The Cowboys made the switch to the base 4-3 defense after their 2012 campaign produced a mild 8-8 record. Since the change in 2013, the team has only carried 6-7 linebackers on their opening day roster. As it stands right now, the team has 11 linebackers on the roster. That number may vary slightly as we near training camp, but because our base defense requires three stand up linebackers, I can't imagine it to drop much before cuts to 75.
This presents a relatively interesting situation to our personnel department as they're going to have to figure out who makes the cut. It's always interesting to see where the team feels they should go heavier or lighter. For example, because of the injury history of our quarterback, we've felt it necessary to carry three signal-callers in recent years. Because of decisions like this, we've needed to go lighter in other areas.
This is where versatility comes in.
What can a guy do for me besides play linebacker? Can he rush the passer in a pinch? Can he play special teams? Hell, can he play fullback? All of these questions factor into which guys make the team or not. So, because of the large amount of guys we currently have listed on the roster, I thought it might be a good idea to project which guys make the team if cuts were today.
Injured Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform
Let's start with the injured reserve and physically unable to perform lists because they don't count towards the 53 man roster. I think we can all agree that this is likely the target for Jaylon Smith. Until the nerve in his knee starts firing again, he's not going to see the field. Having said that, his talent is too good to part with, and he's a second round pick. All of this makes him a lock to start the season on PUP.
Now for your quick, friendly reminder that Keith Smith, a pet cat of some fans for the last couple years, has made a positional switch to fullback in hopes to make the team in a different role. This change was a little bit of a head scratcher for me, but if he thinks this is his best chance to make the squad, and the coaches see enough versatility in him to play both sides of the ball, I say go for it.
The reason I bring this situation up, is because it may allow the team to go a little lighter on linebackers, maybe even as little as five guys (though I think they would probably go heavier than that).
Locks To Make The Squad
Let's talk about the locks to make this team. As far as I'm concerned, there is only one linebacker currently on the roster guaranteed to make the team: Sean Lee.
After finishing his first full season since 2011, Lee looks to extend upon his pro bowl play from 2015 and lead our defense this season.
All But Certain
Now for guys who are very likely going to make the squad in 2016: Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, and Damien Wilson.
With both McClain and Wilber coming into this season with new contracts, it's tough to see them get waived before seeing a snap in 2016. Having said that, both players signed low, team friendly deals and wouldn't cause a dramatic amount of dead money should the team want to go in different directions. Having said that, I just don't see that happening with the combination of talent and versatility that McClain and Wilber can bring to the table.
Both Hitchens and Wilson are fourth round picks and are still on their rookie contracts. Both of those facts make it difficult to think either won't make the team this season. Hitchens can also play SAM linebacker for you if necessary, giving him the versatility this coaching staff covets.
That gives us five guys (with Jaylon Smith on PUP as the sixth), with names like Andrew Gachkar and Mark Nzeocha still out there. IF Keith Smith makes the team, you could conceivably roll into week one without either of the aforementioned players on the team, especially since we tend to play a ton of Nickel defense which only requires two linebackers. Thus, you could go into the season with just Wilber as the SAM linebacker and flex Hitchens to that spot in a pinch.
I don't think that's the way it's going to go. Without forecasting the rest of the 53-man roster, I think we roll into the season with six pure linebackers and I'll tell you why.
I don't think this team is going to carry a fullback, which leaves Keith Smith without a job.
The addition of both Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris gives us two solid zone running backs for 11 and 12 personnel formations. I think those guys are going to run more comfortably with cleaner holes and one less body in the way. This takes carrying only five linebackers off the table.
And The Final Spot Goes To...
Okay Ian, then who is the sixth linebacker to make the team? I think this coaching staff is really excited with what they've got in Mark Nzeocha. This is a player that a lot of personnel aficionados had graded as a mid-round prospect coming out last season. He fell to us in the seventh round due to both injury and limited position flex. He's got an ideal build as an athletic SAM linebacker who some coaches think can push Wilber for starting time in base formations this season.
Now here's something interesting to think about that furthers Nzeocha's chances of making the squad. If we can get Jaylon Smith back at some point in the season, we would likely see one of these guys get knocked off the roster to make space, likely being Nzeocha. Having said that, because of his status on IR throughout last season, Nzeocha would be able to be put on the practice squad at any point in the season.
So that gives us Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Mark Nzeocha as our linebacking corps this season. I think this is a solid group with some serious versatility.
Free Agent WR Allen Hurns Plans to Sign With Cowboys
It looks as if the Dallas Cowboys will be adding yet another wide receiver through free agency. According to sources, Allen Hurns plans on signing with the Cowboys.
WR Allen Hurns just told me, "I'm going to sign with Dallas." #Cowboys
This is a move that seemed unlikely after the Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson a few days ago, but I know a lot of Cowboys Nation will be excited about this transaction.
While this move is exciting, it does create more confusion for the Cowboys and their wide receivers. It's difficult to imagine all of these WRs sticking to the roster, which means there will be some tough decisions that need to be made.
What will the Cowboys do with Dez Bryant?
Will Cole Beasley be cut or traded?
Are the Cowboys comfortable absorbing Terrance Williams' cap hit if traded or released?
Will this keep the Cowboys from drafting a WR early?
All of these questions and more will have to be answered eventually. But, one thing is for sure, things are definitely about to get interesting.
Of course, there is a bonus here for the Dallas Cowboys. Since Allen Hurns was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he doesn't count against the Cowboys compensatory picks next season.
Please stay tuned and we will continue to keep you updated on contract details and any other news involving Allen Hurns as it becomes available.
What do you think about the Allen Hurns signing?
What Signing Thompson Means for Hurns and Cowboys WR Position
UPDATE: News of Hurns saying he will sign with the Cowboys broke as this article went live.
Free Agency began a bit late for the Dallas Cowboys, but they've already done enough to get fans discussing about the latest additions to the roster. Adding help on offense, defense and special teams in form of tier-2 free agents may not be what Cowboys Nation wants to see, but I'm certain they wouldn't have enjoyed giving Sammy Watkins a three-year $48M contract, either.
However, the Cowboys are clearly in the wide receiver market after an offensively disappointing season. They have quite a few of this year's class of wide receivers prospects scheduled to visit Dallas, and they've hosted some WR free agents as well.
This week, they even signed one.
Deonte Thompson, who started seven games for the Bills last year, is coming to Dallas on a one-year $2.5M contract. The 29-year old could be the burner receiver this offense is missing and could end up being an improved version of Brice Butler for the Cowboys in 2018.
He hasn't had a great career but last season was his best year so far. Starting three games for the Bears and seven for the Bills, Thompson was able to rack up a career-high 555 yards and two touchdowns.
His best attribute as a player is definitely the speed he brings to the table and his ability to separate down the field, which he'll be looking to do on Dak Prescott's offense this season.
But there was another wide receiver visiting Dallas this week and now we wonder whether or not the Deonte Thompson signing will keep the Cowboys from targeting former Jaguars' WR Allen Hurns.
According to Todd Archer, that won't be the case.
Told the signing of Deonte Thompson does not close the door on the Cowboys' interest in Allen Hurns, who visited the team Wednesday and had dinner. Things could get interesting in the Cowboys' wide receivers' room. https://t.co/Ivt5uk9kBN
It shouldn't be. First of all, Hurns is a much better player than Thompson and would provide this offense with a receiver who can play in the "X" or in the "Z" role. We've been talking about getting Prescott a reliable target to try to give him a "best friend." Allen Hurns could be just that.
Sure, he's had a couple of down seasons, but the talent is there to take.
Simply put, the Deonte Thompson signing shouldn't stop the Cowboys from looking at WR in the first round of the NFL Draft. Allen Hurns would.
It sure would make things interesting in the wide receiver room for Dallas. Despite what many believe, Dez Bryant will probably remain a Cowboy even if Hurns is signed. Let's say the Cowboys go out there and get the 26-year old from Jacksonville and have to decide which six receivers to keep for the season.
They'd possibly have to decide among these:
- Dez Bryant
- Terrrance Williams
- Cole Beasley
- Ryan Switzer
- Allen Hurns
- Deonte Thompson
- Noah Brown
- A drafted rookie?
This is where a lot of dilemmas start taking form. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer are basically the same player and if you're not going to use them both at the same time, do you keep them anyway? What about Terrance Williams? He could be the worst receiver to make the cut just because of his contract.
Noah Brown showed promise in 2017, are they ready to move on from him? And finally, a rookie could very well end up beating Deonte Thompson, who was guaranteed a million in his contract.
Wide receiver is indeed one of the top needs for the Dallas Cowboys. They could head to the 2018 NFL Draft needing one in the top rounds or they could be fine signing Hurns and taking a late-rounder receiver to compete in training camp for a spot on the roster.
As long as they're having a tough time deciding because they are all good, it should be fine.
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
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