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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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Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Redzone Liability?

Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.

In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.

Does this make him a liability in the red zone?

I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.


Chidobe Awuzie

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.

I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.

As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.

I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.

Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?


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Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings

John Williams

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Cowboys DT's Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods Primed for Monster Seasons

It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.

On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.

In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.

Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.


Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.

Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.

With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.

Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.


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Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

Matthew Lenix

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Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

The Dallas Cowboys started to get the return on their investment of Jaylon Smith in a major way in 2018. He finished with 121 tackles (six tackles for loss), four sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.

With that type of production comes lofty expectations. Dak Prescott is off to the best start of his career, All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott has found his groove with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and Amari Cooper is on pace for his best season as a pro. However, quietly, Smith is on pace to have the best season of his young career so far.

In the season opener vs the New York Giants, the Cowboys completely dominated the game virtually from the start defensively. After a touchdown on their first possession, the Giants were shut down and only scored 10 points the rest of the game. Smith would register only six tackles for the game but the Cowboys were up as much as 25 points so it wasn't really necessary for him to ball out in this contest.

Week 2 vs the Washington Redskins on the road was another solid effort defensively for the Cowboys. They held the Redskins in check behind Smith's team-leading 11 tackles as the Cowboys only allowed 255 yards of offense and two conversions on nine third downs.

The Miami Dolphins came to town in Week 3 as the Cowboys looked to improve to 3-0. The Dolphins offense never got on track as they only managed 283 total yards, went a pedestrian three of 15 on third down, gave up three sacks, and scored six points. Smith once again led the team in tackles with 10 and also forced a fumble in the red zone that was recovered by All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence when the Dolphins were driving to take the lead before halftime. Very productive game for Smith in this one.

Week 4 was a defensive battle between the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints came out on top 12-10 giving the Cowboys their first loss but one of the bright spots was the play of Smith. All around it was one of his better performances of the season with nine tackles (two tackles for loss), one quarterback hit, and a sack. This performance gave him 30 tackles over a three-game span which is his best stretch of the 2019 season.


The Green Bay Packers arrived at AT&T Stadium in Week 5 having won three consecutive games there, and it was quickly apparent they would win their fourth straight. The Cowboys had two turnovers on their first three possessions that led to two touchdowns for the Packers and the Cowboys never recovered. Despite holding Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns the Cowboys gave up a career day to Aaron Jones with 182 all-purpose yards (107 rushing, 75 receiving) and lost 34-24. Smith finished with nine tackles (tied Leighton Vander Esch for the team lead), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, and a sack. In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated Smith was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.

The Cowboys entered Metlife Stadium for their Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets completely spiraling and it wouldn't get any better. Defensively, the Cowboys started flat by allowing 21 points in the first half. Even though they only allowed three points in the second half, Sam Darnold had a career-high 338 yards and the Jets handed the Cowboys their third consecutive loss. This would be Smith's most underwhelming performance of the season with a pedestrian four tackles. None of the impactful plays we saw from the previous three games showed up in this one.

Before the bye week, the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle for first place in the NFC East. Smith wasted no time making an impact in this game as he forced a fumble by Tight End Dallas Goedert on the Eagles first possession near midfield which set up the Cowboys first touchdown. This set the tone for the entire defense as they held the Eagles to 283 yards total yards, only allowed 10 points and forced four turnovers. Smith tied Sean Lee and Jeff Heath for the team lead with seven tackles while also registering a pass defended and a forced fumble. Just the type of performance you'd hope for from Smith after his worst game of the season.

This past Monday night saw the Cowboys return to Metlife Stadium but this time they would take on the arch-rival New York Giants. Smith spearheaded a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense as they held the Giants to 271 total yards, five out of 16 on third down, and forced three turnovers. He finished tied with Lee for the team lead with 12 tackles while also adding a half-sack and a quarterback hit. With the Eagles on the Cowboys heels for the division lead, they needed their best players to perform vs the Giants and Smith definitely delivered on his end.

Jaylon Smith is currently on pace for 136 tackles and five sacks which would both be career highs. In five of the Cowboys eight games, he's either led or been tied for the team lead in tackles. He has continued to show that he's worth every penny of the five-year 64 million dollar extension with 35.5 million in guarantees he signed in August. His "Clear Eye View" has him playing the best football of his career in 2019.

 


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