other, their deal for Hurns will only be rewarded if he produces like the player he was in 2015 (his only 1,000 yard season), despite being a similar player to Bryant and less of a "spread" option.

Of course, a younger player outperforming an older one is never a bad thing in the NFL, but the Cowboys are already holding third-round rookie Michael Gallup to lofty expectations. This further adds to the pressure on Hurns, signed by the Cowboys through 2019 with a chance to resurrect his career and earn a long-term deal.

Thompson1

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The same can be said about Deonte Thompson, who becomes the latest experiment as a deep threat in the Cowboys offense. Thompson is coming off a career season with the Buffalo Bills, hauling in 38 passes for 555 yards. His 14.6 yards per reception was a career best for any season Thompson played in at least three games.

Like Kony Ealy, Thompson's current roster status can range anywhere from a lock that pushes a rookie like Cedrick Wilson off the team to a player lost in the WR shuffle and looking for work outside of Dallas come week one.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

When ranking the players that will have the biggest impact on the Cowboys 2018 season, free agent WR Allen Hurns finds himself higher than the rest of their newly signed contributors. This is a refreshing change of pace from year's past, although there is plenty of time still for injuries to set in and previous players mentioned to be called upon.

Such is the importance of improving your roster from year to year in any way possible, something the Cowboys are pressing to do under Prescott's rookie contract.

Tell us what you think about "Are Cowboys Free Agent Signings in Position to Succeed?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator

John Williams

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It Is Time for the Dallas Cowboys to Move on From Tony Romo

The pipe dream has been going on since former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback-turned CBS Analyst Tony Romo hung up his cleats for the black blazer. Fans from all corners of Cowboys Nation have clamored for a return to the field or at worst the sideline as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.

Let me stop you right there. It's not happening.

First of all. He's never been a coach at any level of football, so to assume that he could leave the broadcast booth and step into coaching an NFL offense and doing so at a high level is a huge leap of faith in number 9. Sure, Jon Gruden left the Monday Night Football booth for his lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders, but he had won a Super Bowl and had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL for years before joining the broadcasting ranks.

Tony Romo has an excellent understanding of football. He displays it on a regular basis during the CBS broadcasts. But doing from the broadcast view, seeing what the defense is trying to do, and calling the plays to counter what the defense is trying to do are very different things.

Secondly, the coaching job would be a major time commitment that at the moment he doesn't have. Even if he's working a 40 hour work week in preparation for his three-hour time slot, the demands on NFL coaches are easily twice that with many coaches putting in 100 hour work weeks in preparation for Sundays. Tony Romo has a family that even he's talked about as part of the reason that he went into broadcasting instead of looking to hop on with another NFL team.

Finally, the job would mean a significant pay cut from what Romo is already making. It's estimated that the former Cowboys quarterback is making anywhere from $5-10 million dollars a year with CBS. Jason Garrett is making $6 million per year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, so even if the Jones family was willing to pay first-time NFL coach Tony Romo a ton of money to come out of the broadcast booth, there's zero chance they pay him what he's making as a broadcaster. To do so, would be to undercut the head coach. Jason Garrett is Jerry Jones' guy. The owner and general manager wants Garrett to be the guy that leads the Cowboys to Super Bowl success, so there's zero chance he'd pay a coordinator close to Garrett's money, which would lead to constant speculation about the head coach and his future with the organization.

I love Tony Romo. His jersey is one of only two Cowboys jerseys that I own -- along with Darren Woodson -- and I think he could make a good coach one day, but I'd be hard pressed to see him come out of the coaching booth to take a coordinator job and have immediate success. The guys that are offensive coordinators in the NFL have been grinding for years to earn their jobs. Most started as position coaches -- see Sean McVay as Redskins TE coach. The Dallas Cowboys will spend the next few days, and perhaps weeks, identifying their replacement for Scott Linehan, but let's put to bed the dream of Romo as offensive coordinator.

It's just not going to happen.



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Player News

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie

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Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!



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Dallas Cowboys

Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways

John Williams

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Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.

Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.

The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.

Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.

Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.

In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.

This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.

Mike Garafolo on Twitter

Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan

Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.

The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.

Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.



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