Earlier today we listed the defensive players whose contracts will expiring in 2016.
Now, here are the offensive players with expiring contracts and what being in a contract year could mean for them this season:
Charles Brown, OT
Dallas never had to find out how good or bad Brown was last year as Tyron Smith and Doug Free stayed healthy. They still must have thought enough of what he did in practice to bring him back on another one-year deal to compete for the swing tackle job again.
Brown's main competition will be second-year tackle Chaz Green. After somewhat of an injury redshirt rookie season, Green will get his first real offseason with the team and will get every opportunity to earn the job. If he doesn't, Dallas will likely stick with Brown again as the veteran band-aid.
Rod Smith, RB/FB
Trying to make the conversion from runner to blocker, Rod Smith has an intriguing opportunity to find a niche in Dallas. Last year's starting fullback, Tyler Clutts, was not re-signed. Rod will be competing with Keith Smith, trying to make his own conversion from linebacker.
If Rod Smith can show enough as a blocker to be utilized, his experience as ball-carrier will give the fullback position a new dynamic. I've missed the days when we had a guy like Richie Anderson, who was a threat to make plays with the ball in his hands. I'm rooting for Rod over Keither based on that potential new wrinkle for the offense.
Kellen Moore, QB
If they'd never actually had to play, guys like Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel might still be the backups here in Dallas. Unlike most other position, a reserve quarterback's best chance to stick around may be going unnoticed.
Barring poor play in any appearances he makes this year, Moore's attractiveness to the Cowboys will increase by virtue of increased time in the system. Having been recently burned by more prototypical veteran QBs who looked great on paper, Dallas' comfort level with Moore will give him a major edge over other outside options.
Moore's biggest threat will be the development from Dak Prescott, taken in the fourth round of this last draft. The Cowboys will not hesitate to hand the job to Prescott once they feel he's ready. 2017 may be a little soon for that, though. Kellen Moore certainly hopes so.
A breakout 2015 season was cut short last year when Dunbar suffered torn knee ligaments in a Week 4 game. He had already amassed 21 catches in less than a quarter of the season. Clearly, Dallas thought enough of Dunbar's brief work sample to re-sign him last Spring to a one-year deal.
As a 27-year-old speed back who already has trouble staying healthy, Dunbar's 2017 free agency will not be pretty. He would likely need a monster year to keep the Cowboys interested, but he's already facing a late start to the season from the PUP list. Dunbar also will likely loses touches, even in the receiving game, to Ezekiel Elliott.
Obviously, Dallas wasn't sure they'd be drafting Elliott when they re-signed Dunbar. His ongoing recovery and potential for PUP list does give the Cowboys a nice insurance policy, of sorts, as they can keep him on the side for over half the season. Still, barring an injury to Elliott, it's hard to see where Dunbar will get enough opportunities to earn another contract here.
Gavin Escobar, TE
I think the writing is already on the wall for Escobar. When Dallas signed James Hanna to a three-year deal paying him about $2.75 million each season, that said volumes about Escobar's status with the team. Dallas clearly sees Hanna as their number-two tight end going forward.
Escobar will likely start the year on the PUP list as he continues to recover from a major Achilles injury. With opportunities already very limited for reserve tight ends in our offense, it's doubtful he'll get many looks and should finish this season quietly. I imagine Escobar and his agent will hope that he can earn a chance elsewhere, likely with some team who remembers him from the 2013 draft process.
Leary's status with the team has been talked about extensively this offseason. They used their Restricted Free Agent rights on Leary and are paying him $2.5 million to be a backup this year.
Obviously, Leary would like to have been able to find a long-term deal and probably more money elsewhere. Dallas' use of the RFA tender added a second-round pick to the price a team would've had to pay to sign Leary, which was clearly more than anyone was willing to give.
Despite this, it would be premature to say that Leary will finish the year in Dallas. He is still a potential trade chip and the Cowboys may use him to cover a weakness at another position. Injuries and other incidents between now and September, or even up through this year's trade deadline, leave Leary's future in question.
Darren McFadden, RB
Talking about McFadden's 2017 prospects is probably flawed, given how uncertain his 2016 status is. Of everyone on this list, McFadden could be the least likely to make this year's team.
Along with drafting Ezekiel Elliott as the fourth-overall pick, Dallas signed veteran Alfred Morris. They also spent a sixth-round pick on running back Darius Jackson. Throw in Lance Dunbar's potential return and Rod Smith's ability to play RB and you can see why McFadden would become expendable.
As said before, Dallas probably didn't expect to draft a new starting RB when they signed Morris and re-signed Dunbar. Even though McFadden was the #4 rusher in the NFL last year, you can't let that cloud the issue. After what we've seen the last two years with McFadden and DeMarco Murray, it stands to reason Dallas' offensive line is most deserving of the credit.
Dallas can get back $2 million in cap room by releasing McFadden. If they are of the mind that the blocking is the key in the rushing production, that money could have more real value than the player. Unless there's an injury or Alfred Morris has a bad camp and preseason, right now I don't think McFadden will be on the 2016 roster.
Brice Butler, WR
Terrance Williams, WR
How much will Butler and Williams be competing for the number-two receiver position? Only the coaches know for sure. Given that both are unrestricted free agents after this year, it stands to reason that they will get an equal opportunity so that Dallas can best assess their long-term potential.
Williams may have the edge as the incumbent starter and the only guy to build a rapport with Tony Romo. However, Butler's speed could make him more of a unique toy for the offense that gives Romo more options. Butler stretching the field would also open things up underneath for Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Gavin Escobar.
This will easily be the biggest position battle on offense and perhaps on the team as a whole. The winner will be a starter and the loser will drop to #4 on the depth chart with Beasley locked in as your slot receiver. The stakes are high, not only for 2016 but for both players' impending free agency and the goal of earning a big contract here or elsewhere.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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