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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Need DE Help, But Will the Salary Cap Cooperate?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - DeMarcus Lawrence Returns: How Much Can it Help? 1

Leading up to the March 9th start of NFL free agency, we will be looking at all Dallas Cowboys players under contract for 2017 and how much of the salary cap each position is taking up.

Position Breakdowns: SPECIAL TEAMS | RUNNING BACKS | SAFETIES | TIGHT ENDS | LINEBACKERS | GUARDS & CENTERS | DEFENSIVE TACKLES | OFFENSIVE TACKLES | QUARTERBACKS | CORNERBACKS | RECEIVERS

Cowboys Capology: Defensive Ends

Struggling to pressure opposing quarterbacks has been the Achilles heel of the Cowboys defense for several seasons. It has played a major role in early playoff exits in 2014 and 2016. Not since DeMarcus Ware has Dallas had a consistently great pass rusher at defensive end.

Given that this is a recurring weakness, it’s no surprise that a pass-rushing DE remains at or near the top of everyone’s offseason wish list. It could be hard to find in the draft at the 28th pick, so free agency may be the only way for Dallas to get immediate help. Unfortunately, that won’t come cheap.

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at the NFL’s 2017 salary cap. The league announced that the cap would be set at $167 million for the upcoming season. Even though this is still a $10 million increase from last year, it’s a few million short of what many were projecting.

Confirmed 2017 Salary Cap = $167 million
Cowboys 2016 Cap Rollover = $2.4 million

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap = $169.4 million

Now, using that number as our foundation, let’s look at how much the Cowboys’ defensive ends are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.

DeMarcus Lawrence

2017 Cap Hit: $1.75 million

On the final year of his rookie deal, Lawrence needs everything to go right in 2017. His first three years in Dallas have had some highs but have been most disappointing. Lawrence only had one sack last seasons despite appearing in nine games.

Ongoing back problems limited Lawrence in 2016. There were several times that he was getting pressure or hitting the quarterback after the throw, but he just couldn’t seal the deal on those all-important sacks.

Even if Lawrence finally has a breakout season, the Cowboys could be leery about signing him long-term. Their recent experience with Anthony Spencer was a good lesson about players who only show up in contract years. Lawrence needs to not only show up on the field but earn the coaches’ trust with his character and work ethic.

Benson Mayowa

DE Benson Mayowa

Benson Mayowa

2017 Cap Hit: $2.6 million

Mayowa led the Cowboys with six sacks last season. That’s not a great number on its own, but it helps to know that he got 3.5 sacks in just Weeks 13-16. If Mayowa’s late-season production can translate to a full year in 2017, he could emerge as a major player on this Dallas defense.

The problem for Mayowa and the Cowboys is that he may not have done enough to discourage them from signing a big name in free agency. If Dallas does spend big on a pass rusher, it’s Mayowa who might suffer the most from the lost playing time.

Benson wouldn’t be released; still $2.2 million in dead money makes that worthless for the Cowboys. Still, getting buried on the depth chart is never good. Whether or not Dallas pursues a major DE free agent should have a lot to do with their belief in Mayowa’s upside and how big a role they see him having next year.

Randy Gregory

2017 Cap Hit: $1.04 million

Hit with a one-year suspension following the Cowboys Week 17 game, Gregory won’t be able to play at all during the regular season. That means his current cap hit will go down significantly; $782k in base salary will be voided by the suspension. By the end of the year, Gregory should have only counted a little over $200k against the salary cap.

Charles Tapper

DE Charles Tapper

Charles Tapper

2017 Cap Hit: $694k

Taken 34 picks before Dak Prescott in last year’s draft, Tapper remains an exciting prospect. He has rare athleticism for his size, posting one of the fastest 40-yard dash times ever for a player who weighs 270 pounds or more.

Tapper never got to play in the regular season because of a spinal defect that was discovered during the preseason. He has reportedly done the work necessary to get past it and is fully cleared to play next year.

Thankfully, Tapper still got all of the summer practices and training camp last year to build on. He’ll still be a rookie in some ways, but that foundation should help him to hit the ground running.

Zach Wood

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

Wood appeared in three preseason games for Dallas and then spent all year on their practice squad. He is not only capable of playing DE and DT but even has experience as a long snapper. He will almost certainly be back to compete in this year’s training camp.

Lenny Jones

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

An undrafted free agent of the 49ers last year, Jones started as a 3-4 outside linebacker in their scheme. He has since spent time with both the Raiders and Rams before Dallas added him in January. The former Nevada Wolf Pack player will hopefully get a chance to show the Cowboys something this offseason.

Free Agents

David Irving – As an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, Irving can’t go anywhere as long as Dallas offers him some kind of deal. Arguably the most exciting prospect on their defensive line right now, Irving is sure to get a contract. We’ll go into more detail about what that might look like below.

Jack Crawford – The versatile Crawford was re-signed in 2016 to a one-year, $1.1 million contract. As always, he was a solid reserve and even had 10 starts as part of the base defense. A reliable player who can work inside or out on the line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dallas brought Crawford back again one a similar deal.

Ryan Davis – Signed after Week One for depth, the veteran never really got a chance to show much due to injuries. Even when healthy Davis failed to give the Cowboys much boost in their pass rush, which was why they brought him in. He is highly unlikely to return.

2017 Salary Cap Impact

Total Defensive Ends Cap Hit = $7.01 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 4.14%

These numbers will change in the coming month, though maybe not much. The first big question is how much Dallas will pay David Irving to return. His ERFA status gives the Cowboys nearly all of the leverage.

David Irving

DE/DT David Irving

Dallas could give Irving the league minimum if they wanted to. However, if they see Irving as a potential long-term player for them, preserving a good relationship is also important. David just played on a $525k salary for 2016 and out-performed it, so Dallas might bump him up to the $1-$2 million range.

Remember, though, that Randy Gregory’s cap number is going to drop from the suspension. That should offset some, if not most, of what Irving will make in 2017. Even if Jack Crawford is also re-signed, the total cap hit for the DE position shouldn’t be much more $10 million.

If Dallas is going to make any “splash” signing in this free agent market, a pass-rushing DE is the first thing most would expect. The Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul is a name many are floating. Arizona’s Chandler Jones and the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram are also possible, though they may wind up getting the franchise tag.

The scary thing is that the market for a top name DE is very pricey. Last year, Olivier Vernon got a five-year, $85 million contract from the Giants. The first year of that deal counted $13 million against their cap.

Dallas can find ways to make a big signing work, but they would have to have supreme confidence in that player to take the financial risk. It could also mean being unable to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence next year if he does have a big season, which could leave you back in the same position of needing help.

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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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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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