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?
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.
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.
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.
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
Maverick Carter: LeBron James Considered Cowboys During NBA Lockout
Maverick Carter is a pretty important man in the world of sports. As a business man, entrepreneur, and manager of one of the best basketball players of all time in LeBron James, Maverick Carter is certainly used to making headlines.
This week, while on former NFL running back Arian Foster's podcast "Now What? with Arian Foster," Carter claimed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once attempted to negotiate a contract with LeBron James.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Carter claims that Jones contacted LeBron James and discussed bringing him in as a Cowboy while the NBA was without games.
"Jerry Jones, being the smart marketer he is...one day out of the clear blue sky LeBron got a contract I think it was for like one year, a couple million bucks to play for the Dallas Cowboys." - Maverick Carter.
Carter then states that LeBron may have the paperwork framed in his house to remember these discussions with Jerry Jones. LeBron's fandom for the Cowboys has been well documented, as has been his high school football prowess.
We may never know how "real" these discussions were, and of course it is long over now, but just imagining LeBron James getting a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys would break the internet.
You can check out the full episode of the podcast here, and I highly suggest listening to the other episodes Arian Foster has to offer.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
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