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Cowboys 2017 Free Agency Primer

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - 5 Cowboys Players That Could Be Traded

Before free agency officially begins at 4:00pm EST, let's set the table for the Dallas Cowboys. While not expected to be major players in this market, they still have to field a team of 53 players the same as everyone else. Moves will be made, players will leave, and new guys will be added.

To begin, here is a snapshot of our current roster. We're going to go based on players who are under contract for 2017 and who have contributed something to the team before now. We'll get to guys from the practice squad and reserve/future contracts shortly.

Dez Bryant, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

Returning Talent

Also, even though they are technically under contract and counting against the roster at the moment, we're going to move forward with two assumptions:

This roster reflects the most current news as of now. Receiver Brice Butler has signed a one-year deal to return. Dallas has also given a tender offer to David Irving, an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.

QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
FB: Keith Smith
WR: Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead
TE: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins
T: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary

DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton
OLB: Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha
MLB: Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Leon McFadden
S: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier

ST: Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur

So, before we get into any other free agent signings or lesser-known players, that's 41 roster spots covered by existing talent. That leaves 12 total spots open for a full roster.

Rico Gathers

TE Rico Gathers is expected to make the 53-man roster in his sophomore season.

Prospect Players

There are several other players under contract right now. These are players who were signed to small two-year deals following time spent on the practice squad. Most of them were with Dallas, but a few came from other teams at the end of the year.

Here's the list of these 2017 roster hopefuls:

WR: Andy Jones, Shaquelle Evans, Quincy McDuffie, Uzoma Nwachukwu
TE: Rico Gathers
G: Kadeem Edwards
T:
Clay DeBord
DE:
Lenny Jones, Zach Wood
LB:
Jeremiah George
CB: 
Jeremiah McKinnon, Sammy Seamster
S: Jameil Showers

A few names jump out immediately. Rico Gathers, a sixth-round pick last year, reportedly had a great year in practices and is projected to make the team this season. Receiver Andy Jones, who was a training camp standout in 2016, also has raised expectations for his second year.

Obviously, these players don't cover all of the team's needs. There isn't anyone to add to the depth charts at quarterback or running back. But these 13 players, plus the 40 we already mentioned, take us 53 total. Between now and the first round of cuts in late August, teams are allowed up to 90 players on their rosters.

Hello free agency. Hello draft.

Brandon Carr

CB Brandon Carr

Possible Returning Free Agents

As previously mentioned, Dallas re-signed Brice Butler and David Irving in the last few days. They still have close to 20 other free agents from last year's team. Will anyone else be coming back? Let's go position-by-position.

QB: Kellen Moore, Mark Sanchez

After his awful Week 17 appearance, it's easy to dismiss Mark Sanchez returning. However, Dak Prescott spoke highly of Sanchez's advice throughout the season and perhaps that's enough to at least get him back for a competition. Kellen Moore could also be given a chance, given his system experience.

RB: Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar

The prevailing theory right now is that Dallas will cut Alfred Morris for $1.6 million in cap space and use that to re-sign McFadden, who they like more. I would expect those moves to happen in the next few days.

As for Lance Dunbar, can the coaches really still have faith that he will emerge as a regular contributor? Other than the brief flash in early 2015, Dunbar has never assumed the Darren Sproles-like role that has been envisioned. With Ezekiel Elliott now demanding full-time touches, Dunbar is likely headed elsewhere.

WR: Terrance Williams

With rumors out there that Williams will get anywhere from $6-$8 million per season in his next contract, he is well out of Dallas' price range. The re-signing of Butler is likely their way of filling Williams' spot, seeing not so much at the "second WR" position but more the fourth option behind Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten.

TE: Gavin Escobar

If not for James Hanna's injury last year, Escobar might have not even made the team. He fell to fourth on the depth chart and only rose as Hanna and Geoff Swaim got hurt. Gavin is a goner.

G: Ronald Leary, Jonathan Cooper

Leary is expected to earn a starting job and the big contract he's been waiting for, only with another team. Dallas has La'el Collins ready to return and don't need to keep Leary at a premium. Ron more than deserves his payday and someone else will give it to him.

Dallas brought Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick, in for depth and a little tire kicking at the end of last season. Cooper may be hoping that his name value is worth something on the open market, but if not I could see him coming back on a minimal deal.

DE: Jack Crawford, Ryan Davis

Jack "Of All Trades" Crawford is a valuable, versatile defensive lineman who was more than worth the $1 million he played for last year. Dallas would likely hope to bring him back on a similar deal, but reports are that other teams have finally taken notice and may be after Crawford's services. He may quickly get too expensive for us.

As for Ryan Davis, Injuries prevented the former Jaguar from having a sustained impact in Dallas. He isn't expected back.

DT: Terrell McClain

News has just broken that McClain will sign with Washington, which is in keeping with the belief that he would find better-paying work outside of Dallas. The Cowboys already have starters with Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Cedric Thornton, which would've made keeping McClain an unaffordable luxury.

LB: Justin Durant, Andrew Gachkar, Rolando McClain

Justin Durant's one-year comeback wasn't very impressive. He looked the part of an aging veteran and I wouldn't be surprised if he retires in the coming months. Dallas will have other depth options with Mark Nzeocha and either Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson, depending on who wins the SAM position battle.

Andrew Gachkar could come back for veteran experience and special teams play, but he is up against the same younger prospects. He has a far greater chance of re-signing than Durant but I still think it's less than likely.

As for Rolando, Dallas and 31 other teams are going to pass on his services. Enjoy fishing.

CB: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne

Of all the significant free agents, Carr is the one I think has the best chance to return. He provides leadership and reliability and should be had for a reasonable price. Dallas will likely be counting on Anthony Brown to be CB1 next year. Carr and Orlando Scandrick could then fill out the top three with veteran experience.

While he hasn't created much free agent buzz yet, Morris Claiborne is expected to get a significant offer from someone. Even with his talent, which is still probably the best Dallas has at corner, all of the missed games and baggage is just more than I'd be willing to deal with. It's time for a clean break.

S: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox

Word is that Church will be signing with the Jaguars. Much like Terrell McClain, it's been expected that he would get too expensive on the open market for Dallas to keep him.

The question now is if Dallas sees Wilcox as a capable starter or, at least, an upgrade over Jeff Heath. If they are interested, it will come down to how long Wilcox sits unsigned and how far down that drops his asking price. Because of Heath's presence and lots of safety prospects in the coming draft, the Cowboys won't overpay.

~ ~ ~

As you can see, Dallas will still have plenty of work to do this offseason to complete their roster. Several starters and significant role-players will be leaving in free agency. Even if Dallas re-signs the few that I've suggested, it will still leave important spots to be filled.

Thankfully, talent from across the NFL will be out there as free agency opens. Some will be available at discount prices and Dallas will likely pounce on a few. They also have the draft to look forward to, and then perhaps a few more free agent options after June 1st cuts.

You will probably be disappointed by the lack of Cowboys action early on in this free agency. While it can get frustrating, keep in mind that it's part of an overall philosophical change. Dallas is trying to get out of the perpetual "salary cap hell" that it seems like they've endured for many seasons. A big part of that is not overpaying free agents in the NFL's inflated open market.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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5 Biggest X-Factors for 2019 Dallas Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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Chidobe Awuzie

As the Dallas Cowboys have put together this 2019 team, they have a mix of constants and variables that will hopefully produce a winner. Today, we're going to look at those x-factors; the players or other circumstances who have a wide range for potential impact. How could these potentially swing the results for this season?

Constants are guys like Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Ezekiel Elliott. If they're on the field then they're some of the best at what they do. I also believe that we'll continue to get Pro Bowl play from the likes of Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch, and other studs from last season.

As for the x-factors, the biggest every year, for every team, is health. One bad injury can take a 12-4 contender down to a 4-12 weakling, as the Cowboys experienced in 2015.

We're not talking about health issues or suspensions today. Assuming all of our projected players are present and playing, whose impact on the field could create the biggest swing from 2018 to this season?

Our list contains two new additions from free agency who could cause some big ripples. There are also two returning players whose continued development could work wonders. And then there's also a change in Dallas' coaching staff, which you likely have just guessed, that could have the biggest impact of all.

In fact, let's start there.

Kellen Moore

Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore

Kellen Moore, Offensive Coordinator

Will the Cowboys' change at OC lead to a more explosive, less predictable offense? They must think so, having handed the job to Moore despite his having only one year of experience in a coaching role.

Scott Linehan's run was far from bad. Over his five seasons the Cowboys won three division titles and two playoff games. The only losing season was when they lost Tony Romo in 2015 and didn't have a Dak Prescott to replace him.

But Linehan's tenure was also marked by an offense that every armchair coach in Cowboys Nation could predict. There was little razzle and even less dazzle; Dallas ground out wins on the strength of the run game and offensive line.

The old school approach works up to a point, as we've seen with four winning seasons out of the last five, but is it really the best way to go? The fact that all four teams in conference title games last year, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New England, and New Orleans, have more modern-styled offenses should tell you something.

It seemed to tell the Cowboys something, leading to the switch from Linehan to Moore. Will Kellen get more creative with the versatile skills that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott offer? Will he actually throw some passes to a fullback with receiving ability like Jamize Olawale? What about gimmick players like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard?

If Moore is the real deal as an offensive guru, this Dallas offense could do some special stuff in 2019. It would be the biggest personnel change of the offseason, on or off the field.

Dallas Cowboys Finally Make a Splash with Robert Quinn Trade

Dallas Cowboys DE Robert Quinn

DE Robert Quinn

It's been a long time since Dallas had two true studs at defensive end; DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were the last pair that could consistently threaten from both sides. By signing veteran Robert Quinn to be DeMarcus Lawrence's new wingman, the Cowboys are hoping to restore that dynamic.

Still just 29 years old, Quinn should have plenty offer. He's been a double-digit sack man three times in his career and has averaged 7.5 sacks over the last two seasons.

Last year, Dallas got solid play from Tyrone Crawford and Randy Gregory at times but they weren't consistent enough. Quinn not only bring a greater track record for pass rushing, but he doesn't present any of the current problems that Crawford or Gregory have with legal issues and/or possible suspensions.

That said, Quinn does have plenty of  NFL mileage at this point. He has shown some decline the last few years, and if that continues then he may not make the impact we're hoping for. In that case, Dallas pass rush may look the same as it has the last few years.

Lawrence has been great, but we saw the Cowboys' inability to get to Jared Goff in their playoff loss to the Rams. There were zero sacks that day for Dallas, and only one QB hit (Jaylon Smith) the entire game.

If the Cowboys want to get back to the NFC Title game then they need more. Hopefully Robert Quinn can bring it.

Randall Cobb

Dallas Cowboys WR Randall Cobb

WR Randall Cobb

As I said before, Amari Cooper should be as good as ever now that he gets an offseason to work with the team. Michael Gallup's progress from a strong rookie season is already reportedly on point. That leaves Cobb, the free agent replacement for Cole Beasley, as a major x-factor on offense.

Losing Beasley has the potential to hurt this team far more than we want to admit. He was Dak Prescott's security blanket for three years; his favorite receiver when the going got tough. No player was more trusted to get open, make the catch, and fight for the needed yards.

That sort of pressure won't be put all on Randall Cobb's shoulders. Cooper and Gallup will be a better pair to work with than any Beasley ever had. They will help mitigate the risk that Cobb has lingering injury issues, or doesn't acclimate quickly to his new offense.

But as the Cowboys hopefully shift to a more modern and innovative offense, Cobb brings valuable experience from his time with the Packers. He was part of six playoffs teams, and made many key plays to help Green Bay have sustained success during most of his time there.

If healthy, Cobb has the skills to replace Cole Beasley and perhaps even eclipse him. He was once a 1,200-yard receiver as the second option behind Jordy Nelson.

If he still has that gear in him, the combination of Cobb, Cooper and Gallup may give Dallas the most dangerous trio of receivers it's seen in decades.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Wild Card Victory 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

CB Chidobe Awuzie

Switching Byron Jones back to CB last year proved a strong move, helping Dallas get to the playoffs and getting Jones to his first Pro Bowl. The Cowboys are hoping that Awuzie, entering his third season, will emerge as another standout performer at cornerback.

Awuzie, the Cowboys' second-round pick in 2017, had a slow start in his sophomore year but improved as the season went along. He should compete with Anthony Brown for the starting job, and at the least be Dallas' nickel CB this season.

With the Saints, Packers, Patriots, and Rams all on the 2019 schedule, plus two games with the Eagles, the Cowboys need a solid secondary. They need to make opposing QBs think twice about which side of the field they want to try and throw to.

Awuzie has flashed his potential these first two seasons, but now it's time to keep it on full display. Year Three is when most guys, and especially one taken in the second round, should be blossoming into the players they're going to be for the long haul.

If Chidobe takes that next big step forward then Dallas' defense could be the best in the league. The compound effect of improved coverage and a stronger pass rush would have exponential benefits.

Blake Jarwin, Giants

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin

TE Blake Jarwin

If Jarwin can do anything close to his Week 17 performance over the course of an entire year, he'd be one of the top tight ends in the game. That's the excitement level some have around the assumed 2019 starter.

Blake's not going to have those kind games often. The Giants were barely playing in that finale, likely already focused on how to screw up their draft. But it did give us our first full taste of Jarwin's receiving skills and athletic potential.

The Cowboys and Jason Witten swear that the returning legend is only here to support and help, and that the majority of snaps will still go to the young talent. If Jarwin can build on last year, and learn some things from one of the all-time greats, he could be a major new weapon in the 2019 offense.

Also helping could be the switch Kellen Moore as coordinator, who will hopefully find more creative ways to utilize all players. Perhaps we'll see Jarwin line up in spots that Scott Linehan never thought of, or was just never able to use while he still had Jason Witten in his twilight years.

Whether it's Jarwin or Dalton Schultz, Dallas will hopefully get some more firepower out of the TE position this year. As teams hopefully focus on stopping guys like Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, we could see huge plays by the tight ends if they're able to take advantage.



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Kellen Moore on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp Reveals Offensive Philosophy

John Williams

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Kellen Moore

When Kellen Moore left Boise State for the NFL, he was the winningest quarterback in college football history with 50 wins in four seasons as the Broncos signal caller. Moore was a great college quarterback and was a part of an offense that took advantage of the things that he did really well; reading the defense and throwing with accuracy and anticipation.

Jon Gruden when he was with ESPN brought quarterbacks in from each draft class for a film session and to work out on the field.

Kellen Moore On ESPN 's Gruden's QB Camp

Boise State Quarterback, Kellen Moore went on Jon Gruden's QB Camp show. Watch the full episode here.

Since Kellen Moore was promoted to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach, we've been trying to decipher what his philosophy might be. Moore himself gave us some insight when he talked about wanting to be "multiple" on offense. Basically, Moore wants to present similar concepts throughout the game plan but use formations and personnel groupings to provide variation and to keep defenses off balance.

If you have the time, go watch Moore's segment from Jon Gruden's Quarterback camp. It is pretty enlightening.

Here are a few highlights from the segment.

Multiple

Multiple is a word we heard Kellen Moore use last week when asked to describe his offensive philosophy and he used it again in his interview with Jon Gruden.

The goal is to make the offense look as confusing as possible to the defense. Of their offense at Boise, Moore said, "it's a lot of the same concepts, a lot of ways of doing the same thing." Meaning they might run the same concepts out of 12 personnel that they run out of 11 or 21 personnel. The play concepts don't get diverse or complicated, the formations and personnel groupings are what gets diverse and complicated. Regardless of the formation, the offense will look similar. All in the hopes of keeping the defense guessing.

"Anticipation is built Monday through Friday."

Jon Gruden highlighted a play where Kellen Moore through a shallow post to a wide receiver that wasn't yet on the screen yet. Moore saw from the defensive alignment that the player would be open and was able to get the ball to the spot where the wide receiver could run under it and get the ball.

If there's one thing that's been a bit of a knock against Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott is that he struggles with anticipation. More often than not, he has to see it open before he throws it. This is an area that Kellen Moore and even new Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna can help Dak.

If Dak can starting seeing receivers open before their open and throwing it before they come open it would be a huge step in his development as a quarterback. Moore's use of pre-snap motion and formation variation will help Dak to diagnose the defense and know where to go with the ball before the ball is snapped more often.

Use of Pre-snap Motion

During the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, it looked like the Rams were using presnap motion on just about every play. With Moore on board, it looks like the Cowboys are going to be taking a similar approach, and for Moore and for offenses that use a lot of pre-snap motion, there's a purpose.

Moore described that each motion is designed for a specific purpose on each play. They used motion to try and gain an advantage. One way they could gain an advantage by using presnap motion is to force the defense to show a tell on the coverage they're in. Using pre-snap motion also helps them find more favorable matchups.

One thing that I found interesting is that then Boise State Head Coach Chris Peterson put the team through a shift and motion period at the beginning of each practice so that everyone would know their motions and the purposes behind them.

Another purpose in using presnap motion was as Gruden noted, "when there's communication, there's miscommunication." Sometimes players get the right checks when a player goes in motion, but sometimes the motion can leave a player wide open for a big play because of miscommunication.

Expect the Dallas Cowboys to use a lot of pre-snap motion with all of their personnel. The wide receivers and tight ends will be coming across the formation and you'll see the running backs motioning in and out of the backfield.

All in the hopes of finding a favorable look.

In the Red Zone

Gruden asked Kellen Moore, "How come at Boise State you have so many gadget plays in the red zone?" Moore responded to be "creative, open to different ideas, concepts" and they "do a great job of game planning."

If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys struggled consistently throughout the 2018 season it was in the red zone. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL at scoring points inside the 20-yard line.

Getting creative with their play calling in the red zone can help keep teams off balance and not just honing in on Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. Trick plays or gadget plays can help open things up in the middle of the field for the running game by forcing teams to think about the boundary and the passing game.

One thing I noted from watching some Kellen Moore highlights recently was how many touchdowns they scored using play action. It wasn't every play, but it felt like it. With the run game that the Dallas Cowboys have, play action can be an incredible weapon if they were to open it up and use it more frequently.

In the red zone in particular, when teams are so concerned with Ezekiel Elliott, using play action to pass could lead to some easy scores.

If the Dallas Cowboys want to get back to the playoffs with hopes of making a run at the Super Bowl, they have to get much better in the red zone. You can't settle for field goals as frequently as they did in 2018 and expect to win a lot of games.

Other Interesting Notes

Gruden highlights it on the show, and I found it fascinating that Boise State would flex out their left tackle into the slot and sometimes out wide beyond the hash mark.

When asked about it, Moore said, "his job is to occupy space." What it does is create misdirection by getting the defense to think about what that left tackle is doing out there. On one play in particular, it led to an all-out blitz by the defense and Moore hit them for a touchdown on a vertical route.

I don't imagine we're going to be seeing Tyron Smith lined up in the slot, but it's a sign of the potential creativity that comes with Kellen Moore. Even Gruden admitted he'd never seen that formation before.

One of the other notes that I found particularly interesting was the way they used silent counts. Often we see quarterbacks use their leg to signal to the center that they're ready for the ball. Sometimes, it's the center turning his head that indicates the snap is coming. At Boise State, they used leg kicks, one hand, two hands, and the center head bob to keep the defensive line from guessing the snap count.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

It remains to be seen if Kellen Moore is going to be a good offensive play caller in the NFL, but from what we know about him to this point, it's going to be exciting and fun to find out. The goals of his offense appear to be to find mismatches, create confusion, use misdirection, and be able to anticipate where to go with the football.

Moore's greatest strengths as a quarterback were his football I.Q., his preparation, his ability to communicate with the offensive coordinator and the rest of the offense, and their ability to make in-game adjustments. If he's able to help Dak Prescott see the game better, anticipate where to go with the ball better, make quicker decisions, and help the offense be better in the red zone, the Dallas Cowboys could have an unstoppable offense in 2019.

We don't know if they'll be able to do those things, but after hearing Moore talk about offensive football, I'm ready for the Dallas Cowboys to line up in September so we can find out.



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How Does DT Christian Covington Factor in Cowboys 2019 Plans?

Jess Haynie

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Christian Covington

In what's become an almost forgotten move from this offseason, the Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Christian Covington in March to add depth at defensive tackle. After four years with Houston, Covington joins the Cowboys as they work to find consistency and increased solidity in the middle of the line. Can Christian help them do that in 2019?

Dallas gave Covington just a one-year, $1.5 million contract as 2019 free agency began. He is being asked to convert to a 4-3 DT after playing DE in the Texans' 3-4 defense.

In four years as a backup, Covington amassed 7.5 sacks and 65 tackles. He's coming off a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2018 in just 12 games. That's solid production for a 3-4 DE, and especially one whose job is to help set up guys like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to get to the quarterback.

The Cowboys have seen the transition work before. In 2013, Jason Hatcher had a breakout year with 11 sacks after converting to a 4-3 DT. That was Rod Marinelli's first year coaching in Dallas.

Marinelli must think he can do something with Covington as well. Dallas signed Christian just one day after free agency opened, clearly having targeted him ahead of time.

No, I don't think Covington is going to break out the way Hatcher did. And the Cowboys clearly felt they needed more help when they drafted DT Trysten Hill in April.

But the Covington addition shouldn't be ignored as we project who makes Dallas' 53-man roster this season.

Right now Dallas has Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross returning from last year's team. They've added Covington and Hill this offseason, and also still have Tyrone Crawford who can play on the inside.

Maliek Collins

Dallas Cowboys DT Maliek Collins

Basic roster math offers little chance that all six of these players make the team. So who's most in danger?

Crawford has the bad contract and the potential for a suspension with his current legal issue. But he's also valuable for veteran leadership, as a previous team captain, and his versatility as a DE option.

Maliek Collins is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and the drafting of Trysten Hill suggests that he probably doesn't return in 2020. Dallas can save about $2 million by trading or releasing Maliek this year.

Dallas brought back Daniel Ross because it was easy; an Exclusive Rights Free Agent with a minimal contract. That said, he has flashed some ability and is more than just a camp body.

The only locks are the rookie Hill and Antwaun Woods, who was looking like the team's best DT by the end of last season. The rest of the depth chart will be some combination of Collins, Covington, Crawford, or Ross, and that's if undrafted rookie Daniel Wise doesn't also push for a roster spot.

It'd be easy dismiss Covington given his minor contract and lack of time in the system. But Dallas signed him for a reason, and they made it their very first move when free agency began.

If I had to put money on who does and doesn't make the team in 2019, I'd bet on Christian Covington before Maliek Collins or Tyrone Crawford. All three could make it, but I'm less confident in the other two.



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