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.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
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.
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.
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, Kareem Hunt. 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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