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Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 9

In the last couple of weeks we have looked at the DE and DT positions and possible players and strategies for each. We looked at free agents and draft prospects that may fill their needs. This week, we will look at linebackers. The first article will deal with the inside linebackers and the second article - tomorrow - will deal with outside linebackers.

Before we get started, let’s talk about the state of the LB core.

The Cowboys will lose their starting SAM LB (Kyle Wilber) and their MIKE LB (Rolando McClain). They will have several returning players including Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha, and Andrew Gachkar. While Hitchens can fill the middle LB position, I think we all agree that it would be better if he added depth and we have a starting MLB that will strengthen the middle. They need a MLB with some pop and attitude. So the Cowboys will be looking for a starting MIKE.

With that out of the way, let’s start with possible free agents. Typically the Cowboys prefer:

  • No one older than 30
  • Speed. They like fast LBs
  • Attitude, they need someone who is aggressive and will attack runners
  • Size; Needs to be a 240 to 250 LB that can drive runners backwards. They also like a taller MIKE.
  • Coverage. They need to be someone who can carry the TE on the seam.

Possible Free Agents:

  • Sean Weatherspoon (Arizona) – Good speed, but injury prone and he may not be the prototypical middle linebacker. Will rack up tackles, and is decent in coverage. May be too expensive. My guess is it would take 4 to 5 million a year.
  • Vincent Rey (Bengals) – The right size and attitude. He can be a thumper. His price tag will probably be in the 4.5 range. He would be a good fit, but I do not think he will hit the market.
  • Danny Trevathan (Broncos) – Trevathan has the size, attitude and speed the Cowboys covet. He should be someone they talk to in free agency.
  • Zach Brown (Titans) – Brown was a starter in Tennessee and has good size and speed. He could be an affordable option to at least add depth, if not start.
  • Shea McClellin (Bears) – Moved to inside LB this year and had some struggles. He can also play SAM, so there is versatility. He does have the size the Cowboys like, so he could be an option.
  • Kelvin Sheppard (Dolphins) – Would most likely be a depth player. Split time as starter in Miami.
  • Craig Robertson (Browns) – Starter in Cleveland, but probably does not have the size the Cowboys want.

Before we look at some possible prospects the Cowboys could look at to fill the MIKE position, let’s look at attributes we look at when evaluating a LB. Here are 10 traits I look at when evaluating the LB:

  1. Overall Quickness and Speed
  2. Instincts – Do they have awareness, can they quickly diagnose a play, and do they recognize patterns (routes, runs, formations)
  3. Aggressiveness – Do they attack or sit back and wait
  4. Tackling – Are they fundamental tacklers and do they knock runners backwards
  5. Pursuit – Can they get through traffic to make plays or do they overrun the play
  6. Power – Can they take on a blocker and fill a hole
  7. Hand Skills – Do they use hands to control blockers, shed, and tackle
  8. Discipline, assignment sound
  9. Are they play-makers – Do they create turnovers, and blitz. Can they create negative yardage and big hits
  10. Coverage – Can they cover TEs and RBs.

With that in mind, let’s look at the players in the draft that the Cowboys will evaluate.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside LinebackerMyles Jack (UCLA)

Strengths

  • When he hits a linemen, then linemen goes backwards
  • A great combination of athleticism and attitude
  • A big hitter, you go down when he hits you
  • Fast, can get sideline to sideline with ease
  • Good motor, always making his way to ball
  • Always going forward to attack runner
  • Best coverage LB I have seen in a while. Almost played a type of slot corner in some situations
  • Best when he is attacking the line and hitting gaps
  • Has good instincts and awareness of what is going on, but is still aggressive and decisive
  • Can read, diagnose and then attack
  • Playmaker
  • Pop with his hands, can shock blockers
  • Tries to hurt you when he hits you
  • Good open field tackler
  • A freak athlete

Weaknesses

  • He is not a good edge rusher
  • Needs more techniques and feel when blitzing
  • Can get dumb penalties because of passion

Summary

  • My apologies to Broaddus; I did not think he was a middle backer and thought he was a finesse player, but he can play all three LB positions and he brings an attitude.
  • He is my highest rated inside backer and next week he will be my highest rated outside backer
  • Great in coverage. Complete three down back
  • For Cowboys he would be an immediate starter as middle LB. A playmaker that can help the defense have attitude and create turnovers.
  • I may not recommend drafting him at 5, but dropping down to later in the top 10 and getting him would be a great move.
  • I would have him as a first round, impact player (top 10 player)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 1Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame)

Strengths

  • Fast sideline to sideline. Covers a lot of ground and can beat runner to the edge.
  • Can weave through traffic, stretch play out and eventually make play
  • Is fluid in coverage
  • Smart, know what his responsibility is and is disciplined enough to carry it out
  • Can take on blockers, shed and tackle
  • Really good athlete
  • Has some attitude
  • Has good feel on blitz
  • Will bring some pop when tackling
  • Understands zone coverage concepts
  • Good production, always near ball
  • Will run down plays from behind

Weaknesses

  • Would like to see him come forward more and not wait for runners to come to him
  • He guessed at what hole the RB would take, and guessed wrong several times
  • If middle LB will be his role, he will need to get stronger at point of attack

Summary

  • I think his best position is Will, but can play MIKE.
  • Will make a ton of tackles in the NFL. Could see him leading the league.
  • Good in man and zone coverages. Probably better in man though
  • For the Cowboys he would be an immediate starter and a good combo at MIKE with Lee.
  • Is a playmaker that can get three to four picks a year
  • I may not recommend drafting him at 5, but dropping down later around 18-20 and getting him would be a great move.
  • I would have him as a mid -first rounder (top 20 player)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 2Reggie Ragland (Alabama)

Strengths

  • Good tackler. Watched four games and did not see him miss a tackle. If he gets to the runner, the runner goes down.
  • Good in open field. He has a nice burst to get outside in the flat and make tackles
  • Decent in zone coverage. Aware of route combinations
  • Is effective when blitzing
  • Really good at using hands to play off blocks and make tackle
  • Very few times did I see a blocker able to sustain his block on Ragland
  • Best when he is attacking the line and hitting gaps
  • Has good instincts and awareness of what is going on
  • Can read, diagnose and attack
  • Disciplined, knows assignment and will carry it out

Weaknesses

  • I do not like his motor. There are too many plays he is jogging to get into play. Does not give it everything every play
  • Does not have elite lateral speed, but he does make a lot of plays
  • Was wanting more impact plays for the top rated inside LB.

Summary

  • Solid, stout inside backer who is good at point of attack
  • Is probably best suited for 34 inside backer
  • Would be the best blitzing LB have on roster
  • Would give the Cowboys size and tackling in the middle
  • I do not think he is an elite athlete
  • I do not think he is as good as some of the other LBs that has come out of Alabama lately.
  • Will be a good NFL starter immediately that will play assignment sound.
  • Big gap between him and other inside LB prospects
  • I would have him as a first rounder, but do not like his motor at times. With this in mind, I grade him somewhere at the end of the first (top 30 player)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 3Jordan Jenkins (Georgia)

Strengths

  • Strong, physical and tough
  • Versatile - played inside, outside, DE and DT at Georgia.
  • Can get to the QB from the outside or inside
  • Can tackle, will drive runners backwards
  • Can make offensive linemen look bad. Quick to the hole, can shift and dart through a gap
  • Is aggressive, attacks at all times. Always moving forward.
  • Will take on blockers; multiple blockers most times.
  • Looks to have a great size/speed ratio
  • Plays big on the big stage
  • Is a sure tackler

Weaknesses

  • As a linebacker he will need to show he can drop in coverage. Georgia did not ask him to do that
  • Not sure what his 40 will be. Needs to show speed not just burst
  • Can get caught with misdirection at times.
  • When playing edge, teams let him get up field and run underneath him.

Summary

  • Very versatile. He is the second best outside linebacker in a 34 or he could be one of the best middle linebackers in a 43. He probably would be a two down backer in a 43, but he could also become an edge rusher if passing situations.
  • He is someone that the Combine could help or hurt. His 40 should tell us if he has the speed to play linebacker. Is other shuttle times will show us if he can play middle, and his bench press will tell if he has the strength to play DE. My guess is he will slim down and try to be a linebacker.
  • He could be a high pick if his measurable are there, or he could be a mid-round pick if he does not have measurable that match a position (i.e. the 40 time of a linemen, but a bench press and weight of a linebacker). He needs measurables that match a position or he will be a tweener.
  • He is my pet cat. I think he could wind up being an enforcer as a middle linebacker. Maybe not a cover LB but a run stopping enforcer.
  • Even if he is not the best pure middle linebacker, he is definitely the best SAM linebacker in the draft. I think SAM and middle will be his best positions in a 43.
  • For the Cowboys, he would be starting SAM, backup MIKE, and situational edge rusher. He definitely has position flex.
  • He could be there when the Cowboys pick in the third (I have him rated higher than most), but if the Cowboys trade down and pick up a mid to late second, they may need to get him then.

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 4Kentrell Brothers (Missouri)

Strengths

  • Active, good motor. Effort to the ball
  • Good in zone coverage
  • Really good at the blitz. Will keeping working to find hole to the QB.
  • Uses hands well to keep blockers at bay and then make tackle
  • Good instincts on run. Sees it and goes gets it
  • Understands his responsibility
  • Sure tackler
  • Makes big plays
  • Can catch, creates turnovers

Weaknesses

  • Smaller in size than prototypical inside backer
  • Can be knocked back
  • Shot wrong gap at times (may have been his assignment, hard to tell)
  • Lost awareness on a couple of pass plays. Eyes in backfield
  • Good speed, but not elite speed

Summary

  • Good solid LB who is sure tackler and can play zone coverage
  • Creates turnovers
  • Cowboys would like his motor
  • I believe he is more of a Will linebacker
  • Graded as late second rounder (top 60)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 5Joshua Perry (Ohio State)

Strengths

  • Physical linebacker with good size.
  • Best trait is his ability to take on blockers and shed them to make tackle
  • His hands are what makes him a top 50 player. Can use them to keep blockers at bay and then go get runner.
  • Played inside and outside. Has some versatility
  • Good at timing blitzes from the inside
  • When paying outside, is big enough to set edge
  • Can weave in and out of traffic laterally to make the tackle
  • Good against run. Strong can get movement backwards and disrupt line
  • Long strider which cause him to have good speed/size ratio
  • Most times he has good recognition on screens and misdirection
  • Aggressive

Weaknesses

  • His long strides make him vulnerable in space. He can get off balance
  • Short area quickness will be a problem
  • He can miss tackles on the edge
  • Good instincts, but at times that can get him in trouble as he loses awareness of ball
  • Susceptible to cut blocks, although hands keep him out of trouble a lot

Summary

  • Natural position is the SAM, but he can also play middle. In fact, he may wind up as a middle LB over time.
  • His size is an asset against the run
  • Probably will never be a three down back. Will come off in third down packages. Although if he moves to the middle he does have the size and speed to carry a TE. Do not think he will ever be great in coverage.
  • If available, I could see the Cowboys picking him up with their third. He could fill the SAM LB role and give them depth as a backup Middle.
  • I have him rated as a top 60 player

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 6

Tyler Matakevich (Temple)

Strengths

  • Smart, knows his assignment
  • Competitive and leader
  • Will attack the hole
  • Good tackler
  • Has a good instinct for how to get to QB on blitz
  • Will shed blockers and still plant and tackle
  • Can make play on the ball

Weaknesses

  • Seemed slow. I need to see how he runs in combine
  • Never really saw a play where he demonstrated burst
  • Can be knocked back at times
  • Shot wrong gap at times. Lost vision on a couple of run plays. Went wrong way. May not have been able to see over blockers
  • Was hesitant at times, took too long to diagnose and attack.

Summary

  • A competitive hard nose player you want on your team
  • Has a knack for big plays
  • Cowboys would like his leadership
  • I believe he is more of a SAM linebacker and lacks speed for Will or MIKE.
  • Graded as a low third rounder (top 90)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 7Dominique Alexander (Oklahoma)

Strengths

  • Has physical traits to be a good linebacker
  • Has a knack for timing blitzes
  • Willing to take on blockers and putting himself into the pile
  • Has speed enough to get sideline to sideline
  • Has good awareness. Reads and adjusts.
  • Doesn’t really make mistakes, know his assignment and can carry it out
  • Solid tackler
  • Takes good angles

Weaknesses

  • Don’t like his motor. Would like to see him with higher energy.
  • Not really a thumper for a middle linebacker. Plays with finesse more than power.
  • Would like to see him more big plays
  • Would like to see him be more instinctual. See it and go. Can be hesitant.
  • Undersized for middle linebacker

Summary

  • A solid linebacker that does not make mistakes but also doesn’t make a lot of big play either
  • A solid contributor early on that might come in an replace a starter
  • Needs more nastiness
  • I believe he is more of a MIKE, probably could play Will too.
  • Honestly, every time I tried to watch tape of him, Striker kept showing up
  • Graded as a high fourth rounder (top 100)

 

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players For Inside Linebacker 8Nick Vigil (Utah St.)

Strengths

  • Good athlete
  • Takes good angles
  • Has really good awareness
  • Always comes forward
  • Good solid hands
  • Good in zone coverage
  • Good motor

Weaknesses

  • Not the fastest player
  • Willing tackle, but not someone you would say is a thumper
  • Would like to see him more big plays
  • Would like to see him be more instinctual. Reads what is going on around him, but sometimes that can make him hesitant. Would like to see him just go make a play
  • Will struggle in man coverage

Summary

  • Good motor. Is a high energy guy who will be a core special teamer.
  • While he has good awareness, it at times makes him hesitant.
  • Would like to see him be more of a hammer.
  • Style of a MIKE, but not the size.
  • Graded as a high fourth rounder (top 120)

 

Jared Norris
I like him, he is a good developmental middle or strong side linebacker. He has attitude and is a thumper. Better against the run than pass. He can take on linemen, shed, and fill the hole. Strong and physically imposing, but not a super athlete.

He is slower than you would like and I question his short area quickness. He is stiff and struggles against quicker backs. There were several times that he was "shook" by the back. He does have a high energy level and you get the sense that he is a football guy. I did not see him get knocked backwards much but I did see him miss some tackles; again, usually against a smaller back.

I think he would be a great fit for the Cowboys as strong side linebacker if they could get him at the bottom of the fourth or top of the fifth. A TOP 150.

Scooby Wright
A little slow. At times he sheds blocks well and others he just gets blown out of the hole. He has good vision and reaction skills, but does not play with enough power for an inside backer. He does have a good motor and is always around the ball. Misses open field tackles due to poor angles. Plays assignment football. Needs more awareness on backside blocks. Not a great blitzer, and does not have any pass moves.

Overall, he's active, smart, and disciplined but does not bring the boom or get off blocks consistently enough. I have him at the end of the fourth, top of the 5th round. He is outside the top 120.

Blake Martinez
Not much tape on him, but from the games I watched he is a solid smart and disciplined middle linebacker who can overcome some physical limitations with his awareness, tenacity, and motor.

He has the size of a prototypical middle linebacker, but he is more of a finesse type player than a brute. That does not bode well since he does not have the athleticism of a finesse player. Good player on your team because he will make sure everyone is where they need to be. He understands concepts and that helps him read plays quickly. However, he will be limited because of his physical shortcomings.

I have him rated as a 5th rounder. He is a top 150 player.

The Cowboys have a few options. They can try to keep McClain, who did get better in the year. They can also decide it is time for Hitchens to become a starter. So they have a luxury of not having to go after an inside linebacker. However, they will need to draft or get a free agent for at least one of the two positions (SAM or MIKE). The MIKE is important in the defensive scheme being run, so it needs to be a priority.

If the Cowboys can go out and get a free agent starter, they should. Why?

  • Myles Jack would be better as a Will
  • Jaylon Smith is hurt and may need most of next year to heal
  • I do not think Ragland will do as well in the pros
  • There are not a lot of other possible starters.

There are a couple of possible exceptions that could surprise. If Jordan Jenkins runs well enough (under 4.75), I think he can play middle linebacker and be a thumper. He certainly can play the SAM and be a situational DE so there is less risk. I also think that Joshua Perry can move inside and be an effective middle linebacker. Jared Wright may be a good option later in the draft for added depth. He may be able to play the SAM as well.

Good starting free agent options will include Trevathan, Rey, and Weatherspoon. Lesser known options could be McClellin (Bears) or Brown (Titans).

There are not a lot of starting MIKE’s in this draft so the Cowboys need to try to address the starting MIKE in free agency, if possible. If they fail, they need to address in the first round or they will most likely not find a starter. If they do miss on a LB in the first, then they may take a chance on Jenkins or Perry in the second or third. Otherwise they will need to draft a backup like Norris or Vigil.

I hope you enjoyed this. Check out my next Blog on the outside linebackers tomorrow at 11.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

Dallas Cowboys

Zack Martin Got Paid, Is DeMarcus Lawrence Next?

John Williams

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DeMarcus Lawrence, Broncos

Zack Martin's new contract became official last week as the four-time All-Pro received the long-term deal he's been looking for. Per Todd Archer, his rookie fifth year option now turns into a seven-year deal for $93.41-million dollars with $40-million guaranteed (42.8%), including a $20-million dollar signing bonus.

Todd Archer on Twitter

The total deal for All-Pro right guard Zack Martin is seven years for $93.41 million and includes a $20 million signing bonus, according to a source. As Adam Schefter reported, the guaranteed money is $40 million. The Cowboys created around $3 million... https://t.co/q8ovYSiQRg

The Dallas Cowboys and Martin's representatives worked all off-season to come up with a deal that would make Zack the highest paid guard in the NFL going into his fifth season. And as much as anyone on the team, he deserves it.

He's started every game in his four-year career. He's 28 years old and this contract locks him up through his prime.

With Martin's deal done, the Dallas Cowboys front office can now turn its attention to the next wave of players that will be ready for big-time contracts.

Let's look at who that is and what they could demand.

KD Drummond from the Cowboys Wire on USA Today had a great piece outlining what this deal means for the 2018 and 2019 salary caps moving forward. Per his math, for 2018, this deal gives the Dallas Cowboys an extra $3 million this year, leaving their cap space at a little more than $14 million.

For 2019, the Dallas Cowboys will have a projected $50-million dollars in cap space. Cap Projections courtesy of OverTheCap.com. $50 million in 2019 is far from the cap hell that everyone wants to tell you about.

Be sure to follow KD on Twitter as well as Inside The Star's very own Jess Haynie to keep up to date with the salary cap implications.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Dallas Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End

Let's start this discussion by saying that the Dallas Cowboys don't have to do a single thing with DeMarcus Lawrence's contract to help them on the salary cap. His cap figure is locked in at $17 million for 2018 and as noted above, the Cowboys have a little more than $14 million in space.

Zack Martin was arguably the biggest offseason priority in 2018. The other player who could make that argument was Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who the team placed their franchise tag on this off-season.

With the franchise tag in place, Lawrence wasn't allowed to hit free agency, which would have definitely led to a bidding war for the All-Pro pass rusher's services.

The deadline to convert the franchise tag to a long-term deal is about a month away, which gives the Dallas Cowboys front office plenty of time to get a deal done with Lawrence.

If the Dallas Cowboys were to get an extension done, with some creative structuring of the contract they could cut his salary cap figure.  If the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him again during the 2019 offseason, which is a real possibility, his guaranteed contract would be $20.4 million.

Let's look at Olivier Vernon's deal as a template for what DeMarcus Lawrence could get through a contract extension:

  • In 2016, Vernon signed with the New York Giants in free agency a five-year, $85-million contract with $40-million guaranteed (47.1%) and a $20-million signing bonus.
  • His year one cap figure was $13 million. A $1.75-million base salary, $7 million as a roster bonus, and $4 million as part of his prorated signing bonus that was spread out over the life of the contract.

Vernon had only one season with more than 10 sacks when he had 11.5 in his second year as a pro, but was consistently healthy. DeMarcus Lawrence had an elite season in 2017, but has had injury struggles throughout his career. 2017 was the first time he'd started all 16 games.

If you go to OverTheCap.com and look at the guaranteed portions of contracts for the top earning 4-3 defensive ends, you'll see that Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell and the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett are the only players that come close. Their guaranteed money is at or just over $30-million dollars.

Vernon's deal was an above market value contract at the time, but could be the range that Lawrence and his representatives are looking at to get Tank paid.

Through the franchise tag alone, we're talking about a minimum of $37.4-million guaranteed that could go to Lawrence over the next two years. That would be just under Vernon's guaranteed numbers, and though Vernon's contract was above market value, that is probably where Lawrence's deal will have to start.

You can thank the New York Giants for paying Vernon above market value, which is probably leading to some of the contract negotiation difficulties between the Dallas Cowboys and Lawrence's representatives.

With all of that said, here's what I'd estimate Lawrence's deal to look like if it were to get signed before July 16th, when franchise tags become official for the 2018 season.

5 years for $90 million, $18 million per year, with $44-million guaranteed, and a $24-million signing bonus. 

That would make him the highest paid 4-3 defensive end in NFL history, and if 2017 is any sign of future production, he's well worth it.

That may seem like a rich contract, but considering that Zack Martin just got $40-million guaranteed to play a position that is not nearly as valued as EDGE, it makes sense that Lawrence would get more.

The Dallas Cowboys may let him play this season on the franchise tag, but that would mean they will probably have to use it again next year to try to get a long-term deal negotiated with him in the 2019 off-season.

The sooner they get a deal done with Tank, the better as his play will only drive his contract up.

Dak Prescott Weighs in on Cowboys "Dak-Friendly" Offense

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

Dak Prescott is headed for a big payday. Remember, before the final eight games of the 2017 season, Prescott had led the Cowboys to an 18-6 record over his first 24 games. His 22-10 record, which includes the offense's late season meltdown, is still pretty impressive during a quarterback's first two years in the NFL.

Only one quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger had more wins in their first two seasons than Dak Prescott's 22: Russell Wilson. And we know the kind of defense the Seattle Seahawks were working with at the time.

Dak Prescott had a terrible second half of 2017, as did the rest of the offense, but don't let that cloud your judgment of what kind of player he is. Remember, in his rookie season he had the third highest passer rating behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan at 104.9.

Over the first eight games of 2017, his passer rating was 97.9 and he had a 16:4 touchdown to interception ratio. That includes the 68.8 passer rating in Denver when the entire team fell flat in the week two destruction at the hands of the Broncos.

He's a good quarterback and in 2018 he'll assuage all your concerns. Here's what I had to say about Dak Prescott's 2018 season.

Looking to the 2019 season, the time when 2016 rookies can begin negotiating contract extensions, it's likely Dak Prescott will get some big money to make him the Cowboys quarterback for the next 10 years.

There's no telling how rich the deal will be at this point, but we can guess that it will be somewhere between Derek Carr's $125 million (32% guaranteed) and Matt Ryan's $150 million total value (63% guaranteed).

Year three for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys will be huge to determine just where that contract should fit. Best case scenario for the Cowboys is that Prescott plays lights out en route to a deep playoff run and they reward him with a very rich contract.

If 2018 creates more questions, then a 2020 franchise tag could be in Prescott's future.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

With approximately $14 million in space this year and $50 million available to them in the 2019 salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys have the financial flexibility to hand out some long-term deals to some of their homegrown players.

As we know, this is the Dallas Cowboys' standard operating procedure: Draft well and then pay those draftees who earn a second contract. DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott have earned that second contract. The only question is, when will they get signed?



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Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott’s Next Contract Looms Over Cowboys’ Financial Future

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott
Ashley Landis/Dallas Morning News

Even though his rookie contract goes through 2019, Quarterback Dak Prescott's next deal is already one of the key issues facing the Dallas Cowboys. Preparing for that second contract, which could highly expensive, is critical as the team deals with the rest of the roster and prepares for the future.

As a fourth-round pick Prescott's rookie deal is delightfully cheap. He counts just $726k and $816k against the salary cap over the next two seasons. You could hardly ask for better from a guy whose already been to a Pro Bowl.

But this financial grace period has a rapidly approaching end date. Dallas will soon have to pay Dak the standard for NFL quarterbacks, and the difference is staggering.

Consider what Jimmy Garoppolo just got from the 49ers; $137.5 million over five years. That's an average of $27.5 million per season.

Yikes, right?

And think about this; while Garoppolo may look like the second coming right now, he still hasn't accomplished what Dak Prescott already has.

Dallas Cowboys Well Represented In 2017 ESPY Awards 1

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Prescott has taken his team to the playoffs. He's gone to the Pro Bowl. His career passer rating puts him in the Top 10, between Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, on the NFL's all-time list.

Yes, last year was a step backward. But if Dak gets back to rookie form, and there's plenty of reason to think he will, then he will be able to use Garoppolo's deal as the floor in negotiations.

Again... yikes!

The scary reality here is that the Cowboys will no sooner get out from under Tony Romo's big contract then they probably have to get into a new one with Prescott. The last Romo's dead money, $8.9 million, finally drops off after 2018.

We know how Romo's cap hits, both while still playing and even after his release, have limited the Cowboys in free agency. That is an unnerving prospect for the future once Dak Prescott gets his next deal.

That's why you see the Cowboys eating all of Dez Bryant's dead money now. That's why they're potentially relying on so many recent draft picks like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Connor Williams and Michael Gallup to take on big roles for the next 3-4 years at their inexpensive rookie salaries.

That's why Cole Beasley (2019 free agent) probably won't be back next season, or why Sean Lee ($7 million cap relief) could easily be a cap casualty next year.

Clearly, Prescott's next contract hangs over everything.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Of course, nothing is certain. Prescott's sophomore slump may devolve into something more, and the conversation could quickly change.

But Dak doesn't have to be better than ever to earn the big money. He only has to get back to his rookie form; just do what he's already done.

With the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott hopefully back to their 2016 form and availability, Prescott should have the cushion to be the kind of QB that he was in that 13-3 season. And if he can get the Cowboys one step closer in the playoffs, such as an NFC Championship Game appearance, then Dallas will have no choice but to commit long-term.

While what the Niners gave Jimmy Garoppolo could be considered asinine for the lack of actual accomplishment so far, that doesn't matter in terms of market value. The bar has been raised, and Dak won't have to do much to clear it.

You know that Jerry and Stephen Jones see this as well as anybody, and every move the Cowboys make now is done with Dak's future deal in mind. That's the reality for any NFL team; dealing with the imbalance in QB compensation compared to the rest of the league.

Even if it's still two years away, they have to prepare for it as if it's guaranteed. Given what other QBs like Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Stafford are making right now, Dak doesn't have to accomplish much more to make it happen.



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Dallas Cowboys

Jimmy Johnson Could Be Next Cowboys Ring of Honor Inductee

Jess Haynie

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AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

According to reports, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jimmy Johnson may finally be joining the team's Ring of Honor.

Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram reported this morning, per a source, that Johnson could be among the next group of inductees to the franchise's version of the Hall of Fame.

The other potential candidates mentioned were former scouting guru Gil Brandt from the Tom Landry era and Tight End Jay Novacek, who won three Super Bowls in Dallas in the 1990s.

Novacek would join Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Charles Haley, and Darren Woodson as Ring of Honor members acquired during Jimmy Johnson's brief but historic run as Cowboys coach.

It is that heavy presence of Johnson's players in the Ring, not to mention the three championships that crew won from 1992-1995, that has long merited Jimmy's inclusion in the Cowboys' most exclusive club.

Jimmy was only personally on had for two of three titles, but even that ties him with Tom Landry for Super Bowl wins in Cowboys history. And as many would argue, that 1995 championship team was still running on what Johnson put together.

Jimmy Johnson Could Be Next Cowboys Ring of Honor Inductee

Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones

Jimmy's place among the Cowboys' greatest contributors is irrefutable. But whether he'd ever get into the Ring of Honor has always been questioned due to his contentious breakup with team Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones.

Johnson left the Cowboys after the 1993 championship season as he and Jones could no longer have a working relationship. Jerry's bitterness over the credit that Jimmy got for building the 90s dynasty, and Jimmy's refusal to pass any of that along to his Jones, led to Johnson's resignation as egos drove a wedge between friends.

Time appears to have healed the wounds, for the most part. As pictured above, Jimmy was in attendance for Jerry's 2017 Hall of Fame induction and public comments between them have become far more cordial in recent years.

At ages 75 and 74, respectively, Jerry and Jimmy should close this book while they still can. There is no better way to do than by Johnson taking his rightful place in the Ring of Honor.

Not only will that move bring a resolution to their story, but it will also help Jimmy in his pursuit of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to be recognized on the team level.

Jimmy Johnson belongs with Troy, Emmitt, Playmaker, and the rest who he brought together. He was responsible for the most successful era of Dallas Cowboys football in the team's history. He also provided the catchphrase that has endured for almost 30 years now, "how 'bout 'dem Cowboys?"

You can't tell the story of the Dallas Cowboys without Jimmy Johnson. It's time to give his chapter a happy ending.



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