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Dallas Cowboys

Changing of the Guards: Could Byron Bell or Joe Looney Become Starter?

Jess Haynie

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Joe Looney, 49ers
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

With plenty of discussion ongoing about the Cowboys' left guard position, the two names you hear most are Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green. It seems like most analysts aren't giving veterans Byron Bell and Joe Looney much of a shot in this competition, and that could be a mistake.

No to go Full Jaworski on you, but experience is huge in the National Football League. Overall professional experience is one asset and system familiarity, especially time with your team, is another. These could play huge factors in who is best suited to join Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins in the starting lineup next season.

Byron Bell

G/T Byron Bell

Byron Bell has started 72 games in five NFL seasons, which dwarfs the 14 starts by Cooper and just two for Green. While more of those came at tackle than guard, Bell moved inside in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers so has plenty of familiarity with the role.

Bell made news recently for coming in under his weight goal and earning a contract bonus. The goal was 320 pounds and we don't know exactly how far below it he was. One would assume, though, that Bell is still plenty big enough to play guard if desired.

Shedding weight will help Bell to make it on this offensive line with how much they are asked to get in space. One of the Dallas line's best traits is in its movement on outside runs and screens. To even have a chance at starting, Byron has to be able to keep up.

Bell missed all of 2016 with a severe ankle injury. He started all 16 games in 2015 for the Tennessee Titans after signing as a free agent, spending his first four seasons with the Panthers. Despite going undrafted, Bell was starting by Week 6 of his rookie year and went to the playoffs twice.

Joe Looney

G/C Joe Looney

While he hasn't had nearly as much starting experience as Bell, Joe Looney has more experience as a Dallas Cowboy. Signed last year to replace Mackenzy Bernadeau as the backup center, Looney dressed in all 16 games and was credited with three starts. He was used in a six-linemen package to open two games and also started the Cowboys Week 17 finale, which was little more than a preseason game.

With La'el Collins hurt most of last year, Looney was trusted to be the Cowboys primary backup at both guard and center. That trust is no small thing and could carry over into the left guard competition in 2017. Consider the recent comments by Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus:

Joe Looney was initially there during opening workouts but missed time later with a back issue... I would not be surprised if Looney is the starter, but the coaching staff might feel more comfortable with Cooper -- who is a little bit better athlete and a little bit stronger.

It's no surprise that the Cowboys would love to see Jonathan Cooper, a former Top-10 draft pick who they coveted, earn the spot. Even after a rocky start to his NFL career, Cooper likely has the most perceived upside of all the guard options. But Cooper's history could easily repeat, and then Bell or Looney are your other two veterans.

The start of training camp should reveal a lot about who Dallas likes most for the left guard position. Without question, it'll be one of the most-discussed storylines when the Cowboys get to Oxnard next month.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?

Jess Haynie

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Darius Jackson

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 Cowboys Need More From RB Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

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.

Justice Hill

Oklhoma St. RB Justice Hill

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.



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten Retiring, Joining MNF Broadcast Booth

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.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones

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.

George Iloka

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.

Cowboys en Español: La Afortunada Llegada de Randall Cobb

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.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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