Whenever younger players can earn starting jobs on a NFL roster, that team is going to improve, and such was the case in a dramatic way following the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 NFL Draft. Now with a fresh haul of players brought in with the 2017 draft, nine young members of America's Team will look to push current members for their jobs.
After already looking at which Cowboys were given a vote of confidence based on Dallas' draft plans, here are a few that need to be ready to finish the fight in proving their worth for the 2017 season.
The world may have very well ended if the Cowboys came away from the 2017 NFL Draft without addressing the defensive end position at all, but dedicating their first round pick to Taco Charlton is bad news for DeMarcus Lawrence entering a contract year.
Charlton, like Lawrence, projects best as a very solid LDE - but the Cowboys seem committed to giving him an opportunity on the right side, another position Lawrence was asked to fill in at during his brief nine games with just one sack in 2016.
Various injuries and a suspension along the way have held DeMarcus Lawrence back from being the cornerstone pass rusher that the Cowboys desperately needed him to be when selecting him in the second round in 2015, appearing in just 32 career games.
D-Law has a lot of ground to make up in a short period of time this season if he is going to prove of any value beyond 2017 for the Cowboys, especially with Taco Charlton bringing fresh blood to his position.
CB Orlando Scandrick
Whether or not veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick's services are even part of the Cowboys plans for a young secondary this season is something discussed by Staff Writer Brian Martin here at Inside The Star, following reports of Dallas' intention to trade Orlando.
Scandrick has proven to be at his best when a fire is lit under him, and if he is here to stay, this fire will spread not only amidst trade talks but via rookies Chidobe Awuzie and slot CB Jourdan Lewis.
I still believe the best version of the Dallas Cowboys defense moving forward included Orlando Scandrick, but they may certainly feel differently when it comes time to actually crunch the numbers on this roster.
S Robert Blanton
Playing in the NFL can be a cruel life for mid-tier players like veteran safety Robert Blanton. A pre-draft addition in free agency, Blanton can certainly bring some toughness and consistency to the position in Dallas, but will now face competition from Xavier Woods along with Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier.
All younger options to replace a player that certainly doesn't bring anything amazing to the back-end of Rod Marinelli's defense, Blanton may have a tough time standing out with limited opportunities. Jeff Heath was already a player I highlighted as one the Cowboys are confident in, and with that confidence should come reps over the summer.
Assuming Woods gets his fair chance as well along with Frazier - who practically redshirted his first season - Robert Blanton could soon be back on the free agent market.
DT Cedric Thornton
Already employing a rotation along their defensive line, Cowboys DT Cedric Thornton's roster status may not be in jeopardy, but his playing time at the 1T position certainly could be.
The Cowboys feel good about their depth on the interior of the line with second-year player Maliek Collins holding down the 3T position, surrounded by contributions from Thornton, David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, and Stephen Paea.
More snaps off may even help Thornton make more plays as a disruptive 1T DT, but not if his role becomes entirely diminished by any combination of Paea, Irving, or seventh round picks Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell.
WR Lucky Whitehead
On a roster as competitive as the Cowboys, Lucky Whitehead's role is incredibly limited - and the gadget player/return man has left the door wide open to be replaced by not only a more dynamic but a more complete one too.
This player could be the 133rd overall pick Ryan Switzer, who served as a do-it-all offensive weapon and dangerous punt returner in the ACC at North Carolina.
Quincy McDuffie was also added from the CFL this offseason as a return option, creating additional competition for Whitehead, but using a fourth round draft pick on a receiver that fits the mold of Lucky's replacement is a telling sign for Whitehead and the rest of the WRs fighting for opportunity in what projects as one of the league's best offenses in Dallas this season.
WR Brice Butler
A look at the way the Cowboys have handled Brice Butler's status on the WR depth chart this offseason is a great example of how the team wants to build the entirety of the roster through competition.
Once an absolutely necessary target to have on the outside in the absence of Dez Bryant, Butler is signed on a new one-year deal only through 2017 and will have to earn his chances against both Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.
Switzer projects more as a gadget player and slot WR offensively, but the Cowboys' fourth round pick could still take Butler off the field in certain situations - a one-dimensional player at times as is with downfield speed but inconsistent hands.
Noah Brown will be motivated to earn a tough roster spot at receiver thanks to his blocking ability, an elite trait of his that is absolutely valued in Scott Linehan's offense. This too could push Butler to become more consistent and contribute at the top of the depth chart with the likes of Bryant, Williams, and Beasley.
The heat of the upcoming summer months are sure to bring with it plenty of heated competition for roster spots on the Dallas Cowboys through training camp and the preseason. Head Coach Jason Garrett would not have it any other way, and with his front office orchestrating another solid draft, look for some young players to try to continue the youth movement in the silver and blue.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
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