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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.

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Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018

Jess Haynie

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Amari Cooper

For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote

As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.

Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.

Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Week 15 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Making Sense of the "Garrett Guys" Behind Cowboys Dez Bryant Release

It's hard to believe that we're looking at the Dallas Cowboys potentially clinching the NFC East this week, but that's how dramatic the turnaround has been over the last five games. Week 15 could lock Dallas into the playoffs and give them a lot of freedom over their final two games.

If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:

  1. New Orleans Saints (11-2)
  2. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
  3. Chicago Bears (9-4)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)
    ----------------------------------
  7. Carolina Panthers (6-7)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
  9. Washington Redskins (6-7)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
  • The Panthers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
  • The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
  • The Redskins beat the Panthers earlier this year, but their loss to Philadelphia within their own division negates that tiebreaker.

In truth, there's not much intrigue left for the Cowboys in this regular season. One win gives them the NFC East, and it would take the Saints or Rams dropping all three of their remaining games for Dallas to have a shot at a top-two seed.

So, barring the nearly impossible, Dallas is locked into either the 3rd or 4th seed. They will host one of the Wild Card teams in the first round of the playoffs.

The biggest thing to watch now is how the seeding shakes among the bottom four playoff teams. The Seahawks seem a cut above the likes of Minnesota, Carolina, or one of our NFC East friends, so avoiding them in the first round would be lovely.

Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:

Dallas Cowboys @ Indianapolis Colts

We've already discussed what the Cowboys need to do, so let's talk about the Colts. Not only do they have home field advantage this week, but they are fighting for their playoff lives.

Indianapolis is one of four teams with a 7-6 record battling for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos are also in the mix at 6-7, giving none of these teams any cushion for losing.

Dallas has its own incentive to win, though. If they want to avoid Seattle in the first round, they probably need to take the #3 seed from the Chicago Bears. They need to keep winning and hope for the Bears to drop a game or two.

Ultimately, getting into the playoffs and starting at home is a huge reward. But anything that can help make the road a little easier is worth pursuing. It's no time to rest on your laurels.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

As we just discussed, we'd like to see Chicago drop a few games to give Dallas a shot at the #3 seed. This week isn't the worst opportunity, with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay still not completely eliminated from playoff contention.

Expecting much from the Packers here is unwise. They've had a coaching change and appear to be in a state of organizational disarray. But they still have Rodgers, and crazy things always happens in rivalry games.

So while these are two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, you never know what could happen given the variable elements. By all means, root for the Cheeseheads.

Miami Dolphins @ Minnesota Vikings

Your rooting interest here comes down to a simple question; who do you prefer to play among that last bunch of Wild Card teams? Who does Dallas match up best against between the Vikings, Panthers, and Eagles?

I think we'd all agree that we don't want to see the Eagles a third time. Beating a team three times in one year is tough to do, and especially given how close last week's meeting was.

The Panthers beat Dallas in the season opener, but that was in Carolina and well before the Cowboys were playing at a high level. A second meeting could go very differently, especially with the recent slumping by the Panthers.

Both Carolina and Minnesota are struggling, with one on a five-game losing streak and the latter having lost their last two. The Vikings just fired their offensive coordinator, so neither of these teams appear to be going into the postseason with any real momentum.

At this point, I'd say it's a toss-up between the Panthers and Vikings. Both are much preferable to seeing the Eagles again, so I would just keep rooting for both to win. In either case, they knock out Philadelphia.

We'll reassess the threat level of Carolina and Minnesota as playoff opponents in a few weeks.

Washington Redskins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

I didn't mention the Redskins among those last three teams because they may not win another game this year. Their QB situation is so bad that even the Jaguars look good by comparison.

Granted, Jacksonville is lousy right now. Washington might be able to go down there and get a win, but neither team has anything to play for now. This one may come down to whether or not the Jaguars have gone into tank mode.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

Seattle just walloped the Niners 43-16 a couple of weeks ago, and changing venues is unlikely to make that much difference. The Seahawks are a legit NFC contender and San Francisco is already thinking about the offseason. A Seattle loss would be great, but it ain't happening this week.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams

While catching the Rams and getting a top-two seed would be great, it's barely plausible. The far more concrete benefit here is seeing the Eagles lose and getting them further away from a possible Wild Card spot.

In fact, an Eagles' loss this week would give Dallas the NFC East even if the Cowboys fall in  Indianapolis. That's not the way we want to win the division, but you take what you can get.

With the breaking news that Carson Wentz is unlikely to play this week with a back injury, you'd generally think this suits the Cowboys' interests. But Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is still the backup in Philadelphia, so is anything really for certain?

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

We have every reason to root for Carolina here. For one, it helps the Panthers stay ahead of the Eagles in the Wild Card race. Also, it brings the Saints one loss closer to possibly being caught by Dallas. A Saints win doesn't really benefit us all.



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Ezekiel Elliott has Huge Day vs Eagles Thanks to Receiving Prowess

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott has Huge Day vs Eagles Thanks to Receiving Prowess

The Dallas Cowboys came away with a huge win against their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, putting them in a commanding position in the NFC East. They're up two games in the division and one of the more underrated story lines from the victory is Ezekiel Elliott's game. He had a huge day that no one is talking about.

Elliott had 28 carries for 113 yards and then caught 12 passes on 13 targets en route to his big performance in the 29-23 win over the Eagles. That's probably the quietest 40 touch, 192 total yard game you'll ever hear about. And yet, that's where we are. Please read that stat line again, because in all of our talk about Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and the defense, Ezekiel Elliott's stat line is absolutely ridiculous.

The receiving element that Elliott is providing the biggest difference to the offense this season. He's been a huge asset to Dak Prescott in the passing game as both a primary target and a check down option in the short part of the field. If Elliott isn't showing that he's the best running back in the league, with what he's doing with a broke down offensive line, then people will never give him the credit he's due.

For the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys and their fan base has known what an elite player the Cowboys have in Elliott. He's easily one of the best runners in the NFL, but if you talk to the general NFL fanbase or analysts around the league, Elliott doesn't get the same kind of love as players like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell receive from the national media. The knock against Elliott has been that he doesn't bring the same value as a receiver. With what he has done over the last six weeks, and really all season long, it's safe to say, that won't be a knock against the Cowboys All-Pro running back.

Among running backs this season, Ezekiel Elliott ranks sixth in targets (77), fifth in receptions (65). seventh in yards (502), and is tied for 12th in receiving touchdowns with three. Elliott is the seventh highest rated running back when targeted among running backs with at least 50 targets this season.

Over the last six weeks, since the Amari Cooper trade, only Christian McCaffrey has more targets, receptions, and yards than Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott's previous career high was in 2016 when he caught 32 passes on 39 targets. With three games left in the season, Elliott has more than doubled his previous career high from that season. Over the last six weeks, he's caught 40 passes with an average of 6.7 receptions per game.

Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his best total yardage season in the NFL. If he continues at his current per game averages, Elliott would finish the season with 330 carries for 1,553 rushing yards, 80 catches on 100 targets for 618 yards and 10 total touchdowns. He's been great this year, but he's been even better over the last six games. At his per game averages for the last six games, over a 16 game season, Elliott's numbers would look like this; 363 carries for 1,715 yards rushing, 107 receptions on 120 targets for 872 yards, and 13 total touchdowns.

It's rare that Ezekiel Elliott has a game like he did on Sunday and it goes largely unnoticed by Cowboys Nation, but that's just how tremendous Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were. In a game where the Cowboys got big games and big plays through the passing game, it was Elliott's steadiness that held things together and helped sustain drives like the fourth and one conversion in overtime. Even with Amari Cooper elevating his game since coming to the Cowboys, there's no question that Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys best skill position player. Expect more big games for Elliott as the Cowboys continue to "Feed Zeke."



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