While the term "quarterback-driven league" is cliché, you can't deny its accuracy for the NFL and really any form of football. Since the year 2000, only five Super Bowls have been won by guys who wouldn't be universally considered as franchise QBs. The rest have all been gobbled up by the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Dallas Cowboys know all too well how the quarterback position affects success. The absence of Tony Romo sent the team plummeting to a 4-12 record in 2015. Last season, the arrival of Dak Prescott lifted the team to 13 wins and the expectation of ongoing contender status in future seasons.
So, with quarterback being clearly important, it's worth discussing how the Cowboys will handle that position for the remainder of this offseason. Right now they have three guys under contract for 2017.
One of them is Dak Prescott. He's pretty good.
Another is the recently re-signed Kellen Moore. He's pretty short.
And then there's Tony Romo, who only a faithful few still believe could be a Cowboy in 2017. Most of us logically assume that, whether it's with a new team or with FOX Sports, Romo will have a new employer in the very near future.
Even if the Cowboys are content with just Prescott and Moore for their 2017 roster, they will still need a couple more passers to get them through training camp and the preseason. The questions now are about how much they want to invest in those other quarterbacks and if they want for Kellen Moore to have legitimate competition for the backup job.
We're going to look at Moore, other veteran options, and the philosophy behind continuing to draft quarterback talent. The future will tell which direction Dallas goes.
This is going to sound cruel, but Kellen Moore's leg injury may have been the best thing to happen for Dallas in 2016. It opened the door for Dak Prescott to be unchallenged as the number-two quarterback and eventually take over when Tony Romo went down. Moore's presence would've robbed Prescott of valuable practice and preseason game time, perhaps even keeping him as the third QB on the depth chart.
While nobody thinks Moore would've come in and accomplished the things that Prescott did (unless you're crazy), there is reason to think he could've had some success. During the tragic 2015 season, Kellen was the better performer over veterans Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Unlike them, Moore had never started or even taken a regular season snap in the NFL.
The Cowboys were prepared to ride with Kellen Moore last year as their backup quarterback. By this September, Moore will have had two full off seasons here and loads of time working with Scott Linehan between Dallas and Detroit. Those are major considerations, not just for Moore's ability to play but also the value he offers as an advisor to Dak Prescott.
Veteran Free Agents
If Dallas wants another veteran to compete with Kellen Moore then there are other free agent options available. Here are some of the bigger names on the market who might accept a backup role.
Recently released by the Eagles after they brought back Nick Foles, Daniel has spent four years in Doug Pederson's offense between Philadelphia and Kansas City. Could he potentially bring some inside information to help the Cowboys defense against their NFC East rival?
Daniel has only thrown 78 passes over an eight-year career. He's fairly unknown for such a long time in the NFL, sitting on the bench throughout his early days with New Orleans. Chase served as Drew Brees' backup during the Saints' Super Bowl Championship year but only played a handful of snaps in four seasons.
How much you like Daniel probably depends on how much you believe in the value of "inside info" from signing a rival team's players. I've never believed it in much for many positions, but quarterback is one where I give it some credence. They are the players most tapped in to the strategy and philosophy of the coaches and would have the best insights, if any, to offer.
Robert Griffin III
There is no denying that Griffin, between his ongoing health problems and increasingly erratic play, isn't a starting-caliber quarterback these days. However, the Cowboys would hopefully not be asking the former 2nd-overall pick to start anytime soon.
Before Dak Prescott last year, RG3 had the last phenomenal season for rookie quarterbacks. He looked ready to make Washington a contender for the next decade, but a major knee injury derailed him. Like they do with most things, Washington mismanaged Griffin's return from injury and created a hostile environment between quarterback, coach, and owner.
You could make a case that Washington and Cleveland have been the two most poorly run teams in the NFL during Griffin's career. How much did the stink of those organizations latch on to Griffin? How much did their dysfunction impact Griffin's own approach to football?
Coming back home to Texas, where Griffin played his high school and college football, and being relieved of the pressure of carrying a team could be the best thing to help RG3 restore his career. Still just 27-years-old, the former Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year may be hiding somewhere underneath the baggage.
There's only one quarterback available who once led a team to the Super Bowl. That means we have to talk about Kaepernick, no matter how far his stock has fallen since.
After starting his career with two other trips to the NFC Championship Game along with the one Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick seemed poised for greatness. Things clearly fell apart in San Francisco, though, and seemingly in large part because Colin himself lost his footing.
There's no debating that Colin Kaepernick has the most talent of any available free agent. However, all of the political and P.R. baggage that comes with him after 2016 is clearly more than most teams want to deal with. That's why he's still unsigned and hasn't generated hardly any buzz since free agency began.
Kaepernick probably isn't ready to accept a bench position or the massive pay cut that comes with it, but $3 million is better than no million.
As was already mentioned with RG3, there's a certain logic behind having a backup who can do some of the same things as your starter. Kaepernick is even more athletic than Dak Prescott and would step into an offense that has more talent than any he ever worked with in San Francisco.
However, would the Dallas fan base accept a player with Kaepernick's political views and actions? Would his recent protests during the National Anthem, even if he no longer practices, make him unwelcome on "America's Team?"
The NFL Draft
After striking oil with Dak Prescott in last year's draft, it's easy to assume that Dallas won't be spending any picks on quarterbacks for a while. That would be in keeping with their history; the Cowboys have only drafted three QBs over the last 25 years (Prescott, Stephen McGee, and Quincy Carter).
However, a lot has changed recently in the way the Cowboys are managed. Jerry Jones defers more and more to his son, Stephen, and front office ace Will McClay. Jason Garrett has a major influence in personnel decisions. Given this new power structure, it's hard to use history for much substantive analysis.
Whether by coincidence or goal, we've seen the Cowboys starting to follow more of the philosophies of the New England Patriots. We've seen this in a much stricter handling of the salary cap; avoiding lavish free agents spending and playing more hardball with your existing talent. Perhaps we will see similar logic used when it comes to the draft as well.
One thing that the Patriots have done throughout the Tom Brady Era is continue to draft mid and late-round quarterbacks. Even in 2002, the summer after Brady's meteoric rise to fame, New England spent a fourth-round pick on Rohan Davey.
The best case scenario is what happened with Matt Cassel in New England. After he came in for Brady in 2008 and kept them as a playoff contender, the Patriots made him part of a trade that got them the 34th overall pick in the following draft. This offseason there's been plenty of talk of them doing something similar with Jimmy Garoppolo.
If Tony Romo was several years younger, the Cowboys' 2016 season might've been similar. Imagine if Romo was seen as being here for another five years or so. Dallas could be trading Dak Prescott somewhere right now for a first-round pick, perhaps even one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft.
The point is that quarterbacks can quickly becomes valuable commodities, sometimes even off of a single great game. Look at what happened to Matt Flynn after just one big night for the Packers; several teams looked at him as a potential starter for the next few seasons. Keeping a pipeline of young, talented passers could give you opportunities to acquire future picks.
Plus, if nothing else, it ideally keeps more talented players ready in case something bad happens to your starter. I'm not saying any of them could be "the next Dak Prescott," but isn't that worth trying to find every now and then? The potential return on your investment is far more than any other position offers.
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Whether it's free agency or the draft, the Cowboys certainly have options for increasing their present and future strength at the quarterback position. History says they may take the minimalist approach and just roll with Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore, but this is a new era of team management and philosophy in Dallas. How they handle the remainder of the offseason may show even more strategic changes.
No matter what else happens, the presence of Dak Prescott alleviates many concerns. While the "sophomore slump" is a real thing, Prescott has already displayed the mentality and presence of a seasoned veteran. He appears as well-equipped to avoid that second-year decline as you could hope for.
It's what goes on below Prescott on the QB depth chart that is now the focus. After the last few years, no team should appreciate the value of quality backup quarterbacks more than the Dallas Cowboys. It's been the difference between fruition and futility.
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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