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Cowboys Already Have Enough Tight Ends For 2017

Jess Haynie

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James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Tight Ends

Jason Witten

Jason Witten

With Jason Witten stating that he would return in 2017, the Dallas Cowboys already know who their starting tight end will be. The focus now turns to the depth chart and there are differing views on just what the Cowboys have in stock.

For as constant as Witten has been, there was nothing but instability behind him. Gavin Escobar fell behind Geoff Swaim during the offseason and was the third tight end until Swaim's year ended with a pectoral injury. It's also likely that they both would've both been behind James Hanna, who never played in 2016 due to a knee injury.

Escobar's rookie deal is expiring. Hanna and Swaim both have two years left in their current contracts but either can be easily released. The Cowboys have complete flexibility to rework their tight end depth chart, if desired.

Rico Gathers

Rico Gathers

Rico Gathers, the basketball player-turned-footballer from last year's draft, was also retained after spending 2016 on the practice squad. Reports are that Gathers had a great year practicing and working with the team. The Cowboys hope to cash in on his athleticism and upside soon.

At this point nobody has emerged as a clear heir apparent to Jason Witten. That's why one of my fellow Inside The Star writers wrote recently about what the Cowboys might do to prepare for the future.

I have a different take. My concern is that a major move now to find a new young tight end, either through the draft or free agency, will slam the door on any untapped potential from current options. Have we really seen the best that Geoff Swaim or Rico Gathers has to offer just yet?

Yes, Swaim and Gathers are just seventh and sixth-round draft picks. But didn't we just watch Anthony Brown emerge as a starting-quality cornerback in spite of his draft status? With how well the Cowboys have been drafting lately, is it wise to assume anything this quickly about other recent picks?

Gavin Escobar

Gavin Escobar

Nobody expects Gavin Escobar to be re-signed after a disappointing four years. The former second-round pick has never been able to find a consistent role in the offense. The fact that he fell behind Swaim last year says everything about where the team is on his future.

I think the Cowboys will have all they need to get through 2017 with the players already under contract. Of course, you'd have Jason Witten with the lion's share of the work. James Hanna is experienced and Dallas thought enough to give him a three-year, $8.25 million contract last offseason. They were clearly ready for him to be Witten's immediate backup.

If Dallas only keeps one more tight end than Swaim and Gathers can compete for that. Given the flashes we saw from Swaim in 2016, the winner of that contest should be a capable depth option. If Dallas wants four tight ends, as they've had several times in past seasons, then both players should be worthy of roster spots.

Jason Witten, James Hanna, Tight End

James Hanna & Jason Witten

Given all of their concerns at other positions on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys have to be judicious about where they spend resources this offseason. Of course, we want them to find immediate upgrades and future stars at every spot. But there is never enough money or draft picks to do everything you'd like. You have to set priorities.

Based on what's already in stock, tight end is a position that Dallas can let stand if needed. They have a veteran leader, experienced backup, and two young prospects to work with. That's far more than we can say about wide receiver, cornerback, and other positions of considerable importance and potential expense.

Jason Witten's 2017 return allows the Cowboys wait one more year before they are forced to addressed the position. At the same time, it allows another year for a young prospect to rise and prove they could be the solution. That's an opportunity Dallas needs to take advantage if.



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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Where Does Dak Prescott Rank Among NFL Quarterbacks?

John Williams

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Cowboys Wishlist: Wild Card Round Edition

The quarterback position is one of the most difficult positions to evaluate in the NFL. As hard as it can be for a quarterback to understand and execute an offense against a defense that is trying to keep them off balance, it can be equally difficult to try and determine where each quarterback ranks compared to his peers.

Last week, The Sporting News attempted to do just that with their 2019 Quarterback Rankings. It's a pretty good list, and I highly recommend checking it out.

This was the criteria for how Vinnie Iyer,

"These rankings are based on how each QB performed last season and the upside of how each might perform in 2019. No matter how many Super Bowl rings or MVP awards a QB has won, or the number of efficient passing seasons he has posted in the past, history is a small part of the equation. We thought about where each QB ended up last season in terms of effectiveness, production and durability, and then we thought even more about how his talent and offensive support set him up for success (or lack thereof) this season."

Vinnie Iyer - The Sporting News

Dak Prescott came in at number 14 on the list, three spots behind NFC East counterpart Carson Wentz.

Here's what NFL Analyst Vinnie Iyer had to say:

"Prescott dazzled as a rookie in 2016 and slumped as a sophomore in 2017. Last season, he was closer to his rookie form in a year that largely landed between both extremes. Prescott got hot in the second half of the season once he clicked with new No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper, creating a trickle-down effect that should continue with more legitimate overall weapons in 2019."

Vinnie Iyer - The Sporting News

While these lists are rather subjective and it can be a difficult task, I think Vinnie's pretty close on where Dak Prescott sits in the NFL at this point in his career.

It's hard to argue with his top five. Each could have an argument for being the best quarterback in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes just won the NFL MVP, Tom Brady has won all the Super Bowls, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers put up ridiculous numbers year in and year out, and Russell Wilson was just made the highest paid player in NFL history.

While I think Dak probably sits in the 9-15 range, here are the five quarterbacks ranked ahead or Prescott.

9. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
10. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
13. DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans

I feel there's an argument to be made that Prescott is a few spots to low.

As an avid Oklahoma Sooners homer, I find it a bit presumptuous to have Baker Mayfield as one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL. Mostly because he's only played 14 games at this point in his NFL career. Mayfield had a tremendous rookie season and has given Cleveland Browns fans hope that the franchise is finally headed in the right direction. As much as I love Baker Mayfield and think he's going to be a great NFL quarterback, it's hard for me to put him in the top 10 at this point in his career.

Ben Roethlisberger is easily a top 10 quarterback. He has skins on the wall and over the last several seasons has been a prolific passer in the NFL. Some of the games he plays in the offseason talking about retirement aren't great, but it's hard to argue he hasn't had a borderline Hall of Fame career.

The most difficult argument I think comes when you compare Dak Prescott and DeShaun Watson. The two seem to be on similar career trajectories at this point.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush
Player From To G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Int Sk Y/A Yds TD
Dak Prescott 2016 2018 48 32-16-0 975 1475 66.1 10876 67 96.0 25 113 7.4 944 18
Deshaun Watson 2017 2018 23 14-8-0 471 709 66.4 5864 45 103.1 17 81 8.3 820 7
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/18/2019.

Watson has a better passer rating, a slightly better completion percentage and has more total touchdowns per game than Dak Prescott for his career. If Watson had played as many games as Dak Prescott to this point, at his current touchdown rate, he'd have 108 total touchdowns. 23 more than Dak Prescott.

The two that I have the biggest issue with on this list are the two he gets compared to the most because they were taken first and second overall in the same draft that Dak Prescott was taken in the fourth round; Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

Dak Prescott's thrown for near as many touchdowns as Carson Wentz, who leads the three, but if you consider how many touchdowns Prescott's rushed for in his career, he sits 13 total touchdowns ahead of Wentz and 16 total touchdowns more than Jared Goff. Dak Prescott has a better career passer rating than both of those quarterbacks and is right there in yards per attempt with both guys.

Totals Table
Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Rush Rush
Player G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Int Sk Y/A Yds TD
Jared Goff 38 24-14-0 772 1243 62.1 9581 65 94.7 26 84 7.7 175 4
Dak Prescott 48 32-16-0 975 1475 66.1 10876 67 96.0 25 113 7.4 944 18
Carson Wentz 40 23-17-0 923 1448 63.7 10152 70 92.5 28 92 7.0 542 2
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/17/2019.

Dak Prescott can claim more team success than Carson Wentz. One could argue that Jared Goff didn't play his best on the way to representing the NFC in the most recent Super Bowl. Dak Prescott has started every game of his NFL career while Carson Wentz has missed eight games due to season-ending injuries each of the last two seasons. Durability is a huge issue for Wentz at this point. I'd rather have the guy who you know will be on the field.

If I were going to rerank Dak Prescott with the five quarterbacks ranked directly ahead of him, I'd go:

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
10. DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans
11. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
12. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
13. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
14. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

Of course, this is my attempt to be as unbiased as possible and would completely understand if you wanted to rank them differently. There's no perfect way to rank players in the NFL and I applaud the Sporting News guys for giving it this effort. I can see arguments for Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield, and DeShaun Watson ahead of Dak Prescott, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

Dak Prescott is a top 12 quarterback in the NFL and an ascending player in this league.

If you were going to rank the six quarterbacks listed above, how would you rank them? Let us know in the comment section. 



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5 Worst Contracts for 2019 Dallas Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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Allen Hurns

The Dallas Cowboys have done great work the last few years of shedding bad contracts and getting out of "salary cap hell." However, even this relative fiscal paradise of 2019 isn't perfect. Today, we're going to look at the five worst deals that Dallas still has on the books.

These contracts are only active as of now, in the middle of May, and could be gone by the time we gets to Week One. We'll discuss those possibilities as we go through each player.

What you'll realize fairly quickly with this exercise is that it's a stretch to even say the Cowboys have five "bad" contracts on the team at this point. That's how well the front office has done in learning from the past and getting things to a much more manageable and equitable point throughout the roster.

Maybe that changes in a few years. Some of the big contracts on our All-Pro offensive linemen may lose value as those players start to decline with age and/or health issues. Or perhaps the upcoming new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will turn out to be retrospective mistakes.

But those are conversations and articles for future offseason. For here and now, 2019, here are the five worst contracts on the Dallas Cowboys roster.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford

DL Tyrone Crawford - $10.1 million cap hit

I know I've been picking on Crawford a lot lately, but that's what happens when you have easily the worst contract on the roster. Tyrone has the second-highest cap hit on the defense and sixth overall on the entire team, and that's an obvious imbalance compared to where he ranks among the Cowboys' top players.

This situation isn't Crawford's fault. Dallas thought they were making a shrewd move by giving Tyrone a sizable contract back in 2015. They expected him to blossom as the 3-tech DT under Rod Marinelli.

That boom never happened, and as a result Crawford's contract ultimately became a bust. He's been valuable as a leader and having DE/DT flex, but he's never been a top player on defense even when he was the highest paid.

I wrote more extensively on what Tyrone's future with the Cowboys might be, especially with the June-1st date looming for potential roster cuts. His job security has taken some big hits lately with the drafting of Trysten Hill and now legal issues, which could result in a minor suspension for Crawford in 2019.

We'll see if Tyrone Crawford makes it to the 2019 roster. He still has value with his versatility and generally solid play, but that overpaying contract could ultimately be his demise.

Allen Hurns

Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns

WR Allen Hurns - $6.25 million cap hit

The only other contract which is truly "bad" for the Cowboys belongs to veteran receiver Allen Hurns. It gives him the 11th-highest cap hit on the roster, and this for a guy who projects to be no higher than fourth on the WR depth chart.

The week before free agency opened in March, Dallas picked up an option to keep Hurns in 2019. It's always felt like an insurance move; Hurns can be released with just $1.25 million in dead money at any point this offseason.

Dallas is likely hanging onto Hurns until they get through the preseason without any injuries to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. It'd be nice to have Allen if something happens to them; he has plenty of starting experience and can be an every-down receiver. Guys like Randall Cobb or Tavon Austin aren't built that way, while Noah Brown isn't experienced enough.

Assuming everyone gets to September intact then I expect Hurns will be released. It's hard to imagine Dallas carrying him as a backup with that cap hit, and especially if they have younger guys like Brown or Cedrick Wilson that they want to utilize.

So no, Hurns' contract shouldn't cost the Cowboys for long. If he stays then it's because he's needed for a starting role, in which case $6 million is reasonable. But if he's going to spend most of the year on the sideline, Dallas has an easy out that I expect they'll utilize soon.

Leighton Vander Esch Can Prove Value for Good Against High Scoring Saints

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

LB Sean Lee - $6 million cap hit

This is another one where how bad the contract is could shift depending on how much the player is needed in 2019. Even with a negotiated pay cut, Sean Lee's still making more than most of the starting defense.

Paying Lee this much to play SAM and then backup Smith and Vander Esch on the nickel is a bit high, even for what he brings as a mentor and coach on the field. But Dallas was willing to overpay for the intangibles, plus the hope that Lee could still play at a high level if called upon.

The biggest concern with Sean Lee, as it's ever been, is his health. He can still ball but has reverted to injury-prone issues in recent seasons. Perhaps a lesser role with fewer snaps will help in that area.

Again, I don't even know if I'd call this a "bad" deal. We have yet to see how much Dallas plans to rotate Lee with their young studs, and he brings things to the LB room that a guy like Damien Wilson never could.

The major liability here is if Lee gets hurt, in which case Dallas basically has a solid chunk of cap space tied up in an assistant coach.

Jason Witten

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten

TE Jason Witten - $4.25 million cap hit

You can apply some similar logic to Witten's deal from what we just discussed with Sean Lee.  If he contributes on the field then it's not a bad deal. But if age and time away from the game have caused Jason's skills to slip too far, then this is a lot of money to pay for a backup TE.

Like Lee, Witten will hopefully offer a great deal as a mentor for Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and any other young tight ends. He can't make them any more talented, but he can at least help maximize whatever potential they have.

But again, without actual on-field contributions, that mean you're spending valuable salary cap space on coaching. That money could've gone to someone like Jared Cook for a more simple and immediate boost to your offensive firepower.

As we said at the outset, most of these contracts are only conditionally bad. If Witten's year off allowed him to heal and rest and come back with renewed vigor in 2019, then it could wind up being a great deal for the Cowboys.

Father Time may ultimately be undefeated, but he doesn't win every round. Hopefully Jason can fight him off for at least one more year.

NFL Insider Predicts Taco Charlton Wins Defensive Rookie Of  The Year

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

DE Taco Charlton - $2.74 million cap hit

Taco's disappointing start to his NFL career has made his rookie contact, which is usually team-friendly, a bit of dead weight on the Cowboys' books. Unless Charlton take a big step forward this year, the Cowboys are stuck paying him like a significant contributor for the next two seasons.

Dallas would get no cap relief cutting Taco this year; his cap hit stays roughly the same if cut after June 1st. It would also push another $1.35 million in dead money onto 2020. Therefore, unless the situation between team and player has become truly toxic, or a trade partner emerges, the Cowboys should hang on to their 2017 first-round pick at least thru 2019.

Ideally, Charlton will emerge this year as a more consistent and motivated roleplayer. There's little chance that he'll start with Robert Quinn coming in, but Charlton could still claim the role of a major rotation piece if he's had some more development.

If that happens, Taco's deal will become far less worrisome. That's a modest salary for a solid backup at most positions, and especially at defensive end.

If Charlton doesn't improve, though, Dallas will finally be able to get some savings if they cut his deal in 2020. In that scenario, he probably isn't around long enough to make this list a year from now.

~ ~ ~

What makes a contract bad or good is subjective. You might look at those huge cap hits on deals for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence or Zack Martin and think they're the biggest problems. But if you're getting All-Pro play at fair market value, you really can't criticize those salary numbers.

It will be interesting to see what happens the next few years with guys like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, whose health issues could change how we perceive their contracts. Both are still young enough to play at a high level, but could we adding one of them to this list in the next year or two?

A few years from now, we make look back on 2019 as an anomaly. Having to reach to find enough contracts to make this list is a great problem to have.

I just hope it stays that way.



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Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority

Brian Martin

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Why Cowboys Should Consider Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority

Despite adding Tony Pollard and Mike Weber through the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys still don't have a clear-cut running back to back up Ezekiel Elliott this season. I like the upside of both of these rookies, but I think it would be wise on the Cowboys part to bring in a more established player to become their RB2 this season.

Enter Jay Ajayi, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins running back.

I really believe Running Back Jay Ajayi is exactly the kind of RB2 the Dallas Cowboys need, and currently don't have, to backup Ezekiel Elliott this year. He's an established veteran with a proven track record, but has unfortunately struggled with injuries throughout his career. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward kind of move Dallas likes to make when signing free agents.

We all know the Cowboys like to sign free agents on their own terms. That usually means they are cost-effective players that won't impact the compensatory pick formula. Surprisingly, Jay Ajayi fits into both of those categories right now.

Signing Ajayi shouldn't break the bank for the Dallas Cowboys. They should be able to sign him on a one-year prove it deal because of his recent injury history. He sustained a torn ACL early in the season last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but is supposed to be ready by the time the 2019 season kicks off.

Jay Ajayi

Free Agent RB Jay Ajayi

I don't know what you or the Dallas Cowboys think about this, but I think all of this makes just too much sense for it not to happen. The Cowboys would be getting a starting caliber RB to backup Zeke and Ajayi would be receiving a great opportunity to potentially resurrect his career.

Now, I know Ajayi is probably holding out for a starting job for some NFL team, but I just don't see that happening for him. Coming to Dallas and forming an excellent 1-2 punch with Ezekiel Elliott is an opportunity he shouldn't pass up, especially with Zeke's recent off the field incident where he was handcuffed/detained (not arrested) at a musical festival in Las Vegas.

The NFL has shown in the past they are willing to throw the book at Zeke, despite little to no evidence supporting their case. This most recent incident allows the league to do just that once again, meaning No. 21 could be looking at a possible suspension.

With that in mind, the Cowboys backup RB situation is even more concerning. I don't think I would completely trust Tony Pollard or Mike Weber to handle the workload in Zeke's potential absence. Jay Ajayi on the other hand is a different story. I don't think there would be much of a dip in production with him in a lineup.

Like I said earlier though, I don't know where the Dallas Cowboys stand in regards to Jay Ajayi, but this really seems like a win-win situation for everybody involved. If I were the one making the decisions, I would get on the phone with Ajayi's representatives immediately to try to bring him aboard.

Do you like the idea of Jay Ajayi as Ezekiel Elliott's backup running back?



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