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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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6 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    As you probably know the Cowboys have typically always had a strong go to guy at the TE position. Jay Novacek, Doug Cosbie, Billy Joe Dupree, Pettis Norman, and the best of them all in Witten. This far we have seen nothing of Hanna other than his blocking skills, but Swaim has showed us both blocking and receiving skills, but just a small sample. Gathers is a big question make as we have no idea what he is up to on the PS. We have bodiesbut do we have an heir apparent? You can make a case for waiting a year but if this is Witten’s swan song then we have to see one of these guys turn it up and if not we will be forced to draft high or make a move in free agency in 2018.

    • Jess Haynie

      You’re right. Standing on what we have now could vault TE to the top of our needs in 2018. However, I’d rather deal with it from a position of greater certainty. Plus, even if we have a great season and late 1st-round pick, that’s still a good spot to land a top TE.

  • Russ_Te

    Agree the Cowboys do not have the luxury of a big acquisition to be Witten’s heir. He keeps rolling and speed has never been his game.

    That said, a new season can always reveal a player who is suddenly spent. Bledsoe and Aikman come to mind. If that were to happen you’re now relying on a project TE to keep the underneath threat on the field & pull away attention from the other weapons.

    So I think it’s on the radar as a significant need for 2017. I don’t know about another long shot with big raw ability like Gathers, but would expect to see another project in camp. Swaim is good for depth but would be a step down as a starter. Hanna, Gathers + one more project with starter potential – that would be where to balance all factors IMO.

    Far, far out Dept: The Cowboys are heading for an imbalance at LDE, if Irving continues to develop. It is the natural future position for both him and Lawrence. I doubt Lawrence would have much trade value at this point, but has IMO shown better athleticism than expected. Even with the back injury last week he had some flashes. And he’s done it while adding bulk.

    He’s a great long-term answer at LDE, except that Irving is more explosive when he decides to show up. Yes he can be moved inside on long downs, but we saw what he did from LDE a couple times this year.

    Long way to a point: I wouldn’t mind trying Lawrence out at TE. Big body, might have the agility for it.

    • Jess Haynie

      I agree that going into 2017 with my proposed plan comes with risk. However, I have more confidence in Witten and our current backups to produce in strong offensive system than for our defense to improve without considerable investment. I just feel like resources are better spent elsewhere right now.

      As for Lawrence going to TE…. you’re a mad scientist, bro. 😉

  • deal with it

    I think the answer is not in WHO we keep but HOW we use them.

    • Jess Haynie

      You’re not wrong. Dallas has done a poor job, IMO, of evaluating their TE talent through the years because of how much Witten dominates the playing time. They need to give these guys some more opportunities to prove themselves before the 2018 offseason and decision time.

Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take. 

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

https://twitter.com/Nb_Eight5/status/1018940752787894277

And here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Todd Gurley. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.

From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.

Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.

They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.

Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

https://t.co/za0u3lWgaY

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys, Elliott Should Keep Close Tabs on Le’Veon Bell’s Situation

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys, Elliott Should Be Keeping Close Tabs on Le'Veon's Situation
AP Photo / Don Wright

The deadline for reaching an agreement with franchise tagged players came to an end last Monday, in what turned out to be a pretty uneventful day all around the league. No agreement was reached by any of the teams with their respective players, including the Dallas Cowboys and their promising "War Daddy," DeMarcus Lawrence.

But the Cowboys' front office have something to learn in this process that doesn't involve a player of their own. Something that both the front office and Ezekiel Elliott should be keeping a close eye on.

The Pittsburgh Steelers also failed to secure their franchise tagged player: Running Back Le'Veon Bell. Really, no one expected a deal to be reached among the two parties. The 26-year old football super star is asking for too much money, which has led to the Steelers tagging him twice in consecutive years.

Bell, conscious of his abilities on the field, is asking for a lot of money from his football team. In 2018, he's set to earn over $14.5M under the tag. That's more than twice the money that Devonta Freeman averages per year - 8.25 million - who's next on the list of highest paid running backs in the league and the highest paid on a long-term contract.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Just to clarify: Steelers' offer to Le'Veon Bell last year averaged $13.3 million per year. Steelers' offer to him this year averaged $15 million per year. But Bell does not believe he should be paid as a RB; he believes he should be paid as an elite offensive weapon.

Le'Veon, whose agent has said 2018 will likely be his last season playing as a Steeler, was reportedly offered $15M per year but that wasn't enough for him. Bell wants to get paid as an elite offensive weapon, which he is. But it turns out he's also... a running back.

It's a complicated situation and one that, if it turns out well for him in free agency next year, could revolutionize the entire running back market in the NFL. If it doesn't, he might end up regretting passing on the Steelers' offer for he won't easily find that kind of money with a team that seems to be a Super Bowl contender on a yearly basis.

The Dallas Cowboys' priorities will rely on other players during the next couple of years, but that shouldn't keep them from keeping close tabs on these events since they could be dealing with a similar scenario when Ezekiel Elliott's turn for a new deal comes around.

Jerry Jones, Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, RB Ezekiel Elliott (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

Fairly assuming that the fifth year option on Zeke's contract will be picked up after the 2018 season, locking him up through 2020, it's a problem that will be down the road for the Cowboys. But it will have to be dealt with at some point.

When his time is up, Elliott should undoubtedly be looking to become the highest-paid in the game, but the amount of money he gets will depend on the outcome of this whole Le'Veon-Steelers thing. David Johnson and Todd Gurley will also play an important role in determining the future of the running back market.

While Elliott hasn't been used as a receiving threat during his first two seasons in the league, he's still an elite offensive weapon for the Cowboys. The team's offense is based around Zeke and the running game, so it will make sense if his demands are somewhat similar from those by Bell.

Elliott might even be franchise tagged once or twice by the Cowboys if things get complicated in the future. Unlike DeMarco Murray in 2014, surely they won't be willing to let him walk in free agency once his contract comes to an end.

For now, it won't be just the Cowboys who will be keeping close tabs on this situation, but also Ezekiel Elliott and his agent. Hopefully, both parties will manage to handle things better than what we're seeing right now in Pittsburgh.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys, Elliott Should Keep Close Tabs on Le’Veon Bell’s Situation" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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