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Cowboys Have Increasing Uncertainty at Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week's Hall of Fame game gave Cowboys fans some good looks at running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, assumed to be competing for the third spot on the RB depth chat. Also, new comments from Jerry Jones have made Ezekiel Elliott's future tougher to predict. Throw in a brief but uninspiring performance from Darren McFadden and we have arguably more confusion now at RB than we did a week ago.

Jerry Jones, Ezekiel Elliott

Jerry Jones and Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Let's start at the top; Ezekiel Elliott's possible suspension has been hanging over the Cowboys all summer. During the Hall of Fame festivities, Jerry Jones commented on Zeke's situation in a concerning way.

"There are a couple of issues that might or might not fall — and that’s going to be up to the league to the decide — under the behavioral guidelines."

It's not the most direct comment ever, which Jerry's rarely are, but it does speak to the likelihood that the league is considering more with Elliott than just the domestic violence allegation. Whether it's the St. Patrick's Day parade shirt-lifting, the trip to the marijuana shop in Seattle, a speeding ticket for 100 mph, or his proximity to whatever happened at that nightclub, Zeke may be headed for a wrist-slapping, preventative disciplinary measure from Roger Goodell.

However, not long after those comments, Jerry went on to say that he did not expect any kind of suspension for Elliott. It's hard to know if that's supportive or even wishful thinking, or just an objective appraisal from the Cowboys owner. Either way, many now think a one or two-game suspension is very possible if Zeke's entire body of work is being considered.

Darren McFadden

RB Darren McFadden

With three carries for a total loss of six yards, Darren McFadden's preseason started with a brief whimper. As we'll get to in a minute, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith had far better success with their carries that night. However, before you go handing McFadden's job to one of them, there are two key points to keep in mind.

McFadden's three carries came at the start of the game when the Cowboys offense looked the most befuddled. The offensive line created nothing for him to use. Also, let's be real; three carries is hardly a solid sample size. One long run can change the way your entire night is perceived, much like how Morris benefited from his 25-yarder. Without it, he had six carries for 17 yards.

It's important to remember that McFadden's value isn't just in carrying the ball. He's an exceptional backfield blocker and receiver, making him an ideal third-down option. With Ezekiel Elliott as the workhorse, McFadden can go in and be more useful in various spots; more of a Swiss Army knife player than Morris. He can even return a kickoff in a pinch.

Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith

Still, there's no denying that Alfred Morris and Rod Smith were the standout running backs in the game. Morris 25-yard run showed both athleticism and power, and on several other carries he did a nice job of reading blocks quickly before hitting the right lane. Both players had to make something out of nothing a few times.

With his 18 carries, Rod Smith got the biggest workload and shined consistently. His final stat line of 64 yards on 18 carries is not a great average, but Smith was clearly doing the best with what second and third-string offensive linemen could give him. He showed good improvisational ability, agility, and also power throughout the night. He even had three catches for 25 yards.

There were already reports that Rod Smith was threatening Morris' roster spot coming out of training camp and this game showed you why. Along with effective running, Rod is a solid special teams player and even has the experience from playing a little fullback last year. He is a more justifiable number-three RB than a guy who doesn't give you all of the extra things. Plus, cutting Morris saves you $1.6 million off the salary cap

~ ~ ~

Obviously, Ezekiel Elliott is the team's workhorse back for whatever number of games he is allowed to play. At this point, there's little reason to think that Darren McFadden will fall out of the number-two spot, let alone off the roster completely. A suspension will likely allow the Cowboys to delay their decision between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith; it is doubtful that will keep four running backs given Zeke's projected workload.

With four games and a lot of practices between now and final cuts, there is plenty of time for assumptions and projections to change. As last week proved, it doesn't take much for us to start rethinking things. The picture may get even murkier before it finally clears up.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Randy Martin

    August 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I can’t think of any player ever suspended for their “body of work.” And yet that has been discussed. Jerry has been very specific on the issue of domestic violence and having reviewed everything says it doesn’t exist. Now we know sometimes it’s hard to take everything he says at face value. So let’s look at the other issues. First off can we just stop talking about getting ticketed for doing 100 in a 70? Who among the male population hadn’t taken the car out on the freeway and cleaned the pipes out? The difference here is he got caught. Are traffic violations covered under the personal conduct policy? I think not unless it includes other charges not noted. While he was wrong for his behavior on St.Patrick’s Day had that happened in New Orleans on Mardi Gras would we be talking about it. I’m pretty sure Gronk’s wild cruise featured much worse…we just have no photos. And we don’t have a precedent for this so not sure how that will be viewed by the league. The recent nightclub incident was closed after a short investigation due to lack of co-operation. Unless there is any conclusive evidence by the NFL such as a video of Zeke throwing the punch or a large check going from Zeke to the DJ in the days after I’m not sure the NFL is in a position to impose any suspension for that incident. As for the trip to the marina and shop….bad look but suspendable? No record of a purchase made or a failed test so if a citizen can’t walk into a legal place of business then something is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s wise because perception is reality. I just wish whatever is going to happen, happens soon because I’m tired of reading about it. I did notice that Zeke was playing with his phone or something in his lap during JJ’s HOF speech while all other players had all eyes on Jerry. Maybe we should add that to the list.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      August 8, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      That’s the think with Zeke; you can isolate any of his issues and poke holes in them. But the accumulation of issues and question marks, with the shadow of domestic violence involved, is why he’s now in hotter water than he really should be. It may be harsh, but not really unfair.

      I don’t think he’s going to get suspended, but he needs to start living life with the recognition of how thin the ice has become.

  2. Russ_Te

    August 7, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    Fail a drug screen, do a criminal offense, the league has to step in with suspensions to guard the brand.

    For the rest of Elliott’s behavioral issues, suspension should be a last resort. He can be warned & fined first. There is a fine line between preserving the brand and serving as 24/7 chaperone. The NFL needs to avoid the latter IMO. Let the teams deal internally with the stupid stuff a 22-year old does.

    McFadden looked uninspired but you figure that changes for regular season. Besides, why bang him up right now? He & Zeke should get a few reps, give the rest to those battling for a roster spot.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      August 8, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      I agree that it’s not up to the league to become a surrogate father. Unfortunately for Zeke, the DV accusation paints everything else with a different brush. That’s the reality of being an NFL player in a post-Ray Rice world.

  3. John Williams

    John Williams

    August 8, 2017 at 1:29 am

    One week of the preseason doesn’t change anything for me.

    I would want to continue to see Alfred Morris as an effective back before being willing to keep him on the roster. In my opinion, I think he’s auditioning mostly for other teams. I don’t think he does enough to get rid of McFadden or Smith. If anything they might be forced to carry four running backs and a full back if he continues to play well. But given that they want to feed Zeke, it seems carrying 4 running backs is a luxury. Especially with what Rod smith has been showing in camp so far.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      August 8, 2017 at 10:18 pm

      What scares me with Morris is that he looked good all of the 2016 preseason and even in some limited touches early in September, but his effectiveness clearly waned over time. McFadden came off NFI list last year and showed way more chemistry in his few touches. It would take a pretty dramatic difference in these next four games for me to feel confident enough about Morris to even question DMC’s job status.

      I think Rod Smith has almost secured a roster spot. Not only does he look good and give you special teams value, but he’s also the only guy who is under contract in 2018. If he keeps this up, he could probably be RB2 next year.

      • John Williams

        John Williams

        August 9, 2017 at 3:54 pm

        Totally agree. I just don’t see them being willing to bring four tail backs to the 53. Just seems that Morris is an odd man out. They might have been a bit hasty signing him in the first place if they intended on drafting Zeke last year. Was a solid insurance policy.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Defensive End

Jess Haynie

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DeMarcus Lawrence

If quarterback is the most important position in football, then the guys who hunt them down might be second. As such, the Dallas Cowboys face a major offseason decision in 2019 when it comes to the free agency of Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence.

This will be Lawrence's second year as an unrestricted free agent, with Dallas retaining him last season using the franchise tag. Even though he accepted it in 2018, DeMarcus swore all the way back in that summer that he wouldn't play for the Cowboys in 2019 if franchised again.

Despite his sack numbers dropping a bit last season, "Tank" remains one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. He is a total package of pass-rushing and run stopping, and he's now given Dallas two-straight Pro Bowl seasons.

If the Cowboys have any plans to contend for a championship next season then they can't risk losing a player like Lawrence. We've seen what this defense looks like without a premiere pass rusher and it isn't pretty.

Of course, Dallas could try to replace DeMarcus with a different free agent signing. If Jadeveon Clowney or Frank Clark avoid being tagged by their own teams, perhaps the Cowboys can lure one of them over. But don't expect any big difference in compensation between these three players.

Whether it's Lawrence or one of the other premiere pass rushers in free agency, you can expect the Cowboys to make one of them their top offseason priority. The greater mystery is if Dallas will make any other moves to upgrade the DE position, or stick with what they've got.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

Dallas finally enjoyed some real production out of Randy Gregory in 2018, whose personal issues nearly derailed the talented pass rusher's career. Gregory posted six sacks last season and was starting to look like the Robin to Lawrence's Batman.

Also in the mix is 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton, who took a backwards step last year and seemed to be in the coaches' doghouse by season's end. Motivation and attitude seem to be an issue for him, and he'll need to step it up this summer if he doesn't want to wind up at the back of the depth chart again.

One of last year's fourth-round picks Dorance Armstrong also returns. He will hopefully be ready to take on a larger role in his second season and provide another pass rushing threat, plus insurance in case Gregory suffers any return of past problems.

If Dallas doesn't make Tyrone Crawford a salary cap casualty, or chooses to re-sign David Irving, those are two other guys who can play some defensive end for you.

Despite these options, the Cowboys could still look at adding another mid-grade free agent for depth and insurance. They could hope for a bargain on veterans like Ezekiel Ansah, Vinny Curry, or Chris Long. They might hope that Rod Marinelli could work his magic on first-round flop Dante Fowler.

Another guy that Dallas might look at is Benson Mayowa, who was with them from 2016-2017 and is a solid player. He spent the last season in Arizona on a one-year deal and is still just 27 years old.

Don't expect much from the draft, barring a major steal presenting itself. The Cowboys have bigger needs with their limited number of 2019 picks, and they also still need to see how recent selections like Charlton and Armstrong play out.

This offseason is all about DeMarcus Lawrence, or at least one of the other marquee free agents at defensive end. Some supplemental moves are possible, but arguably the biggest move Dallas makes the next few months is either retaining or replacing their top pass rusher.



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Dallas Cowboys

Offense or Defense, Which Should be the Cowboys Main Offseason Focus?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Need to Upgrade the Offense or Defense More?

The Dallas Cowboys offseason should be approached like a puzzle. You have to know what the picture looks like beforehand before you start grabbing random pieces to try to fit them together. Keeping that in mind, I thought it be a good idea if we take a look at the Cowboys offense and defense to try to determine which one needs the most attention.

It may be somewhat surprising, but the Dallas Cowboys pretty much have the entire puzzle almost put together. There is just a few missing pieces they need to add, but for the most part the team that will take the field when the 2019 season kicks off is already in place.

There isn't going to be much roster turnover this offseason. Nearly all of the starters will return for the upcoming season on both sides of the ball, meaning the Cowboys are in good shape as far as having the teams nucleolus in place. In fact, there might be just one or two starting positions up for grabs on offense and defense.

Let's take a look…

Dallas Cowboys Offense

Kellen Moore, Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore

As things stand right now before any moves are made in free agency or through the draft, the Dallas Cowboys offense may have just two starting spots up for grabs. But, even that's just a guesstimate because we still don't really know what the future holds for Center Travis Frederick, even though all signs point to him making a triumphant return to the starting lineup.

The way I see it though, the Cowboys will need to find someone to replace Cole Beasley in the passing game and also add a starting caliber tight end. That's it really as far as the starters are concerned. There is however need for more depth at several positions such as backup running back and offensive tackle, but those aren't necessarily "needs". I'd say they're in pretty good shape offensively compared to years past.

Dallas Cowboys Defense

Kris Richard

Dallas Cowboys Assistant Coach Kris Richard

Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs.

The Cowboys will have to find someone to replace Damien Wilson as the starting strong side linebacker and potentially a new starting strong safety. That's really the only starting positions I believe are up for grabs on defense. But like the offense, they could stand to add more depth and competition throughout the defense, especially along the defensive line. But again, there really isn't a glaring "need" they absolutely have to address.

Verdict: Cowboys Offense

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Even though the Dallas Cowboys offense and defense seems to be pretty evenly matched as to how many starting positions are up for grabs, the offense looks to be the one that needs just a little bit more help. The defense proved in 2018 they are someone to be reckoned with and with the loss of just Damien Wilson, that shouldn't change. The same can't be said about the offense though.

If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.

Of course, this is just my opinion and you are more than welcome to agree or disagree with it. But, when the free agency and NFL draft ball finally starts rolling, I expect most of the Cowboys offseason moves to be on the offensive side of the ball. Improving things around Quarterback Dak Prescott would seem like the wise thing to do after all, especially since he's about to be paid quite handsomely.

Which side of the ball do you think needs more help this offseason?



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Quarterback

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of work to do to restock and refine their roster in the hope of improving of last year's playoff run. We'll be looking at all of the 2019 needs for this offseason in the coming days, and we're going to start with paramount position of quarterback.

Unlike most spots on the team, the quarterbacks don't have anyone with an expiring contract this year. Both Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush will be in the final year of their deals, while Mike White still has three years left on his rookie contract.

Despite this, Prescott's contract is still one the hottest issues the Cowboys face this offseason. They must decide if they want to go ahead and lock him up now to a long-term extension, or wait and see how Dak performs in his fourth season.

It's a real dilemma for Dallas. One the one hand, Prescott already has two Pro Bowls, two division titles, and all winning seasons on his three-year resume. However, he's also had ongoing accuracy issues and problems with consistent productivity in an increasingly pass-focused league.

Given what he's already accomplished, Dak can command a pretty sizable contract in current negotiations. Just within the week he's already commented on not planning to give the Cowboys a discount in his next deal.

If Dallas waits another year then they risk that price tag going up. They could be competing with the open market, or what if Prescott leads the team to the NFC Championship or beyond in 2019?

If Dak's camp is already going to be aggressive in contract negotiations this year, then there's a case to be made for just waiting. Let him play on his bargain $2.14 million cap hit and use the savings to load up on talent for a championship run. The team will still have resources to re-sign Prescott in 2020, or even franchise tag him, if that's their choice.

Mike White

Dallas Cowboys QB Mike White

However that situation goes, we know that Dak is the starter in 2019. But even though Cooper Rush and Mike White are both due to return next season, should the Cowboys be satisfied with that QB depth chart?

As I wrote about earlier this week, Dallas has good reason to look at adding a veteran passer to the mix this offseason. If Rush and White beat him out, that's great. But if not, it adds an experienced voice to help Dak Prescott in this critical upcoming year.

You can go a few different ways. Some of the projected free agents can match Prescott's mobile style, such as Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, or Robert Griffin III. Others give you the experience edge such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, or Matt Schaub.

It doesn't seem likely that the Cowboys would draft another QB after just taking Mike White last year with a fifth-round pick. Unless they are moving to a completely different philosophy, Dallas will likely give White at least another year or two to develop as a mid-round selection.

Ideally, at least one of White or Cooper Rush will show some growth this year and inspire confidence as the immediate backup. But adding a veteran for competition certainly couldn't hurt, and Dallas has the cap space to do it.

Thankfully, everything that Dallas might have to do this offseason at quarterback is optional.  They can choose whether or not to redo Prescott's contract, or whether or not to pursue upgrades behind him. There is no gaping hole being created by a potential free agent departure.

The Cowboys have the power now, but that can quickly change next season once Dak's a free agent. That's why they still have a big decision to make in 2019.



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