Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is nearing the end of his career, just as his defense appears to be building towards something special. In 2017, the Cowboys completely turned over their secondary with positive results, and saw DeMarcus Lawrence record 14.5 sacks. In need of bright coaching minds to further develop this defense, the Cowboys have hired former Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard as their passing game coordinator.
Former Seahawks' DC Kris Richard is being hired as the Cowboys' Passing Game Coordinator, as @TheGeeScott reported.
Richard has been in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks since 2010, serving as their DC from 2015-2017. Richard's defense forced four turnovers and held Peyton Manning's Broncos to 306 yards in a decisive 43-8 win in Super Bowl XLVIII. He is now the Cowboys' replacement for Matt Eberflus, who passed on a promotion to the Cowboys DC position to join Josh McDaniels and the Indianapolis Colts.
Eberflus' departure for Indianapolis was viewed around the organization as an overdue change of scenery, as landing the coordinator job with Marinelli still in place does little to actually "promote" Eberflus.
Regarded as a better teacher of front-seven talent than cornerbacks and safeties, Marinelli and Richard should have no such power struggle -- instead forming a dynamic pairing that sets the Cowboys up for success on defense in the present and in the future.
Eberflus was regarded as one of the smartest coaches behind the Cowboys defense, and Kris Richard's accolades warrant a similar level of respect. Richard found himself in a perfect situation in Seattle, getting to coach Pro Bowl secondary players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. The Seahawks' vaunted passing defense also sustained their excellence by getting the most out of third round draft picks like Shaquill Griffin and free agent pickup Byron Maxwell.
The ability to develop talent was clearly on display under Richard in Seattle.
Now, Kris Richard leaves behind an aging defense with the Seahawks to coach the likes of Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Xavier Woods, and Byron Jones. Should Richard get the most out of this promising Cowboys secondary, a defensive coordinator position could very well be in his future with Dallas.
In this story from ESPN, Cowboys reporter Todd Archer points out that it was Matt Eberflus in his role as passing game coordinator that installed the team's dime package. This is a defensive scheme in which the Cowboys were arguably at their best through much of 2016 and 2017, scattering the field with defensive backs that can come up and tackle.
Richard deployed a similar scheme with the Seahawks, and has the personnel with the Cowboys to continue coaching his players to both his own strengths, and theirs.
As mentioned, it likely won't be long until the DC spot is available in Dallas. With the right hires beneath Marinelli for 2018, this job could be one of the league's most coveted. Also interviewing John Pagano and Ray Horton recently, the Cowboys could ideally promote from within when the time comes to replace Marinelli.
The Cowboys are scheduled to meet with John Pagano, who ended last season as Oakland's defensive coordinator, and Ray Horton, a longtime defensive backs coach and former Cowboys. https://t.co/BfyWBv4bTo
Like Richard, both Pagano and Horton have held DC jobs in the past. Pagano led the Chargers defense from 2012-2016 before being hired mid-season by the Raiders this year. He has a collective 21 years of NFL coaching experience.
Ray Horton has coached in the NFL since 1994, holding DC positions with three different teams since 2011. Out of a job in 2017, the former Dallas Cowboys defensive back last coordinated the Cleveland Browns defense in 2016.
Few coaches in new positions around the league may have a better chance at impressing their new teams more than Kris Richard in Dallas though. A fantastic hire by the Cowboys, Richard alone turns a defensive staff in desperate need of talent to replace Eberflus and Greg Jackson into one with plenty of potential.
For all of the talk about the coaching changes the Cowboys weren't making following a disappointing season, they are finally giving Cowboys Nation something to be excited about with the talent entering The Star -- and we haven't even reached the NFL Draft or free agency yet.
Dallas Cowboys OL Fails To Crack NFL.com’s Top 10
Often considered a top unit in football, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line seemed to take a step back in 2017. Mostly due to injuries and free agent departures on the left side, the Cowboys were unable to form the same solid unit we have seen in years past.
Despite their struggles, most would still consider them a top 5-10 offensive line in the NFL. At least, that's what I'd expect considering they still feature three All-Pro caliber players upfront.
Matt Harmon of NFL.com put together a list of the top 10 offensive lines in football based on performance in the 2017 season. The list was strictly developed through the use of next gen stats, which defined pressure as "pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack." In addition, "yards gained before close" was taken into account. This metric is meant to measure "the amount of rushing yards a running back gains before opposing defenders come within 1 yard of the player."
After compiling all of these stats, the Cowboys offensive line was left off of the list completely. Maybe even more surprising, however, was that the Philadelphia Eagles' line failed to crack the top ten as well. That's two lines with 3-4 Pro Bowl caliber players each missing the cut.
According to Matt Harmon the Cowboys allowed a pressure on 28.6% of Dak Prescott's dropbacks, 12th highest in the league. Dallas also ranked 20th in the league in YGBC in 2017.
While I do have some issues with the methodology of these statistics, the final result is actually hard to argue with. Down the stretch the Cowboys offense was downright pathetic at times. Regardless of how highly we thought of them prior to the year, the offense didn't perform to their standards, or the standards of a top ten unit.
Heading into 2018, however, I do expect this offensive line to begin to regain form. La'el Collins should continue to improve on the right side, and he is already an adequate starting right tackle regardless. I also expect Dallas to address their left guard spot, potentially within the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In the end the success of this line may hinge on the health of Tyron Smith, though. When healthy, Smith is the best left tackle in all of football. But that "when healthy" caveat has certainly hurt the Cowboys offense.
The way the front office handles their offensive line this offseason will play a huge role in the success, or lack thereof, of the Cowboys in 2018.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: CB Bene Benwikere
After playing sparsely for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, veteran cornerback Bene Benwikere is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Could he stay in Dallas, or will he have to find work elsewhere?
Dallas was concerned about its CB depth with heavy reliance on young players and Jourdan Lewis barely participating in the offseason. Therefore, the Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for Benwikere just before Week One.
After a stellar rookie season with the Carolina Panthers in 2014, Bene had suffered a steep fall before landing in Cincy. Injuries and poor play got him cut midway through 2016 by the Panthers, and then Benwikere bounced from Miami to Green Bay before finally signing with the Bengals in the 2017 offseason.
Though a few years removed from being an All-Rookie Team standout, Bene Benwikere is still just 26 and may still draw interest from scouts who remember his better days. He is likely counting on that, because the Cowboys' secondary is starting to fill up.
The Cowboys currently have exciting sophomores Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis expected to start in 2018. Anthony Brown is back for his third season and will be active on game days.
Orlando Scandrick's future is cloudy, but Dallas won't get much cap relief from releasing him this season. They may elect to keep the veteran for one more year, which would all but fill out the CB depth chart.
Even if Scandrick leaves, talk that Dallas may move Byron Jones back to corner from safety would only leave Benwikere in the same disadvantaged position for finding work.
The best chance that Bene Benwikere has to stay with the Cowboys is if new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard remembers him from 2014. Coaches often feel that can get more out of a player than the last guy, and Richard may see potential in Benwikere that his last few teams couldn't unlock.
Four years ago may be too long, though, and especially with a fresh new crop of young players coming into the league. Especially if they keep Scandrick, Dallas may want to use the rest of their roster spots on younger prospects.
As it stands, Bene Benwikere is unlikely to return to the Cowboys. However, given the flashes of potential he once showed in the NFL, you can't be certain that Dallas won't want to give him one more chance.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OL Joe Looney
Dallas Cowboys backup offensive lineman Joe Looney was active for all 16 games of 2017 and never had to start. That is exactly what you want from a reserve player, and Looney has been relied on as security for the interior o-line for two years now. However, he enters 2018 as an unrestricted free agent.
A six-year veteran, Looney turns 28 years old in August. He has two years in the Cowboys system and is still in his physical prime. Able to play guard or center, "Jumbo Joe" is a nice value with versatility and familiarity.
Dallas got Looney on the cheap in 2016, signing him to a two-year deal at just $1.68 million. While he hasn't been seen much over the last two seasons, coming out of the Cowboys' offensive line could raise his profile in this free agent market compared to last time.
For example, the last guy to hold Joe's role in Dallas was Mackenzy Bernadeau. Dallas paid him $5.7 million from 2014-2015 to be the versatile backup at guard and center. Looney is at a comparable point now in his career.
Dallas may not want to give Joe Looney that kind of raise, but they may have to given other issues on the line. Starting guard Jonathan Cooper is also a free agent and was injured in Week 17. Chaz Green was tried at guard last year and failed.
Even if they didn't need Loooney to play guard, he is also the backup center and the currently the best candidate on the roster for that role.
While nobody wants Looney as the starting left guard in 2018, but Dallas may not want to give Cooper a new deal given his injury history. La'el Collins appears locked in at right tackle, so the Cowboys may feel the need to pay more to keep Looney in case the offseason doesn't provide a better option.
If the Cowboys are inspired to retain Joe Looney, it could mean raising his annual salary from about $800k to close to $3 million. Even with more cap flexibility than they've had in recent years, that's still a big jump that Dallas won't take lightly.
Clearly, Joe Looney's return in 2018 is not an easy decision. He could be a solid veteran depth option for some teams and might even find starting work if someone's desperate enough.
With Dallas facing some uncertainty on the offensive line, that gives Looney the leverage in any upcoming contract negotiations.
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