The Dallas Cowboys currently have 26 players with contracts deals that will expire after the 2016 season. That may not seem like a big deal in early July, when there are 90 guys on the roster. However, the list is much more significant than you might assume.
Only six of the 26 players are unknowns; prospects signed to one-year deals for camp bodies or as projects. The other 20 were all on last year's team, and seven of them were starters at some point during 2015.
Here's a quick rundown of the defensive players with expiring contracts and what being in a contract year could mean for them this season:
Josh Thomas, CB
Originally a fifth-round pick of Dallas in 2011 who didn't make it past final cuts as a rookie, Thomas finally became a Cowboy late last year when Dallas needed healthy bodies to finish the season. Dallas re-signed the cornerback last March to a one-year, veteran minimum deal.
Much as he only joined the team last year due to injuries, Josh Thomas will likely only stick around this season under the same circumstances. Dallas will hope to be four deep at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Deji Olatoye. If they keep a fifth corner at all it would be a younger prospect they wish to protect.
Jack Crawford, DE/DT
David Irving, DE/DT
Turning just 23 in August, Irving will welcome whatever spotlight he can get before next year's free agency. His size and versatility are valuable but ultimately teams want to see it proven on the field. Irving could easily be your starting strongside DE for the first four weeks.
Crawford sat in free agency for a few weeks before finally re-signing with Dallas in early April. He's been a reliable rotation player for two seasons and will almost certainly make this year's team for the same role. He could also push for the strongside job, though I imagine they will give younger players the first crack at it.
The exposure at DE could be even more critical for both players this year as there could be a reduction in opportunities at tackle. Cedric Thornton should be a superior pass rusher to the departed Nick Hayden and may stay on the field in more passing downs, reducing the snaps for "tweeners" like Irving and Crawford.
Deji Olatoye, CB
Olatoye is seemingly walking in as the number-four corner, having no real competition that has yet emerged. If his trajectory continues from last season then he could be pushing for a contract extention.
Spending the first half of the year on the Cowboys' practice squad, Olatoye impressed his way onto the roster in November and eventually started a game when Morris Claiborne suffered one of his annual injuries. He had an endzone interception that day in Buffalo, one of only two picks by Dallas corners all season.
With Claiborne never far from IR and Orlando Scandrick also coming back from injury, Olatoye could be looking at significant playing time this year. At the least, he should gets enough opportunities to prove to Dallas if they want to keep him beyond 2016.
After two injury-filled seasons McClain will hope to hang on as a primary backup at defensive tackle. However, any health-related setbacks or performance issues could cost him his job fairly quickly.
Dallas can save $1 million by cutting McClain this year. That may not sound like a lot but they add up quickly, and become very valuable with the league's carryover policy for unused cap space.
If rookie Maliek Collins can make a quick recovery from his foot surgery or a guy like Rodney Coe can emerge from shadows, McClain could be squeezed out. Even if McClain makes the team, 2016 is likely the veteran's last year in Dallas.
Andrew Gachkar, LB
Viewed as more of a special teams ace and reserve when he joined the team last year as a free agent, Gachkar showed he could perform on defense when opportunity arose. He now enters 2016 with a strong chance to earn a starting job, even if it's only temporary.
Gachkar was already a potential candidate to start as the strongside linebacker. Now, thanks to Rolando McClain's 10-game suspension for substance violation, he could also be contending for the middle LB spot.
Listed at just 224 pounds, Gachkar isn't ideally built for either of those roles. He makes more sense on paper as Sean Lee's backup on the weakside. However, ultimately it comes down to who does the best job of recognizing plays and executing their assignment. Even if he's undersized, Gachkar may push past his competition on mental acuity.
Turning 28 later this year, Gachkar may have a tough time getting re-signed with Dallas. Younger guys like Anthony Hitchens and Mark Nzeocha could force him out, not to mention Jaylon Smith hopefully debuting next season. Gachkar will be grateful for whatever playing time he can get now to hopefully get him some market interest next offseason.
Barry Church, S
J.J. Wilcox, S
There are so many links between them this year that it makes sense to discuss Church and Wilcox together. Both could be gone after this season, and perhaps one of them won't even make it to Week One.
Byron Jones seems to have been moved to safety full time and will almost certainly be a starter. Also, right now all signs are that Church will retain his starting job without much open competition from Wilcox.
That could obviously change if Wilcox stands out in training camp. Dallas could save a little over $4 million off the cap if they release Church, compared to just roughly $1.5 million for Wilcox. That's a pretty clear tiebreaker.
Granted, they may not cut either one. Assuming Church is starting then Wilcox becomes a relatively cheap backup with loads of starting experience. Dallas did just re-sign Jeff Heath to a four-year deal but it was for backup and special teams purposes only. Unless he just goes in the tank over losing his starting job, Wilcox should still be the front-runner for the primary backup job at safety.
Barry Church will be 29 when the next offseason begins. That's not an ideal age for defensive backs but still young enough that Dallas might give him a one or two-year extension. If Byron Jones excels as a rangy free safety, Church could get to stay closer to the line of scrimmage and plays to his strengths like never before.
Dallas signed McClain to a one-year deal with several million in incentives. Now that the 10-game suspension has come, you have to wonder if McClain will even get to earn his base salary.
For all his incredible talent and prototypical size, McClain's motivation issues and other personal problems have all but derailed his career. Dallas could easily view this latest incident as the last straw, with the opportunity to send a message to the roster far more valuable than the six games that McClain would be eligible for.
On the other hand, getting McClain back on the roster in November could be welcomed if the team is in position for a playoff run. For all his issues, McClain does usually show up to play when he's active. He would still be second-best linebacker on the team.
Even if Dallas sticks with Rolando for the rest of 2016, it's hard to imagine they will continue the relationship beyond this season. Jaylon Smith will ideally be healthy and ready to take on the middle LB role. Even if Smith doesn't pan out, guys like Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson could be factors. There will also be a whole new free agency and draft process to work with.
Again, two players from the same position whose fates are directly intertwined. Although they are at different ages and stages of their careers, Carr and Claiborne both face significant pressure going into their contract years.
Dallas did not give Claiborne the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which would have paid him between $8-$10 million this year. Still, they brought him back with a modest $2.7 million contract and the chance to try and save his career. To his credit, Claiborne doesn't seem to be bitter about this and is saying all the right things about his motivation and need for redemption.
Unfortunately, we've heard all of this before from Claiborne. His body needs to finally cooperate with his spirit.
Unlike Claiborne, Brandon Carr's body never lets him down. He's about as healthy and durable as any cornerback I've ever seen, having never missed a game in eight NFL seasons. The problem with Carr is the natural regression of age and having never been an ideal fit for Rod Marinelli's scheme.
Ideally, Claiborne will have his best season and earn the starting job across from Orlando Scandrick. Carr will then serve as the third corner, with Scandrick playing in the slot when all three are on the field. Injuries have prevented us from seeing this full trio on the field very often, but it still appears to be the best Dallas has for 2016.
Given his age, Carr is likely a goner next offseason regardless of what happens this year. It's Claiborne who's in the real "contract year," hoping to earn a long-term deal with Dallas or some other team with a breakout season. He's still young enough to make it happen and has all of the motivation you can ask for.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Impact of Free Agency Moves & Rumors
With most of the marquee NFL free agents already off the market, many are already turning their eyes to the 2019 Draft. Whether a glaring need went unaddressed or the needs have simply changed, the draft offers the next big opportunity for teams like the Dallas Cowboys to stock talent for next season.
While they've been conservative so far this offseason, Dallas has been active in the last few days in covering bases and giving itself more flexibility for the draft. They don't want to have to reach on a talent because of a need, nor do they want to tip their hand too much to the rest of the league.
As of now there are still some significant acquisitions that could happen. Dallas has visited with veteran Safety Eric Berry and Defensive Lineman Malik McDowell, plus are reportedly in trade talks with Miami for Defend End Robert Quinn. Any of these moves could have a big impact on their need levels for the draft.
We've already seen some changes thanks to offseason activity. With Tuesday's signing of Randall Cobb, plus moves to retain Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns, Dallas may not be looking at a receiver as early as we might've thought. The same can be said for Jason Witten's return and the tight end position.
If the draft were today, without accounting for any of the players that the Cowboys have had talks with but remain unsigned, here's how I would rank the team's 2019 draft needs:
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
- Tight End
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Offensive Tackle
- Quarterback (Mike White is their drafted backup project for at least another year.)
- Punter (Could add someone to compete with Chris Jones and save some cap dollars.)
- Fullback (They re-signed Jamize Olawale, who they barely use anyway. Zero need here.)
I put safety on top because it's the spot that could most use an immediate upgrade and has some pressing future need. Dallas didn't make the big move for Earl Thomas that many hoped for and Jeff Heath's contract expires after this season. Hopefully, a second-round talent could compete for a starting job now and at least replace Heath in 2020.
Even with the Kerry Hyder signing defensive end has some major red flags. DeMarcus Lawrence has sworn he would holdout without a long-term deal. Randy Gregory is suspended again, and now Tyrone Crawford is now facing potential league action from an incident with police last week. Unless the Cowboys think Taco Charlton is going to make a big push in his third year, they could be hurting for a pass rush in 2019.
I expect things with Lawrence will get resolved, and I doubt Crawford will get suspended for more than a game or two if at all. But Dallas could still use another solid DE if they don't get this deal for Robert Quinn done.
Remember, the 2019 Cowboys aren't working with a first-round pick. Barring a trade, they'll be waiting until the 58th pick to make their first selection. That limits the impact potential of their picks and makes what they do with the Day 2 picks all the more critical.
So what if the Cowboys pull off these three potential moves, adding Berry, McDowell, and Quinn? Each player would help to address the top three needs on my list.
Eric Berry hopefully solves the immediate upgrade need at safety, though it may not do much for the future. He turns 31 this year and was released by Kansas City because of multiple injury issues. Dallas could still consider taking a rookie prospect, perhaps even releasing Jeff Heath for cap savings if needed.
Malik McDowell was considered a first-round talent in 2017 but has never played after a major ATV accident prior to his first training camp with Seattle. If he's finally recovered enough to return to football and play at his original potential, he could give Dallas a talent infusion that none of their draft capital could provide.
Robert Quinn has been around a while but will be just 29 in May, and is still putting up sacks at a solid rate. He's averaged 7.5 sacks the last two years with two different teams. He would go a long way to stabilizing things at defensive end and allowing Dallas look at guys like Gregory and Hyder as icing on the cake.
If Dallas lands all three players then I would adjust the list as follows:
- Tight End
- Defensive Tackle
- Running Back
- Defensive End
- Wide Receiver
If you think about it, the safety and tight end positions would be kind of similar in this scenario. You'd have Eric Berry and Jason Witten as the veteran stopgaps, Xavier Woods and Blake Jarwin as intriguing young guys with starting potential, and Kavon Frazier and Dalton Schultz as other young depth.
However, at every step, safety would be deeper and have more upside. Berry should have more to often than Witten, Woods is more proven than Jarwin, and Frazier is more experienced than Schultz.
Plus, we didn't even mention that you'd have Jeff Heath for experience and versatility at safety. Meanwhile, TE Rico Gathers probably won't be on next year's team.
So yes, I'd vault tight end to the top of the need list. Dallas may like Blake Jarwin but they could find a far more polished and talented player with the 58th pick.
Even with McDowell and Christian Covington added to the mix, Dallas would still be wise to address the defensive tackle position. They have several contract issues coming up at once in 2020.
Covington and Maliek Collins will be unrestricted free agents next year. The Cowboys will also likely want to finally shed Tyrone Crawford's contract, with $8 million in cap relief possible. That would leave them pretty bare at defensive tackle.
Dallas could make a move now to solidify their rotation and prepare for the future. They'd have a little more stability at defensive end with assumed multi-year deals for Lawrence and Quinn, making tackle the more immediate concern.
The backup running back spot can't be ignored, with only Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn currently signed behind Ezekiel Elliott. If Dallas doesn't bring back Rod Smith between now and the draft, they may want to spend a high pick for Zeke's relief man and an additional offensive weapon.
Elliott's own contract will be up for discussion as soon. Having a talented player with a four-year rookie deal behind him could give the Cowboys much-needed leverage in any future talks with their franchise back.
~ ~ ~
We'll see if Dallas lands any of the players we've hypothesized about. Any of them would help lessen the need at their positions, but those would still remain important areas for the Cowboys to look at in the upcoming draft.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
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