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Cowboys Free Agency: Is LB Anthony Hitchens A Priority?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Free Agency: Is LB Anthony Hitchens A Priority?

The frustrating reality when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys' approach in roster building is -- at certain positions -- they seem set on bargain-hunting for quick fixes and players with untapped potential to do the job. For years now, linebacker has been one of those positions, with the Cowboys failing far too many times at adding a true starter next to Sean Lee.

With free agency approaching on the league calendar, the Cowboys will now have a decision to make on one of their most promising linebackers. After four years of solid production at all three LB spots, Anthony Hitchens is set to hit the open market.

Schedule & Game Results Table
Defe Defe Defe Defe Defe
Week Rec Opp 1stD TotYd PassY RushY TO
1 W 1-0 New York Giants 13 233 198 35 1
2 L 1-1 @ Denver Broncos 26 380 202 178 2
3 W 2-1 @ Arizona Cardinals 22 332 283 49
4 L 2-2 Los Angeles Rams 24 412 244 168
5 L 2-3 Green Bay Packers 25 342 182 160 1
6 Bye Week
7 W 3-3 @ San Francisco 49ers 23 290 187 103 3
8 W 4-3 @ Washington Redskins 16 285 236 49 3
9 W 5-3 Kansas City Chiefs 17 323 255 68 1
10 L 5-4 @ Atlanta Falcons 22 336 204 132 1
11 L 5-5 Philadelphia Eagles 17 383 168 215
12 L 5-6 Los Angeles Chargers 25 515 434 81
13 W 6-6 Washington Redskins 15 280 224 56 4
14 W 7-6 @ New York Giants 21 330 228 102 2
15 W 8-6 @ Oakland Raiders 19 293 171 122 1
16 L 8-7 Seattle Seahawks 15 136 60 76
17 W 9-7 @ Philadelphia Eagles 12 219 149 70 2
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/25/2018.

 

Hitchens' contract year did not start off as cleanly as the team hoped, injured against the Oakland Raiders in the preseason. Recovering faster than expected, Hitchens made his 2017 debut against the Green Bay Packers. You can see the improvements in the Cowboys' overall numbers on defense once Hitchens returned to the field.

One thing the Cowboys do have going for them entering 2018 is the status of LB Jaylon Smith. The Cowboys deserve to parade around Jaylon Smith as a draft risk that worked out, and that's exactly what it feels like they'll do.

Relying on Smith and Lee to be the team's primary linebackers, on the field together in Nickel sets, is a solid start for the Cowboys. Anthony Hitchens as depth behind both of these starters, a role he excels in, creates much less of a need at LB in Dallas though.

Anthony Hitchens was a fourth round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The 2018 Draft class features plenty of depth at his position, meaning the Cowboys' could allocate the money Hitchens would warrant elsewhere - replacing him with a cheaper, younger option.

While slightly limited in pass coverage, Hitchens serves an important role as a read-and-react defender for the Cowboys that brings physicality against the run. This is the type of player that Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli loves.

The likes of Kris Richard and Ben Bloom have added say in what the Cowboys' defense will look like moving forward now however. Richard will coordinate the back seven of this defense, as he did brilliantly in Seattle, while Bloom is the Cowboys' new LB Coach.

Anthony Hitchens

Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Just how much they value a quality, starting-caliber LB on this roster will say a lot about the direction the Cowboys want to go in free agency this offseason. While it is understood that they won't be big spenders on outside players, signing their own has become a priority.

Taking this approach in free agency allows freedom come draft day, as the Cowboys can focus on adding talent anywhere on the roster.

Regardless of where Anthony Hitchens is next year, linebacker is a position the Cowboys should be looking to build on, and it may be best if they let Hitchens walk.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Free Agency: Is LB Anthony Hitchens A Priority?" 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.

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3 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    I guess yall forgot Sean Lee gets hurt every season and when he gets hurt whos always there, Anthony Hitchens. So to the point of this article, Hitchens is a priority this off season

  • nick

    Yes I believe they should sign him to a 2-3 yr deal by then we’ll know if jaylon is the player he was in college and both of there contracts will expire around the same time an we can pay the best 1 a big extension, and hopefully draft another starter during those 2-3 yrs. He’s a really good LB and I think he’s a huge priority with the health of Lee always being a problem.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      Nick, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. You have a really good idea here with Smith and Hitchens, just wonder if their commitment to Smith has already forced that decision a bit. Or if the FA market for Hitchens will do it for them. I’d love to have him back at the right price.

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Report: Center Travis Frederick Undergoing Shoulder Evaluation

Kevin Brady

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Travis Frederick

After missing the team's walkthrough this morning, it is being reported that Dallas Cowboys starting center Travis Frederick is having his shoulder evaluated due to multiple stingers. According to reports, Frederick has been dealing with stingers all training camp, and the Cowboys are unsure what is wrong with his shoulder.

Frederick rarely misses any practice time at all, and has not missed a start since he entered the league in 2013. He's the catalyst of this offensive line, and will be greatly missed if his injury is severe enough to make him miss regular season game time.

David Helman on Twitter

Jason Garrett says Travis Frederick is getting his shoulder looked at in Los Angeles. He's been dealing with stingers. No update behind that #cowboyswire

Joe Looney has been tasked with replacing Frederick for the time being, taking first team center reps during today's walk through and practice.

Given how meaningless Saturday's game is, I'd expect Looney to start at center against the Bengals this weekend as well. Hopefully the evaluation reveals that Frederick's issues are not serious and he will be ready for game one, but consistent stingers will always make fans fear for the worst.



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Cowboys G Marcus Martin Needs Surgery; Impact on 53-Man Roster

Jess Haynie

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Marcus Martin
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Martin, the veteran guard Dallas signed as a free agent last March, suffered a potential season-ending injury in the team's preseason opener last Thursday night. Just how long he'll be out is still be determined, but it still should impact the Cowboys' final 53-man roster this season.

Martin tore ligaments in his right big toe against the 49ers. However, as of yesterday, it was not decided if he would pursue surgery.

Brandon George on Twitter

The Cowboys don't expect backup OG Marcus Martin to play this season after he tore ligaments in his big toe in the preseason opener, but he's seeking a 2nd opinion before deciding whether to have surgery. Martin signed a 1-year deal with Dallas as a free agent this offseason.

A former third-round pick in 2014, the 24-year-old was brought in as a potential reserve at both guard at center. He was still in competition with Joe Looney and others for a roster spot, though, and his minimal one-year contract suggested nothing was guaranteed.

Even if Martin doesn't have surgery, he is almost sure to miss the start of the season. Dallas would likely place him on injured reserve, but still have the option to recall him after Week 8.

Marcus' absence all but guarantees that Looney will return in 2018. This will be his third year in the system and his ability to play center is critical.

In my 53-man roster projection last week, I had both Looney and Martin making the team. So if I had that right, that means a spot has opened up for probably fifth-year veteran Kadeem Edwards, who was playing with the second unit in the preseason opener.

The notorious Chaz Green, who has played guard at times, could also be the beneficiary of the open roster spot.

Damien Mama, an undrafted free agent in 2017 who Dallas added this offseason, is the only other guard currently on the roster. We should get to see more of him as the preseason continues.

Marcus Martin's availability, or lack thereof, and how it ultimately impacts the roster will be determined in the coming weeks.



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LB Jaylon Smith 100% Healthy Entering 2018 Season

Brian Martin

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#DALvsIND: 5 Cowboys Storylines To Watch In Preseason Week 2 1

If you need any more reason to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys upcoming 2018 season, then look no further than their 2016 second-round draft pick, Jaylon Smith. His comeback story from the devastating knee injury he sustained in his last collegiate game at Notre Dame has been well-documented, but recent news suggests his journey has finally come full circle.

Once considered a top-five pick, Smith saw his draft stock plummet due to concerns he may never be able to step foot on the field ever again. Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys were willing to gamble he would be able to make a full recovery and once again become the player he was with the Fighting Irish.

The long and grueling rehab process couldn't have been easy to endure. Jaylon Smith was forced to pretty much redshirt his rookie season and played on a pitch count Year 2 while he continued to rehab, waiting for nerve regeneration that may never fully heal.

Luckily for him, he joined a team with a really good support system both on and off the field. A support system that just so happened to include his brother, Running Back Rod Smith. It's that support system that could have made a huge difference in his approach to rehab. An approach that may have finally paid off.

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LBs Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith

All reports indicate Jaylon Smith is 100% healthy once again, or as close to it as possible. Rod Smith, his brother, said Jaylon is back to being as good as he was at Notre Dame. Jaylon however said he is even better than he was. But, they are not the only ones weighing in on Smith's health.

Scouting Director Will McClay went on 103.3 FM ESPN Radio Monday morning and declared LB Jaylon 100 percent healthy from the injury he suffered in college that kept him out his rookie season in 2016 and had him on a pitch count in 2017.

Will McClay isn't the only one that has noticed a difference in Jaylon Smith. Head Coach Jason Garrett has said Smith has grown leaps and bounds from last year and are treating him like a player with no limitations.

"Again, he worked hard in his rehab. Coming into this off-season he was able to take that brace off. I think that's freed him up a little bit," Garrett said.

"And he just looks much more natural. So again, you'll have to ask him that very question, but from our point of view, he looks like he's moving around really well, changing direction really well, making a lot of plays. I think he's gaining more confidence with each day. We really don't have a plan for him right now. He's full-go and ready to practice every day with no limitation."

All of these accounts certainly make it sound like Jaylon Smith's arrow is trending upwards and that he is as healthy as he has been since joining the Dallas Cowboys.

Luckily, we don't have long to see him in action. I don't know about you, but Thursday night when the Cowboys take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Week 1 of the NFL Preseason can't get here soon enough.

Are you excited to see a 100% healthy Jaylon Smith this season?



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