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.
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.
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.
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.
Travis Frederick’s Return Named Cowboys Biggest Reason For Excitement
Overall, Cowboys Nation feels to be in a positive mood during this year's offseason. Despite early angst over lack of action at the start of free agency, and concern over the Cowboys' draft strategy, most within the fan base seem to have high, yet realistic, hopes for the 2019 season.
Most seem to believe the NFC East will be a two team race, with the last two champions battling for the crown once again down the stretch of the season. Others can see the potential for a dark-horse candidate in Washington, but still believe the Cowboys roster has the edge.
So while Cowboys fans may not think they need a singular reason to look forward to the Fall of 2019, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski gave them one this week.
NFL Brent Sobleski @@brentsobleski Twitter Logo NFL Analyst The offseason can be as thrilling for NFL fans as the regular season. Player movement constantly refreshes rosters-whether through free agency, the draft or trades. Significant changes inject excitement into franchises, personnel and fanbases. A one-time league doormat can become the league's "it' team simply through a string of acquisitions.
Brent identified the biggest reason for each team to look forward to 2019, with the return of center Travis Frederick being the Cowboys' submission. There's no question that when healthy, Frederick is one of the best centers in the game, and anchors an offensive line many still consider to be at the top of the league.
"A full year with wide receiver Amari Cooper and re-signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal are both reasons for the Dallas Cowboys to be excited. However, the return of Travis Frederick to man the middle of the offensive line is far more pertinent."
Frederick missed all of the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that I am not nearly qualified enough to discuss. What I do know is that it can be very serious, and it kept Frederick out for the entire year.
The Cowboys offensive line suffered during the early part of 2018, largely due in part to Travis Frederick's absence. Yes, Joe Looney filled in and played as well as anyone could have hoped for, but the disconnect in communication across the offensive line was clear without their usual center. Especially during the first couple months of the season.
If Frederick is fully back and healthy, his presence alone will take the Cowboys offensive line back towards their peak. Combine his comeback with a healthy Zack Martin, and a now bulked up Connor Williams, and the interior of this line has the chance to be special.
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Make Pro Bowl Debuts this Season
Every year, the Dallas Cowboys send quite a few players to the Pro Bowl. This year, the Cowboys sent eight players to the Pro Bowl with Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones being selected to their first Pro Bowl squad.
There is a lot of talent on this year's roster and the Cowboys will likely send someone to the annual all-star game that hasn't been there before. Here are three I think will make a push for Pro Bowl recognition in 2019.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback
In the first half of the season, Chidobe Awuzie got picked on a bit. His coverage was always pretty good, but he allowed a ton of receptions. Awuzie allowed the ninth highest passer rating in coverage, the 12th most receptions, the 10th most yards, and tied for the sixth most touchdowns allowed weeks 1-9 of 2018.
In the second half, including the playoffs, Awuzie was much better and showed a higher level of comfort. His passer rating allowed dropped 50 points and was the 17th lowest in the league among corners who played at least 197 coverage snaps. He allowed fewer receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the 10 games over the second half than he allowed in the first eight games of the season.
Awuzie is one of the tougher players on the team. He plays with a similar edge that DeMarcus Lawrence does on the defensive line.
After spending part of his rookie season injured and rotating in, Awuzie found his stride in the second half of 2018 and was one of the Cowboys better cover players. Going into his third season in the NFL, the Cowboys 2017 second round pick looks to be an ascending player that could make some noise for postseason awards.
Tony Pollard, Running Back/Kick Returner
The Dallas Cowboys went into the 2019 NFL Draft looking to find a gadget player they could use on offense, but just as important, they wanted a player who could contribute in the return game. They got him in Rookie Tony Pollard.
Over the course of three seasons and 87 returns, Pollard averaged 30 yards per kick return and returned seven kickoffs for scores. In 2017, Pollard averaged an insane 40 yards per return. He's an incredibly dynamic player with the ball in his hands and though he wasn't used much on punt returns, shows an ability to make people miss and read his blockers.
As Stephen Jones said, "he's got a little Alvin Kamara to him." As a ball carrier, Pollard averaged 7.7 and 7.1 yards per carry over his final two seasons at Memphis. He was dynamic as a receiver as well averaging more than 12.4 yards per reception over three seasons in college.
With Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys may not give Pollard enough snaps and touches to have an Alvin Kamara like rookie campaign (120 carries for 728 yards, 8 touchdowns and 81 receptions for 826 yards and 5 touchdowns), but if he's given half that workload, plus what he could do on returns, he'll make noise for Pro Bowl consideration.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
It was a bit surprising to go back and look at which linebackers made the Pro Bowl and not see Jaylon Smith's name. As good as Rookie Leighton Vander Esch was, Jaylon Smith might have been better. By standard metrics -- tackles, interceptions, tackles for loss -- Vander Esch totaled more. Advanced metrics like defensive EPA (expected points added) and playmaking EPA, favored Jaylon Smith's season.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
Jaylon Smith didn't rack up the tackles like Vander Esch, but he was far more impactful over the course of the season. That's not to diminish Vander Esch's contribution to the Cowboys success in 2018. It's important to show Jaylon Smith his due, though.
Smith recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defended to go along with his 120 combined tackles in 2018. And that was just his second full season back from the devastating knee injury he suffered in college.
Another season removed from the injury should make Jaylon Smith more confident and more explosive in 2019, which should lead to another outstanding season for the Dallas Cowboys Middle Linebacker.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Don't let anyone tell you that Pro Bowls don't matter. They do. Sure, All-Pro awards are the more highly coveted recognition, but to the players and to their agents, Pro Bowl selections matter. It's not as exclusive, but in a league with 1,696 players being one of 88 is still a really nice honor. To be a Pro Bowl player mean's you're in the top 5% of NFL players.
Obviously, we'd all prefer none of the Dallas Cowboys play in the Pro Bowl. Because that would mean they'd be preparing to play for that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Cowboys have always provided quite a few participants to the Pro Bowl game, but if the participation was zero in 2020, it wouldn't be all bad.
Will “Rumored” Position Change Help Keep LB Sean Lee Healthy?
Rumors and speculation. That's the point of the offseason we have reached with the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it means players are staying out of trouble, but it's still a slow time nonetheless.
Today, I'd like to dive into some of the rumors and speculation surrounding the Dallas Cowboys right now. I thought I'd start off with Linebacker Sean Lee, and his "rumored" position change heading into the 2019 season. I think it's something worth discussing, as it is just about anything involving General Lee.
If rumors are correct, the Dallas Cowboys are considering a position change for Sean Lee in 2019. He's been their starting weak side linebacker (WILL) pretty much ever since they went to a 4-3 defense, but could be making a move to the strong side (SAM) to replace Damien Wilson. If true, this is interesting on so many different levels.
Sean Lee was initially moved to WILL in the Cowboys 4-3 defense years ago in order to hopefully protect him from the reoccurring injuries he was sustaining year after year. The thought was he would be better protected by not having to fight through so much trash or take on as much contact on the weak side. This was true to some degree, but unfortunately the injury bug continued to bite.
With that in mind, it seems strange the Cowboys are considering moving Sean Lee to SAM since it's considered to be a more physical position to play than he's use to. There is a lot more physicality and contact involved playing on the strong side, which you would think would make him more susceptible to the problem that's plagued his entire career, injuries.
The thought process of having Sean Lee switch to a more physical position seems like a strange one on the surface. A player who has struggled to remain healthy his entire career moving to play a more physically demanding position seems odd, but not if you were to look beyond the obvious.
Yes, the SAM LB position is more physically demanding, but doesn't receive a lot of playing time in the Cowboys 4-3 defense. Damien Wilson only played 30.72% of the defensive snaps in 2017 and 27.93% in 2018. Playing less snaps could actually play in Sean Lee's favor and potentially keep him healthy. That would make the move a win-win for No. 50 and the Cowboys.
A healthy Sean Lee playing SAM would be an upgrade over Damien Wilson. It would also give the Dallas Cowboys arguably the best starting 4-3 linebackers in the entire NFL. You may disagree, but I challenge you to find a better starting trio. I don't think it's possible.
Of course, all of this is just a rumor we are forced to speculate about right now, but it's still interesting to discuss nonetheless. I don't know how all of this will play out in the end, but I can't really think of any reason why Sean Lee shouldn't get the first crack at replacing Damien Wilson as the strong side linebacker in 2019.
Maybe, just maybe this will be the move that will finally keep him healthy.
What do you think? Do you like the idea of Sean Lee making a position change?
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