Connect with us

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Defense: Is Linebacker More of a Concern Than Defensive End?

Sean Martin

Published

on

Cowboys Defense: Is Linebacker More of a Concern Than Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys will be in Oxnard on Saturday, signaling the start of a training camp that could not get here soon enough. These practices and upcoming August 3rd Hall of Fame game will signal a full return to football for the defending NFC East Champions, yet this young team still has plenty of big questions on both sides of the ball.

Putting the offensive issues - both on and off the field - aside for a moment, Rod Marinelli's front seven on the Cowboys' defense still lacks juice at defensive end despite addressing the position with their 28th overall pick Taco Charlton.

The larger concern may be at linebacker though, where the Jaylon Smith saga took another recent turn with the positive news that he won't practice further with the AFO brace being followed by a still-lengthy six to nine month prognosis for full nerve regeneration in his knee.

Jane Slater on Twitter

More news on Jaylon Smith per source. Recent tests show increased nerve regeneration. If continues, could see full return in the 6-9 months.

It is still very possible that Jaylon Smith makes an impact for the Cowboys in 2017, something to being excited about following through this camp, but being prepared for essentially another season without him is likely the best way to avoid disappointment for Cowboys Nation.

Even more disappointing was the recent offseason development for promising LB Damien Wilson, who looked in line to earn a larger role at SAM and potentially MIKE. Instead, Wilson is awaiting league discipline following his arrest for aggravated assault.

The Cowboys have plenty of bodies at defensive end, and some rushers with real promise heading into 2017. Neither of these things can be said now at linebacker, with Anthony Hitchens slotted to remain the starter at MIKE, Sean Lee written in stone at WILL, and any combination of Mark Nzeocha (who is working back from injury once again), Kyle Wilber, recently re-signed Justin Durant, or UDFA Kennan Gilchrist filling in at the base SAM position.

Optimism does not have to be incredibly high for the Cowboys' group of defensive ends to think they'll outperform the linebackers behind them.

Will Benson Mayowa Lose His Starting Job This Season?

Dallas Cowboys DE Benson Mayowa

There should be realistic expectations for Benson Mayowa to improve at RDE, Taco Charlton to progress as the season goes on, Charles Tapper to throw his name into the rotation, and David Irving to return in week 5 and make flash plays. All of this comes on top of having DeMarcus Lawrence back in a contract season and Damontre Moore signed from the Seahawks as a pass rusher with real potential to put pressure on the quarterback off the right edge with some consistent disruption.

Who can we expect improvement from at LB in 2017?

While the Cowboys' young group of DEs will warrant some promise leading up to the regular season, the linebacker corps will unfortunately feature more of the same. There isn't a "bad" starter by any means at LB for the Cowboys currently, but can Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens hold up once again as the team's primary middle-of-the-field defenders?

Sean Lee, Buccaneers

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Sure, some UDFA LBs like Lucas Wacha or journeyman John Lotulelei can warrant some training camp buzz, but the Cowboys feel that they've completely retooled and not rebuilt their defense in order to contend in 2017 with young starters galore.

A position that will appear untouched - probably for the worse - is linebacker.

Is this a good time to remind you that 2017 was the first year since 2004 the Cowboys did not draft a LB, entering the draft on the perceived same page as Cowboys Nation that DE was a more pressing need.

When one problem has emerged for the Cowboys this summer, a second has never been far behind. Finally fortifying the edge depth on this team will be looked at as an overwhelming positive, but is it going to come at the cost of diminished linebacker play?

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Defense: Is Linebacker More of a Concern Than Defensive End?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Advertisement
1 Comment
  • John Williams

    Yeah bro, I’m a little concerned about the linebacker depth. If there is an injury to Lee or Hitchens, the team will look pretty bad there.

    The DL is full of guys with promise, with Collins being the only guy I would really hate to lose at this point. There seem to be a lot of guys who can step in and fill the role. At Linebacker, not so much.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain

Jess Haynie

Published

on

La'el Collins

When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.

Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.

La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.

For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.

That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.

But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.

But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.

If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.

Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.

They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.

While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.

Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.

If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.



Continue Reading

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

Published

on

Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

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.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

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.



Continue Reading

Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

Published

on

Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

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:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

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.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

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.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

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!



Continue Reading



Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here

Trending