It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. Time after time we've seen our favorite Cowboys players, players who had been with the team forever, fall from the stars. It doesn't matter who it is, every player has/will have to go through it.
The long-term players are always the hardest to get over: Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Emmitt Smith, etc. It's a harsh reality that while the NFL brings a lot of joy to so many, and is where millions of kids growing up strive toward, at its very core the NFL is a business.
Dez being released was coming and whether we want to realize it or not, we knew it was happening. His production and his health have gone down the last three seasons, he had problems meshing with Dak, he dropped way more passes than we've become accustomed to seeing from him, and he was being paid like a top-10 receiver when he wasn't played like one.
Think the drama is over? Dez was only the beginning. There are a few names, some more obvious than others, that could no longer be a Cowboy sooner than you think.
The real question is...
Who Will Be the Next Cowboy Let Go?
Jason Witten - Probably the most obvious on the list, Witten will be 36 in May and isn't getting any younger. Not only has he visibly slowed down over his 15-year career, but he's no longer the dependable receiver he once was.
In 2017 he had the lowest receptions, receiving yards and yards-per-game since his rookie year.
In a year where Dak Prescott needs all the help he can get, he needs late-2000's Jason Witten and the Witten he has won't cut it. Whether it's Rico Gathers or a rookie from this year's draft, Witten's successor will be here sooner than later.
I doubt the Cowboys will outright release one of their all-time greatest players, but I also thought the same thing about DeMarcus Ware. It's possible the Cowboys will do what the San Antonio Spurs did with Tim Duncan and ride it out until Witten chooses to go out on his own terms. But with players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, David Irving and Byron Jones all needing contracts in the next year or two, Witten might be the next one out.
Sean Lee - It's not for lack of skill, but lack of health that Sean Lee is on this list. When he is on the field, he is undoubtedly the Cowboys' best defensive player. However, surprisingly the 31 year old has never played a full 16-game schedule.
What does it say about a defense when their best player can't stay on the field?
What else does it say when that same player is the third highest paid player on the team and can't stay healthy? My guess is the Cowboys will draft two linebackers this year and one of them will be Lee's replacement in 2019.
Ironic that Sean Lee and Dez Bryant were both taken in the 2010 draft. One was drafted in the first and the other in the second round, and now it looks like they'll follow each other out of Dallas in the same order. Hopefully the team finds a proper replacement, because it is coming. Like it or not.
Tyrone Crawford - Tyrone Crawford is not on this list for lack of skill. He's only 28, works in the system well, has been a team captain and got his second highest sack total in 2017. His flexibility as the right defensive end and occasional three technique defensive tackle has made him a valuable piece. What hurts him is his cap number vs. his production.
Crawford is the 5th highest paid player on the squad with a $9.1-million cap hit. However, he's arguably only the 5th best defensive linemen on the team right now. He's still got plenty in his tank but how much longer the team can afford to keep him is all about the Benjamins, baby.
Terrance Williams - Ironically, I thought if any receiver was gone this year, it was going to be the one who scored no touchdowns all last season after signing a new contract extension.
Monetarily it makes sense that Dez took the hit over Williams, but from a production standpoint, Williams' days may be numbered. He's put up decent numbers over his career and is getting paid fairly, but now that Dak Prescott is running the show, the team may think it's better to get him weapons that can better produce.
The Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns in free agency and are more than likely going to draft another receiver. If this comes to fruition, the team would have seven receivers on its roster. The Cowboys usually only go with five or six receivers in a season, and I'd bet Williams might be on the cutting block first.
Cole Beasley - Part of the reason for Cole Beasley's decline after a career season had to do with the offense going from Dak being generous with the ball to all the receivers, to it being centered around forcing the ball to Dez. Even with Dez gone, Beasley's future is still in doubt.
The Cowboys may have drafted Ryan Switzer to be the team's new returner, but it looks like he could one day be the new slot receiver. He's slightly younger, much faster, and as we saw in the final game of the season, has great chemistry with Dak. Not to say Beasley doesn't have speed, isn't young or doesn't have chemistry with his quarterback but all signs point to it.
Beasley won't be gone this year or maybe next, but he would be one of the "next" ones to go. Papa Johns is one of the Cowboys' biggest sponsors but the team may soon be without the sauce.
Dan Bailey - I'm not sure if losing a kicker ever broke anyone's heart but losing one of the most accurate in NFL history might bring you as close you can get. But he is coming off a year where he missed four games due to injury and missed more kicks than he ever had in his career. That's a pink slip recipe.
In 2017, Bailey missed four games due to an injured groin. As a kicker, anything below the belt is necessary. If part of it is hobbled, your one job is jeopardized. Not only did he miss a quarter of the season but while he was playing, he had career lows in field goal percentage (75%) and extra point percentage (92.9%). In all his total kicks, he was 41 out of 48, playing in fewer games.
Kickers aren't always too hard to replace but elite ones are. Bailey is going to need a rebound season in 2018 or he could have the Cowboys searching for a new leg.
Tyron Smith - This one may be the most surprising on the list but there is some probability here. Don't get it twisted about Tyron Smith. He's the team's highest paid player (deservedly so), he's arguably the league's best left tackle, and he's one of the key franchise players on this team. But he's still human.
Smith has missed 6 games the last two seasons, and while he's had injury bugs in the past, 2017 was an interesting year. He had issues with his knee, hip, groin and back.
While he was on the field, he was his usual great, future hall of fame worthy self, but the team struggled without him. They went 0-3 and had to rely on Chaz Green and Byron Bell to keep Dak upright, which they couldn't.
The team needs Tyron Smith, he's essential, but if he can't stay healthy in the future, he could be one of the bigger surprise cuts to come from Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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