For die-hard NFL fans, the free agency period is as fun as any other week in the regular season. It's always a fun experience knowing what team is interested in which player and who's visiting who. Heck, there are websites with "free agents trackers" for people who don't want to miss a single thing.
Seeing the huge contracts some players get and discussing whether it's well-deserved money or an overpaid salary provides football fans all around the league with fun football conversations in the middle of March.
This is a period in which, despite not being on the field, every NFL team is doing the same thing. Trying to get better. Which is exactly why most Dallas Cowboys fans are frustrated with how things have gone for their favorite team in this 2018 NFL offseason.
Right now, less than a week after the free agency period officially began, they're the only team left in the NFL that hasn't signed a single free agent.
Surprising? Not at all.
Whether we like it or not, we know how this team likes to operate. A quiet free agency isn't out of the ordinary for the Cowboys. For many years, the NFL Draft has been the priority for them, and they've done a good job at it.
At the end of the day, waiting for the first wave of free agents to pass is smart unless you're looking for a QB or have a huge amount of cap space. When you look at what players are getting, you realize most of them are overpaid. Sammy Watkins got a $48M three-year deal, when he hasn't really proved to be worth it.
I don't think Cowboys Nation would've liked to see the Jones family bring Watkins for that kind of money. Personally, I don't mind the Cowboys' front office letting those first expensive signings occur without them participating in them.
I mean, they've already made a splash, when you think about it. DeMarcus Lawrence was the biggest non-QB free agent of the year and they managed to keep him for at least next season. It's not exactly a free agent signing, but they are paying one of the NFL's best pass rushers more than $17M to wear the Star one more year.
Yes, the Cowboys' team-building philosophy is comprehensible. But when do fans like you and me stop understanding their offseason approach and get bothered by it? To me, that frustration came in the form of Tyrann Mathieu signing with the other NFL team in Texas.
If the Honey Badger had signed a super expensive contract, I'd be fine with the Cowboys passing on him. But Houston was able to get him for just seven million dollars on a one-year prove-it deal.
Mathieu is one of the best defensive talents in the league and will be just 26 years old when next season begins. Why didn't the Cowboys tried to land him, if safety is a position of need? I mean, we've been talking about a potential trade for Earl Thomas all year!
Were they hesitant just because the Honey Badger isn't your traditional safety? Are they so conservative that their reason to not go after him was he wasn't a scheme fit? When you're talking about a talent like his, I think you make things work to see him thrive along young and promising cornerbacks like Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie.
The Cowboys can still look at Tier-2 free agents such as TE Eric Ebron or S Kenny Vaccaro over the following days. It could end up working for them, or it could end up just like Nolan Carroll's horrendous game versus the Broncos in week 2 of the 2017 NFL season and his $2M in dead money for this year.
When it comes to the Cowboys' approach to free agency, there's a very thin line between comprehension and frustration. Maybe, just maybe, they make us understand next season when we see results on the field.
For now though, it's tough to stay in the "comprehending" side of things.
What Are Realistic Expectations for Cowboys LB Sean Lee?
For many years, Linebacker Sean Lee has been the face of the Dallas Cowboys defense. However, that's quickly changing. The young duo consisting of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have taken over the linebacker position by dominating the field from sideline to sideline with their explosive talent. As a rookie, Vander Esch filled in for Lee at the weak linebacker position when the veteran went down injured and never gave the job back.
Currently, uncertainty surrounds Sean Lee, who took a pay cut earlier in the year to stay with the franchise he's played for since the beginning of his professional career in 2010. What will his role be in a young fueled defense in the upcoming season?
As we've all been able to see throughout his career, Sean Lee is one of the best in the game when he's healthy. Unfortunately, that's not very often. His injury proneness led him to a position change years ago, when he was moved from the MIKE (middle linebacker) to the WILL (weak side linebacker) position. Now, those two spots are taken care of.
Where does this leaves Lee? The main question is whether or not he'll move to the strong side. Many question if this would be the correct call, given that he could be at even more risk of suffering yet another injury in a position that leads to more contact. The other option would be for him to be Vander Esch's backup at WILL.
Lately, it seems like the Cowboys will indeed move him to the strong-side. After all, it only makes sense to have your best three players on the field at the same time. On minicamp, the Cowboys have been playing the veteran at SAM, letting him get reps and grow comfortable in what seems to be his new job.
But even if Sean Lee starts lining up on the strong side, what can we expect from him next season? The way the NFL offenses operate now leads to teams sending their nickel packages to the field more often than not. For the Cowboys 4-3 defense, that means three cornerbacks, two linebackers. When that's the case, it will be Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith who we see out there, not Lee.
Damien Wilson was the team's "starter" on the strong side, and he only managed to get 286 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. That represents 28% of the team's total snaps. Even if Sean Lee becomes the starting strong side linebacker, we likely won't be seeing him as much.
Even still, I'd expect Sean Lee's experience to play a big factor when the team needs Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch to catch their breath. Lee could jump in and play a few snaps at any LB spot and do a good job at it.
After all, we can't forget that despite his injuries, Lee is a remarkable player on defense. He should still be one of the smartest linebackers with extraordinary instincts. There's a reason why, before Vander Esch arrived to America's Team, the defense crumbled without him. Last year, despite losing the starting gig, Lee still had 118 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and an interception. The longtime veteran can still play.
It will be odd for Cowboys Nation to watch Lee on a completely new role. It's also hard to put the finger on what his production will look like at the end of the year. If there's one thing we know though, is that the veteran will work hard every practice trying to get the most playing time he can. We should be excited about the team's top three linebackers.
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
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