There's plenty of question marks surrounding the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2018 season. Many of which won't be answered until the regular season begins. With training camp just a few weeks away, it finally seems like football is very close and for now, there's nothing but discussing some of the story-lines around teams in the NFL.
The offseason tends to be a time in which many optimistic narratives arise. Some of them should be believed and some should be dismissed.
Today, we take a look at some of those story lines out there and discuss which ones we should be buying and which ones we should be selling. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments section below! Let me know which narratives you'd buy and which you'd sell.
Let's open up the Cowboys' stock market!
Earl Thomas is Heading to Dallas: Sell
I'm sure most of Cowboys Nation would love to see Earl Thomas wearing a star on his helmet. I would too. Heck, judging by Earl's Cowboys' fanhood, I bet he would too. But I don't think it gets done. Even if the Cowboys do want to get him to Dallas, I doubt Seattle lets him walk this year. They have lost so many players by now, most recently Kam Chancellor, and trading Earl Thomas won't send a positive message to the fans.
That, and the fact that it would be very odd to see the Cowboys' front office give up a second-round pick and extending 29-year old Earl Thomas by handing him what would be one of the top safety contracts in the league, I'm selling on this narrative.
But hey, we know Earl loves the Cowboys. As long as he keeps holding out on the Seahawks, everything is possible. And as a plan B, there's always the 2019 free agency, right?
Dak Prescott's Third Year Will Prove He's a Franchise QB: Buy
Dak has a lot riding on this season. If he plays like the team wants, he gets a juicy long-term extension. If not, his future in Dallas becomes pretty uncertain. After two very different seasons, many have criticized Prescott's play.
But I'm buying it here. Dak Prescott will have a better year in 2018 and prove he's progressed. I truly believe he'll be able to learn from his first two seasons and take advantage of the offense the team has built for him.
In a year in which we already expected the terrifying "sophomore slump", Dak had to carry a team without Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith and Sean Lee. It shouldn't serve as an excuse, but it does help putting things in perspective. It's not Brady, Rodgers or Roethlisberger we're talking about here.
Dak Prescott's third year in the NFL will be his year.
DeMarcus Lawrence Will Keep it Up: Buy
Lawrence's remarkable 14.5-sacks season earned him a $17M franchise tag, but he'll be fighting for much more this season. What's been the story here, though, is whether or not his success in 2017 was nothing but a "contract-year performance."
Time and time again we've seen players play like never before in their final year under contract and then do nothing special after getting paid. I don't think this is case with Lawrence. Which is why I'm buying on the narrative that he'll manage to replicate (hopefully improve) his 2017 success going forward.
2017 has really been the only season in which he has been 100% healthy, and it showed on the field. If he avoids injuries, look forward to watching him bring down QBs repeatedly this season.
Ezekiel Elliott Will Be More Involved in Passing Game: Sell
Even though he missed six games last year, Ezekiel Elliott has proven everything he needed to. He is one of the best running backs in the NFL, sitting in the same tier as Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson.
We know what he's able to do running the football, but we're also curious as to what he'd be able to accomplish if he got more involved (à la Le'Veon Bell) in the passing game. We've seen very few passes thrown to him, and once again we wonder whether or not we'll see more of it this time around.
I'm selling on this narrative. The offense is already giving him 25 touches per game. As amazing as Zeke is on the field, the team should be cautious with how they use him, or his career in Dallas could be over in just a handful of years.
I think the Cowboys will keep using him as a workhorse on the running game while limiting him as a receiver.
Jaylon Smith's Time to Shine is 2018: Buy
With his knee brace off, Cowboys Nation is expecting to see 2016 second-round pick Jaylon Smith play at his best in 2018. Although he got on the field last season, he didn't play at his best after being rushed due to Anthony Hitchen's injury early in the season.
Smith's comeback journey has been a long one, and one that can hopefully end this year. I'm buying here.
He did a nice job in his "sophomore" season, despite him being rusty and all. This time, that won't be the case. He even said he wouldn't start training camp with the knee brace. Hopefully, he doesn't need to wear it moving forward. Jaylon really deserves a breakout season in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
Can Rookie OL Connor McGovern Compete For A Starting Spot?
Raising eyebrows in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cowboys added Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern to their already deep OL depth chart.
McGovern, who played guard for the Nittany Lions, was reportedly by-far the best player remaining on the Cowboys draft board when they came on the clock in round three. Still, with seemingly more pressing needs yet to be addressed, Dallas' selection of McGovern was certainly a surprise.
When you watch the tape, though, you immediately see what the Cowboys loved about Connor McGovern.
A "plug-and-play" type guard, Connor McGovern is the type of rookie you'd expect to contribute in year one. On many teams he may be a candidate to start at guard or center from the beginning of his rookie season, but here in Dallas, his role for the 2019 season is somewhat in question.
Clearly, being a day two pick, there's no doubt that McGovern will make the Cowboys roster. But can he compete for a starting job?
During OTA's McGovern took reps at both guard and center, pointing towards the possibility of him being the first interior offensive lineman off the bench if one of the starters were to go down with an injury. Fellow interior linemen Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo each contributed in big ways during the 2018 season, however, and will be tough to beat out during camp.
While possible, I would still say it's unlikely. The Cowboys selection of McGovern seems to be more about 2020 and beyond than it is about the 2019 season. With right tackle La'el Collins coming up on a contract year, Dallas might elect to let him walk in free agency, move Williams back to his college position of tackle, and slide McGovern into the left guard slot.
This seems fool-proof in theory, but this many moving parts across the offensive line could spell trouble early on in 2020. Regardless, Connor McGovern's arrival gives Dallas the flexibility to consider all options on their offensive line.
In reality, McGovern strengthened a strength for Dallas, and may be needed to prove himself as early as this Fall if injury issues arise.
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