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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

The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up

Brian Martin

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Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle Heating Up 1

Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.

The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.

As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.

Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.

Terrance Williams

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.

Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.

Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.

I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.

All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.

How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?



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Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?

Brian Martin

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Decision not to Play Dan Bailey against the 49ers a Concern? 1

With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.

Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.

I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.

I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?

Dan Bailey

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.

Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.

Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.

Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?



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Star Blog

Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook

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Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook

Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.

The Dak Stats

Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.

Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.

When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.

Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.

Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.

Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.

Questions Still Loom

This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.

But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles -167
  2. Dallas Cowboys +350
  3. New York Giants +650
  4. Washington Redskins +750

NFC East Week 1 Predictions

The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.

The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.

The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.

The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.

This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.



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