It was reported yesterday that the Cowboys are actively seeking a trade partner for running back Alfred Morris. With both Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar entering free agency, this would leave some gaps to fill at the RB position. What would be Dallas' next moves?
Other than Morris, the Cowboys only have Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith under contract for 2017. You only have to be so concerned with the depth chart given Elliott's workload and franchise-player status, but you certainly don't want to leave the cupboard bare.
Today we're going to discuss how realistic an Alfred Morris trade is. We'll also consider the Cowboys' options for finding depth to put behind their superstar starter ("super-starter," anyone?) and what Morris' exit could mean for the possible return of Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar.
Alfred Morris Trade Potential
The other NFL teams would be justifiably uninterested in trading for Morris after 2016. Even though he was playing behind the league's best run-blocking offensive line, Alfred had a career-worst average of 3.5 yards on his carries. The explosiveness he showed during the preseason quickly fizzled out in September.
Even if Morris had been more productive, teams would likely be worried that he couldn't match that performance behind an inferior offensive line. Having a sub-par year makes it highly unlikely that a team will want to pay Alfred his $1.2 million base salary or the $438k roster bonus he's owed if he makes it through final cuts.
For a guy with Morris' red flags and contract, shopping him for a trade is as good as telling the rest of the NFL that you'll be releasing him soon. Any team that would be interested has little incentive to toss you a draft pick when they now anticipate him becoming a free agent. As little regard as we have for sixth and seventh-round picks sometimes, they are still assets that teams don't part with lightly.
So no, I don't see the Cowboys finding a trade partner for Alfred Morris. That it's even out there right now is a sign that Morris is done in Dallas. I expect that he will soon be released for the $1.6 million in cap savings that his contract offers.
Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar Returning?
As we discussed on the new Inside The Star Podcast yesterday, Darren McFadden is a better complimentary player to Ezekiel Elliott than Alfred Morris. He has the blocking and receiving skills to be a great third-down back and has logged a lot more time in our offense, both in years and touches.
If Dallas were to cut Morris and re-sign McFadden, they could probably do that for about the $1.6 million they'd free up by releasing Alfred. The two-year deal that McFadden signed with the Cowboys in 2014 averaged $1.5 million per year with some additional incentives. Dallas should be able to work out a similar contract with him now.
There has also been talk that, to the surprise of many, Dallas is still interested in keeping Lance Dunbar around as well. Other than his flourish of receiving plays in early 2015, Dunbar has never found a consistent role in the Cowboys offense. Still, he knows their system well and gives you added value as an option on kickoff returns.
With Rod Smith already available as a potential short-yardage back and special teams player, Dallas could decide to bring back McFadden and Dunbar on the cheap and settle their RB depth chart quickly this offseason. It would free them up to pursue other issues on the roster and not feel like they have to spend a draft pick on a RB, even in the later rounds.
Other Running Back Options
The big name out there is Adrian Peterson, but the most recent reports are that he is looking for a bigger role and contract than what the Cowboys would be able to give. Our own R.J. Ochoa wrote recently about how Peterson coming to Dallas would not be realistic.
Jamaal Charles is another household name who is now a free agent. Similar to Peterson, Charles grew up in Texas and also played college ball in Austin. If Charles is ready to accept a backup role, would he be interested in Dallas?
Having turned 30 in December and coming off two years of knee problems, Charles is hardly without risk. He's only appeared in eight games over the last two seasons. There are two sides to that coin; he's has some major injury risk but also has avoided some general wear-and-tear during these seasons.
If Charles is healthy now then he could be an exceptional change-of-pace back for the Cowboys. You could get the offensive line out in space, where Charles excels, on tosses and screen plays. Charles can even move out into a receiving position and run routes off the line. Essentially, he may be a much more talented version of Lance Dunbar.
While 30 is a dreaded number for running backs, we have recent examples of older guys like DeAngelo Williams in Pittsburgh and Chris Johnson in Arizona who had productive seasons in backup roles. As long he doesn't have medical issues holding him back, Charles has a reasonable shot of similar success in the Cowboys' offense.
If not Jamaal Charles, other free agents possibilities include Rex Burkhead (Bengals), Andre Ellington (Cardinals), or Latavius Murray (Raiders). For any of these players, it will come down to them being willing to accept a limited role and light compensation for a chance to contend for a championship and play behind Dallas' great offensive line.
As for the draft, there is little chance that Dallas will spend a significant pick at running back. They have many other needs to address and limited cap space to work with, leaving draft picks as a key resource for talent acquisition. Perhaps they use a sixth or seventh-round pick, as they did last year on Darius Jackson, but that might yield a player who you can't rely on in their rookie season.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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