In the first two parts of this series, we assigned scores to each position on the team. If you haven't already, give those a read before continuing here to help you better understand this final part:
- Cowboys Offense: Identifying Needs & Strategies, Part 1/3
- Cowboys Defense: Identifying Needs & Strategies, Part 2/3
Now that we have a unit by unit assessment, let’s look at the combined needs of the Cowboys based on the priority scores. In review, these scores are based on two criteria. The first criteria is the overall importance of the position. Each position has a strategic importance score. The second criteria looks at the quality of the person who will play the position if the Cowboys do not address it.
So, for example, the Cowboys do not have a backup guard right now, so it is a critical (or urgent) need. The Will linebacker has Sean Lee slated, so while important it is not critical. The Sam linebacker only has Anthony Hitchens (so average critical), but if he moves to middle linebacker, then it only has Mark Nzeocha, so it become a moderately high to high critical need.
Let’s look at the most important and critical (urgent) needs the Cowboys will have this offseason:
- Corner = 36
- Starting DE = 36
- Starting Three Technique = 36
- Backup QB = 30
- Running Back = 28
- Middle Linebacker = 28
- ROT/Swing Tackle = 25 to 28
- Blocking TE = 25
- Third Down RB = 25
- Strong Side LB = 24
- 2nd or 3rd Receiver = 24
- Backup Three = 22.5
- 4th Corner = 20
- Backup Guard = 20
- Fullback = 20
- Backup Free Safety = 15
- Fourth Guard/Backup Center = 14
So what does all this mean? What does it tell us? Are there any insights we can gather from this process?
Here are 15 insights that I believe these numbers tell us:
- If you have a score of 30 or more, you need to try to address it as early as possible in free agency. These are impact positions that need impact players. You can’t wait around and hope you cover it in the draft. I suspect the Cowboys will try to sign at least three of the four positions with a score of over 30 before the 2016 NFL Draft.
- The Cowboys will spend the most dollars on the roles with the highest scores. Common sense really.
- Having 11 positions with a score above 24 is daunting and certainly above average. That means the Cowboys have more work to do than normal. I think it will be hard to fill all of the gaps with free agents and by re-signing players. That means the "sign the best player available" draft approach will be compromised some this year.
- In a perfect scenario, you would like to fill all positions that score 25 or higher prior to the draft so that you do not have gaps and can draft the best player available, but that is probably impractical for this year. There are just too many starting needs that must be addressed. So if possible, the Cowboys will need to spend their highest draft picks on any remaining positions in excess of 25 that are unfilled in free agency.
- My guess is the Cowboys will try to re-sign five players and another four or five free agents. Likely targets for re-signing are James Hanna, Mackenzie Bernadeau or Ronald Leary, Lance Dunbar, Jack Crawford, Jeff Heath, Morris Claiborne, and Kyle Wilber. Either way, they will need at least 10 signings combined. I'll address possible free agents in a later article.
- The Cowboys will need to have up to seven rookies on the roster. They will probably have four sixth rounders which can help to fill two of the developmental roles, so the Cowboys will need to find five impact or contributing players from this draft. That is a high number and should lead to a strategy of trading down to pick up at least one or two extra picks in the second and third rounds.
- You can wait to address any position with a score under 24 until after the draft. This will allow you to wait to see what players you draft and what holes remain before filling the remaining positions. Of course, if you can re-sign players or get free agents for reasonable amounts, sign them early.
- Since the backup QB is both important and critical, but there are no game changing QBs in the draft, look for the Cowboys to make a trade or sign a splash free agent.
- It would not surprise me if the strong side linebacker and a backup corner are also addressed prior to the draft. That will give the Cowboys more flexibility to take the best player in the draft.
- Looking at the board and the Cowboys needs, it looks like the Cowboys are most likely to draft a defensive back or end with the fourth pick or trade down for additional picks. Depending where they draft down to, they can then go after Defensive Tackle (Three technique), Running Back, Offensive Tackle, Middle Linebacker, and Receiver.
- I would not be surprised to see the Cowboys trade down twice to pick up additional picks. For example, trade down to 10 for a second, then trade to 18 – 22 for a third and fourth. There will still be good players available at 20 for several needs and it could allow them to have as many as seven picks in the top 100 (first, two second, two third, and their 4th) as well as two additional fourths (from trade and compensatory) and four 6th rounders (their sixth plus three compensatory).
- I think two of the three most important and critical positions (DT, DE, Corner) are signed before the draft. The other remaining position will most likely be the first pick. I am predicting it will be a DE or Corner. One of the two will be the biggest signing in free agency and the second will be the first round pick.
- If corner or DE is to be addressed with the first pick then LB, receiver, and running back are the most likely picks for rounds 2-4.
- I believe a developmental guard, corner, and free safety are likely to be drafted in the later rounds.
- If the Cowboys do trade down to add picks, as in the scenario above, I believe they will pick up a developmental QB in rounds 2-4.
If the goal of the team is to win in the next three years then the strategy is to bring in players that can have impact now. But you do not want them around after three years. So I expect to see more free agent signings than in most years. If they sign more free agents, look for two or three year contracts.
I also look for them to draft down and pick up more picks. If they drop down and pick up picks, they can afford to use an earlier one on a QB.
Now the goal is defined, and the strategy for accomplishing this being formulated, a plan can be made and executed. It is this plan that should help the Cowboys look at the critical holes and find actionable steps (players) to address them. Looking forward to starting to evaluate players. I will try to look at 5 a week between now and the draft.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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