After spending some time looking back at the 2016 season, I re-watched some of the Pittsburgh Steelers game. One thing that was clear was the lack of depth at cornerback. In that game the team was got killed by Eli Rogers and Jesse James in the middle of the field, and by Le'Veon Bell who split out wide several times.
If you'll remember, Bell caught the opening touchdown pass for Pittsburgh when he matched up with J.J. Wilcox on the outside. That's a mismatch any team will take, any day. Wilcox, for all his strengths, should never be relied upon to cover someone with Bell's receiving ability one-on-one.
With the way the NFL is now comprised, you need depth at the cornerback position. Looking at the composition of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, they finally have that.
Between Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White, the Cowboys have six (SIX!!) guys who could contribute in 2017. Five of those guys could all start on the inside or the outside and Awuzie has the flexibility to play some safety.
On the Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule, they will have to face some pretty impressive passing games.
The New York Giants look to have one of the most formidable receiving groups going, especially if Brandon Marshall returns to his 2015 form.
Philadelphia will be no slouch either.
Washington, while not lining up the big names that Philadelphia and New York do, has really good players in Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder. Josh Doctson will be healthy this year and will make the Redskins passing game more lethal.
The Arizona Cardinals -- despite an aging Carson Palmer -- have several legitimate weapons in the passing game. Larry Fitzgerald has redefined himself as a slot machine as he operates primarily from in the middle of the field these days. In fact, he led the league in receptions from the slot in 2016. RB David Johnson is a dangerous receiving weapon as well.
The Atlanta Falcons use several players -- like Mohammed Sanu and Tevin Coleman -- who are effective from the slot, not to mention superstar Julio Jones.
Though he had a down year in 2016, Randall Cobb remains one of the more effective weapons in the middle of the field and don't sleep on Ty Montgomery either. He had several games with 10 receptions. Now converted to running back, Montgomery will be split out at times to keep defenses off-balance, and he remains a difficult cover out of the backfield. Davante Adams is emerging and Jordy Nelson will play forever.
The Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders have several players each that can be effective from the slot.
This doesn't even begin to cover the tight ends that Dallas has on the schedule.
Evan Engram, Jordan Reed, and Zach Ertz -- twice --, Jake Butt -- if healthy -- , Martellus Bennett -- yes, him --, Marcus Mosher's rookie favorite, George Kittle, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry for the Chargers, Cowboys-killer Jared Cook, and the resurgent Jimmy Graham for Seattle.
The point is, Dallas is going to have to be really good against the pass this year for their defense to show the improvement we hope they will make. In 2017, they have the players to do it.
Starting with Orlando Scandrick, who has been the primary slot corner player over his time in Dallas, they have a strong veteran leader who can play with just about anybody in the middle of the field.
While, Scandrick was out in 2016, Anthony Brown -- then a rookie -- filled in nicely for several games before being called upon to fill in on the outside. Rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are both viewed as players who can be effective inside or outside cornerbacks.
Nolan Carroll isn't a great player by any stretch, but he carries the reputation of being a solid contributor who can cover and make some plays.
Marquez White has some solid traits that could turn him into a fine cornerback in the league, but needs some time to develop.
We may look at the defensive line and their ability to get pressure as the most important key to the 2017 Cowboys season. With the question marks on the defensive line, I see it a bit differently.
What sustained some frustrating drives at times was the quick passing that teams used pretty effectively against the Cowboys in 2016.
A lot of the NFL is now using the quick passing game to get their team in a rhythm. It will be the Dallas cornerback's job to disrupt that rhythm. If the cornerback group can disrupt the wide receiver for even a half a second, it will help the defensive line get home with more frequency.
The passing games that the Dallas Cowboys will face in 2017 will be tough matchups, no doubt. For the Cowboys to reach their 2017 goals, which hopefully include a trip to the promised land, this cornerback group will have to be equally tough.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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