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Cowboys Nation Position Breakdown – Linebacker

Bryson Treece

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I'm now going to do something that our defense had some issues with this year, tackle another position in my positional breakdown of the current roster. Yeah, cheap shot, but between Jenkins watching Ward run by and everyone missing McClain and McGahee, it kind of fits. Here's the linebackers.

DeMarcus Ware -
A great overall athlete, big surprise here.

The guy has an outstanding work ethic and drive. He gets to the ball quickly, and is good at deciding where a play is going.

He's versatile, quick, strong, and doesn't rely on others to allow him a chance, he makes plays where others wouldn't.

By far the only must have on this team, or any team.

Brady James -
The soft-spoken leader of this defensive unit, he's been a steady contributor and a reliable linebacker. Sometimes he shows us why he gets left out of the Pro Bowl, but the 2008 season was certainly his best year. He deserved the vote, and he agreed, but he did publicly express his feelings about not making the all star team, and that isn't okay.

Still, his play on the field overcomes the very few and minor issues that he brings to the team. An obvious keeper.

Zach Thomas -
Since he was first drafted years ago, I've never really seen why he is such a big deal. And when we signed him last year I was a bit skeptical because of his age and my personal beliefs of him. This year he showed me two things, the first is that he is a solid player that could be a starter on just about any team, and the second is that my first impressions of him were right.

He was brought in to be an experienced veteran to help guide younger players, and provide some balance beside Bradie James. He was what we thought he was, he just didn't make as big of an impact as most hoped, and many dreamed.

After the Philly game, as we all know by now, he expressed his feelings over how he fit into this defense, and he did it publicly. Yeah, he did change his tune a little in the following days, but the message had already been delivered.

Thanks to some favorable conditions in his contract, he was able to void the remaining three years of his deal down to one. I don't know if that's optional and he has to take it or if it's a done deal already. In either case, I don't see him passing on a way out of a defense that he thinks he doesn't fit into when it means the next four years will be here, unless he retires. I also don't see the Cowboys signing him to another deal. He's too old for a multi-year deal, and the Cowboys could better use the money on a one year deal to bring in some solid talent through either free agency or the draft.

I don't expect to see Zach back next year.

Greg Ellis -
I still think Greg Ellis can play the game, and he seemed to get his second wind with the switch from end to OLB. I think the current system works; the rotation between he and Anthony Spencer is complimenting to his age and keeps him fresh as a solid role player.

I expect to see him back next year, and I expect the rotation schedule to change a little more in favor of the young and blossoming Spencer.

I don't expect Ellis to be graceful about though. As has been the case each off-season for a while now, Ellis often has complaints about his role on the team, in spite of career performances in this current system. What will be will be, I guess. He already got the money, so he doesn't have a lot left to gripe about, unless he wants to play more like Ware does.

Anthony Spencer -
He's the most recent player to have a run in with the law, but I doubt anyone is holding that against him.

This year, his first being healthy all year, he showed us why he takes snaps away from the trusted veteran Ellis. What more can you say about him? He's got upside, he's quick, and he's bright, most of the time.He'll be around for a few more years, I suspect.

Kevin Burnett -
I know that perceptions be misleading, especially in football, but as I write this, I find it hard to get the image of his blunder in the Philly game out of my head. He's shown us that he can play; now he needs to work on his confidence and awareness a little. Being caught out of position isn't good, especially not when you get as few reps as he does in a game.

But on the flip side, he isn't a bad player, and an extra year, an extra off-season, should be all he needs to hone in on the skills he sometimes misfires on. I expect to see him back next year; Jerry will pay to keep him because of depth and continuity at the position. Thomas leaving will only concrete the need for him. I also expect him to play at a higher level next year than he has thus far, and I'm a little excited to see him do it.

Bobby Carpenter -
I want to say, "this poor guy." He was drafted with high expectations and he hasn't lived up to them. But unlike most players who do that, he hasn't been the reason for his lack of success. Constantly moving him from one position to another, and not really offering him any hope of earning a starting job have hindered his progress as far as I'm concerned.

As many fans are saying right now, and have been saying for a while, it's high time he got a real chance to compete for a bigger role on defense. I expect this to be his year due to the depth concerns in the middle. I just hope he can finally show his first round talent on more than just a draft board.

Justin Rogers -
Did this guy even play? Hate to admit it, but I never once paid any attention to him, so I'll let someone else fill in his spot in the comments. Fair enough.

Carlos Polk -
Signed more out of concerns for special teams, he began to get some time on the defense through promising play. He's still got some things to work on, and will probably never be a great player for us, but he's got enough to make him valuable on special teams. His biggest problem is being positioned behind Ware on the depth chart, same for Rogers too.

Being one of Wade's guys though, he'll be back next year, and I'm not really upset about it.

Steve Octavien -
Here's another one that hasn't done enough to really give anyone an impression of what he can do. That usually means he's in development and will be back next year for continued grooming.

That's my take on things. What do you all think?



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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2 Comments
  • The Wizard

    Personally, I think it is time to cut ties with Ellis. Yes, I think he can still play and I like him. But, he clearly doesn’t want to play in the role they have etched for him. And, they need to have players that are all on the same page. Maybe, they can get a pick for him in the 3rd-5th range with a team needing a pass rusher.

    As far as Ware, James, and Spencer are concerned those are the starters for sure. You’re right about Carpenter. They need to find out about him. Maybe he can be the other starter on the inside. He has the size, but the question is with his skills.

    I like Burnett too but he is smallish and more of a finesse player who is also better suited for a 4-3 defense. The other backers are more special team/backup types.

  • Bryson

    I think the jury is still out on Burnett and Carpenter, we really haven’t gotten to see a whole lot from either.

    I am a little back and forth on Ellis each year. On a separate note though, I find it quite amusing that nobody makes a big deal out of Ellis’ whining every year considering that he makes more noise in one off-season that Owens does in a whole year.

    I still think he can play well enough to justify hearing him piss and moan. But I can’t very well say what I do about Garrett and not apply that same logic to Ellis. If he wants to leave that badly then I’m all for it. Any player that doesn’t want to be here is a distraction this team doesn’t need.

    I’m kind of leaning more towards saying that he won’t be a problem this year, the more I think about it. What did he have this year? Like 12 sacks? That’s pretty good for Ellis. I think he might see the value for him here and in the current rotation with production like that.

    But he won’t make the Pro Bowl again until he stops his bitching.

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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