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Cowboys Set To Reload, Not Rebuild For 2017

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - Martin's 5: Morris Claiborne Next In Line For Interception

The mass exodus of Cowboys defensive backs through free agency is now complete, and while the current defensive back depth chart looks thinner, it is no-less capable of playing winning football.

So while the internet burned on Thursday afternoon as Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne both signed with new, AFC teams, I can almost guarantee you that no one involved in the running of the Cowboys broke a sweat.

Don’t get me wrong. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, JJ Wilcox, and Morris Claiborne have each been solid contributors to the Cowboys for a while now. Carr and Church the steady leaders, Wilcox and Claiborne the late bloomers, all four made key plays in 2016 en route to the 13-3 record.

And yet, it was still not enough.

As Aaron Rodgers shredded the Cowboys for 34 points and an early playoff exit, every one knew what time it was in Dallas. It was, and now is, time to make drastic changes on the defensive side of the ball.

And now, months later, the re-construction of the defensive roster is in progress. Like the old adage, the Cowboys are out with the old, and in with new. Out with the JAGs, and in with star-caliber defensive backs (we hope). Out with the overpaid or the injury plagued, and in with the youth and rookie contracts.

So, you can miss me with the “sky is falling” takes after the events of these past two weeks.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

cowboys found a starting outside corner in rd. 6 last year. https://t.co/gPxHydwyX3

Of course, the Cowboys must now replace the departed players, primarily through the draft. This should not scare you, however, it should excite you.

Last year, the Cowboys found their number one cornerback in round six. Anthony Brown, the sixth round pick out of Purdue, has turned into a solid outside corner, and someone who should continue to develop through the years.

Brown started nine games last season, most of which came when the newly-signed New York Jet Morris Claiborne missed time due to injury.

This year, it won’t take until the sixth round for a starting cornerback to be found. The 2017 NFL Draft is filled with quality corners, including guys like UCLA’s Fabian Moreau and Florida’s Teez Tabor, both of which would make the perfect outside cornerback in Dallas.

Since Will McClay took over the draft in 2014, the Cowboys have found two quality starting defensive backs in Anthony Brown and Byron Jones.

In 2017, they will find the third.

Sure, it sucks to see players who have been solid contributors for a few years leave your football team. Church, Carr, Claiborne, and even Wilcox will all be missed. But this is how the NFL works. The veterans play themselves out of their team’s price range, and both sides move on.

Usually, the team who brings in the younger, fresher talent continues to win, while the older free agents tend to bust in their new situations. Of course, I don’t wish that upon any of the departing Cowboys, but I certainly hope us fans can realize that the Cowboys are playing this the right way.

Remain patient, financially responsible, and draft well. That is the winning formula.

It’s worked for the offense, now it’s time to reload on defense.

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Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the ‘boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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9 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    Why did it take for this playoff game to revamp the D ??? This defense has been bad for a LONG….. time, I personally as a fan wasn’t Hart broken from any losses from this defense in FA, we only have one All Pro caliber defender(Lee obvious) I like Byron and Brown but we need some help to make this run next season. I want them to get Obi from Uconn, It might take a 1 to get him but I trust Will. He pulled four starters out of last year’s draft class

    • leo thomas

      Obi from UConn. would be great. Byron has been working out with him. I’m not heart broken from any of the FA we lost either. Time to change the DB field. Add de,linebacker,RB and OT.

      • Travis Diggs

        We should duplicate last year’s draft, same selections different order. Qb, Rb, Lb, De, Dt, Cb, S, but I like that OL pick too like u said. I would look at a Wr too

        • Kevin Black

          Okay, I count just about every position on the team outside of TE, Kicker and Punter. Are we in rebuild mode and no one told me?

      • Kevin Black

        Would you use your 1st round pick on him? Because he won’t fall to you at 60. If you do get him at 28, you will be passing on an awful lot of talent.

    • Kevin Black

      Sometimes the players you need aren’t available when you draft. This is a draft with a lot of what Dallas needs on D, so it aligns up well. You don’t draft a DE in a weak DE draft and claim you got your savior. You have to have patience and let the players and game come to you, don’t force it.

  • Terence Rendon

    Thanks Mr. Brady for doing your Homework and working Hard on the problem about Dallas Defends. I could only wish Dallas would had done this fews years ago. By releasing or started replacing players on defends side of the balls. That way we have better players in place. Instead replacing them all at once when Dallas don’t have that many drafts picks. They also need to pick up a great TE to replace soon to be Hall of Fame Witten. Dallas also need to stop handing out Mega Contracts and over paying players like they are the best that ever play the game. ( ROMO, Lee, Brant, OL, Witten, others) .

    • Kevin Black

      Okay, I’m confused here. Romo was worth his contract. Witten is worth his, Bryant is arguably worth his contract and Lee is worth his. If any of them had hit the FA market when they got their last contract, other teams would have easily paid that much or more, so how are they overpaid? I’m still not sure how you think our OL is overpaid. Free would be the only one and he took a pay cut to bring him more in line with his skill, which I suggest he actually out-played the last two years. If you had mentioned Tyrone Crawford, I could have agreed with you there as injuries have taken his potential away. Although Lee has been injured, his contact accounts for that and he wanted that language in the contract. So, the only ‘overpaid’ player I know of is Brandon Carr and people are up in arms that he was allowed to sign for $6m a year in Baltimore. Carroll is almost a Carr clone, but with slightly better athleticism and for half the cost.

      As for getting players ahead of time to replace leaving players, Dallas actually does do that. Chaz Green for Doug Free… Anthony Brown for Morris Claiborne… Kavon Frazier for Barry Church… It’s actually something we track when projecting possible draft picks as Dallas has been pretty good at this. You could complain about Green, but only due to injury. His ability is not in question after his ability to play for Tyron for the first couple of games of 2016.

      Just remember, every team has holes. It’s all about trying to keep those holes to a minimum and mask the ones you do have. Teams across the NFL are now trying to copy the OL model of the Cowboys, but the ability of Dallas to identify and draft those players will be hard for other teams to match, especially this year when the tackle class is very weak. Teams will be reaching for players to try and duplicate the Great Wall and will get leaky copies at best.

      As for TE, we might actually already have his replacement if the voices at The Star can be believed. Rico Gathers was actually getting snaps with the first team at the end of last year. You have to earn that and the departing safeties both said that Romo and Gathers were wearing them out in practice.

      One last thing: Don’t reach for players. Let them come to you. You can’t get O.J. Howard, Fabian Moraeu and Jordan Willis in the first round. You only get one pick. Will McClay has proven the last few years that he knows what he’s doing. Thank the gods above that he keeps turning down GM interview offers. If we lose McClay, our drafting will start to suffer.

      • Terence Rendon

        Now you want to reply to my statements. If you don’t get it. You need to stop posting your articles on football and go back to college. You don’t see teams like Denver , New England , Baltimore, Atlanta, Seattle, Pittsburgh and the likes. Every year in salary cap problems. Why they don’t over pay there players.. Now let get real. How many teams pay there QB lie he is the king of the world. None of teams above over pay there players not even Tom Brady or Dree Breeze don’t even make half what Rome is making. Of all those team above only Denver and Pittsburgh pays there WR like Dallas does Bryant. All the rest of the teams in the league that does pay there WR a lot don’t see playoff. None of those teams above pay there TE as much as Dallas paying Witten either. Now for Lee. Look at his history of injury. Has he play more 5 back to back 16 games season in his NFL career. I don’t thinks he has. That mean he is well overpay. Most of those team would let every one of those players test the open market just to see what is the market is at for those players. Right now our OL is not over paid. I guarantee once they get in there 5th year of there rookie contract they will be. You can not look at how much a player is worth on a one to one bases, Look at how much it will cost you to replace them and how soon they can get there. Every player can be replace at one point or another and how much you want to pay them.
        Now on replacements players. Steven Jones came out this past week and said Chaz Green is not there yet to be able to replace Free. Same way for Kavon Frazier to be able to replace Church. Not just those 2 players was I talking about. I was talking about the placements players across the board on the roster. Were is Lee replacement. Then you talk about Wittens replacement. Was not even on the roster if you go by what I heard from Garrett when he was talking to NFL.com people. But I wish Gathers can replace him in due time. I also loo at this might be Wittens last years his body can take the blows.
        I have no problem with this. I now every team does this. But some are better at it then other. Just remember, every team has holes. It’s all about trying to keep those holes to a minimum and mask the ones you do have. Teams across the NFL are now trying to copy the OL model of the Cowboys, but the ability of Dallas to identify and draft those players will be hard for other teams to match, especially this year when the tackle class is very weak. Teams will be reaching for players to try and duplicate the Great Wall and will get leaky copies at best.
        One last thing: Don’t reach for players. Let them come to you. You can’t get O.J. Howard, Fabian Moraeu and Jordan Willis in the first round. You only get one pick. Will McClay has proven the last few years that he knows what he’s doing. Thank the gods above that he keeps turning down GM interview offers. If we lose McClay, our drafting will start to suffer. Will McClay should had been shown the door many many years ago. He is not no GURO when it come to the NFL. At best this guy is very weak when it come down on judging players.

Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady

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Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3. https://t.co/EcbxfUGsvy

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.

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