We made it. The Dallas Cowboys 2018 training camp is here, with the team arriving in Oxnard, California yesterday. The Cowboys arrival is just part of a crescendo that culminates with a season set on redemption for Dallas. First, there will be a high-pressure roster cut from 90 hopeful members of America's Team to the 53 vying for wins come week one.
Such competition throughout training camp has become commonplace for the Cowboys under Jason Garrett, although his squad looks drastically different both on the field and on his sideline. The coaching changes the Cowboys have made this offseason will surely play into their roster decisions, making every opportunity to practice together over these next weeks all the more important.
Let's kick things off by taking a look at the players with the most to gain in this year's camp.
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup
Patience is going to be key in evaluating these unproven Cowboys receivers under first year WR Coach Sanjay Lal. It will take consistent flashes from these young players to move them up a crowded depth chart, giving the likes of Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley a slight advantage.
Production from these three veterans is expected however, with Hurns being the Cowboys "big" free agent acquisition. Likewise, Michael Gallup was just one of their home run picks in this year's draft.
Waiting until the third round to find a starting-caliber receiver out of Colorado State, the Cowboys will be asking a lot of Gallup right away. The rookie has much to gain in coming to work with Dak Prescott. Any football team is instantly better when a younger player can outperform a veteran, which feels achievable for Gallup.
Assuming the Cowboys see things this way for their new "Dak-friendly" target, Gallup's stock should only rise with each practice under the California sun. Without any other conclusiveness at WR, the Cowboys almost have no choice but to throw Gallup into the fire -- where the intense competitor that never backed down from anyone in college can thrive.
Tight End Blake Jarwin
I believe this is Geoff Swaim's job to lose as the Cowboys are in Oxnard without Jason Witten for the first time since 2003. Swaim is currently the Cowboys longest tenured tight end, struggling to come into his own behind Witten as so many TEs have.
Now in year four, Swaim will face competition from second-year Tight End Blake Jarwin, as well as Rico Gathers and rookie Dalton Schultz.
While I do see Schultz contributing as a blocker to ease into his Cowboys career, someone at this position is going to need to catch passes for Dallas. This may be the one area where Jarwin can beat out the well-balanced Swaim, a crafty route runner with the physical tools to compete for a starting job.
Perhaps Swaim and Jarwin can coexist better than any tight end pairing ever fared with Witten and his backup, but for now it's up to Jarwin to shake this backup status and prove he was worth the Cowboys protecting him on their active roster.
The UDFA out of Oklahoma State is a player to keep a very close eye on in upcoming practices.
Defensive Tackle Jihad Ward
Reality check: the Dallas Cowboys defensive line is going to look a bit lackluster at times in this training camp. Depleted at defensive tackle with Maliek Collins on the PUP list and David Irving MIA (as well as suspended for the team's first four games again), some players with no business running as starters may very well get the opportunity.
From opportunity comes growth as a defensive lineman being coached by Rod Marinelli, putting Jihad Ward firmly on this list. A draft weekend trade piece the Cowboys pried from the Raiders, Ward is still looking to capitalize on the talent that made him the 44th overall pick in 2016.
Misused as a defensive end with the Raiders, Ward is going to have to be a pretty solid option for the Cowboys at defensive tackle. Whether or not this means playing the 1T or 3T position, Ward is a player the Cowboys are high on and it's quickly time for him to prove why.
The snaps will be there for Ward, who should shine over the likes of Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and Daniel Ross. Should this continue once the Cowboys welcome back Collins and Irving, their DT depth will go from questionable to an overall strength of this entire defense.
Defensive Tackle Brian Price
Keeping the focus on the Cowboys defensive interior, Brian Price is often forgotten about as an option at 1T. Playing this spot admirably well in eight games for the Cowboys prior to season ending injury last year, Price is back on a two-year deal that could prove essential to the makeup of this DL.
Maliek Collins was forced to play the 1T position for much of last year. While he held his own as a space-eater on the inside, Collins' battle back from a second broken foot in three years should end with him returning to his natural position at 3T.
The only way this happens is if the Cowboys find their rotation of 1T defensive tackles, in which Price can be just as effective as Collins if not better suited to hold up at this tough spot. Just like Ward, it won't be hard for Price to see the field and perform, although doing so noticeably is much harder from Price's position until the preseason begins.
Defensive End Randy Gregory
While uncertainty over a thin depth chart is the Cowboys story at defensive tackle right now, the opposite is true outside at defensive end. The team's final depth chart here will be decided by a heated competition featuring -- for the first time in a long while -- waves of capable pass rushers for Marinelli to deploy.
Rejoining the ranks as a full go in time for training camp is Randy Gregory, perhaps the most naturally gifted defender on the entire team. When Gregory's been on the field, his impact has been felt as a pass rusher that makes even the best left tackles look silly.
These players are so incredibly valuable, given Gregory's rare speed and dip off the edge. The Cowboys can't necessarily find these traits elsewhere, but they do feel there's capable right defensive ends in Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and rookie Dorance Armstrong on the roster.
All three will be just as important to watch develop further in Oxnard, but its Gregory with the most to gain as he goes from career obscurity to league-wide feel good story on a team that is rarely in position to produce many of those.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith
Say what you want about the additions the Cowboys have made at linebacker, but this is still a unit depending heavily on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. There's never any doubt that Lee is up to the challenge as a Cowboys captain, but Smith has not been far behind in his preparation for another year of growth in 2018.
Practicing without a brace after coming on incredibly strong at the end of his 16 game season a year ago, Smith is in perfect position to have a season that would be hard to believe for anyone outside of Dallas.
Already feeling rewarded for the risk they took on Smith, the Cowboys will run the Notre Dame product on the field as much as they possibly can starting with this week's practices. Smith's goal should be to grab hold of a starting spot alongside Lee, of which there may only be one with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard's tendency to play just two linebackers together.
Safety Xavier Woods
Earl Thomas who? This is the question that Cowboys safeties Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods can only hope to have Cowboys Nation asking in due time working with Richard.
Of all of the talented defensive backs that should benefit from working with him, a versatile safety like Woods could see the most exponential results. For starters, this is a player forced to line up out of position for much of his first year.
Focusing now on being the athletic, match up safety the Cowboys can play anywhere, Woods' role for this defense will fit with both Heath and Frazier. With Heath's starting spot not truly in jeopardy, and Frazier projecting best as a rotational player, its Woods that should be ready to take advantage of extended work all through the season.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The best part about the Cowboys finally returning to daily activity is that more than seven players will put themselves on the team's radar as those deserving of consideration for starting jobs/final roster spots/practice squad positions.
For a team looking to overcome so much turnover as quickly as the Cowboys are though, it's imperative to have an idea for where players can develop best through training camp and the preseason. That is what the above list of seven achieves as we get back underway with the Cowboys construction of their 2018 team.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Defensive End
If quarterback is the most important position in football, then the guys who hunt them down might be second. As such, the Dallas Cowboys face a major offseason decision in 2019 when it comes to the free agency of Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence.
This will be Lawrence's second year as an unrestricted free agent, with Dallas retaining him last season using the franchise tag. Even though he accepted it in 2018, DeMarcus swore all the way back in that summer that he wouldn't play for the Cowboys in 2019 if franchised again.
Despite his sack numbers dropping a bit last season, "Tank" remains one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. He is a total package of pass-rushing and run stopping, and he's now given Dallas two-straight Pro Bowl seasons.
If the Cowboys have any plans to contend for a championship next season then they can't risk losing a player like Lawrence. We've seen what this defense looks like without a premiere pass rusher and it isn't pretty.
Of course, Dallas could try to replace DeMarcus with a different free agent signing. If Jadeveon Clowney or Frank Clark avoid being tagged by their own teams, perhaps the Cowboys can lure one of them over. But don't expect any big difference in compensation between these three players.
Whether it's Lawrence or one of the other premiere pass rushers in free agency, you can expect the Cowboys to make one of them their top offseason priority. The greater mystery is if Dallas will make any other moves to upgrade the DE position, or stick with what they've got.
Dallas finally enjoyed some real production out of Randy Gregory in 2018, whose personal issues nearly derailed the talented pass rusher's career. Gregory posted six sacks last season and was starting to look like the Robin to Lawrence's Batman.
Also in the mix is 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton, who took a backwards step last year and seemed to be in the coaches' doghouse by season's end. Motivation and attitude seem to be an issue for him, and he'll need to step it up this summer if he doesn't want to wind up at the back of the depth chart again.
One of last year's fourth-round picks Dorance Armstrong also returns. He will hopefully be ready to take on a larger role in his second season and provide another pass rushing threat, plus insurance in case Gregory suffers any return of past problems.
If Dallas doesn't make Tyrone Crawford a salary cap casualty, or chooses to re-sign David Irving, those are two other guys who can play some defensive end for you.
Despite these options, the Cowboys could still look at adding another mid-grade free agent for depth and insurance. They could hope for a bargain on veterans like Ezekiel Ansah, Vinny Curry, or Chris Long. They might hope that Rod Marinelli could work his magic on first-round flop Dante Fowler.
Another guy that Dallas might look at is Benson Mayowa, who was with them from 2016-2017 and is a solid player. He spent the last season in Arizona on a one-year deal and is still just 27 years old.
Don't expect much from the draft, barring a major steal presenting itself. The Cowboys have bigger needs with their limited number of 2019 picks, and they also still need to see how recent selections like Charlton and Armstrong play out.
This offseason is all about DeMarcus Lawrence, or at least one of the other marquee free agents at defensive end. Some supplemental moves are possible, but arguably the biggest move Dallas makes the next few months is either retaining or replacing their top pass rusher.
Offense or Defense, Which Should be the Cowboys Main Offseason Focus?
The Dallas Cowboys offseason should be approached like a puzzle. You have to know what the picture looks like beforehand before you start grabbing random pieces to try to fit them together. Keeping that in mind, I thought it be a good idea if we take a look at the Cowboys offense and defense to try to determine which one needs the most attention.
It may be somewhat surprising, but the Dallas Cowboys pretty much have the entire puzzle almost put together. There is just a few missing pieces they need to add, but for the most part the team that will take the field when the 2019 season kicks off is already in place.
There isn't going to be much roster turnover this offseason. Nearly all of the starters will return for the upcoming season on both sides of the ball, meaning the Cowboys are in good shape as far as having the teams nucleolus in place. In fact, there might be just one or two starting positions up for grabs on offense and defense.
Let's take a look…
Dallas Cowboys Offense
As things stand right now before any moves are made in free agency or through the draft, the Dallas Cowboys offense may have just two starting spots up for grabs. But, even that's just a guesstimate because we still don't really know what the future holds for Center Travis Frederick, even though all signs point to him making a triumphant return to the starting lineup.
The way I see it though, the Cowboys will need to find someone to replace Cole Beasley in the passing game and also add a starting caliber tight end. That's it really as far as the starters are concerned. There is however need for more depth at several positions such as backup running back and offensive tackle, but those aren't necessarily "needs". I'd say they're in pretty good shape offensively compared to years past.
Dallas Cowboys Defense
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs.
The Cowboys will have to find someone to replace Damien Wilson as the starting strong side linebacker and potentially a new starting strong safety. That's really the only starting positions I believe are up for grabs on defense. But like the offense, they could stand to add more depth and competition throughout the defense, especially along the defensive line. But again, there really isn't a glaring "need" they absolutely have to address.
Verdict: Cowboys Offense
Even though the Dallas Cowboys offense and defense seems to be pretty evenly matched as to how many starting positions are up for grabs, the offense looks to be the one that needs just a little bit more help. The defense proved in 2018 they are someone to be reckoned with and with the loss of just Damien Wilson, that shouldn't change. The same can't be said about the offense though.
If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Of course, this is just my opinion and you are more than welcome to agree or disagree with it. But, when the free agency and NFL draft ball finally starts rolling, I expect most of the Cowboys offseason moves to be on the offensive side of the ball. Improving things around Quarterback Dak Prescott would seem like the wise thing to do after all, especially since he's about to be paid quite handsomely.
Which side of the ball do you think needs more help this offseason?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Quarterback
The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of work to do to restock and refine their roster in the hope of improving of last year's playoff run. We'll be looking at all of the 2019 needs for this offseason in the coming days, and we're going to start with paramount position of quarterback.
Unlike most spots on the team, the quarterbacks don't have anyone with an expiring contract this year. Both Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush will be in the final year of their deals, while Mike White still has three years left on his rookie contract.
Despite this, Prescott's contract is still one the hottest issues the Cowboys face this offseason. They must decide if they want to go ahead and lock him up now to a long-term extension, or wait and see how Dak performs in his fourth season.
It's a real dilemma for Dallas. One the one hand, Prescott already has two Pro Bowls, two division titles, and all winning seasons on his three-year resume. However, he's also had ongoing accuracy issues and problems with consistent productivity in an increasingly pass-focused league.
Given what he's already accomplished, Dak can command a pretty sizable contract in current negotiations. Just within the week he's already commented on not planning to give the Cowboys a discount in his next deal.
If Dallas waits another year then they risk that price tag going up. They could be competing with the open market, or what if Prescott leads the team to the NFC Championship or beyond in 2019?
If Dak's camp is already going to be aggressive in contract negotiations this year, then there's a case to be made for just waiting. Let him play on his bargain $2.14 million cap hit and use the savings to load up on talent for a championship run. The team will still have resources to re-sign Prescott in 2020, or even franchise tag him, if that's their choice.
However that situation goes, we know that Dak is the starter in 2019. But even though Cooper Rush and Mike White are both due to return next season, should the Cowboys be satisfied with that QB depth chart?
As I wrote about earlier this week, Dallas has good reason to look at adding a veteran passer to the mix this offseason. If Rush and White beat him out, that's great. But if not, it adds an experienced voice to help Dak Prescott in this critical upcoming year.
You can go a few different ways. Some of the projected free agents can match Prescott's mobile style, such as Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, or Robert Griffin III. Others give you the experience edge such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, or Matt Schaub.
It doesn't seem likely that the Cowboys would draft another QB after just taking Mike White last year with a fifth-round pick. Unless they are moving to a completely different philosophy, Dallas will likely give White at least another year or two to develop as a mid-round selection.
Ideally, at least one of White or Cooper Rush will show some growth this year and inspire confidence as the immediate backup. But adding a veteran for competition certainly couldn't hurt, and Dallas has the cap space to do it.
Thankfully, everything that Dallas might have to do this offseason at quarterback is optional. They can choose whether or not to redo Prescott's contract, or whether or not to pursue upgrades behind him. There is no gaping hole being created by a potential free agent departure.
The Cowboys have the power now, but that can quickly change next season once Dak's a free agent. That's why they still have a big decision to make in 2019.
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