In the Tony Romo era, the NFC East has been called many things, but certainly not predictable. Over the past ten seasons, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles have won 3 division titles each, while the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins have won two, respectively.
Over that period of time, no team has won back to back division crowns.
Playoff appearances have been anything but consistent for these clubs over the past ten seasons. No team has made it to the postseason more than half the time since 2006.
But if there is one constant here, it is that the unexpected can be expected.
New York won two Super Bowls (2007 and 2011) after being written off by many, based on unimpressive regular season records in their championship years (10-6 and 9-7). Washington managed to win a division title in 2012 with a rookie quarterback, and then another last year despite being picked as the consensus division losers in the preseason. Philadelphia featured some unpredictability under Chip Kelly the past two seasons.
Dallas is no different. The health of Tony Romo has always made them difficult to forecast. It also seems like when expectations are high, they are never met, but when they are low, they are exceeded. The last two seasons are a perfect example of this trend.
Overall, the unpredictability of the NFC East makes for an interesting best versus worst case analysis for each team in 2016.
2016 Dallas Cowboys
Ceiling: 12-4 scenario
Dallas takes advantage of one of their lightest schedules in recent memory, picking up right where they left off in 2014. Ezekiel Elliott is Offensive Rookie of the Year and then some, while Dez Bryant dominates in the red zone for another year. The offense reigns supreme in time of possession behind an All-Pro offensive line, keeping their defense fresh. The team is a top-five finisher in total offense.
The defense stays off the field -- as it did in 2014 -- and wins the turnover battle often. A healthy Sean Lee anchors the front-seven at a Pro Bowl level. The secondary carries the thin defensive front-four as the team boasts a nice one-two punch with Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones.
Morris Claiborne finally flashes that top-ten potential in his contract year. DeMarcus Lawrence posts double-digit sacks despite missing the first four games as the pass rush exceeds expectations.
Oh yeah, and Romo stays healthy for a full 16.
Floor: 4-12 scenario
Plain and simple, Romo goes down again and the team implodes.
Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is thrown into the mix too soon, and the offense struggles. Dez Bryant becomes frustrated as the ball is not coming his way enough, and Elliott can't establish himself as a premier rusher as he starts to see too many loaded boxes.
The lack of talent on the defensive line haunts the team all year, and the secondary suffers as a result. The team picks in the top-five again in the 2017 NFL Draft.
2016 New York Giants
Ceiling: 11-5 scenario
The phrase, "the best ability is availability" was surely invented for Eli Manning. He plays yet another full season as he posts statistically his best year yet through the air. Odell Beckham Jr. continues tearing apart opposing secondaries as rookie Sterling Shepard steps nicely into the wide receiver two role.
The team's three big free agency signings of Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison live up to their contracts as the team's defense begins to have shades of their recent title years.
Floor: 6-10 scenario
The belief that winners in March are hardly ever winners in January proves true here, as their free agent moves fail to live up to the hype. The offense keeps them in many games, as it did last year, but once again they fail to close them out.
What the team produces in the passing game, it lacks severely on the ground as the offense becomes too one-dimensional.
2016 Washington Redskins
Ceiling: 10-6 scenario
Kirk Cousins continues to develop and improve, and Washington wins back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1984. Cousins leads a talented passing arsenal of Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and DeSean Jackson, complimented by an underrated Matt Jones running the ball. Their offense carries the team.
Defensively, Josh Norman backs up his talk and contract figures and has another All-Pro year. The 28th ranked defense from a year ago gets a much-needed boost.
Floor: 6-10 scenario
Never beating a team with a winning record continues to hang over Cousins' head, as Washington digresses.
The team has the toughest schedule in the division, and playing teams like Carolina and Arizona prove too much for Washington's shaky defense. Josh Norman falls into the long list of bad Dan Snyder contracts as the surrounding lack of defensive talent dooms him.
2016 Philadelphia Eagles
Ceiling: 9-7 scenario
Change is good in Philly as Doug Pederson and a brand new defensive coordinator take the Eagles to a winning season.
The 30th ranked defense from a season ago becomes more formidable as the offense causes matchup problems on the other end. Carson Wentz takes over as the starter, exceeds expectations and makes the most out of Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and Ryan Mathews. Nelson Agholor has the second year breakout that many thought would come a year ago.
Floor: 4-12 scenario
The Eagles suffer the aftermath of the post-Chip Kelly overhaul in the worst way. The lack of offensive talent gets thinner as injuries continue to linger into the season for Matthews and Mathews. Philly falls victim to a QB carousel, and the 30th ranked defense from a year ago doesn't improve nearly enough to win games.
Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Extension
This week, Spotrac.com, who analyzes the salary cap, player performance, and makes projections for future contracts, released their most recent contract valuations for the big name Dallas Cowboys who will be approaching the offseason looking for a new contract. Between, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will have a lot of negotiating going on this offseason and will be handing out some big bucks.
Obviously, the one that we're most concerned about here in Cowboys Nation is what the Dallas Cowboys front office is going to do with Dak Prescott. Many fans and pundits aren't sold on Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but he is a franchise quarterback and he's about to get paid like one.
Updated Baseline Market Valuations for notable #Cowboys heading into 2019 Dak Prescott: $25.2M https://t.co/ShnCWjIJOM DeMarcus Lawrence: $19.6M https://t.co/3pekUoiVjQ Amari Cooper: $16.7M https://t.co/vPymDSdEeU Zeke Elliott: $9.4M https://t.co/mtFxTap892
Over The Cap is projecting the 2019 salary cap to be around $190 million this season, which would put Dak Prescott's projected salary figure of $25.2 million at around 13.2% of this season's salary cap. And percentage of the cap is the more important number to look at when judging Dak Prescott's figure. When Russell Wilson signed his four-year extension in 2015 that averaged out at $21.9 million per year, his contract took up 15.3% of the salary cap when signed. So yes, in total dollars, Prescott's salary will be higher, but in percent of the cap it will be lower. If you give Dak Prescott 15.3% of the projected 2019 salary cap, you’re looking at $29.07 million per year.
When Spotrac does their salary projections they attempt to find quarterbacks who have had similar careers to the player and use those players as a gauge for what the projection might be, including adjustments for the market rate for the position and the growing salary cap. So, Spotrac has Dak Prescott's career thus far comparable to Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton. Below, you can see the contract numbers for those players that Dak Prescott compares to and the age when they signed their deals.
That's an interesting mix of players.
Let's also take a look at the top six quarterback contracts in the NFL.
Let's start first with Derek Carr, who has the sixth highest average annual pay rate at just over $25 million per year. He signed his deal two years ago in the 2017 offseason. Another contract I like to look at when attempting to figure Prescott's number is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo got his deal from the San Francisco 49ers after only seven NFL starts (two with New England Patriots and five with the 49ers). His contract made him the fourth highest paid quarterback at $27.5 million per year. Again, after only seven NFL Starts.
Dak Prescott has 48 starts in the NFL regular season, and a career passer rating of 96. Of the top six quarterback contracts listed above, only Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. If you look at the top 10 quarterback contracts in the NFL now, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. You can argue that Prescott's teams have had more success than Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr in his first three seasons. While QB Wins is not a stat that we should use to evaluate quarterback play, because you’re paying not only the production of Dak Prescott, but also the intangibles if Dak Prescott, you have to look at the wins.
The Dallas Cowboys have gone 32-16 in the regular season with Dak Prescott at quarterback and 1-2 with him in the playoffs. That, in only three years in the NFL. He's going to get better as a player. Even if you don't look at QB Wins, Dak Prescott has been as productive as those guys he's mentioned with, aside from Brees and Rodgers.
Dak Prescott's body of work as a 3-year starter is franchise QB level stuff. As @Marcus_Mosher pointed out on the @lockedoncowboys Podcast, Dak's last 15 games 4,100 total yards, 30 total TDs, 7 INTs. Y'all don't want to pay that? #CowboysNation
These comparisons below look at the two years before the quarterback signing their franchise quarterback contract. Here you see that Dak compares favorably to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kirk Cousins.
As you can see above, over the last two years, Dak Prescott's averaged more passing yards per game, nearly as many touchdowns per game, fewer interceptions per game, and a comparable passer rating to Newton and Wilson in the two years before they signed their big contract extensions. His completion percentage That doesn't consider his play during the 2016 season in which he won rookie of the year as the starting quarterback for a team that went 13-3.
Derek Carr became the highest-paid player in NFL History after his third season. He signed a five-year, $125M extension. Here's his first three seasons next to Dak Prescott's.
RJ Ochoa, formerly of Inside The Star and now of Blogging the Boys, provided a nice comparison between Derek Carr and Dak Prescott in their first seasons in the NFL. When Derek Carr signed his contract, he became the highest paid player in NFL history.
The projection provided by Spotrac of $25.2 million is the floor as it would be just above Derek Carr's contract that he signed 2 years ago. It's entirely possible that Prescott signs a contract for more than Matt Ryan and could potentially become the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I'm going to estimate that Dak Prescott receives a five-year deal for $145 million, which would give him $29 million per year.
Jerry Jones has been adamant over the course of the season about his desire to get a long-term contract done with Dak in the offseason. Jerry Jones is the owner and the general manager, so it's only a matter of time before Dak's representatives and the Cowboys front office hammers out the final numbers. Dak Prescott is going to get a big deal and bigger than many in Cowboys Nation want to give him. But the going rate for franchise quarterbacks in the NFL is that number that Jimmy Garoppolo signed.
More Salary Cap and Contract discussion here at Inside The Star
Dallas Cowboys Fire Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman
The theme of last year's offseason in Dallas was coaching changes below HC Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan, and DC Rod Marinelli, and not yet through a week of this offseason it appears to be the same now. The Cowboys today have moved on from Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman.
Like current ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn, Colman was in his first season with the Cowboys. The former sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska held the same position with the Houston Texans for four previous seasons.
Small change on the #Cowboys coaching staff, as assistant special teams coach Doug Colman is out, source said. The only known change at this point.
With O'Quinn filling perhaps the biggest shoes left behind from last year, when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys after five seasons, the team has tentatively agreed they're struggles on special teams do not fall on the coordinator and will now be looking for a new assistant.
The Cowboys did successfully transition from Kicker Dan Bailey to Brett Maher, watching Bailey struggle with the Vikings as Maher finished 29 of 36 and six of seven on field goals of 50 or more yards. The always-steady Chris Jones averaged 44.5 yards a punt in 2018, up slightly from 44.1.
The return game is where Dallas struggled to find consistency. Deonte Thompson led the team in kick returns despite being released after eight games. Darius Jackson, Jourdan Lewis, and Cole Beasley all failed to make an impact from this spot once called upon - with Beasley and Tavon Austin also handling punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards a return.
With further upgrades at wide receiver being a pressing need for the Cowboys still, adding a dynamic returner should be of priority for both the current coaches and any new additions to the ST staff.
The Cowboys were also second to last in average kickoff return yards allowed this season, and 16th in punt coverage.
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Should he go or should he stay!? That seems to be the question the Dallas Cowboys are asking themselves about their current Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Many of us would say it's an easy decision to make, but we really don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
The only thing we know for sure right now is Scott Linehan is still employed by the Dallas Cowboys and it might be a while before we know his fate with the organization one way or another. The Cowboys coaching staff, including Linehan, will coach the Pro Bowl in a little over a week, which is why any decision regarding Dallas' coaching staff will likely be delayed.
I know my opinion means little, but I have a hard time seeing Scott Linehan returning to the Dallas Cowboys next season. His playcalling has been pretty predictable and dated the past few years, plus there's the fact he was nearly fired earlier this season during the bye week. I don't think he's done much since then to improve his chances of sticking around. But, that's just my opinion.
That's why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the potential OC candidates I'd personally target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. Let's get started…
How elated would Cowboys Nation be if Tony Romo returned to the Dallas Cowboys as their next offensive coordinator. Everybody understands he doesn't have any formal coaching experience, especially in the NFL, but I seriously doubt that would matter.
No one would question his knowledge of the game, especially after hearing him break down the X's and O's first hand while he's commentating on game days. It's one of the reasons why he's grown in popularity as a commentator in such a short time.
Honestly, bringing in Romo as the OC could be the match made in heaven for the Cowboys. He already knows the system Jason Garrett likes to use offensively and his coaching philosophy. It would likely be a seamless transition, especially since he's already so familiar with the personnel. But, there's really no way of knowing if he's ready to leave his cushy commentating job to become a coach.
As much as I'd like to see Tony Romo make his return back to the Dallas Cowboys in a coaching capacity, bringing back Todd Haley to the organization would be a close second. He spent 2004-2006 with the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach before moving on to become the offensive coordinator for several teams (Cardinals, Steelers, Browns) and the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike Romo, Haley has a proven track record as a play caller in the NFL. I personally like what he would bring to the table if made the new OC in Dallas. He is an aggressive play caller with a fiery attitude. I think his addition to the Cowboys offense could have the same kind of impact as Kris Richard's did to the defense this past season.
There is a downside about Haley though. He can be a bit abrasive with those he's working with. He's known for not always getting along with some of his players or with his coaching staff. It's one of the reasons why both he and Hue Jackson were fired this past season by the Cleveland Browns. I don't think it would be a problem with Dallas, but it is something to think about.
I'm grasping a little bit here because it would take quite a bit to lure Eric Bieniemy away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it's not completely impossible. Jerry Jones would have to really put on his business hat to get Bieniemy's attention, especially after he was in the running for a few head-coaching jobs here recently. But, we all know how persuasive Jerry Jones can be when he wants to.
First off, the Dallas Cowboys would have to make Bieniemy their assistant head coach as well as their offensive coordinator. He is already the OC with the Chiefs, just not the playcaller. Andy Reid still handles those responsibilities. He does however handle the majority of the game planning, which is raved about because of his attention to detail.
His players have also raved about his personality and aggressiveness as a coach. This is something that has endeared Cowboys players to Kris Richard in a short amount of time and it could be the same if Eric Bieniemy comes aboard. Unfortunately, I think this is a longshot. He's probably is eyeing a head-coaching job that could come as soon as next season. Jason Garrett replacement?
Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, isn't on a lot of people's list as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but probably should be. He does have one year of experience as an OC in the NFL, but that was with the Detroit Lions in 2014-2015 and we shouldn't count that against him. No play callers last long in Detroit since Matthew Stafford took over as their starting QB.
The reason I really like Lombardi as a potential Scott Linehan replacement is because of the time he spent with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. Minus the one year in Detroit, he's been with the Saints since 2007. The majority of that time was spent as the QB coach to one of the best ever played the game.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get Sean Payton back as a Cowboys coach for the past several seasons without any success. Turning to someone he's personally groomed could be the next best thing. He was there through all of Drew Brees' numerous passing records and his Super Bowl victory. He has also help develop Taysom Hill into the playmaker he's become this season. He could just be the guy to take Dak Prescott's game to the next level.
Doug Nussmeier (In-house Candidate)
If the Dallas Cowboys do indeed decide to move on from Scott Linehan, it doesn't necessarily mean they will look outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. They could quite possibly already have his replacement on the team in Doug Nussmeier, who served as their tight end coach this season.
Nussmeier's coaching background mostly consist of him being a QB coach or offensive coordinator at the collegiate level. In fact, those are the only two coaching titles he's held throughout his career until this year when he became the Cowboys TE coach. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty impressive, especially after seeing Dallas' young tight ends progress through the season.
Promoting Nussmeier to OC would virtually be a seamless transition for everybody involved. He knows the system, the players, and has been involved in the game planning this past season. I don't know however if he would be an upgrade over Scott Linehan. The two have known one another for years and have worked together in the past. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my opinion.
Do any of these Dallas Cowboys OC candidates intrigue you? If not who?
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