They say "every game matters" in the NFL, and that's generally true. But for several years now, the Dallas Cowboys' regular season finales haven't had any meaningful impact on their season. Week 17 of the 2018 season, on the road to face the New York Giants, is no different.
The last time that the Cowboys were playing for something in Week 17 was the 2013 season, when the Eagles came to Dallas for a winner-takes-all division showdown. But with Kyle Orton playing for an injured Tony Romo, the Cowboys didn't have enough to get the job done.
In fact, before the 2014 season, high stakes were the trend in the finales. As we painfully remember, Dallas had a shot at the playoffs in all of Jason Garrett's first three full seasons as head coach. But all three years ended with disappointing letdowns and 8-8 records.
But since then, Dallas has either secured or sunk their playoff spot before Week 17. Three of the last five seasons (2014, 2016, 2018), the Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East and couldn't help or hurt their playoff positioning in the final regular season game.
The other two years, Dallas was eliminated before they could get to Week 17.
This year's finale was rendered moot thanks to the Cowboys clinching the division last week with their victory over Tampa Bay. They could have accomplished it a week earlier in Indianapolis, but we saw how that went.
Thanks to the current NFC standings, Dallas has nothing to play for this week. They are locked into the fourth seed in the playoffs, being two or more games behind the Chicago Bears and other division winners. A win or loss won't change next week's game one bit.
All the Cowboys can do now is wait to see who's headed to Dallas for the first round of the playoffs. Right now it's the Seahawks, but a Seattle loss coupled with a win by Minnesota would bring the Vikings to AT&T Stadium.
The Philadelphia Eagles could still make the playoffs, but there's no scenario that would allow them to be the fifth seed and play Dallas in the first round.
So with the Cowboys unable to affect their playoff position in any way, how will they treat Sunday's game in New York?
We've seen the team handle this situation in different ways depending on the year. In 2014, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and the gang played to win. Dallas wanted to keep their momentum going into the postseason
The 2016 season saw a bit of both. Dallas played their starters in the first half and then brought in the backups in the second. But that year they also had a first-round bye, so rest wasn't much of a concern.
There's a lot to be said right now for giving players rest. Zack Martin, for example, has been battling a knee injury all year and had to miss Week 15 with it. He will almost certainly get the week off to avoid any sort of regression before the postseason.
Tyron Smith also has nagging injuries which have limited his performance lately. A week off could be big for him, too.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott could also use a breather. The Cowboys' workhorse has looked banged up lately and needs to freshen up for the playoffs. Last week, Dallas called up Darius Jackson from the practice squad so that may indeed be their plan.
With just those three names, you see the potential ripple effect of rest. Even if you weren't going to rest him, do you want to see Zeke getting banged up behind backup offensive linemen? Or do you want to risk Dak Prescott behind second-string protection?
Other veterans such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin have only just been cleared to play in the last week or two after long absences. Would another week off help their health, or is this meaningless game a good opportunity to get them some run and hopefully find some rhythm?
That's what the Cowboys coaches are up against this week; what's best for individual players and the team as a whole? Momentum is a valuable thing, but so are good health and rest. And in these scenarios, you can almost never work towards both.
But at least it's not a new quandary. As we discussed, Dallas has been in this spot for Week 17 in each of their last two playoff runs.
Hopefully, those experiences will help make the best choices for this Sunday.
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!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
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.
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