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.
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons
The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.
Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.
Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.
- A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.
The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.
Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.
If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.
- Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.
The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.
On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.
Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.
- Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.
Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.
I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.
- The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.
Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.
Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.
His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.
Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.
Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.
Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.
- Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.
Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.
Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.
Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.
It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.
This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.
Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose
The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.
In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.
This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.
This time though, things should be different.
The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.
Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.
Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire
However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.
But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.
DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win
A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.
Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.
Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.
Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.
Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.
- Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
- DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
- Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
- Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
- Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
- Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
- If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.
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