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Dallas Cowboys: How To Address Team Needs For 2016

Tommy Simon

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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

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Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room

Sean Martin

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Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room 1

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.

Jane Slater on Twitter

Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line

The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.

Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.

Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp

What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.

The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.

Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.

To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.

Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.

If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.

Tell us what you think about "Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys Playoff Scenarios; Week 11 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Redskins

We've reached Week 11 and the playoff picture is continuing to be unveiled. Most of the NFC has seven games to go, and there's still a lot of ways each week can impact the overall landscape.

The Rams and Saints are the clear runaway teams in the conference this year. After them, though, a lot of up for grabs both in division races and the Wild Card spots.

We're not including Detroit and Tampa Bay, both 3-6, given the strong unlikelihood that they will turn things around. Detroit is the worst team in a stacked NFC North and will likely keep losing, and a head-to-head loss to the Cowboys will be tough to overcome. The Bucs can't decide on a quarterback right now and are going nowhere.

If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:

  1. Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
  2. New Orleans Saints (8-1)
  3. Chicago Bears (6-3)
  4. Washington Redskins (6-3)
  5. Carolina Panthers (6-3)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)
    ----------------------------------
  7. Green Bay Packers (4-4-1)
  8. Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
  9. Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
  11. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Bears are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
  • The Falcons are ahead of the Seahawks and Cowboys thanks to a superior record against NFC opponents.
  • The Seahawks are ahead of the Cowboys thanks to a head-to-head victory.
  • The Cowboys are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head victory.
  • The Eagles' tiebreaker loss to Dallas, because it occurs within the division, drops them below the other 4-5 NFC teams automatically. Their head-to-head win over the Falcons this year is invalidated.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how winning the NFC East would likely be Dallas only road to the playoffs. That is still the case; the Cowboys are three games behind the Panthers (they lose in a tie because of their head-to-head loss) and two games behind the Vikings for the Wild Card spots.

It will be much easier for Dallas to catch Washington, who are more lucky than good with their 6-3 record, than either Carolina or Minnesota.  The Cowboys can still hang a loss on the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, plus Washington has both games with the Eagles left to play.

Those opportunities are further down the road, though. For now, let's see how the Week 11 schedule can help improve the Cowboys playoff positioning:

Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks

With a head-to-head loss to Seattle this year, Dallas needs the Seahawks to keep losing. Both teams are currently 4-5, and the Cowboys don't need that tiebreaker hanging over them at the end of the year.

But a Seattle loss means a Green Bay win, and that doesn't do much to help the Cowboys either. The Packers's tie gives them a slight edge on the 4-5 teams, and that advantage could keep them ahead of Dallas the rest of the way.

You could argue that the Packers are a team more likely to make a late-season push than the Seahawks, so a Green Bay loss here could ultimately benefit the Cowboys more than Seattle. It really  comes down to which team, between the Packers and Seahawks, you have more faith in the rest of the way.

Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons

This is obviously a huge game for both teams. Both are 4-5 and trying to stay in the conversation, and a loss here could be a death knell for either. It would also create a head-to-head tiebreaker for the winner over the loser; essentially a two-game swing.

The Cowboys won their first road game all season last week in Philadelphia. They have some good vibes and momentum headed into Atlanta, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Browns.

Will Dallas ride their positive wave for another week, or will the Falcons be hungrier and enjoy returning home? The answer could be season-changing for both teams.

Houston Texans @ Washington Redskins

The Texans have won six straight and the Cowboys hope they can keep it going. A Washington loss, coupled with a Dallas win in Atlanta, would narrow the gap between them to just one game. It would also make next week's Thanksgiving matchup in Dallas a chance for the Cowboys to pull even for the NFC East lead.

As I said before, the Redskins aren't as good as their 6-3 record indicates. They have only a +1 point differential in 2018, having scored just one point more than their opponents all year. Comparatively, the Cowboys are a +10 despite the losing record.

A few weeks ago, the Redskins got pounded 43-19 by the New Orleans Saints. The Texans are arguably the next-best team they've played this year. Hopefully, we'll see a similar result.

Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions

The Panthers' slipping would be nice for the Cowboys, though they'd have to fall hard the rest of the way for Dallas to catch up in the standings. With the Cowboys having a head-to-head win over the Lions, a Detroit win here wouldn't hurt us nearly as much as a Carolina loss helps.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints

New Orleans appears set on being one of the top two seeds in the NFC this year, which puts them well out of Dallas' range. As such, an Eagles loss is clearly better for the Cowboys in terms of our own playoff positioning.

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

The Packers and Vikings are both slightly easier to catch than the Bears. The best scenario for Dallas is for Chicago to keep winning and take the NFC North, hanging losses on their division rivals on the way and making things easier for the Cowboys in the Wild Card hunt.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Rams

This one is almost irrelevant from Dallas' perspective. The Rams will probably clinch their division soon and should have a first-round bye. But the Chiefs are in the other conference, so there's absolutely nothing to be gained by them losing.



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Game Notes

#ATLvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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1
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This week's gambling preview focuses on the Cowboys week 11 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas beat the now 4-5 Eagles last Sunday to improve their own record to 4-5. Atlanta lost on the road to Cleveland last week to drop their record to 4-5 on the season.

It's an 8-8 league, isn't it?

Dallas returns to the scene of the 2017 crime this Sunday, traveling to Atlanta where Chaz Green and Dak Prescott were destroyed almost exactly one year ago. Let's take a look at the line and the quality of these teams to see which way it could go.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 48 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas saved their season on the road last Sunday night, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles and getting right back in the thick of things in the NFC East race. Still, we can't simply ignore what the other 8 games of data have told us about the Cowboys and their offensive quality.

The addition of Amari Cooper has clearly helped the offense, opening up the passing game a bit and allowing for Dak Prescott to have a reliable "number one" receiver. The team's results overall have been mixed the first two games of the Cooper-era, but he has been consistently good in both match-ups.

Defensively the Cowboys continued to impress last week, though "cornerback opposite of Byron Jones" is quickly becoming a potential need. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith stole the show last Sunday, and both the present and the future of the Cowboys' linebacking corps is strong. It could be argued the Cowboys have yet to see a passing attack like the one Atlanta brings, however, making Sunday a big test for them defensively.

Atlanta Falcons

Similar to the Cowboys, Atlanta has been very much up-and-down this season. In a way, though, they are just the opposite-day Cowboys, with their offense putting up insane numbers most weeks and their banged up defense often letting them down.

Though it looked like they were turning it around in recent weeks, Atlanta had probably their most disappointing loss in quite some time, losing at Cleveland to the young Browns. Still, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a prolific passing attack which can strike fear in any defense.

Byron Jones and company will have their hands full with the Falcons' cast of skill players on Sunday, and as usual, stopping their passing attack will all begin up front with the pass rush. Hopefully Randy Gregory can build on his week 10 performance to produce even more results this week.

Trends

  • Surprisingly, the score total has now hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • The Cowboys are 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games against the Falcons.
  • The Cowboys are also 2-4 against the spread their last games at Atlanta.
  • Dallas is just 1-4 straight up on the road this season.
  • The score total has gone over 4 of Atlanta's last 5 home games.
  • The Falcons are just 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games.

Prediction

Who the hell knows, man.

This team is incredibly difficult to project week to week, probably about as volatile as they've been since all those 8-8 seasons. This line started at Cowboys +4.5 and has since moved down to just +3, meaning they are valued as a pick 'em on a neutral field.

Given how inconsistent, yet talented, both teams are this line feels exactly right. I'll take the Cowboys and the points because why not? I expect this to be a tight game throughout, and could come down to the kicking game in the fourth quarter.



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