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.
Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?
Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.
With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.
At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.
But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.
Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.
Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.
I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc
With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?
In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.
This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.
Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice
Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.
Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.
With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.
Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.
Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.
When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.
Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.
La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.
We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.
If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.
For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.
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