Late yesterday, news broke that Dallas Cowboys Center Travis Frederick has been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder and his return to the football field is currently up in the air. With the regular season starting in just two weeks, what might the team do to deal with this big hole in the roster?
The first and most likely option is to start Joe Looney, who is now in his third year with the Cowboys as a reserve center and guard. We haven't seen another player at center since Frederick entered the league in 2013, as he's started every game since.
But that would leave the cupboard pretty bare for backups, and Looney's versatility almost makes him more attractive as a reserve. So, how else might Dallas find a new starting center?
Final cuts are coming on September 1st, but how many quality centers will hit the open market? Can the Cowboys afford to rely on this option?
Another option to consider is a trade, utilizing some of the talented depth players that Dallas has at other positions. One team's surplus is often another team's need; that's where good trade partners are found.
So who might the Cowboys consider using to trade for a quality center, either to replace Frederick in the starting lineup or to fill Looney's role as the backup?
The first guy that comes to my mind is Cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Just a year ago, Lewis was considered a first-round talent by some draft experts. He dropped to the third round because of a now-resolved legal issue.
As a rookie, Lewis really came on by the end of the season. He seemed headed for a long career as a starter in Dallas, but then the Cowboys brought in new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard. Dallas moved Byron Jones from safety to CB, with Richard liking more size in his corners.
Now Lewis has even dropped behind Anthony Brown on the depth chart, and the second-year talent is struggling. Whether it's shaken confidence or just general discouragement, he doesn't seem like the same guy right now.
But many teams may still see Jourdan Lewis as the potential star from the 2017 draft class. They also saw his play last season. The Cowboys might be able to get good value in a trade, and it could be the best thing for all parties.
Dallas still has a bevy of intriguing prospects behind Lewis at cornerback. Duke Thomas, Marquez White, Charvarious Ward, Kameron Kelly; probably only one of these guys is going to make the team as of now.
As long as the Cowboys trust one of them to play major reps in case of an injury, they could afford to let Jourdan Lewis go. It not only could fix a short-term problem at center, but it may be the best long-term move for maximizing Lewis' value.
Another player to consider moving is Terrance Williams. With Michael Gallup already making an impact and other options on the receiver depth chart, Williams is expendable. He's in good health and has loads of experience, having been a starter for the majority of his career.
Much like with Jourdan Lewis, the ability to move Terrance has to do with other options behind him. Lance Lenoir has emerged as a viable roster candidate. Deonte Thompson was brought in as a free agent to provide veteran depth and would be a solid fourth receiver. You also have Noah Brown, who has been out with injury but should be back soon.
Don't forget about Tavon Austin, who the Cowboys will be using a lot at receiver this year. At a certain point, there are only so many snaps and throws to go around. With Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup looking good as a top three, Terrance Williams is looking at a greatly reduced role from past years.
You're not going to get a Pro Bowler in return for Terrance, but you may be able to get a guy who can at least provide quality depth behind Joe Looney. The move would also let you keep a young talent like Brown or Lenoir who you'd otherwise have to cut.
Another way to go here is with Linebacker Damien Wilson. He's been a solid starter for two years now and is in the final year of his rookie contract.
As currently constituted, the Cowboys would be keeping first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch on the bench if Wilson remained a starter. We've also seen some nice stuff from free agent addition Joe Thomas in preseason.
Dallas would likely be cutting either Justin March-Lillard or rookie Chris Covington based on the current numbers. If Wilson was traded, they could keep both.
Ultimately, the key duo of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith wouldn't be impacted. Dallas uses their nickel scheme more than any other formation, and Wilson isn't part of that.
So while Damien Wilson is a quality player, he's also likely to be gone next offseason. If another team is hurting for linebackers now, and of course has the depth at center or guard that we're looking for, a good deal could be made.
~ ~ ~
Obviously, this is just one side of the trade equation. You have to find another team who needs a CB, WR, or LB and has the surplus on the offensive line. That takes a smart scouting department, which thankfully the Cowboys have.
Nobody's saying that any move we make now is going to replace everything Travis Frederick, one of the elite centers in football, provides to a team. And really, we don't even know how much this medical issue is going to threaten his playing time.
What we do know is that the Cowboys are headed to face the Carolina Panthers on September 9th and, as of right now, they don't know if Frederick will be available. There is a dangerous amount of uncertainty right now to just sit back and hope for the best.
If Dallas can utilize one of these roster assets to get some help at center, it's something they should wholeheartedly explore.
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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