The Dallas Cowboys used free agency's second wave to add three experienced veterans to the offensive line. In so doing, they have created more leverage and flexibility for themselves in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Over the last week, Dallas has signed offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and guard-center Marcus Martin. They also re-signed Joe Looney, who has been a backup center and guard for the Cowboys the last two seasons.
Fleming and Martin have started 20 and 24 games, respectively, since both entered the NFL in 2014. Unlike some other young reserve players, the Cowboys had plenty of film to look at to measure their interest in these linemen.
That interest was also fueled by need. Last year's starting left guard, Jonathan Cooper, left in free agency to join the San Francisco 49ers.
The four key names on the Cowboys' offensive line are all returning: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins. But that opening at guard is a major concern for Dallas as they continue through the offseason.
Finding a new starting guard through the draft has been a hot topic in Cowboys Nation. UTEP's Will Hernandez and Georgia's Isaiah Wynn have been heavily discussed, and there is plenty of reason that Dallas might consider using their first-round pick to shore up the offensive line.
With the 19th pick, whatever player the Cowboys draft will get a modest rookie contract. Last year's 19th pick, Bucs' tight end O.J. Howard, got a four-year deal for about $11 million. That's just $2-3 million for four years of having another likely Pro Bowl talent.
One dilemma is how you eventually keep all of these former first-rounders financially compensated, but the timing of this would work out fairly well.
By the end of that contract in 2022, Dallas would have Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick at 32-years-old. They could likely move on from one, shedding a big contract to open up space to re-sign whatever player they draft this year.
But still, that means you've tied up for first-round picks in just your offensive line. How long can you keep loading resources into that spot while neglecting your receivers, defensive line, or linebackers?
That's where the free agent signings we discussed before come in handy. If the Cowboys decide to address other position in the draft, they now have three guys with starting experience who might be able to serve as a band-aid starter in 2018.
Joe Looney has been here for two years and started a few games in that time. He knows the system and should be serviceable playing between Smith and Frederick.
While not having the same familiarity, Marcus Martin is younger and is a former third-round pick. Perhaps there's some upside there that basement-dwelling teams like the 49ers or Browns weren't able to tap into.
If it's Cameron Fleming, he would likely take the right tackle spot and La'el Collins would move back to guard. Collins played guard his first two years before moving to RT last year, filling in after Doug Free's retirement.
That was a reactionary move, though. Even though Collins played OT in college, Dallas liked him better as a guard when they acquired him. Free's retirement was unexpected and Dallas had to scramble, and Collins did well there all things considered.
Fleming has been a swing tackle for four years and part of a highly successful franchise coming from New England. He was trusted in big games, including a Super Bowl, to help protect one of the league's oldest and most immobile quarterbacks. If the Patriots could rely him with Tom Brady at risk, the Cowboys could do the same with Dak Prescott.
After last season's problems, the Cowboys will likely rely on their run game all the more in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott's legal issues are behind him and he should be ready for a heavy workload. That will help Dak Prescott get back to his rookie form, hopefully alleviating pressure and working out whatever issues developed during his sophomore slump.
Naturally, these issues mean the offensive line can't be taken lightly. Dallas would be justified in spending another first-round pick there.
It would be far nicer to have a young WR or TE stepping into a larger role in his second season, rather than as a rookie. The same goes for a linebacker who might need to replace Sean Lee. These present and future needs should have Dallas looking at lots of players and positions with their early picks this April.
That's why these offensive line signings are so helpful. No, you may not love the idea of Looney or Fleming starting 16 games next year. But there's only so much cap space and so many draft picks to address an entire roster, and you can't develop tunnel vision about the offensive line and leave yourself too vulnerable elsewhere.
Ideally, the only game these guys would start next year is Week 17 after we've clinched a first-round bye. We'll have to wait and see if these signings, and 2018 as a whole, work out that well.
Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline
This week, Stephen Jones discussed the difficulties of making a trade, saying "it just seems like in the NFL trades are hard to make, to make it all come together for two teams".
The two teams that could be lining up to change that are of course Jones' Cowboys as well as John Gruden's Oakland Raiders. Yet another Raiders player has been in the headlines as a trade target, 24-year old Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
WR-needy Cowboys doing their due diligence on Raiders' WR Amari Cooper: https://t.co/pE2wmrzCXu
Playing at the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys will have yet another reshuffled lineup at wide receiver, playing without Tavon Austin. Their biggest offseason addition to this unit was Allen Hurns, and he's been underwhelming with just eight catches.
Thus the Cowboys are reportedly doing their "due diligence" on Cooper, sensing the need for a mid-season acquisition at WR for the right price. The Cowboys ability to potentially find that price in a deal advantageous to them, given how the Raiders handled the departure of Khalil Mack in a trade to this Chicago Bears, is what makes this story relevant.
A lot has been said about Cooper since his name emerged as the latest player potentially out of the Bay Area. Whether you believe he's still an impact receiver with the potential to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016 or one that "doesn't love football," as some have been inclined to say, the former fourth overall pick represents an investment into the WR position that the Cowboys have not made in some time.
In those Pro Bowl seasons, Cooper averaged over 77 catches a season while putting up over 1,000 yards in both. The Raiders have used this to justify their reported asking price of a first-round pick for Cooper, something the Cowboys are not alone in their reluctance to give.
With Cooper, the Raiders are holding onto their last bit of relevancy. A reeling 1-5 football team that needs to maximize their return on trading Cooper, the Colts and Redskins are also following in the Cowboys footsteps by preparing as much as they can on the player.
Cooper has caught 22 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown through six games this season.
For as desperate as the Raiders are to jump-start their organization, the Cowboys should be just as desperate to add a threat like Cooper to their passing attack. Unlike the Raiders, they're in the hunt for a division title, something much harder to put a price on when it comes to the Jones' finalizing any deal for Cooper in the coming days.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 3 PM Central Time. The Cowboys will be two days into their bye week, not in action again after Sunday until November 5th.
How Will Cowboys Handle Sean Lee’s Return?
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Dallas Cowboys' defense is still dominant without Sean Lee on the field. For many years, Lee's injuries have shown us the worst of this defense but finally that's not the case. Thanks to Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys should feel just fine without #50 wearing pads on gameday.
As the Cowboys get ready to play the Washington Redskins on the road in their quest for a winning record, Sean Lee is expected to return to the field. He was a full participant on practice on both Thursday and Friday and should make his way back to the field today.
But how much will he play?
Usually, we would be talking about this defense being desperate for his help. He's been rushed back to the field on many occasions simply because the team's linebackers weren't doing enough without him. This year though, the narrative is different.
Even before he got injured in week 3 playing against the Seattle Seahawks, Lee had been struggling. Now granted, he wasn't looking bad, but we were watching him miss a few tackles here and there which simply isn't something you'd expect from a player such as himself.
The rookie out of Boise State has made a really good job justifying why the front office decided to invest a first round pick on him. So far, Leighton Vander Esch has accounted for 49 tackles, 40 of which have been solo. The kid can play, period. He's done nothing but get better and better by the week and the snaps he's gotten replacing Lee have helped him a ton.
With the veteran returning, what's in store for this linebacker rotation?
Honestly, with the bye week so close, I think this will depend a lot on how this game starts off. If it comes to a point in which the Cowboys are comfortably leading and have no concerns of losing the match, why not rest Lee as much as possible?
It's clear that the defense is far from desperate for having #50 back on the field and it's also clear that Lee is a player who could get injured at any given time.
Thanks to Smith's and Vander Esch's play, the Cowboys can afford to limit Lee's snaps versus the Redskins today. Rest him as much as possible and throw him on just a few plays out there. Lee has suffered injuries on both hamstrings, which is another reason to take it slow with his return.
If they're able to limit him today and then take advantage of the upcoming bye week it could pay Lee big dividends down the road. Dallas needs to realize they're in a very comfortable position regarding Sean Lee. They have the option to take things slow.
Not only that but once he's healthy, he doesn't have to be on the field every single snap. It might be hard getting used to watching Lee slowly become a "situational" player because he's so good to be only played on specific situations but that might be the way to make his availability improve.
It will be interesting to see how they handle the situation starting today as Lee is slated to play football against an NFC East rival.
Cowboys Wishlist: Big Return on Special Teams?
The last time the Dallas Cowboys played a football game, they made many of their fans' dreams come true. This happened by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7 in a dominant performance against a top NFL defense. Can they make our wishes come true in back-to-back weeks? I don't know about walking away with another 33-point win, but we're obviously putting up a Cowboys Wishlist as every gameday.
Let's hope they come true. As always, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist!
Wish #1: First Road Win of the Season
I mean, we obviously are wishing for a win. But this one right here would be a very important one, so I'm including it as a wish. The Cowboys haven't won any game on the road this year and doing so in Washington against a hated NFC East rival like the Redskins will be huge for this 3-3 Dallas Cowboys team.
Last Sunday's victory over the Jaguars might have been the moment when the Cowboys "turned the corner" to become a winning team in 2018. It's time to go on the road and beat a 3-2 divisional foe to prove that is the case.
Wish #2: Beasley Keeps It Up
The Cowboys' MVP last weekend was Cole Beasley. He was the only wide receiver on the team with more than one catch, ending his day with nine receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of the best performances in his career yet.
The Cowboys need a WR to step up. Other than Cole, no one else is stepping up in the passing game. Beasley did so last Sunday but, can he consistently perform well enough to keep the offense going throughout the year? It remains to be seen.
For the long term, it might be better to have an outside, taller receiver be your #1 guy, but in the meantime, Beasley is the guy Dak Prescott should be targeting the most.
Wish #3: The Sack Hat Trick
Ok, I might be asking for too much here. But hear me out. The Dallas Cowboys defensive line is getting stronger and stronger. Just last week, David Irving returned to the field and got limited playing time. Although he didn't get a sack, his impact was felt since his first snap on the field.
Randy Gregory also saw limited playing time but was able to sack Blake Bortles once. And well, DeMarcus Lawrence is still playing at an elite level this year. How epic would it be for each of these three great pass rushers walk away with a sack?
Three headhunters, three sacks. Let's go!
Wish #4: Keep Redskins Under 10 Points
The Cowboys' defense is no joke. They're allowing 17.2 points per game, which is second best in the entire NFL right now. They're ready to face a Redskins' team that is ranked as the 25th offense in scoring. On top of that, the Redskins' receivers are pretty banged up.
3 of Washington's top 4 receivers (Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder) not expected to play vs. Cowboys https://t.co/9uOkA7Pzhv
This could end up being the second consecutive big win for the Cowboys, specially because the defense should have a very good day.
Wish #5: Big Return on Special Teams
The last time the Dallas Cowboys played the Washington Redskins, Ryan Switzer returned a punt 83 yards into the end zone in what will remain his biggest highlight from his short career with the Dallas Cowboys.
We haven't seen much excitement on special teams this year. Switzer is now a Pittsburgh Steeler, so Tavon Austin has gotten most of the punt returns. However, that's bound to change after he sustained an unfortunate injury. Deonte Thompson has taken care of the kick returns but nothing special has happened either.
I wish that changes today. With Austin out, I wonder if it'll be Cole Beasley or someone else fielding punts for Dallas but whoever it is, things will be spiced up. Through 6 weeks, the Cowboys longest punt return has been for 22 yards and the longest kick return for 35.
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