We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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