The Dallas Cowboys battled through their fair share of injuries in 2015 and if they want to have any kind of success in the upcoming 2016 season, they have to avoid the injury bug.
The unfortunate thing about injuries is that they are unpredictable and they can really have a major impact on a teams performance depending on which players are the ones to go down.
The sad truth for the Cowboys in 2015 was that the injuries that the team endured was to key members and was a major reason why they finished with a 4-12 losing record.
I decided to try and identify a few of the Dallas Cowboys players that are simply irreplaceable and would be devastating to the entire team if anyone of them where to go down with an injury and miss an extended period of time.
Tony Romo obviously makes this list because we all witnessed firsthand how this team functions without him at the helm leading the offense.
The 2016 season will ultimately come down to the health of Romo and how he performs. There simply isn't another quarterback on this team that can come in and play anywhere near as well as Romo.
Kellen Moore has been receiving some positive reviews, but he is still somewhat an unproven commodity in the NFL and has never won a game during his time in a league.
Let's just hope that Romo's surgically repaired collarbone can last out the entire season and that no other injury mishaps occur. The Dallas Cowboys simply can't afford to lose their starting quarterback for any amount of time.
Smith is arguably the best left tackle in the entire NFL and does an amazing job keeping Romo's blindside well protected. He is perhaps the second most important player on the entire Cowboys roster behind Romo.
I honestly don't know what the coaching staff would do if Smith went down with an injury.
Would Doug Free move over to the left side? Is Chaz Green ready to fill in as a left tackle?
Whoever is asked to protect Romo's blindside would be a huge downgrade from Tyron Smith. There is a reason he has been voted into the Pro Bowl three times already and the great thing is he is only 25 years old.
Travis Frederick might just be a little under the radar when you think about the Cowboys offensive line, but his importance to the team is not.
Tyron Smith and Zack Martin seem to receive the majority of praise, but Frederick's contribution is on par with both Smith and Martin. That is why he is a Pro Bowler as well.
Frederick is responsible for making all the pre-snap line adjustments and identifying where the defense might attack. He is also responsible for keeping the pocket from collapsing and giving Tony Romo a clean space to step up and make a throw down the field.
Like Tyron Smith, there isn't another player on the team that can step in and provide the same type of stability at the center position. I'm not even quite sure they have a valuable option as a backup to fill in an emergency situation.
Joe Looney was signed to hopefully be that player but there's a reason why he was a free agent and in my honest opinion I think he is probably better as a guard than a center.
Witten is the type of player that everyone looks to for guidance and support.
The Dallas Cowboys have been extremely fortunate to find a player of Witten's caliber and toughness. He is a surefire Hall of Famer in the future and although he is starting to slow down just a bit, he is still a player that has to be game planned for by defensive coordinators around the league.
The Cowboys offense would be drastically different without #82 in the lineup and like everybody else on this list there isn't another tight end on the roster that could come close to having the same type of production on the field.
Witten is used in so many different ways that finding one player to fill in would be virtually impossible.
Again, we already know what happens when Dez Bryant goes down with an injury and what the offense looks like without him in the lineup or with him in the lineup at less than 100%.
There's no denying that Bryant is one of the top receivers in the entire NFL and his presence on the field has to be accounted for wherever he lines up.
He is one of those players that can be truly labeled as a playmaker and a quarterbacks best friend when he's on the field.
The sad thing is that the Cowboys wide receiver group is simply lost without him and there's no one else to step up and fill in is that #1 WR.
Please feel free to use the comment section below to provide your thoughts and opinions on the players that made this list. I look forward to discussing this topic further.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
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