What NFL offseason? Now in our first week without football, teams are beginning the long process of building their roster for 2017, as the Cincinnati Bengals have done by claiming WR Chris Brown off of waivers. Brown spent the 2016 season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad - finding himself competing throughout the summer with a steep depth chart at wide receiver for Dallas.
A speedy receiver out of Notre Dame, Brown was seen as a potential punt return option, but saw limited opportunities in the preseason. Now with the Bengals, he'll likely compete with 2016 rookie Alex Erickson, who handled most of the punt returns for them this season.
The Bengals have claimed WR Chris Brown off of waivers from the Cowboys, per source. Offseason roster tinkering.
For the Cowboys, their need at WR is becoming more eminent now, as Terrance Williams and Brice Butler will both hit free agency soon. Butler did little to secure any long-term status on this team through part of 2015 and then in 2016, while Terrance Williams could command more money than the Cowboys are willing to pay.
Now without WR Chris Brown, the Cowboys will be left to evaluate practice squad receiver Andy Jones (who is also eligible to be claimed by any other team) as they look to upgrade the position behind Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley this offseason.
There is no down time in the National Football League. Chris Brown learned that on Wednesday, as he'll change his helmet from the one with the star to one with some non-distinct Bengal stripes.
A Lot Had to Happen for Amari Cooper to Join the Cowboys
Amari Cooper was a game changing player from the moment he showed up at The Star in Frisco, Texas. In the first game against the Tennessee Titans, you could just tell that this was a different kind of player. The Cowboys hadn't had a wide receiver with his mixture of size and skill.
But Amari Cooper's presence with the Dallas Cowboys may not have happened in 2018 if any one of a number of dominoes didn't fall during the 2018 offseason and regular season.
Shunned by Sammy
Early in the free agency period, it was reported that the Dallas Cowboys had brought in Sammy Watkins and made him a lucrative offer that would have paid him around $16 million per year, but as Patrik Walker from 247 Sports discussed, he ultimately signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for more guaranteed money.
I recall first the feeling of dread when I heard about the pursuit of Sammy Watkins, immediately followed by relief when I saw that he signed with the Chiefs. I was in the midst of a government mandated internet blackout.
Don't get me wrong, Sammy Watkins is a fine player, but he isn't a $16 million per year player. Aside from his athleticism and size he doesn't really bring much to the table. He was pretty much a younger, and similarly injury prone -- at their respective points in their careers -- as Dez Bryant.
In 2018, Watkins only played in 10 games for the Chiefs and barely passed the 500 yard mark while catching only three touchdowns. Now, he's not the top priority in the Chiefs passing game, but he's not a player that can be relied upon to lead an offense.
Had the Cowboys signed Watkins last offseason, it's highly unlikely that they would have traded a 2019 first round draft pick to add another wide receiver in Amari Cooper.
Dez Bryant Goes Bye-Bye
The next thing that happened that may not have, was the release of long-time Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant. Dez Bryant had been with the team since 2010, when the team made him their first round pick that season. After post really good numbers from 2012-2014, Dez had a drop off in production, mostly due to injuries in the 2015-2017 seasons.
Dez Bryant, a fan favorite, was a player that relied upon his superior athletic ability, physicality, toughness, and ability to get passes in the air that made him special. Injuries to his legs and feet started to rob him of his athletic ability. Combine that with the fact that he and Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott could never really get on the same page when it came to fade routes, traditional or of the back shoulder variety.
Had the Cowboys not made the decision to move on from Bryant, the Cowboys offense would have probably been better the first seven games of the season. They may not have necessitated allocating a first round pick to acquire Cooper and it's possible he gets traded somewhere else or stays in Oakland altogether.
Poor Starts to the Season
The Oakland Raiders went into the 2018 season having made a lot of noise by signing Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. After a 1-5 start to their season, the fire sale continued as they put Amari Cooper on the trade block.
The Dallas Cowboys started the season 3-4, but looked much worse on offense than what we could have anticipated. We knew they would take a bit of a step back in the passing game as they were trying to work in new faces, but it was bad for the first seven, and really eight weeks of the season.
The Cowboys went into the season with a plan to use their wide receiver group as a committee to try and fill their needs with several players of varying skill sets. Sounds good in theory, but in practice it was a debacle. Receivers not named Cole Beasley, struggled to get open and the offense was listless through the first two months of the season.
Had either team been better than they were to start the season, the chance of a trade taking place would have been small. Teams like to think they can get by with what they have. Had the Cowboys been 4-3 instead of 3-4, they may have thought they could get by with Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup as their lead receivers.
It was rumored that prior to the Dallas Cowboys sending their 2019 first round pick to the Oakland Raiders that the Philadelphia Eagles offered a second. The Raiders, who were looking to stock pile picks to rebuild, held out for the first they desired for their former 2x Pro Bowler.
Had the Raiders took the Eagles offer as the best offer on the table at the time, the Cowboys would have missed out on Cooper and likely missed out on the division and the playoffs in 2018. On the flip side, we know how much the Cowboys value their draft picks. We've seen them pass on game changing player who would have cost much less because they value their draft picks and believe in their ability to find difference makers in any round.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys were really fortunate to end up with Amari Cooper. If any of the above things goes differently, it's extremely unlikely that he's wearing a Cowboys uniform in 2018 at all. Now, coming off a 1,000 yard season -- in only 15 games -- and a Pro Bowl appearance, Cooper is set to get paid some big money by the Dallas Cowboys front office. As they get ready to pay Cooper upwards of $16 million a year or more, they should have only one thought on their mind for the good fortune that brought Cooper to Dallas;
NFL Honors: Leighton Vander Esch Receives 0 Votes for DROY
The Dallas Cowboys front office hit the ball out of the park when they drafted Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch back in April, 2018. Since then, Vander Esch has earned the starting role that previously belonged to Sean Lee, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and made the second-team All-Pro. Even for a first round draft pick, the rookie exceeded expectations.
For many, he was a clear candidate for the NFL Honors' Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, the voters didn't see him as such.
Defensive Rookie of the Year voting: Darius Leonard - 29 Derwin James - 20 Bradley Chubb -- 1
Three rookies received votes for the award, but the Wolf Hunter wasn't among them. Instead, Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard and Los Angeles Chargers S Derwin James walked away with the vast majority of the votes. For the Denver Broncos, LB Bradley Chubb received only one vote.
This is actually surprising to me. Leighton Vander Esch's season was pretty impressive. His performance on the field week in and week out was dominating. How can you make the second-team All-Pro and get no votes while Bradley Chubb gets one?
Now granted, the competition this year for this award in particular was loaded with notable nominees. After all, Darius Leonard led the NFL in tackles, had seven sacks and forced four fumbles. Being completely honest and unbiased here, I would've voted for Leonard as well. Derwin James managed to translate what he did in college to the field and played many different positions. He even lined up in various spots as a linebacker. For the Chargers, he did it all.
Even still, there's a big argument to make for Vander Esch and I'm surprised no voter did so. His direct competition for the award was undoubtedly Darius Leonard. Although the Colt had the most tackles and the better stats, that's also because he played way more snaps than Vander Esch did. Per Pro Football Reference, Leonard participated in 956 defensive snaps (91.31% of his team's total defensive snaps) while Vander Esch only played in 784 (76.56%). Despite having 172 snaps less to his name, Vander Esch trailed Leonard by only nine solo tackles.
At the end of the day, what matters is that the Dallas Cowboys have one hell of a football player at strong linebacker. Oh, and another great LB to play beside him named Jaylon Smith. Vander Esch may have lost the battle against Leonard for DROY, but it'll be fun to see how both players continue to grow and do great things for their respective football teams.
DeMarcus Lawrence Top Free Agent of 2019 Offseason
We currently sit at 42 days away from the beginning of league wide Free Agency for the NFL. It's one of several opportunities that the Dallas Cowboys will have to upgrade a roster that looks ready to contend for their sixth Lombardi Trophy in 2019. Yesterday, Pro Football Focus released their top 50 free agents for the 2019 offseason and Dallas Cowboys Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence ranks as the guy at the top of the free agent class for this coming offseason. Cowboys Nation shouldn't be surprised by this development.
DeMarcus Lawrence is elite.
Here's what Pro Football Focus had to say on Lawrence:
"The Cowboys asked him to prove it, and Lawrence did just that. His 89.5 overall grade this season ranked seventh among all edge defenders in the NFL. Soon to turn 27, Lawrence is the rare elite edge defender hitting free agency in his prime."
Michael Renner - Pro Football Focus
Player grades are a subjective analysis, but it gives a barometer for how Lawrence is regarded league-wide. Not only is Lawrence viewed as an excellent player by Cowboys analysts, national media respects his game as well.
Lawrence finished the 2018 season with 10.5 sacks, marking the second time in a row that he had more than 10 sacks. In three of his last four seasons, Lawrence has had more than eight sacks for the Dallas Cowboys. He's one of the best, if not the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL.
Lawrence forced two fumbles, had his first career interception this season, recovered a fumble, and forced 15 tackles for loss. He finished with 44 stops on the season, which Pro Football Focus defines as "tackles that constitute a "loss" for the offense." Those 44 stops tied him for fourth in the NFL.
DeMarcus Lawrence isn't just an elite pass rusher, he's an elite run defender as well. The way he sets the edge for the Dallas Cowboys defense makes life easier for their two dynamic linebackers in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
Lawrence is in line to see a very rich contract this offseason that could pay him up to $20 million per year over the next four to five years, and he deserves every penny. He's a leader on the team and brings an energy and intensity throughout the week that galvanizes the rest of the defensive line group to play with high energy and effort.
If the Cowboys front office is unable to get a deal done with Lawrence prior to the deadline to assign the franchise tag on March 5th, then the Cowboys will likely assign their elite pass rusher the franchise tag for a second year in a row. The tag would be a place holder, which will prevent Lawrence from hitting free agency and creating a bidding war for his services, until the two sides could reach an agreement.
In the modern NFL where almost every team is throwing the ball 60-70% of the time, having a pass rusher like DeMarcus Lawrence is a must for a defense. We've seen with past Cowboys teams what the lack of a pass rush can do for your team. It's deflating. The Cowboys will do everything they can to get Lawrence locked up for the rest of his prime.
The only question is, how much will he cost?
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