Through the years of covering the Cowboys' drafts, there have always been players who were either helped or hurt by the next crop of talent. Today, I thought we'd take a look at some of the immediate winners and losers from the 2018 draft class.
I remember cornerback Mike Jenkins throwing a fit in 2012 after Dallas traded up to take Morris Claiborne. He wasn't wrong; Jenkins got buried on the depth chart that year before going into free agency.
On the other hand, new talent at some position can lift everyone around them. The Cowboys offensive line was good, but not considered truly elite, until Zach Martin arrived in 2014. Or how about the impact that Ezekiel Elliott had on the entire offense in 2016?
2018 will be no different as some players were positively and negatively impacted by what happened over the weekend. Here's a look at those winners and losers.
S Xavier Woods & Kavon Frazier
The Cowboys could have traded up in the first round to select Florida State's Derwin James. They could have traded a pick to get veteran Earl Thomas. They might have taken another safety in any of the later rounds.
But no, Dallas did none of those things. Instead, they appear ready to ride with young studs Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier as starters and key pieces in the defensive backfield.
Jeff Heath is still in the mix and may remain a starter. But Frazier and Woods have flashed potential and upside that new defensive backs coach (and DC in waiting) Kris Richard has already expressed excitement with.
Dallas' declined opportunity to go get a prospect like Derwin James says a lot on how they feel about their current talent. Despite being sixth-round picks entering just their second and third seasons, Woods and Frazier have quickly earned a lot of respect from their coaches.
There's still a lot of offseason left and Dallas may still make a move for Earl Thomas. But it's guys like Kavon and Xavier who've given them leverage, allowing the Cowboys to not feel desperate enough to meet Seattle's asking price.
No matter what happens there, Frazier and Woods will be competing with Heath for a starting role next year.
TE Geoff Swaim
The news of Jason Witten's potential retirement, which came between the first and second rounds on Friday, sent a shockwave through Cowboys Nation. Many thought it would lead to Dallas taking a tight end as soon as their very next pick.
But the Cowboys waited until the late in the fourth round, using one of their compensatory picks on Standford's Dalton Schultz. While the rookie will certainly compete for a big role in 2018, he may have a hard time against a fourth-year veteran like Geoff Swaim.
If Witten's truly gone, Swaim becomes the most tenured tight end on the roster. James Hanna's surprising retirement just two weeks ago leaves just Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin, neither with any real NFL experience, as the remaining options.
Swaim's game fits what this Cowboys offense needs from its starting tight end. He's a proficient blocker with some solid receiving skills. Being stuck behind Witten, like any other Cowboys TE has experienced for the last 15 years, has limited his chances to shine.
Maybe Jason returns for one last season, but right now the door is wide open for Geoff Swaim to get a shot as the team's starter in the final year of his rookie contract.
DT Richard Ash & Brian Price
Before the draft, it appeared likely that Dallas would be targeting a run-stuffing defensive tackle for their base defensive scheme. Some that it could happen as early as the first round. But the Cowboys didn't draft a single DT, meaning returning players like Richard Ash and Brian Price may have a shot at competing for a starting role.
After Terrell McClain left a vacancy last year, the spot was filled by switching Maliek Collins over into the "1-technique" role and also utilizing young prospects. Brian Price was getting early work, and performing well, before a knee injury ended his season early. Richard Ash came on later in the year and was starting get noticed for his solid work by the final games.
While Dallas did pick up third-year DT Jihad Ward in a trade, he projects as more of a DT/DE hybrid like we have in David Irving or Tyrone Crawford. The Cowboys would likely also prefer to get Maliek Collins back in the 3-tech spot, where he was so much more effective as a rookie.
That opens the door for Ash, Price, or maybe some other dark horse to make a big climb up the depth chart.
WR Deonte Thompson
A free agent signing in March, the veteran Thompson may have already lost his roster spot after last weekend's activity. Dallas drafted Michael Gallup in the third round and then picked up the Rams' Tavon Austin via trade.
The Cowboys could go with six guys, but even still you're potentially losing a younger talent like sophomore Noah Brown or rookie sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. With plenty of experience in Hurns, Beasley, Williams, and Austin, Dallas might decide they don't need Thompson after all.
Despite being a newly signed player, Deonte's contract doesn't offer much protection. It's a one-year deal counting $1.8 million against the salary cap with $1 million guaranteed.
While he's only recently become a known entity in the NFL, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer. He was brought in as cheap veteran insurance, and Dallas may now have enough now to cancel the policy.
QB Cooper Rush
Dallas drafted Mike White out of Western Kentucky in the fifth round, which brings some real competition to the backup position held by Cooper Rush most of last year. Can Rush, in just his second season, fight White off for the job?
Cooper already surprised us when he ousted Kellen Moore from the number-two spot and the roster itself last season. He had an outstanding preseason and, if he builds on the rookie success, has a great shot at keeping his place on the team.
But last season speaks to the danger for Rush; Dallas likes to keep just two quarterbacks if they can. With Dak Prescott's durability, the Cowboys can save a roster spot by just keeping one backup and then someone else on the practice squad.
Mike White has been considered a steal by many as a fifth-round pick, with some thinking he could've been drafted on Friday. He may be harder to get to the practice squad than Rush, who went undrafted in 2017.
Ideally for Cooper, he'll beat White for the backup job and force Dallas to keep three QBs this season. But his job security definitely took a hit with this new addition to the roster.
OL Cam Fleming, Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
The opening at left guard before the draft was a major topic. Dallas used their second-round pick to address it, taking Connor Williams out of Texas. That put a major kibosh on the idea of one of the team's veteran journeymen getting a chance at joining the starting five next season.
Dallas signed free agents Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin as backups at tackle and guard, respectively, last March. They also re-signed Joe Looney, whose been a reserve center and guard the last two seasons.
If a new talent hadn't been added in the draft, one of these players was likely going to start next year. Looney or Martin obviously had the inside track as experienced guards. But if Dallas could have also elected to move La'el Collins back to LG and start Fleming at right tackle, if that was the way to get the five best players on the field.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Connor Williams will be able to start as a rookie. He was considered a first-round talent by some, though, and a high value pick for where he was taken. One of the veterans may be used to at least start the season.
Still, the Cowboys have been all about the youth movement the last few years. Connor will get every opportunity to become the fifth starter, giving the veterans way more competition than they had before.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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