The Cowboys are currently engaged in voluntary Organized Team Activities and will have mandatory mini-camps in the coming weeks. Even though the real battles don't start until the official Training Camp in Oxnard, CA, plenty of things can happen during these practices that help or hurt players' positioning for roster spots and playing time.
Here is an overview of some of the clear competitions that exist on the Cowboys roster right now. This year just about every position has some intrigue:
How much will Dallas consider rookie Dak Prescott for the number-two spot? Right now it seems likely that Kellen Moore will retain his backup job while Prescott develops as a third QB. However, if Prescott can be a quick learner then it the Cowboys can certainly be motivated to let him assume the role and save a roster spot.
Darren McFadden is facing pressure from all sides. Obviously, Ezekiel Elliott has arrived to take the bulk of the carries. McFadden will be competing with veteran Alfred Morris for the backup role and has to worry about young prospects in Rod Smith and Darius Jackson behind him. Lance Dunbar won't be back until sometime during the season but will have to hope there's still an opening for him upon return.
Dallas didn't bring back Tyler Clutts or add any true fullbacks in free agency or the draft. They instead appear to be trying to convert guys from other positions, such as running back Rod Smith or linebacker Keith Smith. In fact, Keith Smith is already listed as a fullback on the Cowboys official roster page. Every tight end not named Jason Witten could also be in consideration.
Terrance Williams and Brice Butler could be fighting for a starting job. Third-year player Devin Street will have to worry about undrafted rookies and other prospects who may show more upside. Lucky Whitehead will continue to push for an expanded offensive role, perhaps carving into some of the routes that Lance Dunbar and even Cole Beasley usually play.
James Hanna will be the number-two receiver by default with Gavin Escobar injured and will fight to keep that job when he returns. Depth chart competition will commence between Swaim, Traylor, and Rico Gathers as at least one and maybe two of them should earn roster spots.
I've heard recent talk that Chaz Green, once though to be getting moved to guard, could be back in the mix at tackle. Word is that Dallas will give him every opportunity to prove himself to at least take the swing tackle job for Charles Brown and maybe even challenge Doug Free as a starter. That seems a major leap of faith, but Green was drafted in the third round for a reason.
You've already seen that Ron Leary has requested a trade. Even if he stays, he and veteran free agent addition Joe Looney will co-exist as the backup on the interior line. If Leary does get moved, Dallas has a couple of young guards in Jared Smith and Boston Stiverson to compete. Looney is the backup center right now but undrafted rooke Jake Brendel is also in the mix.
This is a fun one! With DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory suspended you've got a bunch of guys all competing to actually be Week One starters. Free agent Benson Mayowa, rookie Charles Tapper, and veterans David Irving, Jack Crawford, and Ryan Russell are all in contention. Lawrence is sure to start when he gets back, but Gregory isn't a sure thing. One of these guys may end up starting all 16 games.
The top three seem set with Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, and third-round pick Maliek Collins. Terrell McClain is a favorite to stick around if he can actually stay healthy. He'll be fighting off prospects Casey Walker and Rodney Coe, along with Jack Crawford and Irving as they have the ability to play inside.
The starting strongside job is open and any of Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, or Andrew Gachkar could take it. Even second-year player Mark Nzeocha, who was an injury redshirt most of last year, could be in the mix. Also up for grabs are primary backup roles all across the position. This will be a wide open and intriguing group to watch all summer.
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will likely compete for a starting job, though both will get plenty of playing time regardless. Young players Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell will look to build on last year's flashes and could be fighting for the same roster spot. Sixth-round picks aren't guaranteed to make the roster but Dallas had a fourth-round grade on rookie Anthony Brown, so expect him to compete.
Byron Jones appears set as the starting free safety, though nothing's been made official. Can J.J. Wilcox give Barry Church a fight for the other spot? If not, how will Wilcox stack up as a backup option and special teamer against Jeff Heath? Rookie Kavon Frazier, also graded in the fourth-round according to Stephen Jones, can't be ignored either.
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You can be sure that we'll be diving much deeper into the position battles as we get closer to Training Camp. For now, these are just some of the dynamics that the coaches are players are considering as they watch these guys in practice. The roster is ever churning, though, and one injury can change plenty.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
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:
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.
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.
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!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
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.
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.
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.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
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