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.
Which Cowboys Benefit From David Irving’s Suspension?
While losing David Irving for the first four weeks of 2018 is a bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, it does create opportunities for some of the other defensive tackles. Who has the most to gain from Irving's suspension?
Because he was mostly going to be used inside as the 3-technique DT, David's absence will naturally benefit the guys who are best suited to play that role. Thankfully, Dallas isn't lacking for those types of players.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford can use all the playing time he can get. As a likely salary cap casualty next year, Crawford doesn't want to get buried on the depth chart as Dallas focuses on their younger players who project to stick around beyond 2018.
With Irving out, Dallas will likely lean on Tyrone as they often do when someone is missing on the defensive line. With more talent now at defensive end, Crawford was going to be competing with Irving, Maliek Collins, Jihad Ward, and other younger guys for work at tackle.
But now there's a problem, and it's easy to slide Crawford into the 3-tech role that Dallas once envisioned him being a star at. Remember, it was their projection of Tyrone as a breakout DT that got him his big contract to begin with.
Yes, Irving's only gone for four weeks. Dallas will still be giving him work in camp based on the role he should fill for the majority of the season. But that's why a veteran like Tyrone Crawford is a great temporary plug-in, because he doesn't need all of the practice reps to step in and perform.
Another key beneficiary could be third-year DT Maliek Collins. Last season, Collins got stuck playing 1-technique and not getting the same opportunities to make plays and get noticed that he had his rookie year.
But now Dallas has several guys in Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, and Brian Price who can play the 1-tech role, which will hopefully get Collins back where he belongs. Maliek's athleticism belongs a little further away from center, letting him try to take on guards in single coverage.
Collins is dealing with a foot issue now but should be back for the preseason. That's enough time for him to be where he needs to be Week One, provided he's healthy.
How Dallas would balance playing time between Collins and Tyrone Crawford could be a matter of how much they play certain schemes. One could see Collins, the bigger guy, playing more in the base defense and then Crawford being used in passing situations.
There is always a lot of rotation in a Rod Marinelli line, so discussions about playing time can get a little silly. Unless you're a true stud like DeMarcus Lawrence who you don't want to take off the field, the Cowboys like to keep guys fresh.
But that's why this is a big opportunity; David Irving has that stud potential. He's the kind of talent who could keep solid players like Crawford and Collins out of view if he hits his stride.
For the first four weeks, though, Irving will be in the NFL doghouse and Dallas will likely lean on its two most experienced defensive tackles to fill the void. There will be more reps for guys like Datone Jones and Jihad Ward too, but Crawford and Collins have way more skins on the wall
That trust should keep them on the field more while David Irving's suspended, and perhaps beyond.
BREAKING: David Irving Suspended For 2nd Consecutive Year
For the second consecutive year, Defensive Lineman David Irving is being suspended for four games by the NFL. This time, the suspension comes after Irving violated the NFL's policy on substance of abuses, as Ian Rapoport reported.
Cowboys DL David Irving is being suspended 4 games for violating @NFL policy on substance of abuses, sources say. Another big-time D-linemen hit with a suspension for Dallas.
Irving will play for the Dallas Cowboys after the team placed a second-round tender on him earlier in the year. Why no team was interested in picking such a talented defensive tackle for a second round pick is becoming clearer and clearer as the time goes on.
In April, when David Irving got hacked by his former girlfriend one of the tweets that stood out the most was one which said "Wait until you all find about his failed drug tests." Now, we're seeing what the tweet was about.
Irving is a very talented player that could have a great career ahead of him. Of course, with this being the second consecutive year in which he receives a suspension to start the season, one could question how much he wants it.
The Cowboys will play the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks and Lions to start the season. They'll have to do it with one of their most promising defensive players in David Irving.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll keep you updated with this story and every Dallas Cowboys news.
Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out
The Dallas Cowboys are back in offseason mode, concluding their OTAs and minicamp from The Star. With a hiatus until training camp, it was important for several high-profile players to make a strong first impression on the 2018 season. From the start of mini camp, these impressions were left mostly by Rod Marinelli's defense and -- more specifically -- Kris Richard's young group of cornerbacks.
Still working through significant change on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys did rally on day three under Quarterback Dak Prescott to put out a better performance. The Cowboys coaching staff should love their lasting memories of both FA acquisition Wide Receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup.
There is a strong chance that these two receivers will be the Cowboys starters in Oxnard for training camp. We have heard a lot about the impact new WR Coach Sanjay Lal has had on his group, slowing the game down to focus on route running. This will give the team's rotation of unproven receivers a chance with Prescott, as he can focus on throwing to a 'spot' more often.
One spot that Prescott has struggled to hit in two seasons as the starter in Dallas is the back of the end zone for fade routes. A red zone go-to under Scott Linehan, free agent WR Dez Bryant was often the intended target on these missed passes.
Less of a route running technician and closer to the mold of a physical player like Bryant, Allen Hurns emerging as the Cowboys #1 option would solve a lot of uncertainty at the WR position. In yesterday's practice, Hurns was able to haul in a perfect ball from Prescott on the fade as he beat Byron Jones.
It's going to take some time for Jones to readjust to playing cornerback, but the vision for Kris Richard of him and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside is a great one. In a battle of proven players, Hurns got the best of Jones to spark the Cowboys offense at the right time.
Overall, there should be no reason to panic about (well, really anything from mini camp) the Cowboys offense right now, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what this defense will develop into.
Once the pads come on at training camp, the players the Cowboys are paying to play at an elite level will start to shine, including their newly re-signed Guard Zack Martin -- the highest paid guard in the league now. There are no doubts that the bread and butter for this offense will be handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott behind this wall of an offensive line.
From this increase in competition in the trenches, we'll also get more meaningful battles along the defensive line. In shorts and helmets for now, the Cowboys secondary was given their chance at mini camp, and came out solid early.
Another player they've struggled to truly corral though is Michael Gallup. Perhaps pressing a bit thanks to his limited opportunities thus far, Jourdan Lewis was taken across the field by Gallup on a misfire from Cooper Rush.
This is nothing new for Gallup however, who's been ahead of the curve on creating the desired separation as a "violent" receiver on the outside.
A steal with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft, Gallup has a long way to go in beating out the likes of Terrance Williams, Cedrick Wilson (limited through this portion of the offseason with injuries), and even Cole Beasley, who's received some reps on the outside.
With both Hurns and Gallup making plays on the Cowboys final practice until late July, it's easy to let the mind wander with possibilities of the Cowboys offense playing at full strength against a defense that might be up for the challenge better than ever compared to year's past.
As always, the practice fields of Oxnard will serve as a battle ground for a young but deep Cowboys team to earn their spots on the 53-man roster, one that surely won't have room for all of the wide receiver hopefuls seen this week in mini camp.
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