If you are like me, your mind has already moved to 2016 and what the Boys need to get back to the playoffs. Let’s not kid ourselves; the Boys are more than a Tony Romo away from making the playoffs. They need upgrades in a lot of positions.
For example, Tyrone Crawford is a good three, but good doesn’t win Super Bowls. What if we signed a quick pass rushing three and moved Crawford to the one technique; would the Boys then upgrade two positions? This is just one example of the types of decisions and changes that the Boys will need to make.
The Cowboys are also losing several key players and will need to either re-sign or replace them. I could make a case that the Cowboys could have as many as five new starters on defense. So, as they say, change is a coming.
So rather than publish another scorecard that will primarily be a repeat of almost every grade from every other week, I want to begin looking at what positions and upgrades the Boys will need in 2016. I will keep the same unit by unit structure but in this three-part series, let’s start looking at the positions in the context of what will need to be filled and/or upgraded.
If you’re the Cowboys front office, you probably can’t upgrade every position that you would like to upgrade; hard choices and tradeoffs will be necessary. Information is the key to understanding these tradeoffs and before we can look at which tradeoffs the Boys should make, we first need a full inventory of the upcoming needs.
As we get ready to start a new year, why not clear the disappointment that this year brought and once again start building up our excitement thinking of the possibilities 2016 could bring (possibly a playoff)? In Part 1 of this series today, let's look at what we want to do for 2016 on the offense first.
Romo will be back and leading the charge, but who will be behind him? That is the million dollar question (or multi-million actually). I do not foresee Matt Cassel being back as the primary backup. I am sure the Boys will want to forget about this year altogether. That means clearing the backup QBs and bringing in someone new to back Romo up. But since Romo’s window is realistically still three to four years, I don’t see Dallas drafting anyone in 2016 or 2017 for that matter.
I don’t see the Cowboys keeping three QBs on the roster either. So I expect whomever they bring in to be someone who has won in the league before. That means the staff will go out in free agency or trade to grab their guy. Robert Griffin III anyone? The “who” is for another article so for now, let’s just list backup QB as a need.
Number of Positions: 2
Players: T. Romo, TBA
Upgrade Needed: Backup QB
Optimal Scenario: Sign a winning starting quality backup like Griffin or Chad Henne
Running back is an interesting situation. I fully expect the Cowboys to draft a running back fairly early in the draft. And for all of the naysayers that talk about a running back not being an impact player, may I suggest they take a look at Todd Gurley and rethink that premise.
As I said, I expect the Boys to address the RB position in the first three rounds (assuming options are available and there are not significantly better options at other positions).
Lance Dunbar is a free agent though I assume the Boys will make a push to bring him back. Romo has finally developed chemistry with him. If Dunbar does return in his third-down role, how many positions will they keep? My guess is they will keep a primary backup (Darren McFadden), a third down back, and a fullback.
So if we have a rookie and McFadden, can we keep Robert Turbin as well? I don’t think so. There are just too many needs at other positions.
So to compensate, I think the Boys should train Lucky Whitehead to be the backup to Dunbar as insurance if Dunbar goes down. Doing it this way provides backup insurance for Dunbar without having to carry a fourth running back.
Now onto fullback, I believe there is absolutely a need of an upgrade. The Boys need a blocking back that can read where the hole is and move a linebacker out. It isn’t something they must address, but it would be nice to upgrade the position.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: TBA (Primary running back), D. McFadden, TBA (Dunbar hopefully?), TBA (fullback)
Upgrade Needed: Primary Running Back, Fullback
Optimal Scenario: Sign a game-changing RB in the first two rounds. Find a blocking fullback in rookie free agency.
The receiver position is fairly set. There is really only one question and one need.
The question is whether Devin Street or Brice Butler makes the team. One of them is going to be gone. I can envision a scenario where the Boys cannot find the right veteran receiver and so they stand pat with both of them. But even then it would be 50/50 that the Boys would just keep five receivers in that scenario. But in all likelihood either Street or Butler will be gone. So who stays?
I know the Boys receiver coach likes Street, but Butler has top-end speed and could be the primary backup to Terrance Williams; same type of receiver. Whitehead can back up Cole Beasley, so the slot position should be good too.
Problem - the Boys do not have anyone to back up Dez Bryant if he goes down. Williams is a different type of receiver so he cannot. Street has not shown he can do it. So I believe the Boys will bring in a proven veteran receiver as insurance if Dez goes down again. Someone like Houston got with Nate Washington or Charlotte got with Jerricho Cotchery this year. A solid veteran that has proven they can get 4 or 5 grabs a game when called upon.
Number of Positions: 6
Players: D. Bryant, T. Williams, C. Beasley, L. Whitehead, B. Butler (or Street), TBA (Veteran Receiver)
Upgrade Needed: Backup to Dez
Optimal Scenario: Sign a solid, proven vet that can play behind Dez and also steal some snaps from Williams
Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar will be on the team.
I don’t think they kept Geoff Swaim on the team all year to then cut him (I think he is Witten’s replacement in two years). So he should be on the roster too.
But James Hanna is a free agent. While he is primarily a blocking back here, he does have talent and could be utilized more with other teams. Because of that, I think the Boys will have a hard time keeping him. I just do not think there will be enough cap space to match other contract offers.
This will be a big blow to the Boys. It is no coincidence that the Boys running game got better when Hanna got healthy. So if the Boys cannot bring him back, they at least need to replace him with a solid blocking TE.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: J. Witten, G. Escobar, G. Swaim, TBA (Blocking TE)
Upgrade Needed: No upgrade, just replacement
Optimal Scenario: Re-sign Hannah, but if not, then sign a veteran blocking TE at a veteran minimum salary.
Center & Guard
Well, Ronald Leary is gone. Wish they had traded him and gotten something in return, but I understand why the Boys didn’t trade him. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and now knowing how the season would wind up, they should have.
The only scenario in which I can envision keeping Leary is if La’el Collins moves out to tackle. That would move Doug Free to swing tackle and allow the Boys to sign Leary to play guard.
If Collins is a better tackle than Free then this is the perfect scenario. I would love to see the Boys experiment with Collins at tackle in the last two games of the year, now that they know they are eliminated in the playoffs. It should give them a couple of games against quality D-lines to determine if Collins has a future at right tackle.
It may be the best thing for the line in the long run because Leary brings a little nasty with him and gives the Boys an attitude. Collins is more athletic than I thought so he might be an upgrade at tackle. This also allows time for Chaz Green to season and get stronger.
But assuming the probable that Leary is gone, then what? You have your starters in Collins, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick, but you lose two reliable backups Leary and MacKenzy Bernadeau. So this is clearly a position of need. Drafting a rookie too early doesn’t make sense because of the future investments in the three starters. But there is the concern a later round pick will not be ready to be the primary backup. So I think the Boys will have to sign a veteran backup and draft a rookie with potential and develop him. This is with an eye of eventually - probably in 2017 - of moving Collins to tackle and having this pick replace him. So I could see them drafting a guard in their first five picks.
My guess is that the Boys will try to bring back Bernadeau. He has more value to the Boys than most other teams. Bernadeau is proven, knows the offense, and can be center and guard. I would not be surprised to see the Boys offer him a three-year deal around 5 million.
Number of Positions: 5
Players: L. Collins, Z. Martin, T. Frederick, TBA (Free agent, possibly Bernadeau), TBA (probably a draft pick)
Upgrade Needed: No upgrade needed, just replacement of backups
Optimal Scenario: Re-sign Bernadeau for three years and draft a solid backup within first five rounds
Assuming the probable happens and Leary is gone and Collins is at guard then we have starters with Free and Tyron Smith. But like the guard position, we are pretty thin on backups. We have Green, but honestly I am not convinced he is the answer yet. He did not look good in camp before his injury. Not sure I am willing to bet on him being the primary swing backup just yet. So that means we need a veteran swing tackle. Charles Brown is a free agent and might be worth signing for a 1mil contract as insurance. But honestly, unless Brown has looked really good, if I am the Boys I would try to upgrade the position. Free is an okay right tackle, but he makes a great backup swing tackle. So if I am the Boys this is one starting position I would try to upgrade. By signing a starter, both the backup and starting position is better for two or three years.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: D. Free, T. Smith, C. Green, TBA (Proven free agent)
Upgrade Needed: Right Tackle
Optimal Scenario: Either sign Leary and move Collins to tackle or sign a free agent starting right tackle and have Free be the swing tackle until Green is ready (probably two years)
In summary, the Boys do not have a lot of need for starters in the offense. They need a starting running back and possibly a starting tackle. They look good from a starting perspective. However, they do have some critical backup positions that they need to address. In addition to the two starting positions mentioned, the Boys will need to address the backup QB, 3rd guard, swing tackle, 3rd receiver, blocking TE and developmental 4th guard.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series. I’ll put the defense into perspective with some looks at the key needs on that unit. I’ll wrap up this series with Part 3 this Thursday.
Report: Cowboys’ Travis Frederick Ready for Start of Training Camp
With the Dallas Cowboys opening training camp with their first practice on Saturday, July 27th in Oxnard, California, a lot of information is coming out regarding who will be available when they report.
It was already reported that Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will be placed on the physically unable to practice (P.U.P.) list to start training camp. Now, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that Travis Frederick will avoid the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) and be ready to report for the starting of training camp.
Very good news for the #Cowboys: All-Pro C Travis Frederick, who dealt with Guillain-Barré syndrome last year, is expected to be active for the start of training camp. He avoids NFI and is ready to go.
Frederick has been out of action for a year after being diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during last year's training camp. Guillen-Barre is a disorder that can affect the peripheral neurological system. Basically, the neurological system that doesn't consist of the brain and the spinal cord, which is the central nervous system.
There was talk that Frederick might have been ready to go for the playoffs at the end of last season, but the team continued to hold him out in order to get him back 100% for 2019. It looks like the time has come for Frederick to regain his spot as the leader and lynch-pin of the offensive line.
While Joe Looney was effective in 2018, there's no doubt the team suffered a drop off from All-Pro Travis Frederick to career backup Looney. Getting Frederick back in the middle of the offensive line is the most significant upgrade the Dallas Cowboys could have made this offseason on either side of the football.
Frederick is one of the smartest players on the team and does a lot for Dak Prescott and the offensive line in terms of setting protections. For Dak Prescott, he'll be able to have a little more faith that the front of his pocket will hold up if he needs to step up to make a throw. Frederick will also help Connor Williams as the two work combo blocks against opposing interior defenders. Frederick will immediately improve the Dallas Cowboys red zone offense as they'll be able to get more of a push on the interior.
It was almost expected that this would be the case, but hearing it for certain should give the Dallas Cowboys and their fans a lot of optimism for what's to come in 2019. Travis Frederick returning to the starting lineup is a huge addition for a Dallas Cowboys offense that looks ready to roll in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of draft picks the last few years to build up their cornerbacks group. There is a lot of potential heading into 2019, but Dallas needs these young players to take the next step if they want to compete for a championship. This weekend's start to training camp will be an important part of the process.
Dallas' best move to help the cornerback position was switching Byron Jones back there in 2018 after a few seasons at safety. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl and has positioned himself for a big contract extension.
Byron is currently set to play 2019 on his fifth-year option of $6.27 million, which is a steal for a CB of his caliber. Whether or not the Cowboys allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next year, or get a new deal signed, will be something to watch for throughout the upcoming season.
Jones' future may be in question, but we at least know he'll be the team's top corner this season. None of the other Dallas CBs can enjoy that same certainty in 2019, as depth chart positioning and job security are all in flux right now.
Here is the current CB depth chart headed into training camp:
- Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
- Michael Jackson, Donovan Olumba
- C.J. Goodwin, Chris Westry
- Treston Decoud
Will this list hold as is, or will we some shifting over the five weeks of training camp and preseason?
The battle for snaps between Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will be an intriguing ongoing storyline. Awuzie was the starter last year, and will hopefully make a big developmental leap in his third year.
But Anthony Brown has proven himself a capable player despite being just a 6th-round pick in 2016. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Brown will certainly be pushing for a significant role this season to hopefully help his free agent marketability in 2020.
If things go like they did last year, both Awuzie and Brown will get plenty of playing time. The true enigma of this bunch is Jourdan Lewis, who is hoping to be more than just the number-four CB in 2019.
Though he was drafted a round later than Awuzie in 2017, Lewis was generally considered the superior talent by most draft analysts. He fell due to a domestic violence accusation a month before the draft for which he was eventually found not guilty.
Jourdan was looking good at the end of his rookie season, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach last year seemed to cause a regression. Lewis only got in on a little over 18% of the total defensive snaps in 2018, while the top three all had 67% or higher.
Despite his few opportunities, Lewis still had one of the biggest plays of the year with his interception that sealed Dallas' stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints. His potential has been noted, with Coach Richard even calling him an "exception" to his general preference for bigger, stronger cornerbacks.
But even if the team likes Jourdan, can he beat Awuzie or Brown? Could he perhaps have more value in a trade, with two years left on that rookie deal, to a team in greater need at CB?
The idea of moving Lewis, which existed prior to the draft, gained steam when Dallas used a 5th-round pick this year acquire CB Michael Jackson out of Miami. He fits that prototypical build at corner, and perhaps the Cowboys are hoping he can show enough early to provide an adequate replacement if they want to trade Jourdan.
If not Jackson, prospect Donovan Olumba is another option. He nearly made the 53 last year but got squeezed out when Dallas only kept four cornerbacks. After a year on the practice squad, Olumba is back and could be ready for a roster spot.
Veteran C.J. Goodwin has bounced around the NFL since 2014 but has some real-game experience. If the young guys aren't in a position to be game-day active, perhaps he would be the best option. Dallas added him in the middle of the 2018 season and he was helping on special teams and as a reserve corner at the end of the year.
Undrafted rookie Chris Westry, listed at 6'4", is another intriguing player to watch in camp. That rare size is something you can't teach, and hopefully Richard can develop Westry enough to get something out of the physical gifts.
This should be a fun 2019 training camp at cornerback, with competition potentially at every spot on the depth chart except the very top. And while secure at number-one, even Byron Jones has his own question marks around his long-term future in Dallas.
We'll start getting some answers in just four more days!
~ ~ ~
OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Byron Jones to Start 2019 Camp on PUP
The Dallas Cowboys will be missing two of their defensive leaders when they open 2019 training camp this Saturday. Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will both start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List as they recover from offseason surgeries.
Lawrence, who got a new five-year contract in April, immediately underwent shoulder surgery once his deal was finalized. DeMarcus reportedly was waiting for contract negotiations to be completed before he had the procedure.
Jones had hip surgery in late May. He is playing 2019 on the fifth-year option from his original contract, and is no doubt hoping for his own long-term extension sometime in the near future.
Sources: DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will open Cowboys camp on PUP and won't practice in California https://t.co/jzWV5FjBO6 via @sportsdaydfw
Neither Lawrence or Jones, who are both coming of Pro Bowl seasons in 2018, are expected to be absent once the regular season starts in September. But either participating in this year's training camp is doubtful, and even preseason appearances are in question right now.
With DeMarcus out at DE, newcomers like Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder will get plenty of chances to show their stuff. It's also a nice opportunity for Taco Charlton, assuming he's recovered from his own offseason surgery, to get some work against the first-team offensive line.
No Byron at CB will give Jourdan Lewis a nice opportunity to work with the starters as well. He was likely stuck at the 4th spot behind Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown but should now get more time on the field and against the best competition.
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