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Cowboys Backup QB: Panic Moves Kill Young Potential

Jess Haynie

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Cooper Rush

No backup position on a football team causes more anxiety than at quarterback. A sense of insecurity there can lead to panicked analysis from onlookers and sometimes even panic moves from organizations. After the last few years, no team has earned the right to panic more than the Dallas Cowboys.

In 2015, they watched an entire season go down to the tubes because Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore were all unable to provide solid play after Tony Romo's injury. The very next year, Dak Prescott was beyond solid as he quarterbacked the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and contender status.

After living through the agony and ecstasy of what QB2 can do so recently, it's understandable that Dallas management and fans might be more focused on the position than any other team. I even get why you might be quick to turn on Cooper Rush after a slow preseason.

Everyone wants the next Nick Foles on their roster, but the truth is that you won't know it in August. Watching Rush and Mike White play with second and third-string talent and against similar competition isn't going to show you what they could do if they had to replace Dak Prescott in the regular season.

The Eagles didn't know Foles could win them a Super Bowl before it happened, anymore than Dallas knew Dak Prescott would be a rookie phenom. Both teams assumed, logically, that their chance to compete ended when Carson Wentz and Tony Romo went down.

Dallas Cowboys Well Represented In 2017 ESPY Awards 1

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

The great backup QB stories in NFL history occurred because they were unexpected. Whether it was saved seasons like with Foles and Prescott, or a single game like Jason Garrett's 1994 Thanksgiving Day heroics as the Cowboys' third-stringer, these came out of nowhere and are memorable for that very reason.

One player who encapsulates both sides of this topic is former Cowboy, Patriot, Bill, Chief, Titan, Viking, and current Lion Matt Cassel.

The journeyman QB will forever be remembered for his storybook 2008 season with New England, where he had to replace an injured Tom Brady in Week One and got them to 11-5. Almost any other year, that record gets you into the playoffs. But the Patriots missed on tiebreakers in their division and on wild cards.

Cassel flipped that big year into a chance to start in Kansas City, but he wasn't the same guy. After flaming out there, he bounced around as other teams hoped they might restore the magic that the Patriots had for one great season.

When Tony Romo went down in 2015, Dallas immediately traded to acquire Cassel from Buffalo. Even thought they'd had Brandon Weeden the year before and went into that season with him as the returning backup, their true faith in him showed.

Cowboys Blog - Staff Wars Episode Three: Starting Cassel the Right Move

Former Cowboys QB Matt Cassel

Weeden got a few more games while Cassel learned the playbook, and then the switch was made. But the results stayed the same, both in wins and losses and just the general performance from the QB position. Eventually, Cassel was dumped for Kellen Moore.

Dallas clearly thought they were getting an upgrade when they acquired Cassel. They gave up a fifth-round pick for him, plus dumped the year-plus they'd spent working with Weeden.

But the truth about guys like Cassel and Nick Foles is that they'll only thrive when circumstances around them are ideal. They need the right system and teammate talent to be able to perform.

And who knows, maybe we'll be saying that one day about Dak Prescott.

But right now, that is the dilemma when it comes to Cooper Rush and Mike White and their fitness to be the backup quarterback. Could one of them have a magical season if they were playing behind an All-Pro offensive line and working with the first-team weapons?

The alternative is to go try to find another guy like Cassel, whose past success gives you more confidence in potential performance. But that's exactly what Dallas did in 2015 and we saw the result.

Now you might argue, "you've got nothing to lose." But is that really true?

Cooper Rush

Dallas Cowboys QB Cooper Rush

Bringing in some journeyman veteran pushes Rush and White further away from development. It also pushes one of them off the roster, and I don't know if either would last on the practice squad.

But let's take Rush for example. You won't get to see him step in for Prescott and perhaps show the spark we saw in the 2017 preseason. You won't see what Cooper can do when he's not running for his life behind second-string linemen.

You'll never get to see his full potential, and neither will any other team. You won't get to maybe trade him someday for a Day 2 draft pick.

That's highly optimistic, of course, but it's still a possibility. You eliminate any potential of that happening if you keep relying on veteran band-aids.

"Progress stopper" can be an overused cliché in roster analysis but it really does apply here. Not only are your young prospects getting less opportunity to work with the starters, but you're also stunting the growth of their market value.

There will be some experienced veteran QBs who'll become available this week, guys who on paper sound like upgrades over Rush and White. Heck, maybe Matt Cassel will be one of them.

But the decision to sign one of them, and push your other guys down the ladder, is weightier than you think. You just might be losing more than you gain.



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

What to Expect from Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Group in 2019

John Williams

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Amari Cooper

In a span of a week, the Dallas Cowboys have solidified their wide receiver group with the resigning of Tavon Austin to a one year deal and the signing of former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb. Despite the loss of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys have a created a really good group of receivers for Quarterback Dak Prescott to throw to.

Cobb joins a really nice group of players that includes incumbent starters on the outside in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well as solid depth players in Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Throw in Cedric Wilson, the Dallas Cowboys sixth round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft and the Cowboys may have one of the deeper receiving corps in the NFL.

The question is, how will the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff delineate the roles?

Let's take a look.

Outside Receivers

As I mentioned before, the Dallas Cowboys are returning their top two options on the outside in Amari Cooper, who is the X wide receiver and Michael Gallup, the Z receiver. Both players will go into week one as the starters at their respective positions in two-wide receiver formations.

Despite some of the overthrows from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup, Gallup had a really nice rookie season and got better as the year went along, even leading the Cowboys in receiving in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In that game, Gallup recorded the first 100 yard game of his career. Sure, it was in an attempt to comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, but it is impressive nonetheless. His touchdown catch against the Seattle Seahawks the week before was clutch. The Cowboys needed that to take the lead at the end of the first half. 2018 was only the beginning for Michael Gallup. He showed an ability to win with a full offseason to work with Dak Prescott, their chemistry and connection should only improve.

As for Cooper, his presence was felt right away as the offense just looked different once he stepped on the field. It's no coincidence that Dak Prescott's two best career games in terms of passing yardage came with Cooper in 2018. He's such a threat that he opens up space for the rest of the wide receiver group. His route running, speed, ability to run after the catch make him a threat to score any time he's targeted.

Behind Cooper and Gallup, you have options in the event that one of them gets hurt. Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Noah Brown are all players who took snaps on the outside for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 and did so with effectiveness. Hurns best game of the year came just before the Cooper deal was made as he went for five receptions for 75 yards.

Tavon provided down field speed on several occasions and provides some gadget quality that the Dallas Cowboys love to have. Noah Brown is a player that the Dallas Cowboys love to deploy as a blocker in the running game. While it looked like he might get more run in the passing game in 2019, the depth additions will limit him again to a specialty role. If needed, though, he could be an option to take snaps on the outside as his big frame allows him to box out defensive backs down the field.

There will be snaps on the outside for someone when the Cowboys go to 11 personnel, because of Amari Cooper's ability to slide into the slot.

Slot Receiver

Obviously, the writing is on the wall with who the Dallas Cowboys are planning on deploying in the slot as things stand right now, and that's Randall Cobb.

While Cobb should be penciled in as the starter in the slot, I doubt that he's going to get 100% of the snaps there in 11 or 10 personnel groupings. Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson could all push for playing time from the slot.

Last month, I wrote a piece about Allen Hurns and his effectiveness in the slot and why the Cowboys should feature him there. With Cobb coming off an injury laden season, the Cowboys would be wise to give some snaps to Hurns along with Tavon Austin.

In Jacksonville, Hurns was incredibly effective from the slot running posts, slants, and ins and outs. His size and route running made him an effective mismatch against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks alike. Remember, it wasn't long ago that Hurns had a 1,000 yard season with Blake Bortles at the helm.

Tavon Austin's quickness is an asset that could be very effective in the slot as well. Though he lacks size, he's a player that opposing defenses have to account for because of his ability to make big plays once the ball's in his hands.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys haven't been shy about carrying seven wide receivers on their 53-man rosters and it's possible, though unlikely that they could do it again in 2018. As things stand now, I see Noah Brown and Cedric Wilson as the potential odd men out. Of course, this could all get reshuffled if the Dallas Cowboys use a top 100 pick on a wide receiver in the draft.

With Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Randall Cobb only under contract through the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to invest at the position despite the strength of the position in 2019.



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Report: Dallas Cowboys Set to Meet with Safety George Iloka

John Williams

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Why Cowboys Should Acquire Recently Released S George Iloka

As the Dallas Cowboys continue the process of building a roster capable of taking them back to the playoffs, and hopefully to a Super Bowl, this next season, they’re bringing in another safety to try and strengthen their top 10 defense. This time it’s free agent safety George Iloka, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Dallas Cowboys are set to meet with

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys are hosting former #Vikings and #Bengals safety George Iloka for a visit tomorrow, source said. They're still looking to add in the secondary.

It will be the third meeting this week that they’ve had with a veteran safety after hosting recently resigned Indianapolis’s colts Safety Clayton Geathers and former Kansas City Chiefs Safety Eric Berry.

The Cowboys feel really good about Xavier Woods at safety, but definitely could use some depth at the position as they head toward the 2019 NFL Draft.

Iloka is coming off a season where he was relegated to a reserve role for the Vikings. In five of the last six seasons, Iloka’s played all 16 games, and the one season he didn’t, he played 12. He has nine career interceptions, and has three seasons with more than 70 total tackles.

Back in August of last year, Brian Martin argued that the Dallas Cowboys should pursue Iloka after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals. He would play the strong or box safety role in the Cowboys defense if they were to come to an agreement.

Stay tuned for more Free Agency coverage from us here at InsideTheStar.com.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Impact of Free Agency Moves & Rumors

Jess Haynie

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Randall Cobb

With most of the marquee NFL free agents already off the market, many are already turning their eyes to the 2019 Draft. Whether a glaring need went unaddressed or the needs have simply changed, the draft offers the next big opportunity for teams like the Dallas Cowboys to stock talent for next season.

While they've been conservative so far this offseason, Dallas has been active in the last few days in covering bases and giving itself more flexibility for the draft. They don't want to have to reach on a talent because of a need, nor do they want to tip their hand too much to the rest of the league.

As of now there are still some significant acquisitions that could happen. Dallas has visited with veteran Safety Eric Berry and Defensive Lineman Malik McDowell, plus are reportedly in trade talks with Miami for Defend End Robert Quinn. Any of these moves could have a big impact on their need levels for the draft.

We've already seen some changes thanks to offseason activity. With Tuesday's signing of Randall Cobb, plus moves to retain Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns, Dallas may not be looking at a receiver as early as we might've thought. The same can be said for Jason Witten's return and the tight end position.

If the draft were today, without accounting for any of the players that the Cowboys have had talks with but remain unsigned, here's how I would rank the team's 2019 draft needs:

  1. Safety
  2. Defensive End
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Tight End
  5. Running Back
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. Offensive Tackle
  8. Cornerback
  9. Linebacker
  10. Kicker
  11. Center
  12. Guard
  13. Quarterback (Mike White is their drafted backup project for at least another year.)
  14. Punter (Could add someone to compete with Chris Jones and save some cap dollars.)
  15. Fullback (They re-signed Jamize Olawale, who they barely use anyway. Zero need here.)

I put safety on top because it's the spot that could most use an immediate upgrade and has some pressing future need. Dallas didn't make the big move for Earl Thomas that many hoped for and Jeff Heath's contract expires after this season. Hopefully, a second-round talent could compete for a starting job now and at least replace Heath in 2020.

Even with the Kerry Hyder signing defensive end has some major red flags. DeMarcus Lawrence has sworn he would holdout without a long-term deal. Randy Gregory is suspended again, and now Tyrone Crawford is now facing potential league action from an incident with police last week. Unless the Cowboys think Taco Charlton is going to make a big push in his third year, they could be hurting for a pass rush in 2019.

I expect things with Lawrence will get resolved, and I doubt Crawford will get suspended for more than a game or two if at all. But Dallas could still use another solid DE if they don't get this deal for Robert Quinn done.

Remember, the 2019 Cowboys aren't working with a first-round pick. Barring a trade, they'll be waiting until the 58th pick to make their first selection. That limits the impact potential of their picks and makes what they do with the Day 2 picks all the more critical.

REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

Safety Eric Berry, currently a free agent. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

So what if the Cowboys pull off these three potential moves, adding Berry, McDowell, and Quinn? Each player would help to address the top three needs on my list.

Eric Berry hopefully solves the immediate upgrade need at safety, though it may not do much for the future. He turns 31 this year and was released by Kansas City because of multiple injury issues. Dallas could still consider taking a rookie prospect, perhaps even releasing Jeff Heath for cap savings if needed.

Malik McDowell was considered a first-round talent in 2017 but has never played after a major ATV accident prior to his first training camp with Seattle. If he's finally recovered enough to return to football and play at his original potential, he could give Dallas a talent infusion that none of their draft capital could provide.

Robert Quinn has been around a while but will be just 29 in May, and is still putting up sacks at a solid rate. He's averaged 7.5 sacks the last two years with two different teams. He would go a long way to stabilizing things at defensive end and allowing Dallas look at guys like Gregory and Hyder as icing on the cake.

If Dallas lands all three players then I would adjust the list as follows:

  1. Tight End
  2. Safety
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Running Back
  5. Defensive End
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. etc.

If you think about it, the safety and tight end positions would be kind of similar in this scenario. You'd have Eric Berry and Jason Witten as the veteran stopgaps, Xavier Woods and Blake Jarwin as intriguing young guys with starting potential, and Kavon Frazier and Dalton Schultz as other young depth.

However, at every step, safety would be deeper and have more upside. Berry should have more to often than Witten, Woods is more proven than Jarwin, and Frazier is more experienced than Schultz.

Plus, we didn't even mention that you'd have Jeff Heath for experience and versatility at safety. Meanwhile, TE Rico Gathers probably won't be on next year's team.

So yes, I'd vault tight end to the top of the need list. Dallas may like Blake Jarwin but they could find a far more polished and talented player with the 58th pick.

Christian Covington

Defensive Lineman Christian Covington (Maria Lysaker - Cal Sport Media)

Even with McDowell and Christian Covington added to the mix, Dallas would still be wise to address the defensive tackle position. They have several contract issues coming up at once in 2020.

Covington and Maliek Collins will be unrestricted free agents next year. The Cowboys will also likely want to finally shed Tyrone Crawford's contract, with $8 million in cap relief possible. That would leave them pretty bare at defensive tackle.

Dallas could make a move now to solidify their rotation and prepare for the future. They'd have a little more stability at defensive end with assumed multi-year deals for Lawrence and Quinn, making tackle the more immediate concern.

The backup running back spot can't be ignored, with only Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn currently signed behind Ezekiel Elliott. If Dallas doesn't bring back Rod Smith between now and the draft, they may want to spend a high pick for Zeke's relief man and an additional offensive weapon.

Elliott's own contract will be up for discussion as soon. Having a talented player with a four-year rookie deal behind him could give the Cowboys much-needed leverage in any future talks with their franchise back.

~ ~ ~

We'll see if Dallas lands any of the players we've hypothesized about. Any of them would help lessen the need at their positions, but those would still remain important areas for the Cowboys to look at in the upcoming draft.



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