I realize the Dallas Cowboys are currently involved in their last mini-camp, but it really means next to nothing to me. The real action is still nearly a month away when the Cowboys training camp gets underway. That is when we will see how the coaching staff decides to put this team together for the 2018 season.
A lot of people want to focus on the "big name" players and how they are progressing, but I like to see how the underrated one's play. We usually classify these players as "camp standouts", but sometimes they are actually able to carry that momentum into the season, which is what happened last year with running back Rod Smith.
These are the kind of players I want to talk about. Who is going to be this year's Rod Smith? If he wouldn't have played well in the Cowboys training camp last year, he never would have received the opportunity to prove himself in an actual NFL game. Below is a list of underrated players I think could shine in training camp this year like Smith.
Tight End, Blake Jarwin
All eyes will be on the tight end position throughout the Dallas Cowboys training camp and rightfully so. Someone is going to have to replace Jason Witten's production now, but there really isn't anyone who is standing out from the rest so far. But, Blake Jarwin has supposedly looked pretty good already in these early offseason practices.
Blake Jarwin is still flying under the radar and is kind of an afterthought behind Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, and Dalton Schultz, but I don't think that will last long. Jarwin has a little bit of game experience since he was called up from the practice squad last season, but making the jump from backup to starter would be quite a feat to accomplish.
I believe Jarwin has a chance to become the "complete" TE the Dallas Cowboys are looking for. He has all of the intangibles you look for in a starting TE. He is more than capable of being a reliable in-line blocker and has the athletic ability to be a threat in the passing game. I think he could possibly start to separate himself from the other TEs on the roster once training camp gets underway.
Wide Receivers, Lance Lenoir & Noah Brown
The majority of the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver position usually focuses on the new additions to the group (Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson). It's only natural to be curious about how these new WRs will fit in Dallas, but it also means current players tend to get overlooked. I believe that is exactly what is happening with Lance Lenoir and Noah Brown.
Lance Lenoir isn't quite as known as Noah Brown, but I put them together because they could be competing for the last WR spot on the 53-man roster. Both are entering their second-year in the NFL, but only Brown has played in a meaningful game. He was mostly utilized as an extra blocker and performed really well in that role.
From what I've been hearing, both players have taken advantage of the offseason and are ready to take the next step in their development. Each has a different skill set they would bring to the offense, but only one likely makes the final roster. Don't be shocked if you hear their names mentioned quite a bit once a Cowboys training camp gets underway.
Running Back, Darius Jackson
As things stand right now, it looks as if Rod Smith will be Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup when the 2018 season gets underway, but recently reacquired RB Darius Jackson could challenge for that honor. Smith has the advantage of being with the Cowboys for several years now and actually performing really well in a game, but Jackson is a freakishly athletic player.
Darius Jackson really hasn't been able to show what he can do in a meaningful game. He showed flashes as a rookie with the Cowboys, which kept him on the active roster for most of the season before eventually being cut. He was then picked up off waivers by the Cleveland Browns, but an unfortunate injury never allowed him to show what he can do. Now back in Dallas, he may get that chance.
We all know Zeke is going to handle the majority of the workload, so any scraps left over will be few and far between. The Cowboys will without a doubt give the backup RBs plenty of opportunities in training camp and preseason in order to keep Zeke fresh, but who takes advantage of the opportunity has yet to be determined. I think we could see a real battle between Rod Smith and Darius Jackson, but I believe it's Jackson who could really shine in training camp.
Defensive Tackles, Datone Jones & Jihad Ward
The Dallas Cowboys are currently more deep along the defensive line then I can personally remember. They are completely stacked at defensive tackle and defensive end, which is going to make it a little difficult to stand out once these practices get a little more serious when the pads come on. But, I think Datone Jones and Jihad Ward can do just that.
Ward has already caught the eye of the coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) while he has been filling in for David Irving at the three-technique. His arrow was already trending upwards, but a lot of Cowboys fans don't really know who he is. All they know is that he is who the Cowboys acquired in the Ryan Switzer trade with the Oakland Raiders.
Datone Jones is another underrated DT who the Cowboys signed late in the 2017 season. He ended up playing in the final four games and proved more than capable of being a disruptive force at the one-technique. It is a position the Cowboys could use an upgrade and Jones could be that player despite being a little undersized.
Linebacker, Justin March-Lillard
There may not be a more underrated linebacker on the Dallas Cowboys roster than Justin March-Lillard. I don't expect him to compete to be the starter in 2018 or anything like that, but I think we will hear his name mentioned quite a bit throughout the Cowboys training camp.
March-Lillard will probably get a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do once training camp gets underway. The Cowboys coaching staff will without a doubt put Sean Lee on some kind of practice pitch count in order to keep him as healthy as possible, which is good news for roster bubble LBs like March-Lillard.
All eyes will undoubtedly be on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch because of their immense upside, but March-Lillard is someone who could make a lot of plays in training camp and preseason because of his ability to play sideline to sideline. I'm expecting him to make a name for himself. Just remember that you heard it here first.
What underrated players do you think shine at the Cowboys training camp?
Could Loaded FA Safety Market Drive Down Earl Thomas’ Value?
It's no secret the Dallas Cowboys and Earl Thomas share a mutual interest in one another. Thomas has publicly stated his desire to join America's Team and the Cowboys did their darndest to make that happen last offseason. Nothing ever materialized a year ago, but it's looking as if the stars have finally aligned and a union between the two could merely be just weeks away.
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys may have dodged a bullet last year when the Seattle Seahawks refused to part ways with their All-Pro safety. Not only would they have had to surrender a high draft pick, but they would've also had to extend Thomas' contract. Fortunately, timing is everything and now the Cowboys might just have to do the latter.
A potential contract between the Cowboys and Thomas is of course what I want to dive in today. I'm not going to get into numbers right now, because it's nearly impossible to project any kind of contract for any safety this offseason, especially for the former Seahawk, Earl Thomas.
Right now, it's a little difficult to know who might have the advantage in contract negotiations, Earl Thomas or the Dallas Cowboys. A lot of times the one that has the leverage, however slight, is the one that gets the better of the deal. As surprising as it may be, the Cowboys might just have the advantage here and I'll tell you why.
First off, this year's market for free agent safeties is pretty stacked with starting caliber players. See below:
- Earl Thomas
- Landon Collins
- Lamarcus Joyner
- Tyrann Mathieu
- Adrian Amos
- Clayton Geathers
- Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
- Glover Quinn
- Tre Boston
- Kenny Vaccaro
- George Iloka
- Jimmie Ward
- Adrian Phillips
Earl Thomas is obviously the headliner here amongst the free agent safeties, but having so many starting caliber players available could drive down Thomas' market value just a bit. This is especially true when you take into consideration the market for FA safeties just a year ago. It was almost a complete standstill last year, with only Kurt Coleman signing a three-year $16.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Not even the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu could get more than a one-year deal.
With all of these safeties available in free agency, we could be looking at another stingy market. This of course could be good or bad news for the Dallas Cowboys, especially as it pertains to Earl Thomas. Since he is the top FA safety available, everything could once again be at a standstill until he is signed.
Of course, we all know this will ultimately come down to determining Earl Thomas' market value. There is no denying he is still arguably the best free safety in the game today, but there are concerns about his age (30) and the two lower leg injuries he's sustained in the past three years.
Even with the loaded free agent market of starting caliber safeties and Thomas' age and recent injury history, he's still likely to receive a contract that earns him $10 million annually, give or take. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets another four-year deal worth $40 million, $25.7 million guaranteed, with a $9.5 million signing bonus like he signed with the Seahawks back in 2014.
The Cowboys of course would probably find a four-year $40 million deal for Earl Thomas acceptable. They would more than likely frontload the contract with a lot of protection in the details. They have the cap space to make this happen and still be able to sign their own, so money shouldn't be a problem.
Now, whether or not Thomas' market value may dip a little due to all of the above mentioned reasons will be something we will have to wait and find out. Regardless, I'd be a little shocked if Earl Thomas doesn't finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Do you think Earl Thomas' market value will take a little hit this offseason?
Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors
What a difference a receiver makes, right? As Dallas fans, we know the impact of a player who can shake coverage, get open, and catch the ball. How was the season going before the Cowboys pulled the trigger for Amari Cooper in the deal with the Raiders? Cooper proved to be the lightning rod and a turning point in a season that was growing increasingly dismal. Dak Prescott and Cooper went together like peanut butter and jelly, while the Cowboys stormed to a division title and a postseason berth.
Now, imagine all of that times two… maybe even two and a half if Antonio Brown could be had from the Steelers. Scary right? We understand there’s only one ball to go around but that didn’t stop Kevin Durant from joining the Warriors, did it?
As of this writing, the best online sportsbooks like Intertops, are dealing Dallas as the seventh of 16 choices to win the NFC championship at odds of 12-1. Imagine how those odds would shrink if Brown wore a Cowboys uniform next season, giving Prescott the luxury of not one upper echelon wideout but that plus an elite receiver. Hut, hut, hut and a few clouds of smoke later the Cowboys would be moving the chains or celebrating in the endzone.
Brown and Cooper would be a devastating combination with Ezekiel Elliott coming out of the backfield. Brown was made for Dallas, it gives him an even grander stage than the one he shared with Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh.
Despite the fact that the 'Boys haven’t won a Super Bowl since Barry Switzer was roaming the sidelines in the mid-90s, America’s Team still resides in Dallas. But we need a game-changer and Brown is just such an athlete. But what do we give in return and will that cost be worth whatever productive years Brown has left after this one? Let’s not forget that the mercurial Miami native will be 31 when the season begins and men who make a living with their legs don’t get better at that age. But Brown is so good and so unique that, even if he drops half a click, he's still amongst the best in the game.
That level of talent is hard to replicate and it could be the missing piece which allows Dallas to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender next season and the year after.
However, up to this point, we’ve been very good at dreaming of a Brown to Dallas trade but haven’t quite worked out the details. It takes two to tango and if we expect to get the Steelers’ attention we need to give them something valuable in return. Dallas surrendered their first-round pick (27th) this season when they traded for Cooper so that’s no longer an asset.
Pittsburgh would be vying for a first-round pick (and likely more) for Brown's services but some have speculated Dallas would consider dealing rookie-standout Leighton Vander Esch.
Wait... what? We know, you’re clutching your pearls, and the words are stuck in your gasp. We get it. The kid was a home run this past season, leading the Dallas defense in tackles and earning a Pro Bowl invitation in his inaugural NFL season. But this would be a Faustian deal.
The Cowboys give up a player who is poised to be a stud for years to come for a playmaker in Brown that could render a Super Bowl in the immediate future. Brown's expiration date will surely turn his milk sour sooner rather than later, but in the here and now, Antonio Brown could be the bell cow who leads the Cowboys to the promised land before he’s put out to pasture.
Just something to think about...
2018 In Review: CB Anthony Brown Bounces Back
To say it's been an up-and-down start to the career of young cornerback Anthony Brown would be an understatement.
As a sixth round pick in 2016, everything Brown contributed during his rookie season was a plus. Due to injury he was asked to step into a greater role as the season went on, and he performed well enough to make the front office comfortable allowing multiple veterans to walk for nothing in free agency the following Spring. Brown looked like a legitimate starting cornerback in the league, and when Dallas brought in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during the next draft, the young secondary seemed set.
Then 2017 happened. And Anthony Brown struggled. Really struggled.
These struggles, coupled with the emergence of both Lewis and Awuzie during their own rookie seasons, made Brown's status heading into 2018 rather uncertain. Some wondered if they would trade him for a day three pick, others thought Brown could even end up being cut. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were slated to compete for the nickel cornerback job in training camp, and as it turned out, all Brown needed was that one extra chance to compete.
Brown won the job outright during the preseason, and began 2018 as the starting nickel. A fan favorite, most thought Lewis would reclaim his rightful spot on the depth chart sooner or later, but Anthony Brown's play (and Kris Richard's preferences) kept Lewis on the bench for much of the season.
Simply put, Anthony Brown balled in 2018, and was the Cowboys' second best corner for most of the year. By the end of the season Chidobe Awuzie had regained form, but Brown and Byron Jones were the most consistently reliable corners on the roster all of 2018.
Brown tallied 44 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception in 2018, and finished third on the team in pass breakups with 8. As the slot corner Brown had an excellent season, especially for a former sixth round pick.
Now he enters a contract year, and with the Cowboys having so many guys to pay over the next two offseasons, he could find himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. And if he can keep up his play from last year moving forward, he could be in for a nice payday that Spring.
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