On March 4th I put out an article with the Cowboys' top-five needs as I saw them at the time. We have had several transactions since then which have shifted priorities now as we had into the second week of NFL free agency. Here's a quick reminder of those needs as I saw them nine days ago:
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
Let's do a quick look at moves that gave impacted these positions and see how the rankings may have shifted.
UNSIGNED: Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey
Dallas has sat back while names like Olivier Vernon, Mario Williams, and Jason Pierre-Paul flew off the shelf quickly. There was rumored interest between the Cowboys and Chris Long but no visit was ever scheduled.
With no additions and two of their key players from last year remaining unsigned, plus Randy Gregory facing a four-game suspension to start the year, defensive end remains the team's biggest need. Long and Hardy are the two biggest names available but the Cowboys have yet to show any tangible interest in either. Much like we saw with the Cedric Thornton signing, Dallas could have their eyes on someone unexpected. I anticipate them signing someone with starting-level talent this week.
ADDED: Morris Claiborne, Josh Thomas, Jeff Heath
UNSIGNED: Danny McCray
So far the Cowboys have focused on talent retention over adding fresh faces. Not only have they brought back Claiborne and Thomas at cornerback and Heath at safety but, to the surprise of many, Brandon Carr remains under his existing contract.
Dallas had a visit with free agent Nolan Carroll, previously with the Eagles, on March 10th but then ended up re-signing Claiborne a day later. The visit with Carroll may have been a negotiating tactic to push Claiborne to accept their offer. Perhaps Carroll is who they'd like to sign if they end up releasing Carr. Either way, it doesn't seem Dallas is interested in any of the top names in the cornerback market.
If Dallas keep Carr or adds another corner upon releasing him then it would all but confirm that Byron Jones will be a safety next year. Dallas would still have flexibility at safety as they can cut Barry Church for solid cap relief or release Heath as his restricted free agent tender is non-guaranteed. There would also be a minimal penalty for cutting J.J. Wilcox, leaving their options fully open.
Eric Weddle is still out there and many fans are clamoring for Dallas to give the veteran Pro Bowler. The Cowboys have been linked to Weddle but you never know how much stock to put in that, since Dallas gets thrown into almost every discussion to attract an audience. Still, Weddle remains an intriguing option and the only major name out there who I think Dallas could possibly be looking to add.
LOST: Matt Cassel (Titans)
Veteran Matt Moore visited with the Cowboys last Thursday but remains a free agent. Despite still having Kellen Moore signed it appears Dallas wants to bring in another veteran to compete with him, as well as whoever they may add in next month's draft.
Much discussed before free agency began as a potential target for the Cowboys, Robert Griffin III is still unsigned. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who many thought would get a starting job somewhere, may be looking for any kind of work if someone doesn't call him soon. It appears likely that Dallas will add one of these veterans in the next few weeks.
ADDED: Cedric Thornton (Eagles)
UNSIGNED: Nick Hayden, Jack Crawford, Casey Walker
The Cowboys appear to have moved on from Hayden after three years with the addition of Thornton. After playing a 3-4 defensive end in Philadelphia Thornton will play inside in Dallas, having the size to play the one-technique but also some pass-rushing skills that could keep him on the field in nickel and other schemes.
Jack Crawford is a versatile lineman who can play both end and tackle, a role we've seen filled by both Mincey and Hardy over the last two years. I think Dallas could easily end up re-signing him after he's been able to test the market a bit, likely getting him for a minimal deal. The need may not be as much as before the Thornton signing but versatile reserves are never a bad thing at any position.
With the Thornton addition and the continued employment of Terrell McClain and David Irving, not to mention Tyrone Crawford, it would appear that the Cowboys are fairly set at defensive tackle. At most they will add depth options, such as the aforementioned Jack Crawford, or mid or late-round rookie talent.
ADDED: Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber
After re-signing McClain and Wilber the Cowboys now have their entire 2015 linebacker corps returning. McClain will re-join Sean Lee as assured starters while Wilber will be in the mix with Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Mark Nzeocha, and Damien Wilson for the third starting spot and backup roles. The financial details of Wilber's deal are not yet known.
Dallas could still add talent in the draft but it would appear they are mostly done with the linebacker position in free agency. Not only are they bringing back all of their young prospects but Nzeocha is essentially a fresh face after missing most of last year with injuries. Compared to other positions, I think they will be content with the relative stability they have here.
~ ~ ~
So with those moves, how have the rankings changed? Here is my updated top five:
- Defensive End
- Running Back
- Another Defensive End
We've already discussed the first two in detail. I put defensive end on here twice because the Cowboys are ridiculously thin at the position right now. Their Week One starters would be Demarcus Lawrence and Ryan Russell, who was active in just one game all last year. They clearly have to add some bodies and still need a starter opposite Lawrence who they can count on for a full year.
At running back, the situation behind Darren McFadden right now isn't great. Lance Dunbar is visiting other teams and Robert Turbin remains unsigned, leaving some guy named Rod Smith as the only backup. My free agent of choice is Alfred Morris, formerly of Washington, who has the kind of one-cut running style that suits our line very well. There are several other options out there but nobody jumps off the page as an upgrade to what Dallas would have by just re-signing Turbin. Whoever they add, we can all agree that significantly better depth is needed before entering a second year with McFadden. His history for performance and health problems after a big year is consistently ugly.
The departure of Mackenzy Bernadeau to Jacksonville leaves backup center as another important consideration. Ronald Leary is coming back but has not impressed when Dallas has tried him there before. There is talk that Zack Martin could play it in an emergency but that means impacting two positions. Another player with Bernadeau's versatility would be great but, with Leary re-signed, Dallas can afford to add just a pure center as well.
Could the Cowboys be more active this week now that the first wave and the big contracts have passed? We'll find out soon.
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!
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.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
3 Reasons Not to Hate Kellen Moore Becoming Offensive Coordinator
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator
Dallas Cowboys17 hours ago
7 Free Agents the Cowboys Should Target
Player News4 days ago
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick