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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys would seem fairly settled at offensive tackle for 2019, with last year's starters both still under contract and set to return. But the need for a reliable backup has become increasingly important, and Dallas may also want to use this offseason to start planning for the future.
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return to their starting roles, but not without some concern. Smith has now missed three games in each of the last three seasons, though a few of those have been for veteran rest at the end of the year.
We all remember the Chaz Green debacle in 2017 Atlanta. That led to the Cowboys paying veteran Cameron Fleming $2.5 million last season to come and play as the swing tackle, and Smith's ongoing issues with health will make his backup an offseason priority once more.
Meanwhile, Collins has started every game since taking over as the right tackle in 2017. He's been solid but not a star, which is a disappointment after his draft year hype and some of the talent he flashed at left guard during his first two seasons.
2019 is a contract year for La'el. He will turn just 27 by the 2020 season, making him an attractive potential free agent. But his play has arguably not lived up to his current salary, which has him as one of the higher-paid right tackles in the NFL already.
Anyone who has the privilege of playing next to Zack Martin has no excuses.
Even with his many trips to the Pro Bowl, Tyron Smith isn't immune to contract talk. The 2020 offseason presents Dallas with about an $8 million cap relief opportunity by releasing Smith. It would only leave them with about $5 million in dead money, which is less than they've had when releasing stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant in recent years.
While still just 28 years old, Tyron has been getting increasingly bothered by nagging injuries. Bad backs and necks tend to become lifelong issues, and we've already mentioned the games he's missed over the last few seasons.
When healthy, Smith is still about as good as they come at left tackle. But could his health issues spark an early decline in skill? And if it happens as soon as 2019, could Dallas start looking at that cap space more intently?
With Cameron Fleming now a free agent and these 2020 question marks looming on both starters, there's a good argument for the Cowboys to spend their second or third-round pick at offensive tackle.
Ideally, a "Day 2" rookie would be able to take over as the swing tackle this year. Dallas could still sign a veteran insurance policy to compete in camp and the preseason, or even carry both players next season.
But more important aspect would be taking a player now to groom for 2020, when you might need to make a big decision on either Collins or Smith's future. Or, at the very least, have a solid swing tackle in place for the duration of his four-year rookie contract.
That said, free agency starts a month-and-a-half before the NFL Draft. The Cowboys can't really afford to wait for the draft to find a swing tackle, or else they may wind up with nothing.
The simplest move would be to just re-sign Cam Fleming. He is an adequate player with plenty of experience, and could likely be retained for about the same salary as last year.
But given Fleming's age (26) and experience, which includes starting in playoff games and even a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he could attract teams looking for even more than just a backup. Thankfully, there a still a number of veterans out there if Dallas has to find a replacement.
One guy to consider, especially for just a one-year deal, is Ty Nsekhe from the Redskins. He's a native of Arlington, TX and has started 14 games over the last three seasons, backing up the oft-injured Trent Williams. On the negative side, Nsekhe turns 34 next October.
As a whole, this 2019 offseason doesn't present any immediate dangers. The Cowboys will need to figure out their swing tackle situation by either re-signing Fleming, adding a different veteran, or drafting a replacement.
But given the contract situations of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in 2020, Dallas could make a move in the next few months to help prepare for a potential big change a year from now.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker
One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.
Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.
But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.
What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.
It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.
Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.
Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.
A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.
However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.
They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.
The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.
Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.
Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.
There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.
Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit
There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.
Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.
The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.
That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.
Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.
The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.
This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.
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