The NFL preseason is only a few weeks away and not too long after that, the 2018 season officially begins. For the Cowboys, it's a year of progressions, extensions and questions.
Progressions for the year-two and three players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis and others. These are all cornerstone players who need to have a big impact this season. These players all had an impact on the 22-10 overall record the last two seasons and will have to be even better to take that next step.
Extensions for players of the present and future. Guard Zack Martin already received his extension and is now the highest paid player in the league at his position. For players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith, David Irving and others who hope to be in Dallas next season and in the foreseeable future, 2018 is the season to ball out.
Finally, questions. There are always more questions than answers at first, and the Cowboys have many at different spots.
- Will the health of Tyron Smith or Sean Lee be a big issue again?
- Who will play tight end?
- Who is the number one receiver?
- Can this defense play even better in 2018 and become elite?
One way or another, these will all be answered eventually.
As for the teams the Cowboys will play, Dallas has the 15th toughest schedule in 2018, according to CBSSports.com. A mixed bag of elite teams, teams on the rise and fall, and teams with more questions than Dallas currently has.
Most experts have the Cowboys winning anywhere from 8 to 11 games this year, and with the teams they'll face and the squad they have, it's all very possible. Talent won't be a problem.
It's not too hard to see this team being more like the 13-3 team from 2016, rather than the 9-7 team last season. If the team can stay healthy, adapt well to any injuries, and answer their questions as soon as possible, 2018 can be special. From 1 to 53, the Cowboys have as much talent as any team in the league, but they'll need to prove it against 13 teams in 16 games.
Week 1: @ Carolina Panthers
First thing you’ll notice is, “wait... it’s NOT the Giants?”
It's become something of a tradition to open the season on NBC's Sunday Night Football in Dallas against the Giants. But like Prince Akeem of Zamunda said, “it is also tradition that times must, and always do, change, my friend.”
Carolina is coming off of a playoff year, and starting against Dallas is Cam Newton, the x-factor.
Cam Newton’s career pattern has been, he’ll be good one year and fall off the next season. If that pattern continues, it means that Carolina could be in trouble.
Dallas 31 - Carolina 27 (1-0, 0-0)
Week 2: New York Giants
The last two home games against the Giants, the Cowboys have scored 19 points. Despite a much more evenly matched offensive game than we’ve seen in the past, this may actually be a defensive game.
This game will be billed as “Zeke vs. Saquon,” and for good reason.
We’re seeing the future of NFL running backs in this game, but it’s still September and Dallas is 9-4 in their last 13 games in September. They’ll continue that dominance.
Dallas 24 - New York 14 (2-0, 1-0)
Week 3: @ Seattle Seahawks
Dallas and Seattle always seem to play each other down to the final possession.
The Cowboys tried to obtain Earl Thomas in a trade with Seattle ever since Thomas made it clear he’d like to be in Dallas.
Despite the Legion of Boom starting to deteriorate with Richard Sherman now in San Francisco, and the uncertainty around Thomas’ future in Seattle, the Seahawks still posses one of the league's best defenses and an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson.
Plus, the game is in Seattle. Good luck with that.
Dallas 20 - Seattle 23 (2-1, 1-0)
Week 4: Detroit Lions
The battle of the silver and blue. Dallas has fared well against Detroit since Calvin Johnson retired, winning the last two matchups.
Detroit arguably features the best secondary in the league and also have a new, solid offensive line. However, with Detroit’s front seven not looking like a match for Dallas’ offensive line and fierce rushing attack, it doesn’t look like passing the ball will be how Dallas wins.
Dallas 35 - Detroit 24 (3-1, 1-0)
Week 5: @ Houston Texans
Watson vs Prescott. I can already see the promotional materials for this game, with both #4 young star quarterbacks, billed as the “Battle 4 Texas.”
Ironically, people may want this to be a rivalry, but all these teams share is a state. There’s no rivalry-level passion in this game, but plenty of talent.
The contingent for Houston this season is the health of their quarterback and the improvement of their offensive line. I like the Cowboys' chances, but I think Houston takes this one close.
Dallas 27 - Houston 30 (3-2, 1-0)
Week 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
Undoubtedly, Jacksonville was the surprise team in 2017. They posted one of the league's best defenses, and an exciting new running back in Leonard Fournette.
They have only one X-factor on their team who can cause a deterrent for their season: quarterback Blake Bortles.
An up and down career can not only cause concern but call into question their value. Despite his contract extension in the offseason, I think his inconsistency and loss of his Allen receivers (one of which is now a Cowboy) will hurt Jacksonville and possibly a backslide from 2017.
Dallas 28 - Jacksonville 20 (4-2, 1-0)
Week 7: @ Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins have arguably the worst roster in the NFC East. It doesn’t matter who’s quarterback, even though Alex Smith looks to be a better option in their system.
The Redskins didn't do enough to help the team prepare for success.
The Redskins are in win-now mode with Alex Smith at quarterback, but don’t have the team in place to compete within their own division.
At least, not in 2018.
Dallas 35 - Washington 17 (5-2, 2-0)
Week 8: Bye Week
Despite there not being a game for week 8, it’s always important to acknowledge the bye week - a time to get players rested and healthy.
With Dallas having yearly injury concerns to some of their key players, like Sean Lee and Tyron Smith, the bye helps immensely.
More importantly, it’s a mid-season bye.
Teams who have an earlier bye, they’ll get healthy too soon and flatten later on. Teams with a late-season bye just keep taking punches for weeks at a time, gasping for air.
Luckily, Dallas has one right in the very center.
Week 9: Tennessee Titans
The Titans barely squeaked into the playoffs last season, and pulled off a terrific comeback in the wild card round. Marcus Mariota looks like a franchise-level quarterback, and Derrick Henry is a beast of a running back. The titans have nowhere to go but up, but Dallas is winning this game.
As I previously stated about Jacksonville, there are teams that take a step back after having success and making it to the playoffs. I think the Titans are another one of those teams.
The Titans' offensive line and running game is impressive, but their passing game is almost nonexistent. The cowboys are very good against the run and are as deep along the defensive line as they have been in years.
If the Titans can’t throw the ball on Dallas, I don’t see a way that Tennessee leaves this game with a victory.
Dallas 27 - Tennessee 17 (6-2, 2-0)
Week 10: @ Philadelphia Eagles
I believe the Cowboys and Eagles will split their season series, and that these victories will come on the road. For whatever reason, the Cowboys and Eagles always seem to do better when they’re not home.
Carson Wentz versus Dak Prescott is going to be one of the key quarterback matchups for the next decade, and it looks like the Eagles and Cowboys are going to be perennial NFC contenders for the foreseeable future.
In their first contest, Wentz will get the better of an improved Cowboys defense, and be an MVP candidate. This will be one of the games the MVP voters will look at. Close game, Cowboys pull it off.
Dallas 27 - Philadelphia 20 (7-2, 3-0)
Week 11: @ Atlanta Falcons
It’s amazing that three players can have as big an effect as they did, but not having Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott had a disastrous effect last season against Atlanta. One of the worst games the Cowboys played in 2017 and none of it looked good.
This season, I expect a better game out of the Cowboys.
Barring injury, the Cowboys look like a more evenly matched team with the Falcons.
Atlanta's new receiver toy, Calvin Ridley, looks like an unfair, very talented companion of Julio Jones and, despite an improved Dallas secondary, Matt Ryan will still be Matt Ryan. For now, Falcons win in a much closer game than last season.
Dallas 21 - Atlanta 27 (7-3, 3-0)
Week 12: Washington Redskins
The result will only differ in score. Washington is betting the farm on Alex Smith but doesn’t have the team to back him up. Aside from the team's offensive line, Washington doesn’t offer much to worry about.
Their defense is full of talent, but too much potential. If the Cowboys can block Ryan Kerrigan, and get past Josh Norman, the offense will be fine.
Aside from Jordan Reed, whose health is suspect, the team doesn’t have any weapons worth worrying about. Dallas sweeps the series.
Dallas 31 - Washington 21 (8-3, 4-0)
Week 13: New Orleans Saints
The Saints are like cousins to the Cowboys.
The fans all share a space and there’s always trash talk.
It’s all in love, until they play each other.
Native Texan Drew Brees has made a career of making defenses look bad, no matter who. After a heart-breaking end to the season against Minnesota, the already stacked Saints look even better.
Both the Cowboys and the Saints will be contenders, and feature some of the most complete teams in the league, but New Orleans will show why they're elite.
Dallas 31 - New Orleans 35 (8-4, 4-0)
Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles
As I said before, this series will split and each team wins on the road. After going 2-2 in the previous four games, the race for the NFC East will come down to this game.
Wentz and Prescott again have a battle, but what will affect the outcome the most will be the defense of Philadelphia.
While in their first meeting Dallas will have the upper hand offensively, the Eagles will have since adapted and dominate that side of the ball while Carson Wentz pushes for MVP.
Dallas 24 - Philadelphia 28 (8-5, 4-1)
Week 15: @ Indianapolis Colts
With Andrew Luck back, the Colts are a better team, especially with their revamped and much improved offensive line. However, no team on the Cowboys' schedule has more questions and more holes than the Colts.
Despite having Andrew Luck back, they have holes on offense at receiver and running back and all across the defense.
Indianapolis will be a better team this year, just not against the Cowboys.
Cowboys 38 - Colts 24 (9-5, 4-1)
Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the concerns around Jameis Winston, the confidence should be all on the Cowboys.
This will be a late season push for the playoffs and Tampa Bay may be all but eliminated from contention at this point in the season.
Aside from receivers and tight ends, there's really no position group that Tampa Bay holds a bigger edge on.
The Buccaneers may have improved in a lot of areas but probably not enough to take that next step. Cowboys clinch a playoff spot with the win.
Dallas 33 - Tampa Bay 17 (10-5, 4-1)
Week 17: @ New York Giants
The Giants at this point will be much better off than they were a season ago. They may be in contention for a final playoff spot, and Dallas could be playing for the divisional crown.
Giants and Cowboys games are usually well played and fought to the last snap and I don't think this game will be any different.
Whoever is the healthiest at this point in the season will win, and in that case, the Cowboys have the advantage. Even if they aren't as healthy as New York, they have better depth to acclimate to any injuries the season may throw at them.
Dallas 27 - New York 24 (11-5, 5-1)
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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