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Cowboys 2017 Disappointment Began with Free Agency

Sean Martin

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Cowboys 2017 Disappointment Began with Free Agency 1

While Christmas Eve may be the most infamously memorable date from this Cowboys' 2017 season, with the visiting Seahawks spoiling Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension to force Dallas out of playoff contention, a case could be made that this 9-7 campaign was set up months earlier.

On the heels of winning the NFC East at 13-3, the Cowboys took their usual approach to free agency last offseason -- patching holes with depth players available on cheap contracts.

The scope of this article is not to cover what the definitive biggest problem was for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, but their mix of distractions, suspensions, and injuries is best summarized as a lack of depth.

For the better part of the season, the Cowboys did not have better players than their opponents on the field -- a simple recipe for disaster in the NFL. This means that their free agent acquisitions did not perform as expected.

Looking back, here are the contracts the Cowboys gave out last offseason, with their end results:

  • Signed CB Nolan Carroll to three-year deal worth $10 million, released in week six. 
  • Signed DT Stephen Paea to one year deal, retired in week six (placed on injured reserve).
  • Signed DE Damontre Moore to two-year deal worth $1.65 million, released prior to week eight.
  • Signed OT Byron Bell to one year deal, finished season but was ineffective in place of LT Tyron Smith
  • Signed S Robert Blanton to one year deal, released prior to week one. 

In some areas, the Cowboys' loss of depth through free agency allowed younger players to shine. Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis only further cemented this team as a draft-first organization, turning the Cowboys' secondary into a strength. 

The positions elsewhere on this list remain ones of need a year later though. With Stephen Jones mostly calling the shots, the Cowboys do not like to enter the NFL Draft with a glaring need at any position.

Dallas' pass protection for QB Dak Prescott was putrid at times without LT Tyron Smith, as Byron Bell could not be counted on as his replacement. Bargain-shopping for pass rush again too, the Cowboys' defensive line has plenty of young talent to be legitimately excited about, but is in need of depth that can stick with the team, unlike Damontre Moore.

Cowboys 2017 Disappointment Began with Free Agency

This NFL offseason is hardly in full-swing yet, but already it appears the Cowboys will enter April's draft favorably.

Quality depth can be added through a deep draft class, in a year where the Cowboys may have as many as 12 picks (an optimistic way to look at their poor turnaround in free agency from the previous year).

However, the offseason is not yet here for all 32 teams.

Two teams that are simply better at roster building than the Cowboys still have to play on Sunday. Super Bowl LII features the hated Philadelphia Eagles, who have overcome an impossible amount of key injuries to earn another shot at their first title, against the New England Patriots.

Did Cowboys 2017 Disappointment Start with Free Agency?

Fans everywhere know all too well about the Patriots this time of year, and ones who pay close attention to the league certainly see their plug-and-play free agents contributing to playoff success each season.

https://twitter.com/HelmanDC/status/956294875724636160

Dreams of this year's Super Bowl long gone in Dallas, the Cowboys have sold their faithful once again on "the process".

Calls for serious change to occur after this season have been met with coaching changes to the offensive line, wide receivers, linebackers, special teams, and tight ends (a position that remains vacant). Kris Richard has also been hired to replace Matt Eberflus as passing game coordinator.

Head Coach Jason Garrett and both of his coordinators remain in place though, preparing to coach a roster that won't look drastically different -- with the same front office constructing it using a similar approach.

Whether or not the Cowboys' way of doing things can survive another offseason like last year's will be determined by how available their top players are for 2018.

As a draft analyst, I support nothing more than teams embracing the young talent available to them every April. As a Cowboys writer, I've supported this coaching staff numerous times -- along with the idea that this team isn't as far from turning things around as I may be leading you to believe.

As simply a Dallas Cowboys fan though, the reality is this: a lot of things have to go perfectly for the Cowboys to contend next season.

After arguably derailing this season before it even started, the two teams left standing this week simply can't relate to the Cowboys' organizational approach. One of them will be bringing the Lombardi trophy back to their city, an honor the Cowboys haven't realized in 22 years.

Placing themselves behind the figurative eight ball before a season like 2017 begins will do little to ever end this streak.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys 2017 Disappointment Began with Free Agency" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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9 Comments
  • Nick Russo

    Personally I don’t think that it’s the logic but I think that within the logic, poor decisions were made. Our drafting the last few years has been really good. We have gotten impact players in almost every round and we have found UFA that contribute (Rod Smith). One of the biggest factors that don’t allow us to be shoppers in free agency is the continuous bad contracts that we give out and then have to restructure constantly. Our cap room is never truly competitive enough to go out and get a top level guy without it being at the expense of two or three other capable guys to resign. I think also sometimes we re-sign our own players when we shouldn’t (Terrance Williams). This offseason we should have a good number of picks, as well as needing to prioritize signing Lawrence and Irving to long term deals, extending zack Martin, and really trying to get hitchens back on another deal.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      Good thoughts all around here Nick, appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. There certainly is a point where re-signing your own at the rate they want to (meaning they have mostly players that are worth it) does backfire, and Williams is a really great example of how it holds back the ability to churn the depth chart at a certain position. The “just keep building this thing” approach can get there, but any team that wants to win needs to take risks.

      • Nick Russo

        Hey Sean, it was a great read and I think a big topic when you look at the success of this team. I agree that a team needs to take risks. My biggest question is why they seem to be so good at evaluating the players coming out of college for the draft and as UFA, but can’t hit in free agency at all. We picked up Brandon Carr for a big contract and while he stayed on the field, he wasn’t making any plays. We signed Greg hardy and he didn’t do much in a suspension shortened season. And then there was the disaster of signings that we had last offseason. We don’t seem to evaluate talent the same way when it comes to free agency, or so it would seem. Maybe it’s our financial situation on a yearly basis that has us look at “bargain” players only. It’s pretty baffling.

        • EverybodyTalks

          Great points, Nick, on Hardy and Carr. I was looking at the dead money on Spotrac. Dead money is part of the problem. If we would have had more cap space, would the Boys have resigned T Will? This year we have 13.4 million in dead money from Tony Romo, Cedric Thornton and Nolan Carroll. A lot of folks want Dez gone and that is another 8.5 in dead money and now we are up to almost 22 million. That limits present choices because of past decisions.

  • Corey

    I agree they need to resign Lawrence and Zack Martin for sure. They resigned Terrance Williams and why I have no idea. He couldn’t catch a cold. David Irving at least has made an impact when he plays, so they should resign him as well. They really need to look at LOT either in free agency or the draft. Someone who can step in for Tyson Smith if he can’t play. There definitely isn’t anyone on the current roster capable of taking over for him, that was proven in Atlanta. They need to stop with the continuous bad contracts for players who don’t earn them, Terrence Williams for one, and stop shopping the bargain basement for impact players. All they get there are players past their prime and close to retirement or players that were never that good to begin with

    • Nick Russo

      I agree. I know they like Terrance Williams for his run blocking ability but come on. You give the guy a chance to learn to catch the ball with his hands. He’s had four years in the league and still tries to catch everything with his body, and it’s been costly as a lot of them have resulted in drops or interceptions. It’s a shame cause he has a great talent for catches near the sideline and he has some speed to make a play after the catch. Doesn’t really mean much if you can’t catch the ball though. It’s time to give Noah Brown some reps as the #2.

      • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

        Good eye, Brown can block just as well as Williams too. It was Ezekiel Elliott that stood on the table for him to bring in an Ohio State teammate with that type of skill.

  • Travis Diggs

    We sat back and watched the eagles be aggressive in Free agency and the draft while we did absolutely nothing. Long story short, they’re in the Super Bowl and were on the couch watching them. This season was wasted

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      Well said Travis

Star Blog

Cowboys Offense: Finding Roles for 2018 NFL Draft Picks

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Offense: Finding Roles for 2018 NFL Draft Picks 1

It is no secret that the Dallas Cowboys offense failed in 2017. As much as these struggles were about who wasn't on the field for the Cowboys, the talent still out there could rarely do enough to win games. With an elite offensive line, young quarterback, and Dez Bryant on the outside, this was unacceptable and prompted changes in Dallas.

The biggest move the Cowboys made prior to the 2018 NFL Draft was moving on from Dez Bryant. The 29-year old wide receiver remains unsigned, as the Cowboys were comfortable entering the draft with a glaring need at the position.

Still waiting until the third round to add Colorado State's Michael Gallup, the Cowboys later drafted Cedrick Wilson and Tight End Dalton Schultz. Filling their biggest needs with great value on these picks, the Cowboys also found their left guard of the future in Connor Williams at 50th overall.

Add in developmental Quarterback Mike White and Running Back Bo Scarbrough and the Cowboys have an intriguing rookie class on offense - full of players that will absolutely need to step in right away, and some that are here to provide depth.

As I did with the Cowboys defense earlier in the week, here is my best projection on the roles the Cowboys draft picks on Scott Linehan's side of the ball will play.

Left Guard Connor Williams

Scouting Report: "Film Room: OL Connor Williams Is Cowboys Final Piece To Great Run Game"

This was the Dallas Cowboys best pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Keeping Texas Longhorns prospect Connor Williams close to home, ending his draft-week slide at 50th overall to a roar at AT&T Stadium, is more than just a feel good story.

This is a player that fills the Cowboys need for a long-term starter at left guard perfectly. Considered one of the best tackles in the nation prior to injury, Williams will of course benefit from playing between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.

Bringing his own trademark toughness and athleticism to a new interior position will give the Cowboys arguably their best offensive line since 2014. Ezekiel Elliott has to be a fan of the Connor Williams pick already - as you should be too.

Although the Cowboys did add veteran depth at OT this offseason, Williams is of course another emergency option on the roster to kick outside and handle himself at any position but center. Connor Williams will be a noticeably fun player at LG, creating movement through to the second level on a consistent basis.

Wide Receiver Michael Gallup

Scouting Report: "Film Room: WR Michael Gallup Provides Excellent Value In 3rd Round"

Predictions for what first-year Wide Receiver Michael Gallup will have in store for his rookie season in Dallas have been all over the place. While most are understandably skeptical of the Cowboys "relying" on a third round draft pick to become a force in the passing game, Gallup is a high upside player that fits the Cowboys new approach on offense.

Phasing out the need for a true number one receiver, Gallup is the Cowboys newest "Dak-friendly" asset. Perhaps playing under the radar too much at Colorado State, Gallup has all of the traits needed to explode onto the scene in 2018.

A lengthy athlete with effortless vertical ability and soft hands, Gallup will have no problem separating as a big target on the outside for Prescott. Because of this, I expect him to be the closest thing the Cowboys have to a "WR1" this season - lining up primarily at the X position and putting up numbers better than some of the eight receivers drafted before him.

Sean's Scout: TE Dalton Schultz Fits Cowboys Need as Willing Blocker

Dallas Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz

Tight End Dalton Schultz

Scouting Report: "Sean's Scout: TE Dalton Schultz Fits Cowboys Need as Willing Blocker"

The Cowboys have a Jason Witten sized hole to fill inside The Star at Frisco. While just how much on-field production this constitutes is up for debate, the reality is that no player will mean as much to the Cowboys as Witten did for so long anytime soon.

Especially fourth round pick Dalton Schultz, drafted the day after Witten announced his retirement from the NFL. If given a chance to make a name for himself though, the Stanford tight end may rarely come off the field for the Cowboys.

Joining Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin on the roster - two experienced run blockers that are developing as pass catchers - Schultz has plenty of experience playing in Stanford's pro style offense.

Not the most overwhelming blocker, Schultz understands how to control bigger defenders at the line of scrimmage - never shying away from a chance to show his dominance and finish blocks to the ground.

Limited as a route runner and true receiver, Schultz is going to be eased into the Cowboys offense, but will have plenty of opportunities to stand out this summer in training camp and carve out a role in 12 or 13 personnel packages.

Quarterback Mike White

Scouting Report: "Sean's Scout: QB Mike White Brings Athleticism, Accuracy to Dallas Cowboys"

It's refreshing for the Cowboys to have a young quarterback that has stayed remarkably healthy through his first two seasons, as Dak Prescott will have no competition for the starting job in 2018. The real competition at quarterback will be directly behind him.

With Kellen Moore trading in his helmet for a coaching hat, second-year Quarterback Cooper Rush will be joined by fifth round pick Mike White. A touch thrower with pro-ready size and plenty of workable traits, White was one of the better late-round candidates the Cowboys could have added to their QB room.

White2

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Taking 2018 to soak in as much as he can about Scott Linehan's offense, it truly doesn't matter much if Mike White is QB2 or QB3 this season. If he was worth the 171st overall pick, the Cowboys believe in his potential, and will work to push him as far as he can go up the depth chart this offseason.

Wide Receiver Cedrick Wilson

Scouting Report: "Sean's Scout: WR Cedrick Wilson the Missing Vertical Threat for Cowboys Offense"

In 2017, the Cowboys entered the draft with a promise to restock their depleted secondary - doing so by drafting starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis in the second and third rounds. This year, the wide receiver position felt the same way. Although the Cowboys waited until the sixth round to add their second rookie at WR, Cedrick Wilson is absolutely a player that can make an impact this year and outplay this draft status.

By trading Ryan Switzer at the draft, the Cowboys showed some faith in slot receiver Cole Beasley. Likely not coming off the field much this season, Wilson will have a hard time earning reps on the inside, where he menaces defenders with his length and long speed.

Wilson4

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These are still traits that Cedrick Wilson uses to win on the outside, where every receiver the Cowboys have is going to get a chance. Talented pass catchers are not going to make the final cut on the Cowboys roster, but Cedrick Wilson is one that will earn his spot all summer long.

Look for him to standout in the preseason regardless of who's throwing Wilson the ball, forcing the Cowboys to rotate him into their versatile offense for Prescott to have another big target out wide.

Cowboys Offense: Finding Roles for 2018 NFL Draft Picks

Dallas Cowboys RB Bo Scarbrough

Running Back Bo Scarbrough

Scouting Report: "Film Review: What Bo Scarbrough Brings to the Cowboys Running Game"

Bo Scarbrough has generated plenty of buzz from Cowboys Nation, and mostly because his name is Bo Scarbrough. A recognizable name out of Alabama, Scarbrough became the Cowboys last pick of the 2018 NFL Draft at 236th overall.

For as much as we've discussed the decisions the Cowboys will have to make elsewhere on offense, their faith rests in starter Ezekiel Elliott. Behind Elliott, the Cowboys have a completely new stable of running backs though.

Tavon Austin was acquired during the draft by the Cowboys to fill the void once left (?) by Lance Dunbar, and at least for now it seems like Dallas has big plans for Tavon on offense. Working both Elliott and Austin onto the field won't be a problem for Linehan, but including Rod Smith and Bo Scarbrough very well might be.

With Smith firmly holding his roster spot because of special teams contributions, Scarbrough will have to follow in similar footsteps to secure his spot on America's Team. The idea of the Cowboys keeping a bruising back like Scarbrough to help them finish games is a fun one, but it doesn't feel practical when crunching the roster numbers.

If Scarbrough does make the cut however, he can absolutely spell Elliott in short yardage and goal line situations, running with consistent power and better-than-expected vision.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys have way too much invested into their offense to see it sputter like it did a year ago. Instilling optimism with the injured players they'll welcome back, the Cowboys were not complacent in adding talent at the draft either.

While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup may be the only true "starters" the Cowboys found, I expect both rookies to excel. Contributions from Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson could put this offensive draft class over the top - prepared nicely for the long run while featuring five players with high enough floors to play this season.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Offense: Finding Roles for 2018 NFL Draft Picks" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Cowboys en Español: La Llegada de Kris Richard, ¿La Salvación de Byron Jones?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Dallas Cowboys Player Profile: FS #31 Byron Jones 2

Desde el momento en el que llegó a la NFL, Byron Jones ha dado mucho de que hablar. Su talento y sus increíbles hazañas atléticas han llevado a pensar a la afición que está destinado al éxito como un defensivo en la secundaria de los Dallas Cowboys. Desafortunadamente, a pesar de algunas jugadas realmente sorprendentes y varios destellos, Jones no ha logrado establecerse como un claro titular de calidad en sus primeros tres años en la liga.

En su primera temporada, el equipo movió a Byron Jones por toda la defensiva, dejándolo jugar como safety, dentro y fuera de la caja, como cornerback interior y exterior. ¡Poco hubiera sorprendido que lo hubieran convertido en un jugador ofensivo!

La versatilidad era un fuerte para el defensivo saliente de la universidad de Connecticut, hasta que el equipo de coaches en Dallas lo convirtió en una debilidad. Al final de cuentas, el dicho lo dice a la perfección. "El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta."

Jones, quien en sus primeras dos temporadas no encontró una posición fija, no obtuvo el progreso que necesitaba. Y una vez que en el 2017 el equipo se comprometió a darle una posición fija, dándole el trabajo de profundo (safety). 

5 Players Cowboys Could put on the Trade Market

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

Lamentablemente para Jones, debido a problemas contra el juego terrestre y de tackleo, se demostró que jugar con él dentro de la caja, no era la respuesta para Dallas.

Ahora, con la llegada del ex-coordinador defensivo de los Seattle Seahawks y uno de los creadores fundamentales de la entonces llamada "Legion of Boom", Kris Richard, la carrera de Byron Jones cuenta con otra oportunidad y una que podría llevar al jugador de tercer año a finalmente convertirse en un titular de primer nivel.

Tras la llegada de Richard a Dallas, se anunció que Jones se convertiría en un cornerback de tiempo completo para los Cowboys con la esperanza de que este encontrará por fin un lugar donde quedarse.

Probablemente, ambos de los novatos del 2017 Chidobe Awuzie y Jourdan Lewis lograrán quedarse con los dos mejores trabajos en la posición, pero el equipo debe estar contando con que Byron Jones se gané su lugar por encima de Anthony Brown y se establezca como uno de los tres cornerbacks titulares.

"Prototipo. Atleta fantástico, altura genial, tamaño, longitud. Todo está ahí. Tiene una gran actitud. Ha trabajado muy duro desde el día 1. Estoy emocionado de estar a su alrededor." Kris Richard hablando de Byron Jones como un CB.

Los Cowboys tienen esperanzas en Byron Jones, y lo demostraron decidiendo recoger la opción de quinto año en su contrato, asegurándolo hasta la temporada del 2019. Sin duda alguna, una de las razones principales por las cuales el equipo está siendo tan optimista respecto a Jones, es la llegada de Kris Richard.

Con Rod Marinelli cumpliendo 69 años en Julio y bastantes rumores de que consideró el retiro al finalizar la temporada del 2017, el futuro de Kris Richard en Dallas parece prometedor. Tiene todo el sentido del mundo verlo como el coordinador defensivo del equipo en el 2019.

Quizá suene disparatado, pero una mala temporada en el 2018 podría conseguir que Jason Garrett sea despedido. A pesar de que los fans no quieren una mala temporada, si llegara a ocurrir y hay un cambio de head coach para los Cowboys, Kris Richard será un nombre en consideración. Al menos, debería serlo.

Pero por ahora, Richard tiene que enfocarse en replicar el éxito que tuvo defensivamente en Seattle para llevar a la unidad de los Cowboys al siguiente nivel. Byron Jones podría ser una pieza clave en su misión.

¿Será este el año para Byron Jones?

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: La Llegada de Kris Richard, ¿La Salvación de Byron Jones?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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Could New Additions Cause Trouble For Backup RB Rod Smith?

Brian Martin

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Will New Additions Cause Trouble For Backup RB Rod Smith?

The Dallas Cowboys will be adding a couple of new faces at the running back position in 2018, but it shouldn't really have much impact on Ezekiel Elliott's spot atop the RB depth chart. The person it could spell trouble for is Elliott's expected backup, Rod Smith.

Last year Rod Smith finally received an opportunity to prove himself while Ezekiel Elliott was out serving his suspension. Smith proved to be an effective weapon as both a runner and as a receiver in the passing game. He did so well in fact that many have already anointed him as the primary backup heading into the 2018 season.

Rod Smith will absolutely be given every opportunity to prove once again he is the best man for the job to backup Zeke, but there are also some new additions coming in who could possibly challenge for that RB2 role.

Tavon Austin

Dallas Cowboys RB/WR Tavon Austin

Tavon Austin, who the Dallas Cowboys acquired via trade with the Los Angeles Rams during the 2018 NFL Draft, is expected to be utilized as both a wide receiver and running back this year. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has described him as a "web-back" and said that Austin is expected to be utilized in a variety of different ways.

Unfortunately for Rod Smith, that could mean that Tavon Austin cuts into some of the touches Smith could have received. Austin may not have Smith's size or physicality, but his speed and elusiveness is something truly lacking right now on the Cowboys offense.

But, Tavon Austin isn't the only new face who could cause trouble for Rod Smith. The Dallas Cowboys decided to close out the 2018 NFL Draft by selecting RB Bo Scarbrough, a well-known National Champion, formally with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Bo Scarbrough

Dallas Cowboys RB Bo Scarbrough

Bo Scarbrough is more of the old school running back we used to see in the NFL. He is a one cut downhill physical runner, who looks to punish any defender unfortunate enough to get in his way.

Scarbrough and Rod Smith are both bigger backs, but Smith just doesn't play with the same kind of physicality, despite what his size would suggest. Scarbrough could form a formative one-two punch paired with Ezekiel Elliott and together they could wear down opposing defenses.

If you're a fan of Rod Smith, this is certainly a little bit disheartening. He has had to scratch and claw for every opportunity he has received and just when it looks like he has arrived, he may have to prove himself once more.

Fortunately, I think Rod Smith is still the right man for the job to be Zeke's primary backup. He is a better all-around RB then either Tavon Austin or Bo Scarbrough and has the advantage of having the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates.

I'm sure Tavon Austin and Bo Scarborough may steal a few touches from Rod Smith here and there in 2018, but I still expect him to be the RB2 this year. Luckily, all of this talk means next to nothing since Ezekiel Elliott is back and will only come off the field for a breather.

Lookout NFL, Zeke is back and he is hungry!!!

Do you think Rod Smith will be the primary RB backup in 2018?


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