Since dominating the Seattle Seahawks in October of 2014, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been referred to as the best unit in football, almost by default. No matter the next opponent, everyone recognizes and acknowledges that the Cowboys have a chance to control the game on offense due to their powerful five up-front.
Well, this weekend, two of those five departed Dallas for good.
Ronald Leary, who started the entire 2014 season and much of the 2016 season, signed a nice contract with the Denver Broncos. And, Doug Free, a starting tackle for Dallas since 2009, announced his retirement.
Now, a unit which has been characterized by its continuity and dominance is facing some adversity.
Or at least it seems.
How Do the Cowboys Replace Ronald Leary?
This one is simple. Back during the 2015 NFL Draft the Cowboys made two moves which are proving to be incredibly important to their success in 2017. The second of those two moves was signing undrafted free agent offensive lineman La'el Collins.
The former LSU star tackle was projected to be taken during the first two rounds, before being tied in with a police investigation. As it turned out, Collins had nothing to do with the crime, but teams were still afraid to take him on draft day. Collins fell, and the Cowboys pounced.
After taking over the starting left guard job from Leary in 2015, Collins flashed the spectacular ability which draft pundits had predicted he'd have.
Though he certainly had his issues in year one, Collins' athletic ability and pure power put the entire league on notice, and had fans excited to watch him play in 2016. Unfortunately, Collins suffered a severe toe injury during the Cowboys' week three game against Chicago and missed the rest of the season. It has even been reported that Collins suffered this injury before the season, and he simply played until he couldn't play anymore.
If true, it would explain his inconsistent play through the first two games of the year.
While Collins was the starter for the first three games of the season, inserting Leary led to a clear improvement of the offensive line. The fact is, Leary was the better player in 2016, but that certainly doesn't mean that Collins won't surpass him next year, and beyond.
As long as he can stay healthy, I see no reason why Collins should not continue to improve and become the player everyone has envisioned he can be.
At LSU, Collins was a consistent force, and someone who rarely made mistakes. He played with incredible pass blocking technique, and ran block with an edge of nastiness that you love to see in offensive linemen. Now in year three, it's time for La'el Collins to bring that to Dallas, and become a force on the Cowboys' offensive line.
How Do the Cowboys Replace Doug Free?
This is where things get a bit trickier.
First thing's first, Doug Free's retirement frees up about $5 million in cap space in 2017. If any free agent tackles interest the Cowboys, even if just for depth/security, they will be able to make that move.
I, however, don't expect any rash decisions to be made through free agency. Apparently, the Cowboys knew of Free's plans to retire from the start of the free agency period, so if they haven't contacted any tackles by now, it is hard to imagine they're rushing to the phones at this point.
So instead, we look to two places; the current roster and the NFL Draft.
Chaz Green, Third Year, OL
The first of the two critical offensive line moves of the 2015 NFL Draft, former third round pick Chaz Green is now slated to be the starting right tackle for Dallas in 2017. Back in January, I discussed why Chaz Green was so critical to the Cowboys' roster. And, most importantly, why his health is absolutely critical.
When Tyron Smith was forced to miss some time earlier in the season, Green filled in and played rather well. The running game did not miss a beat, and in pass protection, the Cowboys remained stellar.
Of course, there was some drop off from the best tackle in football to a first-time starter, but overall I was pleased with Green's play. He seemed to be fluid in his kick steps, delivered better punches in pass protection than I had seen him deliver, and worked well with Ronald Leary on deuce blocks on zone running plays.
While he looked serviceable, Chaz Green certainly did not look like another All-Pro on the Cowboys offensive line. But that's okay. As a third round pick, however, he was drafted to be the successor to Doug Free. Now is time for him to either come through or potentially get labeled as a bust.
Emmett Cleary, Third Year, OL
After La'el Collins went down in September, the Cowboys signed little-known Emmett Cleary to fill some roster space on their offensive line. Nobody expected Cleary to ever take a game rep for the Cowboys offensive line, but when filling in for Tyron Smith during the season finale, Cleary was impressive.
Staff Writer Sean Martin reviewed Cleary's game tape from that loss to Philadelphia, and came away just as impressed as I was.
What stood out to me was Cleary’s intelligence at the position, knowing how to set up defenders when he was forced to compensate for a lack of physical skill. As a point-of-attack-blocker, Cleary controls blockers with a strong base and can move them off the line of scrimmage.
I don't need to draft a tackle in the first 4 rounds anymore. I'm perfectly happy with Cleary and whatever Green may be. Collins emergency. https://t.co/HyLpPER7eJ
To be honest, Cleary was the better of the two Cowboys tackles that day, with the recently retired Doug Free getting shredded by Brandon Graham snap-after-snap. Is Cleary going to make "top tackle" lists any time soon? No, probably not. But he can be a solid fill-in player who will be put in the perfect position to succeed here in Dallas. Playing next to three other Pro Bowlers, and directly beside Zack Martin (who may be the best offensive lineman in the entire league), the right tackle does not need to be another stud.
Considering that their other four linemen don't need much help at all in pass protection, Dallas can afford to give some tight end help, or chip with a running back on the right side.
Because of this, both Chaz Green and/or Emmett Cleary should be absolutely fine at right tackle. Similar to how people called Dallas the perfect place for a rookie quarterback to shine due to the weapons and security around him, it is also the perfect situation for a new right tackle.
So, despite all the flux on this Cowboys offensive line this past weekend, there is no reason to fret. Dallas still features stars Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin. They still have one of the best running backs in the league running behind them in Ezekiel Elliott. And, they have some pretty good replacements to fill-in for Ronald Leary and Doug Free.
The Cowboys' offensive line should be just fine.
Cowboys en Español: 3 Escenarios Para el Futuro de David Irving
En la NFL, la falta de noticias en Junio generalmente significa buenas noticias. Los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys saben esto mejor que nadie y en caso de que lo hayan olvidado, David Irving se aseguró de recordarle a Cowboys Nation el porque de esta frase.
La semana pasada, se anunció que David Irving recibirá una suspensión de cuatro partidos por haber violado la política de abuso de substancias de la liga. Es la segunda suspensión que Irving recibe en años consecutivos y lógicamente, esto es preocupante para el equipo de los Dallas Cowboys.
Las últimas dos temporadas hemos visto a Irving convertirse en una pieza de suma importancia para la defensiva. El año pasado, Irving consiguió siete sacks (capturas) en sólo ocho juegos y se convirtió en un caza cabezas muy efectivo.
Demostrando ser uno de los jugadores más talentosos de su posición en la NFL, es difícil imaginar el futuro del #95 en la liga. Tras recibir un tender de segunda ronda hace unos meses (explico que es eso aquí), el futuro de Irving es muy incierto. Por eso, esta semana en Cowboys en Español, exploraremos tres escenarios posibles para el defensivo de 24 años.
#1 David Irving se va de Dallas prematuramente
Hace unos días, me dediqué a defender mi posición de que los Cowboys estarían cometiendo un error al cortar a David Irving. A pesar de que realmente despedirse de un defensivo como Irving parece muy poco probable, es un escenario que debemos discutir.
Irving ha sido un dolor de cabeza para el equipo en más de una ocasión. Dos suspensiones en años consecutivos no es una buena imagen para un jugador que busca un contrato jugoso al terminar el año.
Si Jason Garrett y la administración quieren "dar un mensaje" cortando a David Irving, ¿qué tanto serviría? Esta idea de enviar un mensaje, a la hora de pensarlo fríamente, parece una idea romántica de parte de nosotros los fans. Al final de cuentas, estamos hablando de un locker room lleno de jugadores adultos y profesionales, no de un grupo de niños.
Además, bien sabemos todos que Irving no es el único Cowboy que ha tenido problemas. ¿Será el hecho de que ha ocurrido dos años seguidos razón suficiente para dejarlo ir? Personalmente, no lo creo. Los Cowboys dejarían ir a un jugador muy bueno en una posición de necesidad.
Datone Jones, Jihad Ward y Maliek Collins podrán ser suficiente. Pero David Irving es especial en el campo. Mejor tenerlo por 12 juegos a tenerlo cero.
#2 Irving se queda para el 2018, pero no más allá
David Irving recibió un contrato de un año que le pagaba (antes de ser suspendido) 2.91 millones de dólares. Si hubiera demostrado que no era problemático y que podía mantenerse al 100% toda la temporada, probablemente hubiera recibido un gran contrato de los Cowboys o de otro equipo en la NFL.
Sin embargo, el dicho lo dice todo. "En la NFL, la disponibilidad es la mejor habilidad." Irving no se ha terminado de ganar la confianza necesaria para una gran extensión.
En este punto, Dallas puede esperar a que su tackle defensivo regrese de su suspensión, juegue doce juegos con ellos y les consiga un sack por juego por menos de tres millones de dólares. Después de eso, el equipo pude darse el lujo de dejarlo ir sin una extensión y verlo convertirse en un agente libre.
#3 Irving se queda por más de un año
En este caso, hay dos "sub-escenarios." Suponiendo que, efectivamente, Irving regresa y juega como sabemos que puede hacerlo, no será tan fácil dejarlo ir. Si llega a sorprender y demuestra que realmente es quien creemos que es y consigue diez capturas en sólo doce juegos, ¿realmente no le dará el equipo una oportunidad?
La primera opción sería asignarle la etiqueta franquicia y obligarlo a jugar un año más para un equipo que busca desesperadamente un Super Bowl.
Si se sienten cómodos dándole el salario de una etiqueta franquicia para evitar perderlo, ¿podríamos culparlos después de que les dio por ejemplo, diez capturas? Yo, personalmente, no podría hacerlo.
La otra opción, y una que podría ser la más realista, es más simple. La inmadurez y los problemas de Irving le costarán la confianza y el interés de otros equipos y es posible que en un punto, Dallas sea el único equipo que le pueda brindar seguridad de trabajo.
De esta manera, Dallas podría ofrecerle una extensión de dos, tres o más años a un precio mucho más barato que el de cualquier DT que consiga dos dígitos de sacks.
David Irving sin duda tiene un futuro incierto delante de él. Realmente sería una sorpresa verlo fuera de Dallas en el 2018, pero más allá, quien sabe lo que pueda pasar. Por ahora, esperemos que una vez que vuelva de la suspensión, esté en forma para ir detrás de los quarterbacks oponentes.
Con un poco de suerte, quizá nos olvidaremos de esto en Noviembre.
Is Kris Richard Actually Jason Garrett’s Replacement, Not Rod Marinelli’s?
Much has already been made about the Dallas Cowboys hiring of Kris Richard. He was brought in to be this year's defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, but it's a title I don't think he will hold for long.
It has already been speculated that Kris Richard will become Rod Marinelli's successor to become the Dallas Cowboys next defensive coordinator. Marinelli in fact contemplated retirement after the completion of the 2017 season, but decided to give it another go in 2018. But, anything beyond that is unknown at this point.
It isn't that hard to believe that Kris Richard will be the Dallas Cowboys next defensive coordinator. He already has a pretty good track record as a DC from his time with the Seattle Seahawks (2015-2017). During that time, the Seahawks had one of the better defenses in the league, which is why a lot of Cowboys fans are excited about what he can do in Dallas.
This was a terrific hire by the Dallas Cowboys. Richard is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the league today and is highly respected around the league. For him to take a step back from defensive coordinator to become the DB coach/passing game coordinator in Dallas is a little confusing.
Why would he take a step back in his coaching career to come to the Dallas Cowboys?
Before he agreed to come to Dallas, Richard interviewed for the head-coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts. To already be considered a head-coaching candidate tells you all you need to know about the trajectory of Richard's career. Again, why take a step back with the Cowboys?
We all know that Jerry Jones is a fantastic salesman. He must've been able to convince Richard that he has a chance at a big promotion sometime soon. But, would a promotion to defensive coordinator be enough for Richard? Does he have his eyes set on something bigger?
I know that I'm not alone, but Jason Garrett is on thin ice this season. If he doesn't at least get the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs this year, he could be looking for a new job, which would create a vacancy at head coach. This could be the kind of opportunity Kris Richard is looking for.
I find it a little hard to believe that Kris Richard would be willingly to come coach in Dallas knowing that the entire coaching staff could be dismissed after the season if Jason Garrett isn't successful. That's not typically the kind of job security you look for, so something has to have been promised to him behind closed doors.
I know it's a lot of speculation right now, but I don't think it's completely out of the realm of possibility. Someone is going to have to replace Jason Garrett if he falters this season and Kris Richard is a logical choice. After all, it's kind of the way Garrett became the head coach of the Cowboys when he replaced Wade Phillips. Could history repeat itself?
Do you think Kris Richard is Jason Garrett's eventual replacement?
NFC East Position Rankings: The Quarterbacks
The long NFL offseason is finally beginning to come to a close, with teams participating in mandatory mini-camps and training camps just a month away. Still, though, there is a lot of time left before the 2018 NFL season really begins.
With that time it's always fun to rank things and put together lists. I mean, who doesn't love a good article ranking players? Over the next few weeks I'll be ranking position groups in the NFC East to see which team comes out on top.
Today we begin with the NFC East quarterbacks, arguably the most scrutinized position group in all of sports.
4. New York Giants QB Eli Manning
Though he is the most accomplished quarterback in this division, Giants QB Eli Manning comes in last in our current rankings. Manning has seen his play decline throughout the years, even being benched in favor of Geno Smith late in 2017.
With a healthy cast of pass catchers and rookie running back Saquon Barkley surrounding him, however, Manning could be poised for improvement in 2018.
The Giants offense might be the best in the league if each game was a 7 on 7 tournament, so it will be interesting to see how Eli Manning performs this season.
3. Washington Redskins QB Alex Smith
The newest starting quarterback in the NFC East is Washington's Alex Smith, and he comes in third in our rankings. Smith has gotten the reputation as a check-down artist throughout his career thus far, but when surrounded by the right talent he can be very effective.
Smith had arguably his best season to date in 2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs, but I just don't see Washington's offense being nearly as dangerous as those Chiefs were a year ago.
To me, Smith is at best a marginal upgrade over former starter Kirk Cousins, and won't bring too much of a difference over the long haul in Washington.
2. Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Second on our list is Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. The now third year quarterback is coming off a bit of a "sophomore slump" to end his 2017 campaign, though his first season and a half warrant him our number two spot.
I expect Prescott to look like himself in 2018, especially with the improvements the Cowboys made to their offensive line. Ezekiel Elliott should be available for all 16 games, and the turnover in the receiver group gives some cause for optimism as well.
Prescott is the former Rookie of the Year and has had a good start to his career thus far, but sorry, Cowboys fans, we can all admit Dak Prescott doesn't deserve the top spot as of now.
1. Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz
The top quarterback in the NFC East right now is Eagles QB Carson Wentz. Wentz was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2017 prior to his injury, and once returning to full health Wentz should be able to impress once again.
The Eagles offense was downright dominant while Wentz was healthy, and though they did win the Super Bowl without him, Wentz brings their productivity to another level.
And with arguably the best supporting cast of the entire division, Carson Wentz is poised for success going forward.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog2 days ago
ESPN Proposes Trade Offer To Bring Earl Thomas To Dallas
Star Blog5 days ago
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Could Connor Williams Actually Define the Cowboys’ Season?
Star Blog4 days ago
Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?
Star Blog7 days ago
Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?
Player News2 weeks ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy