Connect with us

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys: How To Address Team Needs For 2016

Tommy Simon

Published

on

Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys: How To Address Team Needs For 2016

If you read the first two articles in this series, you will understand when I say that the Dallas Cowboys will be a completely different team in 2017. If you haven't read them yet, here are the links:

  1. Dallas Cowboys 2016 Needs: Assessing The Offense
  2. Dallas Cowboys 2016 Needs: Assessing The Defense

Hopefully, they’ll be healthier but they also have numerous expiring contracts and will need to fill them with new players. A third of the starters could be changed (certainly a fourth). The Cowboys will need to re-sign players, bring in free agents, or draft rookies for 18 possible positions.

While this should free up some cap space, it certainly will not provide enough relief for the Boys to be big spenders in the open market.

I am not a cap space expert, but with $20mil in expiring contracts, getting 7-8 million in relief by re-negotiating Brandon Carr’s contract, the cap space increasing 8-10mil, and with a little restructuring, say freeing up another 10mil, then the Boys should have 48mil to spend on the 17 to 18 positions.

Again, this is not based on in-depth analysis, but high-level estimating. Don’t quote me on those figures.

In this scenario, I can see them landing a star player for 10-12 million, signing four starters for 20mil, signing four key backup slots for 12mil, and have 8 to 9 draft picks/free agent signings at league minimums. This would be another 5-6mil or so.

So half of the 18 positions will need to be addressed with rookies or veteran free agent signings at the minimum veteran salaries. They will need at least four to five rookies to make the roster and provide quality playing time and salary relief.

Let’s look at the position-by-position needs we identified in our previous articles:

  • Backup QB
  • Starting RB
  • Third Down Back
  • Starting Fullback
  • Backup Blocking TE
  • Backup (Number 3) Receiver
  • Backup Guard
  • Another Backup Guard
  • Starting Right Tackle or Backup Swing Tackle
  • Starting Corner (either slot or outside)
  • Backup Corner
  • Backup Free Safety
  • 5th safety/Special Teams
  • Starting Middle Linebacker
  • Starting or a backup SAM Linebacker
  • Starting Defensive End
  • Backup Defensive End
  • Either a starting one or three technique

Now let’s rank them in order of importance. This is somewhat subjective, but I think we can agree on most of the prioritization.

Here is my list from top to bottom:

  1. Starting Defensive End
  2. Starting Corner (either slot or outside)
  3. Starting Middle Linebacker
  4. Starting One/Three Technique
  5. Starting RB
  6. Starting Right Tackle or Backup Swing Tackle
  7. Backup QB
  8. 3rd Down Back
  9. Starting Fullback
  10. Primary Backup Guard
  11. Backup Blocking TE
  12. Starting or Backup SAM Linebacker
  13. Backup (Number 3) Receiver
  14. Backup Slot Corner
  15. Backup Free Safety
  16. 5th Safety/Special teams
  17. 4th Guard/Center
  18. 4th Defensive End

So let’s look at some trends and stats. First, there will be needs at some very key positions. There could be as many as 8 starting positions that need to be filled. At a minimum, there will be at least 6 starting positions affected.

Assuming that you can get two of those positions filled with draft picks, you still need to sign three to five free agents to start. That is a lot to expect in free agency. So expect the Boys to bring Greg Hardy, MacKenzy Bernadeau, Rolando McClain, James Hanna, and possibly Morris Claiborne back.

Now, if you look at all the positions, the first twelve spots play significant roles (starters or critically key backups). Assuming you have a great draft and you can fill four of the roles with rookies (most likely only three), then that still leaves, at least, eight high-value positions to be filled in free agency or by re-signing players. Again, I would expect the Boys to try to land some key backups like Bernadeau and Hanna.

You can also see that the needs are evenly split between offense and defense. On offense, you have two starting positions (RB and Fullback) and one other possible starter (RT/Swing). But there are some other important backup positions needed (QB, 3rd Guard, 3rd Receiver, blocking TE).

On defense, there are at least four starting positions needed (DT, DE, Corner, and the Mike). The Boys could also use a starting SAM LB. However, unlike the offense, and other than the backup slot corner, the backup positions are lower in importance and can be filled with developmental players.

While the needs are split evenly between offense and defense, notice that 4 of the top 5 needs are defensive players. With that being the case, our defense could be dramatically better or worse next year. Having 4 to 5 new starters out of 11 possible positions is a significant change. Next year’s team will have a whole new identity.

I look forward to seeing what it is. I hope it is power, not finesse as it's been of late. You can look at this as a challenge or as an opportunity to create a whole new identity.

Frankly, on the whole, to upgrade or replace 18 positions is a lot to expect from one draft and free agent class. That is why I do not think the Cowboys will make more than one splash signing. Other than possibly re-signing Hardy, I do not expect any big name signings this year. There are just too many needs and the money will have to be spread around amongst 10 key positions.

So now that we know we will need around 12-13 free agents (or returning players), we can predict the positions that are most likely to be addressed by bringing back players or signing free agents.

Here are the positions that seem to make the most sense to me and why:

Starting Defensive End

You need to have a starting caliber DE that makes an impact. Too hard to trust a draft pick to be an impact player. Also, the Boys need their early draft picks to use on other starting positions. I can see one possibility of drafting a DE early. If the Boys sign an impactful starting-caliber corner in free agency, then they could gamble on trying to draft a first round DE. But it’s a risky gamble.

Corner (probably backup slot corner)

I believe the Boys will sign a vet and draft a corner too. They need a starter and a reliable backup. I would love to see them sign a shutdown corner and then draft a corner in the mid-rounds. However, I don’t think they have the money to do that and so I think they sign a veteran for depth and draft a corner in the first two rounds.

Starting Middle LB

Again, this could be addressed in the draft, but it would need to be in the first three rounds. I don’t see the Boys doing that because they have other positions that will take priority. I could see them drafting MLB in the second round if the Boys sign a running back in free agency.

Backup QB

No draft pick is reliable enough to count on to win games in year one. The Boys need a definite upgrade and a proven commodity.

Starting Tackle or Backup Swing

We have Chaz Green so we need to team him with a veteran to give him time to work on his strength and technique. Hopefully, it will be starting tackle and we could move Doug Free to swing, upgrading both positions. However, the cap may make this unattainable.

Third-down Back

I really expect to see Lance Dunbar re-signed. Some team could throw money at him, but with his injury history, I do not think so. This should give the Boys the inside track on re-signing him.

Backup Guard

Too important of a position to rely on a rookie mid-round pick. Can they re-sign Bernadeau? Need a proven vet to step in if/when a starter goes down.

Starting SAM LB

Again, I do not foresee them using a high enough draft pick to get a starting caliber SAM linebacker. Save the pick and just go get a good value plug and play steady vet.

Backup Receiver

The Boys need a proven vet that can step up if Dez Bryant goes down. I do not see them drafting a receiver high enough in the draft to be impactful. So this should be addressed by signing a reliable vet in free agency.

Backup blocking TE

I can see the boys spending a draft pick from the 5th to 7th round on a blocking TE. But I think they will try to re-sign Hanna or go get a vet at near the minimum salary. Either way would not surprise me.

Fullback

This can be addressed in the draft, but honestly, there are a lot of cheap free agents out there with experience. The Boys should be able to find a fullback that can make more of an impact in the running game.

5th safety and special teams guru

I expect they will re-sign Jeff Heath. I do not see teams throwing money at him, so the Cowboys can get him. If they do not re-sign Heath, I bet that they will go with just four safeties on the roster. If that is the case, then they will sign a vet for depth’s sake.

The first six positions MUST be addressed in free agency or the draft. The final four should be addressed, but the Boys could survive without addressing them in free agency. But let’s assume our scenario plays out, that would leave the Boys 6 positions to be filled in the draft or with unsigned rookie free agents.

  1. One or Three technique
  2. Corner (could be starter or backup based on free agency signing)
  3. Starting Running Back
  4. Developmental Free Safety
  5. Developmental 4th DE
  6. Developmental 4th Guard

Now things never go as planned. But if I were in the Cowboys front office, I would have a plan of action similar to this.

I can’t see a situation that covers all 18 positions of need by re-signing their players and adding free agents. This means that contrary to their wishes, they’ll need to draft some players specifically to fill needs or voids. It’s called, “drafting for need” and that approach to the draft tends to backfire. A team can blow a whole draft by overreaching to take specific players in positions of need. So I imagine that having to play by this strategy will make the Boys take some chances they wouldn’t normally take. I also think it means they’ll be moving up and down a lot in this draft.

If they don’t follow this strategy then they gamble and take chances in other ways.

For example, if they don’t find a swing tackle, or can’t draft one early, they’ll promote Green to the primary swing tackle role. As I said earlier, I don’t think Green is ready for this. Deciding to promote Green could lead to disastrous situations. If one of the starting tackles goes down then he could be starting games and just one blown assignment away from allowing Tony Romo to go down again. So there will be definite tradeoffs to be made when considering to draft the best player available or drafting for need.

While I’m a proponent of the best player available approach, this year, I think they’ll need to draft more for need. Let’s just hope there is a good player in a position of need when we draft. Otherwise, we should be smart and drop down so that we don’t over-reach for need. Given the amount of needs that the Boys will have this offseason, I expect dropping down will be the strategy.

But with Jerry Jones strategies change quickly, so it’ll be fun to watch.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

Advertisement
Comments

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie

Published

on

Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.

Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.

Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.

This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.

Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:

  1. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
  2. Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
  3. Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall

There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.

Joe Thomas, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.

Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.

Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.

One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.

It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.

Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?

But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



Continue Reading

Player News

Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

Published

on

Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



Continue Reading

Dallas Cowboys

Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

Matthew Lenix

Published

on

Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

The Dallas Cowboys find themselves facing an interesting situation heading into training camp later this month. They've stockpiled enough talent on the offensive line that now they have multiple players who can play multiple positions. This is better known as "Position Flex" around the Cowboys team facility, and it's highlighted by Connor Williams and rookie Connor McGovern.

Williams was drafted in the second round in 2018 out of Texas. Even though he logged 28 starts at left tackle during his days in Austin, he was brought in to play left guard opposite All-Pro Zack Martin. As a rookie, he started the first eight games before suffering a knee injury Week 10 against the Titans. He struggled due to his smaller size and being a natural tackle, showing he definitely needed to bulk up if he wanted to start on the interior of the offensive line. His back up Xavier Su'a-Filo was serviceable in his absence.

However, he did start two games at right guard in place of Zack Martin and performed pretty decent. This gave him much-needed experience in case of an injury in the future. He's shown he can adjust and be a solid lineman at more than one spot.

When All-Pro Tyron Smith had veterans day off during OTAs, Williams was seen taking snaps at left tackle, his natural position. La'el Collins is the starter at right tackle but is currently in a contract year. Set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and with uncertainty, that he'll perform to the level needed to keep him as the starter or garner a big payday, the Cowboys have some insurance. This could create a situation where Williams is flexed outside if Collins hits the open market next year, only time will tell.

Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options 1

McGovern comes into the NFL with an advantage over his fellow lineman Williams. He was able to gain experience at multiple positions on the offensive line at Penn State. He started 21 games at right guard (9 as a freshman, 12 as a junior) and 14 games at center (13 as a sophomore, 1 as a junior). He's ideal to play on the interior seeing as he is naturally a little bigger than Williams, who had to pack on the pounds this offseason to deal with the responsibility of playing guard.

Now, the Cowboys can really see, if this is their thinking, who the five best guys are on the offensive line. If it were up to me, I would put Williams in direct competition with Collins for the right tackle position. This would allow McGovern to battle Su'a-Filo for the left guard spot. Also, with the health of All-Pro Center Travis Fredrick still up in the air, until the pads come on, McGovern's flexibility has added more insurance along with back up Joe Looney in case there's a setback before the season starts.

Multiple players with the skill set to move across the line if called upon. What more could you ask for as an offensive line coach? Plus, neither will be over the age of 22 during the season. The Cowboys have masterfully built the line of scrimmage on offense through the draft since 2011. Their dedication to dominating the trenches has them loaded with talent in said area. The only thing left is to wait for training camp to see where the chips fall.



Continue Reading



Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here

Trending