We're at the halfway point of the 2017 season for your Dallas Cowboys and there's already been plenty of drama. There are eight more games to go and no telling how the season will play out from here, but things are definitely trending in the right direction with the Cowboys winning three straight.
With that lets hand out some mid-season hardware to America's Team.
Most Valuable Player - Sean Lee
The eye test alone shows you the difference that weak side linebacker and 2016 All-Pro Sean Lee has made to this defense. His presence in the run game has been transcendent. A team that looked like a sieve while Lee was out with a hamstring injury, now looks the part of a championship defense.
They've done an excellent job rushing the passer all season, but the one weakness that's been clear was their play in the run game.
Without Sean Lee in the lineup vs the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys allowed 164 yards rushing per game, while allowing only 80.33 yards per game with Lee in the lineup. The points per game is also drastically different with (18 PPG) and without Lee (35 PPG).
He's on track for another All-Pro season at this rate, and as long as Lee's health holds up the Cowboys are on track for playoff contention.
Offensive Player of the Half Year - Dak Prescott
It's easy to make an argument for Ezekiel Elliott or one of the offensive lineman, but to me it has to be Dak Prescott.
Aside from his poor outing at the Denver Broncos in week two, Dak has been excellent this season. Even in the back to back losses to the Rams and Packers, Dak and the Dallas Cowboys went toe-to-toe with two of the best offenses in the league. Hard to fault him for losing a game while scoring 30+ points.
Dak's 16 passing touchdowns have him fifth in the NFL, tied with Tom Brady and ahead of notable players such as Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Matthew Stafford. His quarterback rating now sits at a very Dak-like 97.6, which is good for eighth in the NFL.
And don't forget about his four rushing touchdowns. Expect that number to continue rising.
After turning the ball over five times in weeks two through five, Dak has returned to his ball protecting ways with zero turnovers in the last three games. He's exactly who the Dallas Cowboys thought he was. A franchise quarterback.
LG Jonathan Cooper - Despite not really "winning" the job until week four, left guard Jonathan Cooper has really helped the Dallas Cowboys offensive line and running game find their stride in the 2017 season.
In weeks 1-3, with Chaz Green as the starter at LG, the Cowboys averaged 89.33 yards rushing per game. In the five games since being inserted into the starting lineup, Dallas has averaged 183.6 yards per game.
RB Ezekiel Elliott's Lawyers - I know we are all pretty wore out on Ezekiel Elliott's legal news, but without the hard work of Zeke's legal team, it's likely Elliott isn't available for the last couple of games.
Make no mistake, if Elliott has to sit at all this season, it's going to be a huge loss for the Dallas Cowboys. He's a generational running back. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Defensive Player of the Half Year - DeMarcus Lawrence
This could have been Lee as well, but to go another direction, let's go with the guy that could easily be in the discussion for team MVP, DeMarcus Lawrence. His 10.5 sacks are a half a sack behind NFL leader Calais Campbell. In the early stages of the season, there were times when Lawrence absolutely carried this defense.
With tremendous early season success, teams are now paying pretty close attention to where #90 is on the field, which predictably has opened up opportunities for everyone else.
David Irving has progressed quite nicely after an inconsistent 2016 season, and looks to be an absolute diamond in the Kansas City practice squad rough, but without the production that Lawrence gave early in the season, would Irving be having as much success as he is right now. One can never know, but Lawrence's impact can't be understated. He's a big reason why this team is 5-3 and could be 7-1.
Lawrence is the "war daddy" that the Dallas Cowboys front office has been searching for since the other DeMarcus was allowed to leave.
Honorable Mention: David Irving - David Irving's six sacks and four passes defensed are second on the team in those categories. And he's only played in four games. By the end of the year, we might be talking about Irving as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Noah Brown
Noah Brown and Ryan Switzer have been the offensive rookies of note and both have had some good plays for the team. They've played the same amount of offensive snaps this season, and Brown has stood out in a positive way much more than Switzer has.
He had a big catch that set up a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. Against the San Francisco 49ers, his block of two defenders helped spring Ezekiel Elliott on his 72-yard touchdown on the screen pass.
Switzer hasn't really found a comfort level on returns, which is the primary thing he was brought here for.
Honorable Mention: Cooper Rush - He hasn't played much, but he gets mentioned for being the guy to push Kellen Moore out the door. Working his way onto the roster after being an undrafted free agent is a pretty awesome accomplishment though.
Defensive Rookie of the Half Year - Jourdan Lewis
Jourdan Lewis was not targeted at all vs KC according to PFF
That says a tremendous amount about the third round draft pick out of Michigan.
Jourdan Lewis has quickly become the best cornerback on the Dallas Cowboys roster. His tenacious tackling ability and sticky coverage in the slot or on the outside have been a bright spot for the 2017 draft class.
He hasn't been perfect, but rookie cornerbacks rarely are. He's been really good though and looks the part of a top flight cover corner for years to come.
Jaylon Smith - Let's be honest, Jaylon Smith has been bad at times. But his presence alone has been important for the team. Imagine what the defense would have looked like without him during Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens' absences. Smith has found a role recently as a blitzer and has done that effectively. Less is more for the 2016 second round pick and the Dallas Cowboys.
Xavier Woods - Xavier Woods was the steal of the 2017 NFL Draft in many pundit's minds. Slowly but surely he's begun to work his way more and more into the lineup and is impressing with his ability to cover multiple spots and show great range as a deep safety. While the team is still in love with Jeff Heath, it's clear that Woods is the future at safety.
Surprise Players of the Half Year
The Good - Terrance Williams
Despite a couple of underwhelming games, Williams has been pretty good throughout the first eight weeks of the season. He's now on pace for 60 receptions on 80 targets for 714 yards. Those aren't elite wide receiver numbers, but they are pretty solid for a number two receiver in a run-first offense. Considering the weapons at Dak Prescott's disposal, 60 receptions is a good year.
The Bad - Anthony Brown
Anthony Brown's second year has been a disappointment after his solid rookie season. He's getting beat an awful lot and without an improved second half of the season, will probably have the Dallas Cowboys looking at CB again in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Who are you handing hardware to at the midway point?
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
Cowboys CB Marquez White Facing Assault Charges
Player news this time of year is often not the good kind, and such is true of a new development with Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Marquez White. The second-year CB is facing aggravated assault charges for an incident last October.
According to the report, White displayed a legally owned firearm during a "road rage" incident.
Marquez, a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys last season, has made his side of the story public. The following account was released by White to The Dothan Eagle, his hometown newspaper:
Naturally, we're in a wait-and-see situation as to how this case unfolds and impacts White's availability to the Cowboys in 2018. He is one of several players hoping to catch on at the bottom of the CB depth chart, having spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
This latest legal issue is especially unwelcome news after other Cowboys' recent problems. The team has seen David Irving get suspended four games for illegal substances and Terrance Williams' get arrested for public intoxication in the last two months.
Last year, Linebacker Damien Wilson was charged for aggravated assault in a somewhat similar situation to that of Marquez White. Those charges were eventually dropped.
What happens in White's case remains to be seen.
Deadline for DeMarcus Lawrence Contract Extension Nearing
NFL teams have until July 16 to work out a long-term extension with any players currently under the franchise tag, which means the Dallas Cowboys have about a week to work something out with Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. If deals are not signed and approved by the league by 4 P.M. ET July 16, the sides cannot agree to new contracts until after the 2018 season ends.
Along with the Lawrence, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell, Detroit Lions DE Ziggy Ansah, and Los Angeles Rams S Lamarcus Joyner have franchise tags slapped on them. All of them would love the long-term security a contract extension would provide, but they are all going to have to wait and see what the upcoming week has in store for them.
So, what will the Dallas Cowboys decide to do with DeMarcus Lawrence? Can they come to terms on a long-term contract extension before the deadline on July 16?
Luckily for Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys seem open about hearing what he believes his market value is. That doesn't mean he will get his asking price, but the talks have to begin somewhere.
Rumors are already circulating that Lawrence is seeking a five-year extension and wants to make more money than Danielle Hunter, who the Vikings just signed to a five-year $72 million contract. That's probably more money than the Cowboys have in mind at this time. They may prefer to wait and see if he can replicate what he accomplished in 2017.
Last season DeMarcus Lawrence turned into the "War Daddy" Owner Jerry Jones has been seeking for the defense. He accumulated a career-high 14.5 quarterback sacks and finally played an entire 16 game season. But, even that may not be worth the money he is rumored to be seeking right now.
Hunter's five-your $72 million contract extension is the going price right now for someone of Lawrence's caliber, but there are other players in line for a big payday as well. Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Jadeveon Clowney are all in the same boat as Lawrence. What kind of extensions they receive could change the going rate, which could cause some hesitance on the Cowboys part.
Fortunately, I kind of doubt DeMarcus Lawrence is going to complain much if he has to play the 2018 season under the franchise tag. He will make a little over $17 million for one year and has a chance to cash in big time if he can replicate what he did a season ago.
Would you sign DeMarcus Lawrence to an extension before the July 16 deadline?
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