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Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging Holes Before The Draft

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging the Holes Before the Draft 4

If there is one tendency the Cowboys have shown as of late, it is that they like to enter the draft with no major holes.

This allows the team to draft without need in mind and helps them to select the best available player. While they haven't been huge spenders and they haven't landed many marquee names, they've made sure that they have quality talent at every position so that they can have a more sound draft.

This season sings a little different tune. While the Cowboys have a lot of needs, they also have a ton of cap space and are coming off of a tremendously disappointing season.

I'll be completely honest, I fully believe the Cowboys would sit and wait until the second week of free agency. At least.

Yesterday, I read a story about Jerry Jones losing sleep over this past season and it made me start thinking.

This past season was an utter embarrassment in so many ways. This was a team coming off of a 12-4 season that improved dramatically and was poised for a deep playoff run. Instead, they fell flat on their face. Yes, injuries contributed to it, but it doesn't tell the entire story.

The Cowboys took a chance on Greg Hardy and that came with tremendous backlash. You can only imagine that they made this move thinking he would be the final piece of the puzzle in getting the Cowboys to the promised land.

Instead, the Hardy drama led the Cowboys down a disastrous season from a PR perspective. You couldn't avoid the bad press. The Cowboys were everywhere. Even Dez Bryant lost his cool at a point. If you combine that with the results on the field, you get a Jerry Jones who probably isn't just upset or losing sleep, but is embarrassed.

Enter a Cowboys team that now has the ability to easily soar to over $30 million in cap space. The Cowboys may be serious spenders in trying to put together a team that no longer has huge holes to fill and plug those holes with some big talent. Add the great draft position to that and some health and you get a powerhouse Cowboys team.

How could some of this money be spent?

Well, let's start with the People's Champion, Lamar Miller.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging the Holes Before the Draft 3

Lamar Miller...come on down to Dallas!

If you follow me on Twitter you'll see my Tweets to him everyday reminding him how perfect the match is between him and Dallas. There's also a hashtag and website for it; #MillerToDallas and MillerToDallas.com is full of tweets mentioning the hashtag.

The Cowboys were willing to offer DeMarco Murray a contract around $6 million per year. You can offer something similar to Lamar Miller. Maybe even less. Miller is 24 and is extremely under-utilized. He has all the makings of a breakout player and would fit perfectly behind Dallas' offensive line. With Miller in Dallas, that eliminates the need for a running back, unless for some reason you think Darren McFadden is the guy.

A favorite of mine is Olivier Vernon.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging the Holes Before the Draft 2

Olivier Vernon made his presence felt when the Dolphins played the Cowboys this season

Tyron Smith is really good right? Of course he is. Go back and think about all the games he has played. Now try and think about all the talent he has faced at both left and right tackle over his career. Who performed the best of them all?

Olivier Vernon is the one player who comes to mind that really had Smith's number. It came as a shock to see Smith struggle so much with Vernon, because we just aren't used to seeing anything like that.

Vernon going against Smith throughout camp and in practices would be awesome to watch and would help each of them tremendously. Vernon is a player that I see as barely scratching the surface. There is so much talent in him and he is going to unleash all of it very soon. With Rod Marinelli working with him and Tyron Smith forcing him to bring his best every time, Vernon will improve by leaps and bounds.

Now, Vernon will not be cheap. He is 25 and there is tons of tape to prove how good he really is. While his sack totals aren't tremendously high, his age, potential, and disruption will ensure he gets paid well in free agency.

I look at the contract Vinny Curry signed with Philadelphia and the one Everson Griffen signed with Minnesota as baselines for the Vernon contract. Curry received a 5-year contract worth $47.25 million. Griffen's contract is for 5 years and worth $42.5 million.

Vernon averages more sacks per year than both of these players and is also younger. I would say the low end for Vernon would be 5 years for $45 million with the high end being 5 years and around $50 million.

George Iloka & Eric Weddle are other intriguing options.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging the Holes Before the Draft 1

George Iloka is a huge part of Cincinnati's defensive success

Before this season, Eric Weddle was easily one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. A disappointing 2015 have some soured on him.

Weddle just turned 31, so you are going to get some regression at some point, but I have my doubts that they are coming soon. I think you can attribute his 2015 performance to just a bad San Diego Chargers team. His poor 2015 - by his standards - and his age should make him pretty affordable and if Dallas could land him on a short-term deal it could be a huge signing.

George Iloka is a different safety than Eric Weddle. If you are tired of seeing Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox take poor angles and give up huge plays, then George Iloka is your guy. Pair Iloka with Byron Jones at safety and you get a really nice free and strong safety duo. Iloka will rarely take the wrong angle and when he hits... he hits hard. He is also 25 and has a lot of football in front of him.

Trumaine Johnson is my favorite option at cornerback.

This is the biggest hole on the roster and I fully expect the position to be addressed in some fashion.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Free Agency: Plugging the Holes Before the Draft

Trumaine Johnson can become a huge part of the Cowboys secondary and his age means he'll be around for a while

Johnson just turned 26 and is coming off a career year. Some might look at his 2015 performance and worry that it happened because it was a contract year. The big thing with 2015 to me is that he played more than 75% of the team's defensive snaps. Prior to 2015, he played mostly below 20% of the team's snaps.

With a bigger role Johnson embraced it and performed admirably tallying eight interceptions, something the Cowboys secondary needs desperately.

At 6'2, Johnson offers the kind of size teams are looking for today to combat some of the league's taller receivers. Johnson is also a freak athlete, so his addition to the secondary would go a long way for the team.

Some other names that I would keep in mind are:

  • DE DeMarcus Ware (if released)
  • DE Mario Williams (if released)
  • CB Janoris Jenkins
  • CB Sean Smith
  • CB Casey Hayward
  • CB Brandon Boykin
  • DE Nick Perry
  • DE Courtney Upshaw
  • DE Bruce Irvin
  • DE Robert Ayers
  • DE Adrian Clayborn
  • TE Dwayne Allen
  • TE Benjamin Watson



I've been blogging about sports and music for almost eight years now. I also work in media relations for a New York sports team, so I understand the bridge between the outlets writing about a team and the team monitoring content. I hope to bring something new to Inside The Star, getting deep into draft work, breakdowns and I always come with a strong and passionate opinion. I'm very active on Twitter, so ask questions, comment on stuff, etc. and I will almost definitely respond to you in some sort of debate!

Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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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!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

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.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

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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Player News

Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.

From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.

Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.

They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.

Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

https://t.co/za0u3lWgaY

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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