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 Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury
Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.
This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.
It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.
The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.
So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.
He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.
Dak Prescott’s Accuracy Stands Out in Final 2017 Stats
2017 was a season that left the Dallas Cowboys with a ton of questions to think about. Dez Bryant's contract, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith's availability, and the future of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving are some of those questions.
But there's another more pressing question for the Cowboys. How can they get the most out of Quarterback Dak Prescott and avoid another struggling year for him?
Also, what if he has another rough year? At what point does quarterback become a position that needs to be evaluated if he continues to struggle?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that will be the case. In fact, I have a lot of faith in Dak. I think he's shown a lot to be excited about and I definitely believe there's a "quarterback curve" in the NFL. Hopefully, #4 finds a way to get back on track in 2018.
A reason to be optimistic about Prescott's future is an impressive stat from NFL Next Gen Stats. Turns out, Dak Prescott ranked first in the NFL in "tight window throws" completion percentage with 45.8%.
According to Matt Harmon from NFL.com, a "tight window throw" is defined as a pass in which the intended receiver has less than a yard of separation from the defender.
Dak Prescott is far from a perfect quarterback and he's constantly bashed about his throwing accuracy. Just recently, he took part in a passing competition with David Carr before the NFL Honors and well... it's fair to say Carr completely beat him.
David Carr 6, Dak Prescott 1 pic.twitter.com/rV532Q3Cob
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) 6 de febrero de 2018
Cowboys Twitter was anything but forgiving for the young quarterback, but at the end of the day, I'm not sure a casual passing competition at an event like that one is the way you judge an NFL starting quarterback who has a 22-10 record in his career.
Dak has a long way to go before being considered an excellent quarterback in the league, but a bad season like 2017 doesn't mean it's the end of his career and that the Dallas Cowboys should start Cooper Rush over him.
It's not the first quarterback who struggles one year and he won't be the last one to bounce back from one. As of right now, Dak Prescott rightfully is the Dallas Cowboys QB1. Hopefully he has a better year next season.
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