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Cowboys’ Job Security: Secondary & Special Teams

Jess Haynie



Cowboys Blog - Cowboys' Job Security: Secondary & Special Teams

With eight games in and at least eight to go, it seemed a fine time to evaluate the roster. There are many different perspectives you can go with, but if you know me at all then you know I love to put my General Manager hat on. Today we're going to look at players within the context of job security, the likelihood that they will still be Cowboys next season.

We've been going through the entire roster the last few days. If you missed any of those articles, here are some easy links so you can catch up:

We wrap up today with the defensive backs and our special teams players.


Morris Claiborne - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

Claiborne has played well enough, and stayed healthy enough, this year to keep Dallas interested in his services. He turns just 26 in February and could be a solid starter for the next three or four years. There's certainly room for a superior player as your top corner, which they may already have in Byron Jones, but Claiborne would be a welcome number-two corner on most teams.

Things have worked out well for Dallas to have leverage at the negotiating table, also. Claiborne hasn't been so good that teams will be in hot pursuit in free agency. Assuming he still wants to be a Cowboy, Claiborne should be happy with the security of a multi-year offer at a reasonable starter's salary. If his agent tries to play hardball, though, I wouldn't hesitate to let him go finish his career elsewhere.


Orlando Scandrick - Signed through 2019

Even if they wanted to, Scandrick's contract doesn't offer much financial value for a release until at least 2018. There's no reason to think he won't be back next season, having a full year to recover from his injury. You have to worry a little about his ability play slot corner after a major knee injury, given how much shifting and change of direction is involved. Given the money, though, it's a concern that Dallas will have to live with for now.


Brandon Carr - Signed through 2017

Dallas can free up anywhere from nearly $10 to $7 million in cap space by cutting Carr next year. He has not been bad this year, but you rarely see teams passing on that kind of cap relief unless the player is truly special. They may try again to seek a reduced contract with him, but Carr and his agent were not entertaining the idea last offseason. Assuming they keep that stance going forward, Dallas likely has no choice but to part ways.


Byron Jones - Signed through 2018

I wasn't entirely sure which spot to put Jones in, given how much he plays safety. What's so interesting about him is that even though he may be most ideally skilled to play safety, Jones may also be the best cornerback on the team by next year. That flexibility is actually huge for Dallas, allowing them to pursue either position next year and get the best option for the entire secondary. After what was arguably his breakout game last week against the Eagles, Jones appears in line to impress us more and more as the season continues.


Corey White - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

White has put in some solid work so far in Dallas and could be attractive to teams in free agency. You know Dallas loves his versatility as a corner or safety option, so I think they will look to bring him back. Hard to say what can happen on the open market, though.


Tyler Patmon - Signed through 2016

Patmon did not build on last year's unexpected rookie success, having now lost his spot on the depth chart to White. I think he'll be back to compete for a job and his experience will be a plus. Hopefully he finds ways to grow his game.



Barry Church - Signed through 2016

Dallas can save close to $3 million by cutting Church next year. It's a move that may not come initially but is highly possible after free agency or even the draft. Dallas has to get more dynamic in its safety play. Moving Byron Jones there would help, but there's a case to be made for upgrading both spots.

Church is a very solid player and better consistently than J.J. Wilcox, but the financial issues work against him. $3 million goes a long way toward paying a free agent upgrade in his first year. He probably returns to start for more one more year, but I think it's almost equally possible for him to released.


J.J. Wilcox - Signed through 2016

Even if he's a backup next year, Wilcox shouldn't be going anywhere. He's due just $847k next year and would be a fantastic backup and special teamer at that price. He could also wind up starting if Dallas elects to cut Church. It's been a good thing that Jones has been worked in at safety so much this year, somewhat weening Wilcox off his starting spot if need be.


Jeff Heath - 2016 Restricted Free Agent

Heath's work on special teams will likely keep him around for at least one more year. Assuming Dallas looks to get better and deeper at safety, which they absolutely should, I see Heath becoming the new Danny McCray as almost a pure specialist with little role on the actual defense. He'd be the fourth safety, at best.


Danny McCray - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

As just mentioned, I see Heath moving down into McCray's role next year. He's still young enough that Dallas could bring him back for a year or two, but hopefully they're going to be looking to get better overall at safety.



Dan Bailey - Signed through 2020

Recently I've seen Kelsey Charles, formerly of, trying to coin the nickname "Dan Nailey" for our kicker. I'm sorry, but that sounds too much like a porn actor's name.

Last week I tried Dan "Middle Man" Bailey, because that's where all his kicks go. If you support this idea, make sure to use it on your own social media!


Chris Jones - Signed through 2017

I'm appreciating Jones more and more as he stays in Dallas. He's exceptionally good at directional punts and landing the ball on or near the sidelines. His distance has also improved over the last few years. There will always be a certain threat of competition when a young leg is brought in to camp, but Jones is as entrenched as ever in his job.



L.P. Ladouceur - Signed through 2017

If you didn't know, the L.P. stands for "La Perfeccion." Ladouceur is flawless in his work and will have a place in Dallas until he decides to retire. Given what he's asked to do, there's no reason he couldn't play until upper 30s and even low 40s if health and desire allow.



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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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie



Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.

Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.

But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.

What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.

It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.

Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.

How Does LB Joe Thomas Fit Into Cowboys' 2019 Plans?

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.

A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.

However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.

They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.

The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.

Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.

Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.

There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.

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Dallas Cowboys

Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit

John Williams



Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Is Getting Better By The Week

There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.

Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.

The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.

That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.

Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.

According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.

The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.

This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.

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Dallas Cowboys

3 Free Agent Targets From Cowboys NFC East Rivals

John Williams



3 Free Agent Targets From Cowboys NFC East Rivals

The free agency period in the NFL will be here in a little more than three weeks and the Dallas Cowboys will begin the annual tradition of trying to put together the best 53-man roster that they can come up with. Free agency is just one part of the equation that includes the draft, the signing of undrafted free agents, adding and subtracting from the roster during training camp, and picking up players after the final cut down day.

You can rest assured that Will McClay and the entire pro scouting department is doing their due diligence in anticipation of the March 13th start to the 2019 free agency period. They'll look high and low for players that can come in and be contributors for the Cowboys. Even within their own division.

Between the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins, there are some interesting names to consider as the Cowboys peruse the free agent aisles of the NFL superstore. Some of those players like Landon Collins, Ronald Darby, Nick Foles, and Brandon Graham will be new releases that will cost you a pretty penny at the check out stand. Others like Haloti Ngata will be in the used and refurbished section. And then there are those who could be had at a reasonable or discounted rate.

Here are three from within the NFC East that the Cowboys could have their eye on.

Mario Edwards, Defensive Line, New York Giants

The former Oakland Raiders second round pick out of Florida State University has already played for two teams in his young four-year career. That isn't a good sign for Mario Edwards as he approaches free agency for the first time. You don't generally see many top 100 picks get released from the team that originally drafted as they usually wait as long as they can to see if the player is going to hit.

For Mario Edwards, he found himself caught in a numbers game and outplayed by two rookies in Oakland's training camp in 2018, leading to his release. It also sounds like the Raiders couldn't quite figure out where to put him on their defensive line.

We know that the Dallas Cowboys love looking around the league for those reclamation projects. Edwards could be the next David Irving or Antwaun Woods. A player that isn't highly thought of, but in the right situation and with the right coaching could flourish.

Edwards has played 14 or more games in three of his first four seasons, missing his second season with a hip injury. He totaled more than two sacks a season in those three seasons. He isn't by any stretch of the imagination someone who is going to come in and replace DeMarcus Lawrence or Randy Gregory, but he could be a nice depth piece with potential to see significant snaps both at defensive end and 3-technique defensive tackle.

Edwards could be the next Rod Marinelli special.

Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

The Dallas Cowboys could be in the market for a slot wide receiver this offseason if Cole Beasley is allowed to walk in free agency, which seems like a near certainty. There are several intriguing options on the roster in Allen Hurns and Cedric Wilson that could play in the slot some, or play on the outside allowing Amari Cooper to play in the slot. They could also look to the draft for Beasley's replacement as well. In the free agent pool, there are several interesting names, one of which is Jordan Matthews.

Jordan Matthews just finished his second stint in Philadelphia and while he didn't have huge production in Philly in 2018 -- 20 receptions on 28 targets for 300 yards and two touchdowns, he's a player with a track record in the NFL and could be a "big slot" option.

In Matthews first three seasons in the NFL, he averaged 75 receptions on 115 targets for 891 yards and 6.3 touchdowns in his first stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2014, Matthews caught 64 of his 67 receptions from the slot, which was second in the NFL that season. In 2015, he led the NFL in receptions from the slot with 81, while also scoring eight touchdowns. In 2016, his final year with the Eagles, he was ninth in the NFL with 53 receptions. So, in those first three seasons in the league, he averaged 67 receptions, 796.3 yards, and six touchdowns. He caught eight touchdowns in each of his first two seasons for the Eagles in the slot.

He's not the same player that Cole Beasley is, but he's a player that knows how to win in the slot and because of the past couple of years could be a cheaper option to try and replace Cole's production.

Jamison Crowder, Wide Receiver, Washington Redskins

If Jordan Matthews is the inexpensive option for the Dallas Cowboys in the slot, Jamison Crowder would require paying a pretty penny. estimates that Crowder could be worth $8 million per year over four years on the open market.

Interestingly enough, he's never been as productive as Cole Beasley or Jordan Matthews, but because of his age and his work the last couple of seasons, injuries not withstanding, he's seen in a more positive light than Matthews.

Crowder is cut from a similar cloth as Beasley. Smaller in stature and uses quickness and speed to win games. As Cowboys fans, we know all to well the effect that he has in game. Crowder, however, has never had more than 66 receptions in a season and has only scored more than three touchdowns once in his four seasons in the NFL; back in 2016 when he scored seven.

Crowder is coming off of an injury this season that limited him to just nine games, 29 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. In his three full seasons prior to 2018, Crowder averaged 64 receptions on 93 targets for 746 yards and four touchdowns.

If for some reason, his market comes in less than the $8 million per year that is projecting, I'd be very interested in bringing Crowder to Dallas.

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Each of these guys offers something intriguing that the Dallas Cowboys could use. Whether it's a defensive lineman or a slot wide receiver, they all bring something to the table. The Dallas Cowboys need to approach this offseason with a "go for it" mentality, but if they continue to follow their free agency philosophy, Mario Edwards and Jordan Matthews could be nice pieces to add to the team that offer a lot of upside.

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