The Dallas Cowboys have had two weeks of training camp and, as of last night, one preseason game to help bring some clarity to the 2016 roster.
I released a 53-man roster projection as training camp started, which you can view here. There have been several developments, both with injuries and performances, that have changed the landscape. Here's where I'm at today:
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
CHANGES: Removed Kellen Moore
Moore's lower leg fracture will keep him out until at least late into the regular season, with some speculating he can't return at all. Dallas can put him on Injured Reserve and has the option of bringing him back sometime after Week 8.
If Prescott keeps playing like he did last night, though, Moore will be forgotten. The big question will be if they want to keep Jameil Showers on the active roster or are happy with him on the practice squad again. So long as Prescott keeps playing at that high level, I think Dallas will just keep the two quarterbacks and use the roster spot elsewhere.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
Darren McFadden's future remains in question as he's still recovering from a fractured elbow. Morris is getting valuable time with the first unit while Elliott nurses a hamstring injury. The more Morris shows, the more McFadden's value drops.
The guy I'm least sure about on this list is Dunbar. I just don't know if there will be the same opportunities for him in 2016 that he was getting early last year. Elliott is a good receiver and now we're seeing Lucky Whitehead used in some of the ways that Dunbar was.
Still, Dallas knew about Dunbar's injury and chose to re-sign him anyway. They clearly want him around for something.
FB: Rod Smith (1)
CHANGES: Added Rod Smith
Two weeks ago I projected that Dallas wouldn't have any fullback. However, last night we saw Smith being used to lead block and even take a pass out of the backfield. His versatility to serve as a bruising tailback, blocker, and even a receiving option is a textbook way to make a team.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
I was ready to add Andy Jones to this list before last night's game, based on the hype coming out of Oxnard. But then he had two bad drops against the Rams.
Jones isn't the first receiver prospect to make noise in training camp. Through the years there's always seemed to be one standout WR who gets talked about a lot, but then doesn't show up much in preseason and never makes the team. Jones started down that road last night.
Obviously, there's plenty of time for him to turn it around. There are also other guys who could make their own push for a roster spot.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
James Hanna, Geoff Swaim (4)
Hanna was a surprising addition to the PUP list when camp started. He is having knee soreness but could be back very soon.
Last night was rough for Swaim, who had two drops on easy passes but then redeemed himself a little with a contested catch later. Like Andy Jones, Swaim was getting a lot of praise in camp but did not live up to it in Los Angeles.
Rico Gathers was nowhere to be seen last night, and there's probably a reason for that. I would guess that Dallas is hoping to sneak him to the practice squad.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Cam Bradfield, Chaz Green (4)
CHANGES: Moved Green from G to OT
Nobody had a worse night in Los Angeles than Chaz Green. Starting at left tackle while Tyron Smith got a night off, Green drew several penalties and was getting beaten often. Oddly enough, his best play came early in the game against the Rams' better players. That speaks to a conditioning problem.
Green is still like a rookie in many ways. He missed all of last year's camp and preseason with a hip injury suffered in college. He got some practices in last last year but this was his first true offseason with the team.
Dallas will show the former third-round pick some patience, but last night told me he likely won't be ready to serve as the swing tackle. That means Bradfield, or some other veteran they bring in, will probably have the job in 2016.
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins
Ron Leary (3)
A trade partner for Leary could still emerge as teams suffer injuries or start to get worried about what they have at guard. For now, there's no indication that the Cowboys are actively trying to move him.
If Chaz Green continues to struggle at tackle then we may see him end up back at guard. He was seeing some practice time there last year.
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
If any of the young offensive line prospects can make the team, it might be center Jake Brendel. We saw him playing there last night while Looney was used at guard. This could be Dallas' fallback plan if they do end up trading Leary.
~ ~ ~
Just to quickly recap, we've used 25 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. The major swing factors are the decisions to keep or not keep a third quarterback, a true fullback, Lance Dunbar, and Chaz Green. Everything else feels fairly locked in.
Let's move on to the defense.
DE: Benson Mayowa, David Irving
Ryan Russell, Charles Tapper
Shaneil Jenkins (5)
CHANGES: Added Jenkins
Mayowa will have to prove that he's a starter once he comes off the PUP list, which should be any day now. I am still deferring to him based on what the Cowboys paid to sign him.
Jenkins, just added last week, had the team's only sack last night. That's not enough to necessarily make the team, but for now it's enough to separate him from the pack. He's like Jack Crawford in terms of being strong enough to play inside but also athletic enough to play on the end.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Jack Crawford (4)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DE to DT
Removed Rodney Coe
If Maliek Collins can heal up quickly enough for Week One, he'll take the roster spot I gave to Shaneil Jenkins. I still think he will begin the year on PUP, though.
McClain has been starting with the first team defense in the base formation. We will see plenty of Thornton throughout the year, though, and likely on all third-and-long plays. I could see Thornton getting more total snaps in 2016.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha
Damien Wilson (7)
Gachkar's thumb injury shouldn't hold him out beyond the preseason. Even if the young guys blossom in his absence, he's still a core special teams player and I expect he will make the team.
Nzeocha was arguably the defensive MVP last night. He seemed to be involved in almost every play and had the interception. I think he's making the team and may be a key reserve backup over some of his more experienced teammates.
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Deji Olatoye
Anthony Brown (5)
The last two weeks have only helped Olatoye and Brown separate themselves from the pack. Brown has been a bright spot in camp and will likely be the slot cornerback if something were to happen to Scandrick.
Last night, Olatoye showed the same playmaking potential that he flashed last last season. He hauled in one pick and nearly had another. Throw in his size (6'1, 205 lbs) and he gives the Cowboys a type of corner they haven't had in a while.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier
Last night you J.J. Wilcox's career in a microcosm. He took bad angles and failed to make tackles on a few plays, but then also broke up a long pass with a big hit on the receiver.
Wilcox has gifts but just can't seem to develop them. He's the same player that he was 2-3 years ago. Unless there's a major injury to Heath or Frazier, I think they will finally let him go.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
Matt Wile was being used as a punter last night but only to save Jones' leg and avoid injury. These three positions are set.
~ ~ ~
There's really no player I feel bad leaving off the defense right now. That makes this fairly easy and give me confidence in the picks, but there's still time for that to change.
I will be releasing a new projection each week following the preseason games. The first round of cuts are due on August 30th and the final deadline is September 3rd. Dallas will play their fourth preseason game in between.
Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Extension
This week, Spotrac.com, who analyzes the salary cap, player performance, and makes projections for future contracts, released their most recent contract valuations for the big name Dallas Cowboys who will be approaching the offseason looking for a new contract. Between, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will have a lot of negotiating going on this offseason and will be handing out some big bucks.
Obviously, the one that we're most concerned about here in Cowboys Nation is what the Dallas Cowboys front office is going to do with Dak Prescott. Many fans and pundits aren't sold on Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but he is a franchise quarterback and he's about to get paid like one.
Updated Baseline Market Valuations for notable #Cowboys heading into 2019 Dak Prescott: $25.2M https://t.co/ShnCWjIJOM DeMarcus Lawrence: $19.6M https://t.co/3pekUoiVjQ Amari Cooper: $16.7M https://t.co/vPymDSdEeU Zeke Elliott: $9.4M https://t.co/mtFxTap892
Over The Cap is projecting the 2019 salary cap to be around $190 million this season, which would put Dak Prescott's projected salary figure of $25.2 million at around 13.2% of this season's salary cap. And percentage of the cap is the more important number to look at when judging Dak Prescott's figure. When Russell Wilson signed his four-year extension in 2015 that averaged out at $21.9 million per year, his contract took up 15.3% of the salary cap when signed. So yes, in total dollars, Prescott's salary will be higher, but in percent of the cap it will be lower. If you give Dak Prescott 15.3% of the projected 2019 salary cap, you’re looking at $29.07 million per year.
When Spotrac does their salary projections they attempt to find quarterbacks who have had similar careers to the player and use those players as a gauge for what the projection might be, including adjustments for the market rate for the position and the growing salary cap. So, Spotrac has Dak Prescott's career thus far comparable to Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton. Below, you can see the contract numbers for those players that Dak Prescott compares to and the age when they signed their deals.
That's an interesting mix of players.
Let's also take a look at the top six quarterback contracts in the NFL.
Let's start first with Derek Carr, who has the sixth highest average annual pay rate at just over $25 million per year. He signed his deal two years ago in the 2017 offseason. Another contract I like to look at when attempting to figure Prescott's number is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo got his deal from the San Francisco 49ers after only seven NFL starts (two with New England Patriots and five with the 49ers). His contract made him the fourth highest paid quarterback at $27.5 million per year. Again, after only seven NFL Starts.
Dak Prescott has 48 starts in the NFL regular season, and a career passer rating of 96. Of the top six quarterback contracts listed above, only Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. If you look at the top 10 quarterback contracts in the NFL now, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. You can argue that Prescott's teams have had more success than Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr in his first three seasons. While QB Wins is not a stat that we should use to evaluate quarterback play, because you’re paying not only the production of Dak Prescott, but also the intangibles if Dak Prescott, you have to look at the wins.
The Dallas Cowboys have gone 32-16 in the regular season with Dak Prescott at quarterback and 1-2 with him in the playoffs. That, in only three years in the NFL. He's going to get better as a player. Even if you don't look at QB Wins, Dak Prescott has been as productive as those guys he's mentioned with, aside from Brees and Rodgers.
Dak Prescott's body of work as a 3-year starter is franchise QB level stuff. As @Marcus_Mosher pointed out on the @lockedoncowboys Podcast, Dak's last 15 games 4,100 total yards, 30 total TDs, 7 INTs. Y'all don't want to pay that? #CowboysNation
These comparisons below look at the two years before the quarterback signing their franchise quarterback contract. Here you see that Dak compares favorably to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kirk Cousins.
As you can see above, over the last two years, Dak Prescott's averaged more passing yards per game, nearly as many touchdowns per game, fewer interceptions per game, and a comparable passer rating to Newton and Wilson in the two years before they signed their big contract extensions. His completion percentage That doesn't consider his play during the 2016 season in which he won rookie of the year as the starting quarterback for a team that went 13-3.
Derek Carr became the highest-paid player in NFL History after his third season. He signed a five-year, $125M extension. Here's his first three seasons next to Dak Prescott's.
RJ Ochoa, formerly of Inside The Star and now of Blogging the Boys, provided a nice comparison between Derek Carr and Dak Prescott in their first seasons in the NFL. When Derek Carr signed his contract, he became the highest paid player in NFL history.
The projection provided by Spotrac of $25.2 million is the floor as it would be just above Derek Carr's contract that he signed 2 years ago. It's entirely possible that Prescott signs a contract for more than Matt Ryan and could potentially become the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I'm going to estimate that Dak Prescott receives a five-year deal for $145 million, which would give him $29 million per year.
Jerry Jones has been adamant over the course of the season about his desire to get a long-term contract done with Dak in the offseason. Jerry Jones is the owner and the general manager, so it's only a matter of time before Dak's representatives and the Cowboys front office hammers out the final numbers. Dak Prescott is going to get a big deal and bigger than many in Cowboys Nation want to give him. But the going rate for franchise quarterbacks in the NFL is that number that Jimmy Garoppolo signed.
More Salary Cap and Contract discussion here at Inside The Star
Dallas Cowboys Fire Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman
The theme of last year's offseason in Dallas was coaching changes below HC Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan, and DC Rod Marinelli, and not yet through a week of this offseason it appears to be the same now. The Cowboys today have moved on from Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman.
Like current ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn, Colman was in his first season with the Cowboys. The former sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska held the same position with the Houston Texans for four previous seasons.
Small change on the #Cowboys coaching staff, as assistant special teams coach Doug Colman is out, source said. The only known change at this point.
With O'Quinn filling perhaps the biggest shoes left behind from last year, when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys after five seasons, the team has tentatively agreed they're struggles on special teams do not fall on the coordinator and will now be looking for a new assistant.
The Cowboys did successfully transition from Kicker Dan Bailey to Brett Maher, watching Bailey struggle with the Vikings as Maher finished 29 of 36 and six of seven on field goals of 50 or more yards. The always-steady Chris Jones averaged 44.5 yards a punt in 2018, up slightly from 44.1.
The return game is where Dallas struggled to find consistency. Deonte Thompson led the team in kick returns despite being released after eight games. Darius Jackson, Jourdan Lewis, and Cole Beasley all failed to make an impact from this spot once called upon - with Beasley and Tavon Austin also handling punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards a return.
With further upgrades at wide receiver being a pressing need for the Cowboys still, adding a dynamic returner should be of priority for both the current coaches and any new additions to the ST staff.
The Cowboys were also second to last in average kickoff return yards allowed this season, and 16th in punt coverage.
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Should he go or should he stay!? That seems to be the question the Dallas Cowboys are asking themselves about their current Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Many of us would say it's an easy decision to make, but we really don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
The only thing we know for sure right now is Scott Linehan is still employed by the Dallas Cowboys and it might be a while before we know his fate with the organization one way or another. The Cowboys coaching staff, including Linehan, will coach the Pro Bowl in a little over a week, which is why any decision regarding Dallas' coaching staff will likely be delayed.
I know my opinion means little, but I have a hard time seeing Scott Linehan returning to the Dallas Cowboys next season. His playcalling has been pretty predictable and dated the past few years, plus there's the fact he was nearly fired earlier this season during the bye week. I don't think he's done much since then to improve his chances of sticking around. But, that's just my opinion.
That's why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the potential OC candidates I'd personally target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. Let's get started…
How elated would Cowboys Nation be if Tony Romo returned to the Dallas Cowboys as their next offensive coordinator. Everybody understands he doesn't have any formal coaching experience, especially in the NFL, but I seriously doubt that would matter.
No one would question his knowledge of the game, especially after hearing him break down the X's and O's first hand while he's commentating on game days. It's one of the reasons why he's grown in popularity as a commentator in such a short time.
Honestly, bringing in Romo as the OC could be the match made in heaven for the Cowboys. He already knows the system Jason Garrett likes to use offensively and his coaching philosophy. It would likely be a seamless transition, especially since he's already so familiar with the personnel. But, there's really no way of knowing if he's ready to leave his cushy commentating job to become a coach.
As much as I'd like to see Tony Romo make his return back to the Dallas Cowboys in a coaching capacity, bringing back Todd Haley to the organization would be a close second. He spent 2004-2006 with the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach before moving on to become the offensive coordinator for several teams (Cardinals, Steelers, Browns) and the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike Romo, Haley has a proven track record as a play caller in the NFL. I personally like what he would bring to the table if made the new OC in Dallas. He is an aggressive play caller with a fiery attitude. I think his addition to the Cowboys offense could have the same kind of impact as Kris Richard's did to the defense this past season.
There is a downside about Haley though. He can be a bit abrasive with those he's working with. He's known for not always getting along with some of his players or with his coaching staff. It's one of the reasons why both he and Hue Jackson were fired this past season by the Cleveland Browns. I don't think it would be a problem with Dallas, but it is something to think about.
I'm grasping a little bit here because it would take quite a bit to lure Eric Bieniemy away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it's not completely impossible. Jerry Jones would have to really put on his business hat to get Bieniemy's attention, especially after he was in the running for a few head-coaching jobs here recently. But, we all know how persuasive Jerry Jones can be when he wants to.
First off, the Dallas Cowboys would have to make Bieniemy their assistant head coach as well as their offensive coordinator. He is already the OC with the Chiefs, just not the playcaller. Andy Reid still handles those responsibilities. He does however handle the majority of the game planning, which is raved about because of his attention to detail.
His players have also raved about his personality and aggressiveness as a coach. This is something that has endeared Cowboys players to Kris Richard in a short amount of time and it could be the same if Eric Bieniemy comes aboard. Unfortunately, I think this is a longshot. He's probably is eyeing a head-coaching job that could come as soon as next season. Jason Garrett replacement?
Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, isn't on a lot of people's list as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but probably should be. He does have one year of experience as an OC in the NFL, but that was with the Detroit Lions in 2014-2015 and we shouldn't count that against him. No play callers last long in Detroit since Matthew Stafford took over as their starting QB.
The reason I really like Lombardi as a potential Scott Linehan replacement is because of the time he spent with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. Minus the one year in Detroit, he's been with the Saints since 2007. The majority of that time was spent as the QB coach to one of the best ever played the game.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get Sean Payton back as a Cowboys coach for the past several seasons without any success. Turning to someone he's personally groomed could be the next best thing. He was there through all of Drew Brees' numerous passing records and his Super Bowl victory. He has also help develop Taysom Hill into the playmaker he's become this season. He could just be the guy to take Dak Prescott's game to the next level.
Doug Nussmeier (In-house Candidate)
If the Dallas Cowboys do indeed decide to move on from Scott Linehan, it doesn't necessarily mean they will look outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. They could quite possibly already have his replacement on the team in Doug Nussmeier, who served as their tight end coach this season.
Nussmeier's coaching background mostly consist of him being a QB coach or offensive coordinator at the collegiate level. In fact, those are the only two coaching titles he's held throughout his career until this year when he became the Cowboys TE coach. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty impressive, especially after seeing Dallas' young tight ends progress through the season.
Promoting Nussmeier to OC would virtually be a seamless transition for everybody involved. He knows the system, the players, and has been involved in the game planning this past season. I don't know however if he would be an upgrade over Scott Linehan. The two have known one another for years and have worked together in the past. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my opinion.
Do any of these Dallas Cowboys OC candidates intrigue you? If not who?
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