[UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, the Browns have released Joe Haden.]
The Cleveland Browns are reportedly shopping cornerback Joe Haden, arguably their best defensive player for the last several years, in a salary-dumping effort. Is this an opportunity that the Dallas Cowboys need to look at with the 2017 season about to get underway?
Like most of you, I roll my eyes when the Cowboys are linked to just about any free agent or trade marketed player. So believe me when I say that I don't blame you for reacting that way to this headline. However, I think this is one that is worth consideration.
Hearing from multiple teams that the Browns are aggressively trying to trade CB Joe Haden. Very motivated to move his contract
Haden is due $11.1 million in base salary this year, which is what the Cowboys would take on if they trade for him. He has the same salary in 2018 and then $10.4 million in 2019, the final year of the contract.
According to two different sites, the Cowboys do have the salary cap space to make this move. Between OverTheCap and Spotrac, Dallas has somewhere between $13-$15 million in cap room right now. They can take on Haden's salary for 2017 and then decide what to do with him going forward. Like all trades in the NFL, Dallas would not be on the hook for any guaranteed money as this would all be paid out by Cleveland, the same as if they'd released him.
The Cowboys can make this move, but the real question is if they should. Even if they have the money to spend, is there a place for Joe Haden on the roster? And is Haden really worth what the Browns might be looking for in a trade?
Dallas has plenty to be concerned about at cornerback. Second-round rookie Chidobe Awuzie has missed the last three preseason games with a hamstring issue and Jourdan Lewis hasn't played at all yet for the same reason. Veteran Nolan Carroll will likely miss time this year for his DWI arrest in May, though the league hasn't made a ruling yet.
On the other side of the ball, Ezekiel Elliott's suspension could mean some early struggles for the Cowboys offense. They may not be able to control the ball like they did last year, which puts more pressure on the defense to perform.
That pressure would fall mostly on Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown, who both have their own red flags. Scandrick has struggled to stay healthy the last few years and Brown is trying to transition from a bench role to larger responsibility. Some extra security behind them would make a lot of sense, given how little we know yet about the rookies.
Granted, Joe Haden may not be the same guy anymore. After making the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014, Haden's missed most of 2015 with a concussion and other minor injuries. He played 13 games last year but wasn't the same guy.
Still, the former 7th-overall pick is only 28-years-old. The Browns are in a rebuilding mode and may simply not want to pay the high salary, as opposed to thinking Haden can no longer play. At the least, Haden should be an immediate upgrade over the likes of Marquez White, Leon McFadden, or Sammy Seamster.
If Dallas would be interested in Haden, the next question is what the Browns want in return. Could the Cowboys get him for a fourth-round pick? Keep in mind that Dallas will likely be getting an extra fourth-round compensatory pick in 2018.
This is all speculative as Dallas may not have any interest at all. However, their cornerback situation has immediate and season-long concerns that warrant attention. If Haden can have a bounce-back season, or at least provide solid depth, it's a move that could have a significant impact on the Cowboys' championship run.
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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