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Cowboys Offseason Regrets: Offensive Line Shakeup

Jess Haynie

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Doug Free

This week we'll be looking at five decisions the Dallas Cowboys made in the 2017 offseason that, in hindsight, they may now regret. These moves, or non-moves, are ones that have clearly helped cause the team to struggle this year. Dallas currently sits at 6-6 and only has a slim chance of still making the playoffs.

The first area we'll look at is the heart and soul of this Cowboys team, its offensive line. The Cowboys had two big changes in the starting lineup from the retirement of right tackle Doug Free and the departure of left guard Ronald Leary in free agency. They did not add any new talent and instead looked to returning players such as La'el Collins, Jonathan Cooper, and Chaz Green to fill the gaps.

Were the Cowboys right to let Leary go? Did they do enough to replace their lost starters? How much did these changes impact the season?

G Ronald Leary Heading to Mile High City, Signing With Broncos

G Ronald Leary

Should Dallas Have Kept Ronald Leary?

Leary, who turned 28 in April, signed a four-year deal with the Denver Broncos for $36 million. It averages at about a $8-9 million cap hit each year. The guaranteed money was front-loaded in the contract, leaving an easy out in 2019 with only $1.75 million in dead money left.

The logic of letting Leary go so that La'el Collins could take over at guard made sense to me. Collins projected as a future stud at guard with his mix of athleticism and power. However, Doug Free's retirement pulled Collins over to tackle and left LG uncertain.

The timeline here is important.  Ron Leary signed with Denver on March 9th and Free didn't announce his retirement until March 11th. However, rumors that Doug was considering retirement started back at the NFL Scouting Combine. So Dallas probably had a good indication of what their needs would be when they decided to let Leary go.

It's also important to remember Ron Leary's health issues. He went undrafted in 2012 because of a degenerative knee condition that most felt would shorten his career. Dallas may have felt like they'd already gotten more out of Leary than most had anticipated, and that it was time to stop rolling the dice.

The financial implications of trying to keep Leary would have been difficult.  Dallas was already thinking about having to sign Zack Martin to a long-term extension and then gave La'el Collins a two-year, $15 million extension through 2019. They needed to save some money somewhere and hoped left guard would be a spot where they could go cheap.

Jonathan Cooper

G Jonathan Cooper

Part of the plan was veteran Jonathan Cooper, a failed first-round pick who'd bounced around the league since 2013. Dallas had coveted Cooper as a rookie but couldn't take him as he went seventh overall in that draft.  The Cowboys added Cooper late in 2016 to kick the tires and then kept him for 2017.

The other option was Chaz Green, the 2015 third-round pick who'd been battling injuries for most of his short NFL career. Green had looked good last year as a backup tackle when Tyron Smith went out, but that was short-lived as Chaz also got hurt. The team wanted to give him a shot at guard to see if they could get a return on their third-round pick investment.

The end result of having Collins move to right tackle and then Green being tried at left guard was a pedestrian running game. After averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry in 2016, Ezekiel Elliott's productivity dropped to just a 3.7 average in Weeks 1-5. This includes the abysmal eight yards on nine carries that he had in Denver. The Cowboys went 2-3 in these games to start their season in a hole.

To be fair, the Cowboys didn't know back in March that their time with Ezekiel Elliott in 2017 would be precious. There was no anticipation of a lengthy suspension, if any, from Zeke's domestic violence investigation.

However, in this hindsight discussion, the reality is that Dallas wasted their early time with Elliott in the lineup in part because of the offensive line transitions and growing pains. While the Denver game was a total blowout, the losses to the Rams and Packers were only by five and four points each. A fully functioning rushing attack may have tipped those games in Dallas favor, changing 2-3 to 4-1 and perhaps the current 6-6 to 8-4.

Chaz Green

OL Chaz Green

Perhaps the biggest regret isn't that they let Ronald Leary go, but rather that they didn't commit to Jonathan Cooper sooner. The switch from Chaz Green to Cooper in Week 4 started to turn things around for the run game. After the bye week, things really took off and the Cowboys went on a three-game win streak before Elliott's suspension finally took hold.

Had Cooper been the starter from the beginning of training camp, the chemistry the team found in Weeks 7-9 might've been there all along. Trying to get something out of a younger Chaz Green is understandable, but that experiment's failure may have been directly responsible for two of the Cowboys' six losses so far this year.

Ultimately, I don't blame Dallas for not re-signing Ronald Leary. The financial side just didn't make sense given the considerable cost of keeping just Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin together. Once they were committed to La'el Collins as well, there just was no way to pay another handsome salary to the fifth guy.

I don't even blame them for hoping for something out of Chaz Green. Third-round picks are no small thing and you hate to see one wasted. But now that Green couldn't catch on as a starting guard or even as the backup swing tackle in his third year, it's looking like a busted pick.

These hindsight arguments should be more about the merits of the strategy or reasoning behind a decision rather than the result. I think the Cowboys made the right call with not spending to keep Leary, but then overdid it by also moving La'el Collins to tackle. That created two positions of uncertainty and change; 40% of the offensive line transitioning instead of just 20%.

Unfortunately, they may not have had much choice. If you look at the free agent offensive tackles from the offseason, those of any real value signed deals for even more money than Ronald Leary got from Denver. If finances are why Leary had to go, then Dallas wasn't going to be able to pay for Doug Free's replacement in free agency.

Despite free agency and draft picks, sometimes there just aren't the right pegs for every hole on your team. The Cowboys were in a bad spot with their available cap space, current assets, and Free's retirement. I think they did they best they could with the resources available, but unfortunately some of those moves just didn't go as well as they'd hoped.



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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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule: Reaction and Analysis

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There's Only One Side To Blame

The full NFL 2019 regular season schedule was released last night. Here is my reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and analysis of how what I think it means for them next season.

Of course, a schedule can have a very different feel come September-December than it does in April. The teams don't change, but their circumstances can be wildly altered by the time they actually have to take the field.

Just ask the Cowboys' opponents from the 2015 season. Nobody was looking forward to playing that Dallas team coming off its 12-4 playoff run the year before. But all it took was a Tony Romo injury in the preseason to suddenly make the Cowboys a cupcake.

But for now, we can only react to what we know. Before we dive in, here's a quick reminder of the complete 2019 regular season schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints (SNF)
    • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys (SNF)
    • Week 8: BYE
    • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants  (SNF)
    • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys (MNF)
    • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys (T'giving)
    • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears (TNF)
    • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys

We already knew this wasn't going to be an easy slate. The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, meaning they were guaranteed to play against four division winners this season; Bears, Patriots, Rams, and Saints. They also get the regular two games against the Eagles, who were a Wild Card team last year.

Let's just talk about those six games for a minute. New England is still New England; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will ensure that it's one of the toughest games of the year, and especially on the road. The Patriots have won 12-straight home games going back to 2017.

The Bears and Rams are both rising teams that shouldn't suffer any drop off next year. Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky is entering his third year and LA's Jared Goff will be in his fourth season, but only third in Sean McVay's offense. Both have starting QBs with rookie contacts, which means having the resources to load up on talent elsewhere on the roster.

Much like the Patriots, the Saints still have their franchise QB and coach and should remain a top team. They will also be out for blood after the Cowboys humiliated them last season, as will their fans, and that could make for a very tough road game in New Orleans.

Then, of course, there are the Eagles.

Eagles vs Redskins Tonight; What Outcome is Best for Cowboys?

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The NFC East appears to be a two-horse race in 2019. The Giants are arguably the worst team in the NFL right now and the Redskins are dealing with major QB problems. It should be Dallas and Philadelphia once again battling for the top spot.

The Cowboys and Eagles should both get some cushy wins against their fellow division opponents. It could come down to their games against each other, and so far Dallas has dominated Philly when Carson Wentz is playing QB. With Nick Foles gone, how will that impact the Eagles going forward?

As for the rest of the schedule, the only other game that seems easy on paper is against the Miami Dolphins. Teams like the Bills, Jets, and Lions could go either way. The Packers and Vikings should both be tough opponents.

The teams aside, the general layout of the schedule isn't bad. The Week 8 bye is nice for a break right in the middle of the season. Dallas only has to play back-to-back road games one time, Weeks 11 and 12 against the Lions and Patriots.

The first three games against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins give Dallas a great opportunity to start the year right and build momentum. They will definitely need to go into December with some cushion, because that stretch against the Bears, Rams, and Eagles could be very difficult.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's got some tough spots because of the Cowboys' performance last year, but that means they were a good team then and they stand to be even better now. There's nothing here that prevents Dallas from building on the success of 2018 and making then an ever better season.



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Dallas Cowboys

BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia

Although we're still months away from the 2019 NFL season, we finally know how the Dallas Cowboys' games will line up this year. The entire league schedule was just released. I know just how much you want to know who the Cowboys will be playing each week so don't let me keep you.

Here's the full 2019 Dallas Cowboys schedule and a few notes at the end. Enjoy!

  • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Sep 8th, 3:25p
  • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Sun, Sep 15th, 12:00p
  • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Sun, Sep 22nd, 12:00p
  • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
    • Sunday Night Football
    • Sep, 29th, 7:20p
  • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 6th, 3:25p
  • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Sun, Oct 13th, 3:25p
  • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 20th, 7:20p
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants 
    • Monday Night Football
    • Mon, Nov 4th, 7:15p
  • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Nov 10th, 7:20p
  • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Sun, Nov 17th, 12:00p
  • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Sun, Nov 24th, 3:25p
  • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Thu, Nov 28th, 3:30p
  • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
    • Thursday Night Football
    • Thu, Dec 4th, 7:20p
  • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 15th, 3:25p
  • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Sun, Dec 22nd, 3:25p
  • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 29th, 12:00p

A few notes and thoughts...

  • It feels like the Cowboys play the Giants on week 1 just about every year. In 2018 it was the Carolina Panthers, but now we're back to watching this divisional matchup early on.
  • I love that the Cowboys and Saints will matchup against each other on primetime on week 3. Last season's Thursday Night game between the two was one of the best games of the season.
  • Having a bye week right in the middle of the season is pretty ideal, and the Cowboys have been lucky in this regard lately. This time they'll rest on the eight week of the season.
  • Overall, this seems like a tougher calendar than last year's. This only makes sense given that the Cowboys are the current NFC East champions and are bound to face tougher opponents.
  • A particularly tough stretch might take place from week 12 to week 17. The Patriots, Bears and Rams will be on the list as well as two divisional rivals in the Eagles and Redskins.

Tell me what you think about "BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Player News

Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.

The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.

It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.

Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.

In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.

For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.



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