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.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Could Become Trade Assets
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Cowboys with Compensatory Pick Period Closing
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Player News5 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News2 weeks ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Can Donovan Wilson Continue the Cowboys 6th Round Safety Success?
Star Blog6 days ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches