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Cowboys Linebacker Conundrum: Who’s In, and Who’s Out?

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.

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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

Cowboys Headlines - The Linebacker Log Jam Conundrum 1Now 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...

Cowboys Headlines - The Linebacker Log Jam ConundrumOkay 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.



Dallas Cowboys fan since the Drew Bledsoe "era." I love Tony AND Dak. I like to think that I'm the most objective that a fan can get, while still being a diehard, which I truly believe is the 8th wonder of the world. Go Cowboys!!

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REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

Brian Martin

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REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

According to Ian Rapoport, the Dallas Cowboys have a meeting scheduled to visit with Free Agent Safety Eric Berry Tuesday at The Star.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Source: Former #Chiefs S and new free agent Eric Berry is visiting the #Cowboys on Tuesday. His first visit. They have a need there...

Eric Berry has spent his entire career with the Kansas City Chiefs after they drafted him fifth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. After signing Earl Thomas last week, the Chiefs decided to part ways with their former All-Pro Safety.

Berry, 30 is an intriguing free agent for the Dallas Cowboys. When healthy, he is arguably one of the best safeties in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have kept him off the field these last few seasons causing him to only start in only three games since 2016.

This is a move many of us expected to happen after the Cowboys decided not to get into a bidding war for Earl Thomas, a player linked to Dallas for over a year now. In Berry, Cowboys Nation would be getting a similar player with the same kind of red flags. Both Thomas and Berry have to be approached with caution due to their injury history the past few years.

Depending on his asking price, Eric Berry absolutely makes sense for the Dallas Cowboys. He would be an upgrade over Jeff Heath and would pair well with the Cowboys up-and-coming three-year safety Xavier Woods.

This is still just a visit, so we should probably get our hopes up that a signing is imminent. But, I think we can all agree Eric Berry is exactly the "right kind of guy" Jason Garrett is always preaching about. He's a cancer survivor, five-time Pro Bowler, and All-Pro player. What's not to like!?



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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Signed DE Kerry Hyder

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Signed DE Kerry Hyder

The Dallas Cowboys added more defensive line help today after signing former Detroit Lions Defensive End Kerry Hyder.

Kerry Hyder Jr. on Twitter

Going back to Texas! #CowboysNation

Kerry Hyder provides more depth at the defensive end position and as a chance to become the starter opposite DeMarcus Lawrence while Randy Gregory is out serving his suspension.

Hyder, 27 originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech with the New York Jets in 2014. He spent a year in New York before signing a future/reserve contract with the Detroit Lions in January 2015.

He had a breakout eight-sack year with the Lions in 2016, but tore his Achilles in 2017 causing him to miss the entire season. In 2018 he had just one quarterback sack after Detroit switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Overall, this is a good depth signing by the Dallas Cowboys. Kerry Hyder has starting potential, but shouldn't keep the Cowboys from upgrading the position further through either another free agent signing for the draft.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap

Jess Haynie

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Tavon Austin

It's been just a week since NFL free agents could begin negotiating with other teams, but it feels like a lifetime for anxious Cowboys fans. Dallas' seemingly passive approach to 2019 free agency has left many disappointed. Still, there are some moves to recap.

As has become their strategy in recent years, the Cowboys have focused on filling up their depth chart and trying to avoid any glaring holes prior to next month's draft. They've re-signed several backups and added at least one likely rotation player.

It's still far too early to judge Dallas' activity. Comparing the 2019 roster to last year will depend heavily on the draft, growth from current players, and other factors. But with the "second wave" of free agency upon us, it's a good time to look at who's come, gone, and stuck around so far.

New Arrivals

  • TE Jason Witten (unretired)
  • TE Codey McElroy (Rams)
  • DT Christian Covington (Texans)

The biggest addition so far this offseason wasn't even a free agent, at least not in the purest sense of the term. Jason Witten's surprising return from retirement helped shore up one of Dallas' biggest needs, though it may not preclude them from drafting a tight end high in April.

Also at tight end, Dallas signed developmental project Codey McElroy. His experience is in baseball and basketball, having played just one year of college football. But at 6'6'" and 255 lbs., and having spent last year working with the Rams, the Cowboys must see something they're intrigued by.

Last week Dallas signed Christian Covington, who had 3.5 sacks for Houston in 2018 playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He should move to DT in the Cowboys' scheme and should be a solid addition to their rotation.

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap

Former Cowboys WR Cole Beasley, now with the Buffalo Bills. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Departures

  • WR Cole Beasley (Bills)
  • TE Geoff Swaim (Jaguars)
  • DL David Irving (shenanigans)
  • LB Damien Wilson (Chiefs)

Beasley is heading to Buffalo on a four-year, $29 million deal. It appeared the relationship soured between Cole and Dallas over his playing time last year, and clearly the Cowboys didn't fight hard to keep him.

Damien Wilson followed Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City to help round out their linebacker corps. Once it was announced that Dallas was hanging on to Sean Lee in 2019, it was fairly certain that Wilson wouldn't be back.

Also not expected back was TE Geoff Swaim, who signed with Jacksonville. Even before Witten came back, Dallas appeared likely to stick with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz for returning talent and then add an upgrade via free agency or the draft.

While still a free agent, nobody expects David Irving back in Dallas or even the NFL after recent activities. Irving appears focused on a Hollywood career and advocating for medical marijuana use at this point.

Keepers

  • FB Jamize Olawale
  • WR Tavon Austin
  • WR Allen Hurns (team option)
  • OT Cam Fleming
  • G/C Joe Looney (team option)
  • DE DeMarcus Lawrence (franchise tag)
  • DT Daniel Ross (ERFA)
  • LB Justin March-Lillard
  • S Darian Thompson

While Dallas put the franchise tag on prized pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, his return in 2019 is far from settled. Lawrence has previously sworn he wouldn't play under a second franchise tag this year, and last we heard the two sides are far apart on a long-term deal. Could a holdout be on the horizon?

The Cowboys doubled-down on WR depth by re-signing Tavon Austin and exercising their team option on Allen Hurns' contract. Both are able to play out of the slot, meaning we could see more of a rotation approach to replacing Cole Beasley next year.

Dallas also re-signed fullback Jamize Olawale, which was a surprise given his low usage rate last year. Perhaps the change to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator was behind this one, hoping to take better advantage of Olawale's receiving skills going forward.

Joe Looney and Cam Fleming will also be back as valuable backups on the offensive line. Looney started 16 games last year at center and also helps at guard, while Fleming will be the swing tackle once again for his second season in Dallas.

On defense, Dallas kept Daniel Ross in their DT rotation after solid performance in 2018. Justin March-Lillard return at linebacker, particularly for his value on special teams. And Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick by the Giants, is back as an ongoing developmental player.

~ ~ ~

Today we're already seeing a flourish of free agent activity in Dallas. Reports this morning have them meeting with WR Randall Cobb and S Clayton Geathers, and we haven't even had lunch yet.

If this is any indication, next week's recap may have a lot more to discuss.



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