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Cowboys 2018 Roster Projection: Post-Draft (Defense)

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch

With the 2018 NFL Draft and the signings of undrafted free agents now behind us, it's a good opportunity to look at the Dallas Cowboys roster and what they have in stock for the upcoming season.

There are still a lot of changes that could come between now and the start of training camp, let alone Week One of the regular season. But the vast majority of the 53-man roster is already here and preparing to participate in mini-camps and other activities in the coming weeks.

Yesterday, we projected 25 players for the offense. With three spots obviously going to Kicker Dan Bailey, Punter Chris Jones, and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur on special teams, that leaves 25 more roster openings for the defense.

What might the 2018 defense look like when the Cowboys head Charlotte, NC on September 9th for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers?

DeMarcus Lawrence, Broncos

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Defensive End (5)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy
Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong (R)

If nothing else, Lawrence is back for 2018 on his Franchise Player deal. In way, not having him signed long-term could be good as it keeps DeMarcus hungry for next year's free agency. But even if a new contract gets done, we should still expect "Tank" to keep excelling as one of the league's premiere pass rushers.

The progression of last year's first-round pick, Taco Charlton, will be heavily discussed in 2018. Whether you're rooting for him or trying to justify your criticism from the 2017 draft, Taco's play will be under plenty of scrutiny. He coming on at the end of his rookie year and should get a lot of playing time.

Dallas signed veteran Kony Ealy to bring some depth and some potential upside. Ealy was misused last year in the Jets' 3-4 scheme and now returns to the type of defense that suits him. The Cowboys wanted him last year but lost out on a waiver claim to New York.

I'm putting Randy Gregory here with the assumption that he gets reinstated. If he still has the potential that made him a second-round pick in 2015, Gregory could give Dallas the edge rusher that it sorely needs to go up against the left tackles. Coming back at all would be a success for Gregory, but hopefully he returns as more than just a depth player.

Another edge rushing option is rookie Dorance Armstrong, drafted in the fourth round a few weeks ago. He will need some physical development to hold up in a 4-3 scheme, but Rod Marinelli must have liked the potential to spend that mid-round pick.

David Irving, Redskins

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving

Defensive Tackle (5)

David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins
Terrell McClain, Jihad Ward

The Cowboys defensive line as a lot of versatile moving parts, so trying to declare anyone a "starter" could be a wasted exercise. In some cases, depending on schemes, guys who get that first snap don't have the highest counts by the end of the game.

Players like Irving and Crawford are really just defensive linemen, potentially playing end or tackle depending on the week, the series, or even each individual play. With some more options at DE now, we may not see them on the outside as much this year as in the past. Hopefully, more talent on the edges will let them wreak havoc up the middle.

Terrell McClain isn't officially a Cowboy again as of the writing of this article, but the veteran free agent is meeting with the team today and a reunion seems highly probably. McClain should walk in as a starting DT, as he was in 2016, and bring some stability to the base scheme and run defense.

Bringing McClain back will allow for Maliek Collins to get back where he belongs as the 3-tech DT, with less double teams and more ability to use his athleticism to get into the backfield. We hope to see him return to the exciting form he showed as a rookie.

Dallas traded WR Ryan Switzer for Jihad Ward, who was a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2016. Tall and athletic, Ward reminds you a bit of Jason Hatcher. In Rod Marinelli's first year in Dallas in 2013, Hatcher exploded for 11 sacks from the DT position. The Cowboys reportedly liked Jihad Ward in the 2016 draft, perhaps seeing the same potential.

The Cowboys have intriguing young talent at DT with guys like Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and Brian Price. But these guys are all longshots given the numbers and the pedigree of the players above them.

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Linebacker (6)

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch (R)
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard

The Cowboys took Vander Esch 19th overall and that automatically puts him in the starting discussion. Damien Wilson has been solid the last few years, but Vander Esch needs playing time and should get a healthy piece of the rotation even if he isn't on the first team

Right now, the safest bets for the depth chart are veterans Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard. Along with Wilson or Vander Esch, they round out the position and can cover all three LB roles.

That said, those last two spots are where some unexpected things could happen. Thomas is probably safe after getting signed to a two-year, $3.6 million backup deal. But March-Lillard is on a minimum contract and could be ousted if an undrafted rookie or some other unknown emerges.

Obviously, all of this is secondary to the goal of having Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith stay healthy and blossom as a duo. Particularly in the nickel scheme, these two could become one of the league's most dangerous pairs of linebackers. If it happens, we won't be too worried about what's behind them.

Sunday Morning Wishlist: DAL Cowboys @ NY Giants 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

Cornerback (6)

Jourdan Lewis, Chido Awuzie, Byron Jones
Anthony Brown, Duke Thomas, Kameron Kelly (R)

When was the last time that Dallas felt this loaded at cornerback? You'd have to go back to 2012 after they added Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins.

Hopefully, this turns out a lot better.

With Byron Jones moving back to CB, you have an exciting young foursome with Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown. With Lewis and Awuzie already looking like studs, second-year progression could mean Dallas has one of the better CB tandems in the NFL this season.

Duke Thomas was an emerging player last summer before an injury ended his year. If he's healthy, he should hold down that fifth position on the depth chart.

As you'll see below, I'm only keeping three safeties to open up a sixth CB spot. Right now I'm giving it to Kameron Kelly, an undrafted free agent with the size and style that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes. His experience as a safety in college also lends itself to a roster spot.

If not Kelly, last year's late-round pick Marquez White could get the job. He's also got prototype size and maybe could be looked at for a safety conversion at some point.

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys' Defense Silently Shined, Jeff Heath Saved The Season 1

Dallas Cowboys Safety Jeff Heath forcing a goal-line fumble. (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

Safety (3)

Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier

With two corners who have safety experience in Byron Jones and Kameron Kelly, plus some potential use there with Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas can afford to go thin. They still have nine total defensive backs, which is typical for many teams.

Barring that Earl Thomas trade you keep hearing about, two of these three guys will be your starters. Heath is the veteran but has likely tapped out his potential. Woods and Frazier bring the upside and intrigue.

Much of this will come down to the new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard and what he likes in these players. Not only is he bringing a different philosophy to the secondary, but Richard is likely a year away from being the Defensive Coordinator. He will have some serious pull in the roster decisions.

No matter how it shakes out, you'll have your starters and a quality backup. You'll also have several options from the corners who could move over in a pinch. If Dallas does acquire Thomas, the roster spot would come from that sixth CB rather than anyone from this group.



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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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule: Reaction and Analysis

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There's Only One Side To Blame

The full NFL 2019 regular season schedule was released last night. Here is my reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and analysis of how what I think it means for them next season.

Of course, a schedule can have a very different feel come September-December than it does in April. The teams don't change, but their circumstances can be wildly altered by the time they actually have to take the field.

Just ask the Cowboys' opponents from the 2015 season. Nobody was looking forward to playing that Dallas team coming off its 12-4 playoff run the year before. But all it took was a Tony Romo injury in the preseason to suddenly make the Cowboys a cupcake.

But for now, we can only react to what we know. Before we dive in, here's a quick reminder of the complete 2019 regular season schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints (SNF)
    • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys (SNF)
    • Week 8: BYE
    • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants  (SNF)
    • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys (MNF)
    • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys (T'giving)
    • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears (TNF)
    • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys

We already knew this wasn't going to be an easy slate. The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, meaning they were guaranteed to play against four division winners this season; Bears, Patriots, Rams, and Saints. They also get the regular two games against the Eagles, who were a Wild Card team last year.

Let's just talk about those six games for a minute. New England is still New England; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will ensure that it's one of the toughest games of the year, and especially on the road. The Patriots have won 12-straight home games going back to 2017.

The Bears and Rams are both rising teams that shouldn't suffer any drop off next year. Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky is entering his third year and LA's Jared Goff will be in his fourth season, but only third in Sean McVay's offense. Both have starting QBs with rookie contacts, which means having the resources to load up on talent elsewhere on the roster.

Much like the Patriots, the Saints still have their franchise QB and coach and should remain a top team. They will also be out for blood after the Cowboys humiliated them last season, as will their fans, and that could make for a very tough road game in New Orleans.

Then, of course, there are the Eagles.

Eagles vs Redskins Tonight; What Outcome is Best for Cowboys?

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The NFC East appears to be a two-horse race in 2019. The Giants are arguably the worst team in the NFL right now and the Redskins are dealing with major QB problems. It should be Dallas and Philadelphia once again battling for the top spot.

The Cowboys and Eagles should both get some cushy wins against their fellow division opponents. It could come down to their games against each other, and so far Dallas has dominated Philly when Carson Wentz is playing QB. With Nick Foles gone, how will that impact the Eagles going forward?

As for the rest of the schedule, the only other game that seems easy on paper is against the Miami Dolphins. Teams like the Bills, Jets, and Lions could go either way. The Packers and Vikings should both be tough opponents.

The teams aside, the general layout of the schedule isn't bad. The Week 8 bye is nice for a break right in the middle of the season. Dallas only has to play back-to-back road games one time, Weeks 11 and 12 against the Lions and Patriots.

The first three games against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins give Dallas a great opportunity to start the year right and build momentum. They will definitely need to go into December with some cushion, because that stretch against the Bears, Rams, and Eagles could be very difficult.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's got some tough spots because of the Cowboys' performance last year, but that means they were a good team then and they stand to be even better now. There's nothing here that prevents Dallas from building on the success of 2018 and making then an ever better season.



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Dallas Cowboys

BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia

Although we're still months away from the 2019 NFL season, we finally know how the Dallas Cowboys' games will line up this year. The entire league schedule was just released. I know just how much you want to know who the Cowboys will be playing each week so don't let me keep you.

Here's the full 2019 Dallas Cowboys schedule and a few notes at the end. Enjoy!

  • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Sep 8th, 3:25p
  • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Sun, Sep 15th, 12:00p
  • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Sun, Sep 22nd, 12:00p
  • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
    • Sunday Night Football
    • Sep, 29th, 7:20p
  • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 6th, 3:25p
  • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Sun, Oct 13th, 3:25p
  • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 20th, 7:20p
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants 
    • Monday Night Football
    • Mon, Nov 4th, 7:15p
  • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Nov 10th, 7:20p
  • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Sun, Nov 17th, 12:00p
  • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Sun, Nov 24th, 3:25p
  • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Thu, Nov 28th, 3:30p
  • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
    • Thursday Night Football
    • Thu, Dec 4th, 7:20p
  • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 15th, 3:25p
  • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Sun, Dec 22nd, 3:25p
  • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 29th, 12:00p

A few notes and thoughts...

  • It feels like the Cowboys play the Giants on week 1 just about every year. In 2018 it was the Carolina Panthers, but now we're back to watching this divisional matchup early on.
  • I love that the Cowboys and Saints will matchup against each other on primetime on week 3. Last season's Thursday Night game between the two was one of the best games of the season.
  • Having a bye week right in the middle of the season is pretty ideal, and the Cowboys have been lucky in this regard lately. This time they'll rest on the eight week of the season.
  • Overall, this seems like a tougher calendar than last year's. This only makes sense given that the Cowboys are the current NFC East champions and are bound to face tougher opponents.
  • A particularly tough stretch might take place from week 12 to week 17. The Patriots, Bears and Rams will be on the list as well as two divisional rivals in the Eagles and Redskins.

Tell me what you think about "BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Player News

Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.

The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.

It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.

Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.

In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.

For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.



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