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Cowboys LB Depth a Concern With Anthony Hitchens’ Departure?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys LB Depth a Concern With Anthony Hitchens' Departure?

Losing Anthony Hitchens to the Kansas City Chiefs is quite a blow to the linebacker depth for the Dallas Cowboys. During his time in Dallas, Hitchens was pretty much invaluable due to his ability to step in and play whatever LB position was needed in the Cowboys 4-3 defense. Unfortunately, the Cowboys will no longer have that "safety valve" at their disposable any longer.

The Dallas Cowboys were very open about trying to retain Anthony Hitchens, but they knew he would likely end up out of their price range in free agency. But, I don't know if anyone could've foreseen Hitchens receiving $9 million per season. There is no way the Cowboys could have kept him at that price.

Hitchens' departure might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper, you will discover that it creates a huge hole that needs to be filled at the Cowboys linebacker position. Let me show you what I mean…

Here is the Dallas Cowboys current depth chart at LB:

MIKE: Jaylon Smith

WILL: Sean Lee

SAM: Damien Wilson

Backups: Justin March-Lillard, Tre'von Johnson

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys have to be a little bit concerned with their depth at the linebacker position heading into the 2018 season. Yes, it looks as if they have their starters in place with Smith, Lee, and Wilson, but the cupboard is pretty bare behind them.

That's where Anthony Hitchens was so invaluable. He could step in and play any three of the LB positions, and do it at a high level without there being much of a drop off. The Cowboys no longer have that kind of "safety valve" on the roster.

Anthony Hitchens' departure via free agency definitely increases the need to address the depth at the linebacker position for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, they would be wise to use both free agency and the draft to secure some much-needed depth.

There are a few free-agent linebackers out there who would fit into their "bargain shopping" mentality who could come in and provide much-needed depth. Luckily, this is also a pretty talented LB draft class. It wouldn't be a total surprise if they decided to double dip at the position.

Depth is the biggest concern here. The Dallas Cowboys don't necessarily need starters with Smith, Lee, and Wilson still on the roster, but they absolutely have to keep the future of the position in mind.

We all know Sean Lee has trouble staying healthy, which means it might be time to find his eventual replacement. Damien Wilson will also be moving on shortly. Then, despite his improved health, there are still concerns about Jaylon Smith's long-term health/future.

Anthony Hitchens will surely be missed, but the Dallas Cowboys surely had a contingency plan in place. It will be interesting to see how they go about replacing their "safety valve".

Are you with the Dallas Cowboys LB depth after Anthony Hitchens departure?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Travis Diggs

    March 14, 2018 at 9:18 am

    U dont know what you got till its gone, just look back to last year with Barry Church. Now were relying on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith’s health all season. Seeing how we haven’t done anything in free agency and probably won’t, don’t expect Derrick Johnson and Navarro Bowman. This is looking bad guys. I would of long termed Hitchens and Released Sean Lee next season but most cowboys fans would say no to that

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      March 14, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Travis, I really like Anthony Hitchens, but I think the Cowboys can replace him through the draft. I know the Cowboys wanted to bring him back, but it looks as if Hitchens made the right decision to test free agency. There was no way the Cowboys could pay anywhere close to $9 million a season to keep him in Dallas. Hopefully they have a contingency plan in place, because the LB depth is a big concern.

      • cowboy_up

        March 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

        Brian you’re absolutely right about Hitchens. I liked him too for what his responsibilities were in the Cowboys defense. He was solid, maybe slightly above solid but it’s not like he was a 1st round pick. I agree that losing him will be a blow from the standpoint of having a veteran presence. But he can (and will) be replaced. Hitchens did well for himself and securing the free agent deal that he’s about to receive. But under NO circumstance would it have been prudent for DAL to pay him anything close to $9M/yr. I wish Hitch the best and look for help in the draft AND free agency to help shore up that hole.

  2. Hector Espindola

    March 14, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Yes, Damien Wilson is, by no means, better than Hitch, and we can’t assume Lee can stay healthy the whole season, so a LB in 2nd round seems coming.

  3. oneputter

    March 15, 2018 at 8:19 am

    hitchens is a big blow for us, he was one of my favorite players on the team.

    now it leaves us with 2 LB’s who are nowhere near healthy, we can only hope smith turns out to be what he was once touted to be, lee we know won’t make a full season and then wilson who i think is a bit underrated by many has this weapons charge hanging over him. we haven’t heard if anything will come from it but knowing the NFL and its commissioner they will find a way to stick it to us again.

    let’s hope we are looking to trade up for R Smith….and i would also take a run a Bowman

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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News

Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?

Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli Should Be On The Hot Seat

Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli

El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.

Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.

Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.

Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.

En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.

Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Dallas Cowboys OC Scott Linehan (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan

Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.

Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.

A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.

Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.

Jerry Jones Delivers Vote of Confidence in "Real Deal" Jason Garrett

Head Coach Jason Garrett

El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.

Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.

Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.

Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.

Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.

It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.

Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.

No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.

There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.

Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.

Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.



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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.



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