By now you know the news, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended 10 games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. And now a linebacker group which has the talented names of Rolando McClain, Sean Lee, and Jaylon Smith will be lucky if they even get to see one of these players in action for the majority of this season.
It's starting to look rough for the linebackers, and the defensive line will certainly be no better.
The back end of the Cowboys defense, while not exactly elite, is possibly the strongest unit on this side of the ball right now. Byron Jones is coming off of an excellent rookie year and is expected to make a big jump in a year two; Orlando Scandrick is returning from his season-ending knee injury, and the other corners have shown they can be solid contributors to the defense.
Surprisingly, the secondary is where the Cowboys have their most stability defensively, and this stability may be what pushes former third round pick JJ Wilcox out the door.
There doesn't seem to be a spot for Wilcox in the safety equation anymore. Jones is going to be the free safety, and Barry Church has certainly proven to be the better option at strong safety. Jeff Heath just signed a four year deal and isn't going anywhere, and the team drafted Kavon Frazier in the sixth round this season.
At best, JJ Wilcox will be Jones' backup and will see time on special teams. At worst, his time in Dallas might be over. A former third round pick who could never put it together to be what the Cowboys had envisioned when they drafted him.
But what if the answer to all of JJ Wilcox's uncertainty was to switch positions and move down in the box full time?
We have always considered Wilcox an "in the box safety," a guy who is much better when he is coming downhill to make tackles than he is when playing a true safety role. Knowing this, and now knowing that linebacker depth may be in question for much of 2016, maybe the switch would be beneficial to both JJ Wilcox and the team.
"But JJ Wilcox is too small to play linebacker."
You're right, he would be undersized as a linebacker, even if he isn't playing the MIKE. Listed at 6'0" and 212 pounds, it would be quite the challenge for Wilcox to make his living in the front seven.
But 212 pounds isn't a final number, he could possibly add weight and add mass in time for the regular season. And, most importantly, it has been done before.
Former Alabama safety Mark Barron is just one of the many success stories involving safeties moving down to play linebacker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first round pick saw little success as an NFL safety and was traded to the Rams early in his career. After Rams starting weak-side linebacker Alec Ogletree went down with a season ending injury, Barron stepped up as a linebacker and never looked back.
It's important to note that while he is 2 inches taller than Wilcox, Barron entered the league at just 213 pounds. Now, he plays at 220 pounds, so some weight gain is certainly possible.
Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals also made a similar move from safety to linebacker, and is doing just fine.
Wilcox has shown an inability to take proper tackling angles before, and a switch to linebacker may just highlight this problem
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme often calls for one-gap responsibilities for the linebackers. This would keep Wilcox's job more simple than it has ever been, and would help him to get downhill and make plays. Both the angles and assignments he would have to take would be different.
No, moving JJ Wilcox to linebacker isn't an ideal situation, but I do feel like it could be beneficial to both parties. Wilcox has shown that he is much better at getting downhill and playing the run than he is in coverage, so why not try to utilize his strengths and hide his weaknesses a bit?
The odds are that even if it is tried, the move for JJ Wilcox wouldn't work too well, but why not give him the shot to possibly save his roster spot for 2016 and beyond?
This could be the last-ditch effort which saves JJ Wilcox's NFL future.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
3 Reasons Not to Hate Kellen Moore Becoming Offensive Coordinator
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys1 day ago
7 Free Agents the Cowboys Should Target
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator
Player News4 days ago
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick