In less than two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will be practicing in Oxnard, their final training camp tune up before the preseason and roster cuts. If last year is any indication, the Cowboys trim down to 53 players from 90 will be eventful as always. However, it was ultimately the depth of this final roster that failed the Cowboys in a 9-7 season falling short of the playoffs.
The loss of Ezekiel Elliott to suspension and Tyron Smith, Jonathan Cooper, and Sean Lee to injury was all too much for the Cowboys to overcome. Starting his career with a playoff appearance at 13-3, Quarterback Dak Prescott now enters a crucial third year, though he can only hope the team's free agent signings and rookies can help patch these holes.
Before the pads come on at training camp, here is a look at a few of the most important depth players the Cowboys have for 2018.
Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming
The Cowboys spent the 50th overall pick at this year's draft on their future Left Guard Connor Williams, making their signing of Cam Fleming more important. Should Williams grab hold of the starting spot left by Jonathan Cooper's departure, Fleming should serve as the Cowboys primary backup to Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
Joined only by Chaz Green and Kadeem Edwards on the depth chart at tackle, Fleming's experience should win out over the rest of the field. Also signing Guard Marcus Martin this offseason, it's clear the Cowboys want to avoid their offensive line breakdown from a year ago.
Cam Fleming needs to be in position to help the Cowboys do just that, unless Smith plays a full 16 games for the first time since 2015.
Wide Receiver/Running Back Tavon Austin
Whatever role Tavon Austin finds in the Cowboys offense, this is a play maker the Cowboys will have to get the ball to in a variety of ways. Expected to partially take the load off of Ezekiel Elliott as a running back while also being targeted in the passing game, Austin could very well influence the team's roster decisions at both RB and WR.
Two uncertain positions when it comes to depth, Austin's presence could mean bad news for Running Backs Darius Jackson and Bo Scarbrough, or Wide Receivers Lance Lenoir, KD Cannon, and Noah Brown.
We're still a long way off from knowing if a decision like this will be the right one for the Cowboys, but with so much uncertainty on offense entering 2018, Tavon Austin's importance could grow by the day in Oxnard.
Linebacker Justin March-Lillard
Needing to address the linebacker position heavily this offseason, the Cowboys locked in on Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick and selected him at 19th overall. With the 193rd overall pick, the Cowboys also added Indiana Linebacker Chris Covington.
Expected starters Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Vander Esch will still need quality depth behind them to play to their strengths this season.
A healthy Lee is locked in as this team's starting WILL linebacker, but the Cowboys are expected to test both Vander Esch and Smith at the MIKE position.
"The loser of this battle" moving to SAM linebacker is not so simple, especially considering other athletic options the Cowboys have for this strong side role. Along with Damien Wilson, the Cowboys have also seen strides from Justin March-Lillard.
Capable of contributing on special teams and providing important snaps in Rod Marinelli's defense, March-Lillard should be a hard player for the Cowboys to leave off their final roster. If he survives to the final 53, expect him to also be active on game days in support of the Cowboys LBs.
Quarterback Cooper Rush
What exactly do the Cowboys have in second-year Quarterback Cooper Rush, an undrafted sensation out of Central Michigan? Showing the potential to be Dak Prescott's primary backup or an enticing trade piece to QB-needy teams as a rookie, Rush is now joined by a new rookie on the depth chart.
Drafting Mike White in the fifth round, the Cowboys have plenty of skill at quarterback this season. The scope of this list is not to cover how well the Cowboys are prepared to play without Prescott.
Playing with two quarterbacks or three on the roster will be a looming decision for the Cowboys though. Either Rush or White could prove they deserve the second and last QB spot, with Rush's progress from last year challenged by White's accuracy.
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Of course, more Cowboys backups will emerge as ones to keep an eye on, once the Cowboys are back on the field. With several coaches and 'big name' players potentially needing this season to reach the playoffs for the Cowboys, a second straight season of depleted depth won't cut it.
Such is the nature of the Cowboys roster cuts, with the final 53 man roster set on September 1st.
3 Reasons Not to Panic Over Dallas Cowboys Contract Negotiations
With every milestone in the NFL's calendar, there comes unfinished business or unanswered questions for every team in the NFL. Whether its holes that still need to be filled on the roster or contracts that still need to be finalized, there are things that each team has to figure out before going to training camp. With less than a week to go till the Dallas Cowboys open training camp, the major unfinished business left for the Cowboys is figuring out the contract situations of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott.
With training camp approaching, you may feel concerned that the Cowboys won't get their offensive stars extended prior to the start of the regular season. Well, here are three reasons why you shouldn't worry.
1. Deadlines Make Deals
The most important thing to remember when it comes to Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper is that they each have a year left on their deals. In the case of Ezekiel Elliott, he has two years left on his rookie contract. So Dallas Cowboys don't have to feel any sense of urgency to get a deal done with any of the three.
Unlike with the franchise tag deadline day, the Cowboys and the players have more of a soft deadline with training camp approaching. The only reason they may want to get deals done with Prescott, Cooper, and Elliott is so contract talks aren't hanging over their heads throughout the regular season, which could lead to a distraction for the players and potentially for the team.
The Cowboys are eventually going to come to agreements with their three big offensive stars, it's just a matter of when.
With Super Bowl aspirations in 2019, it would be wise for the Dallas Cowboys to get these deals done prior to the team reporting for training camp. Putting contract negotiations behind them with Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper will allow their principle offensive weapons to focus on getting the Dallas Cowboys back to the Super Bowl.
2. August 4th Deadline to Report
Ezekiel Elliott is going to play in 2019. He may hold out of training camp, but any hold out will be short-lived. In order for 2019 to count toward his years of service, which will allow Elliott to hit free agency as scheduled after the 2020 season, he'll need to be with the team by August 4th.
The report that a hold out is an option on the table seems more like information that his people want out in the press to put a little pressure on the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Ezekiel Elliott is the most dominant running back in the NFL and should be paid like one. The only conundrum is that the Cowboys still have him locked up for two more years.
If the Cowboys and Elliott can come to an agreement, it will likely be structured similarly to the deal Todd Gurley signed at a similar point during his rookie contract.
I fully anticipate the two-time NFL rushing champion to be on the field when the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants in week one. Even if Elliott misses a part of training camp, it's not necessarily a bad thing. His absence allows you the opportunity to see what you have in Tony Pollard, Darius Jackson, and Mike Weber and decreases the usage at a position where usage matters immensely.
3. They Pay Who They Want to Pay
If recent history has shown us anything it's that the Dallas Cowboys find a way to pay the players they want to pay. DeMarco Murray and Cole Beasley were allowed to walk because the Dallas Cowboys didn't want to pay those players the money they were being offered on the free-agent market. Dez Bryant was released because the Dallas Cowboys didn't feel he warranted his big cap hit.
On the other hand, when you look at Tyrone Crawford and the contract that he's carrying with the team, you see a player that they don't mind having on the books for that money because he's a valuable leader on the defensive line. His ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle and play both at a starter's level makes him an incredible asset for the Dallas Cowboys. He hasn't been nearly as productive as they would have hoped when they signed him to a big extension, but he's been a good player for the Dallas Cowboys.
When it came time to get DeMarcus Lawrence done so that he could have shoulder surgery and be available for the early stages of the season, the Dallas Cowboys and DeMarcus Lawrence's representatives got the deal done. With the contract in place and surgery behind him, Lawrence looks like he may be ready to start the season on the active roster instead of the physically unable to perform (P.U.P. list).
Whether it's allowing Ronald Leary to leave in free agency or releasing DeMarcus Ware who was battling injuries in the latter stages of his career, the Dallas Cowboys have always found a way to pay or not pay players.
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The Dallas Cowboys front office cohort of Stephen Jones, Jerry Jones, and Will McClay know just how important Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper are to the success of their franchise in 2019 and beyond. They'll get those players paid. At this point, it's only a matter of time.
Cowboys fans need not worry.
Kris Richard has the Talent to Take the Cowboys Secondary to the Next Level
Kris Richard helped develop players such as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor during his time in Seattle. The now infamous "Legion of Boom" terrorized the NFL with their physical style of play. In 2015 when he became the Defensive Coordinator, the Seahawks had the number one ranked defense in the NFL. In January of 2018, the Dallas Cowboys hired him as the Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator. Overall the team finished 7th overall in total defense, with Richard's boys finishing a respectable 13th against the pass. However, I see that going up a few notches in 2019.
In order to have a successful unit, you need good talent on the field. Through the NFL Draft, the Cowboys have accumulated some nice pieces for Richard to work with.
Byron Jones is the lead dog of this unit. After spending most of his first three years at safety, he returned to his natural position of corner in 2018, and it paid off tremendously. He would be named a second-team All-Pro and put his named in the conversation with the best corners in the NFL. Look no further than the Cowboys 13-10 victory over the Saints last season, when he held Michael Thomas to 40 yards on 5 receptions.
Currently, he's recovering from hip surgery that he had back in March. The original target date was the beginning of training camp but recent reports say not to expect much out of him during the preseason, with week 1 now being a more realistic starting point. Jones getting back on the field and performing at a high level will be key for a secondary that was in the top half of the league versus the pass last season.
Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown are the units number two and three corners. Awuzie is coming off his best season in his brief career in multiple areas. His total tackles increased by from 25 to 71 and passed defended went from 7 to 11. More importantly, his availability was better as well, playing in 15 games as opposed to 10 his rookie year. Now the Cowboys have a potential star in making along with their all-pro number one, a huge plus to have in a pass-happy league.
Brown holds down the fort in the slot, which many believe to be the hardest corner position to play. He has thirty starts under his belt and 27 career passes defended. With slot receivers having a bevy of routes at their disposal playing on the inside, having a corner that can be solid in this area is key.
There's also solid depth at corner on the Cowboys roster. Jordan Lewis is entering year three and is still trying to find a role on the team. Some attribute his not seeing a lot of field action to lacking the size Kris Richard likes with his defensive backs. Nonetheless, he is very talented in his own right and provides some insurance in the unfortunate event an injury occurs. Rookie Michael Jackson was selected in the fifth round back in April. At 6'1 and 210 pounds, he's prototypical for what Richard wants in a corner. Plus, his ability to play on the outside and in the slot provides much more value. He's looked at as maybe the top contender to challenge Brown as the starter at nickel corner.
Xavier Woods is the shining star on the backend at free safety. A steal in the sixth round in 2017, the headhunting wrecking machine increased his production in tackles and passes defended from his rookie year. This can be credited to the fact he started 10 more games in 2018, and as we all know experience is the best teacher. Woods is on the verge of being a pro bowler in my personal opinion. It's one thing to be physical but when you can combine that with good ball skills you get a more complete player.
Jeff Heath is the starter at strong safety, for now, that is. This position is looked at as the weakest part of the Cowboys defense with Heath's inconsistency in coverage and making tackles. Fortunately, there are a few challengers that could upgrade said position.
George Iloka was signed during free agency in an attempt to make the strong safety role better. He hasn't supplanted Heath yet, but there's an entire training camp and preseason to change all of that. At 6'4 and 226 pounds, he has the size Richard wants and the physicality to his game. The next few months will be critical if he wants to takeover to top spot at strong safety.
Kavon Frazier and rookie Donovan Wilson will also be in the mix to challenge Health. Frazier excels on special teams but hasn't done enough to get much work otherwise. He did manage two starts in 2018 in relief for Xavier Woods so not only does he have talent but versatility.
Wilson comes out of Texas A&M with a pretty impressive skill set of his own. In addition to playing safety, he spent time at nickel corner as well in college. With 21.5 career tackles for loss and 8 interceptions to his credit, there's a lot of potential in this young man, we'll see how training camp and preseason workout for him.
After the Cowboys wild-card win over the Seahawks in last years playoffs Richard interviewed for several head coaching jobs but wasn't hired. Even though he was disappointed he's also excited about continuing to work side by side with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli. At the Pro Bowl in January, he had this to say about his appreciation for him.
"He’s like one of the top three men in the world as far as I’m concerned. He has great character. He’s tough. He’s demanding. I just love his attitude. He’s what is right about America. He’s hard. You can’t live soft and be hard. He’s got the right mentality. He was gracious enough and humble enough to allow me to come in and call the defense to allow me to continue to grow. I love him. I am grateful for him. I am looking forward to going on and getting better with him."
Kris Richard has coached and developed several all-pro players during his coaching career. Now, he has a roster of talent with the potential to reach that level. He has an elite number one corner, a really good number two, a solid slot corner, a rising star at safety and depth behind them. Also, he has several players in his defensive backfield coming off the best seasons of their respective careers. It will be vital for Richard to continue his aggressive and physical style of coaching in the secondary to match the Cowboys top 5 rushing defense from a year ago.
Breakdown of Cowboys’ Remaining 2019 Offseason Schedule
Football activities for the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL are about to kick into full swing now that training camp is finally upon us. Thank the Lord! The long-awaited 2019 season is nearly here, but first we have to get through the remainder of the offseason.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of some important dates for the Dallas Cowboys and the opponents they will be facing leading up to the 2019 season opener. Continue to read below to see what's in store for the Cowboys for the next month or so.
- July 25: Dallas Cowboys depart for training camp in Oxnard, California
- July 27-30: Practice
- July 31: Players Day Off
- August 1-3: Practice
- Blue-White Scrimmage: August 4 5:30 PM CT
- August 5: Players Day Off
- August 6-8: Practice
- August 9: Travel to San Francisco
- August 10: Preseason Game 1
- August 11: Players Day Off
- August 12-15: Early Practice, Depart for Hawaii
- August 16: Prep
- August 17: Preseason Game 2, Los Angeles Rams
* Practice Schedule at Home has yet to be Announced
- Hall of Fame Game: Atlanta Falcons vs. Denver Broncos, August 1
- August 6 - Deadline for players under contract to report to their clubs to earn an accrued season for free agency
- August 8-9: League Wide First Preseason Weekend
Preseason Week 1: @San Francisco 49ers, August 10 8 PM CT, NFL Network
The Dallas Cowboys starters typically don't play more than a series or two in the first preseason game. But, this is the first opportunity many of us will get to see what this year's rookie crop can do against a talented, yet still somewhat underrated, San Francisco 49ers team.
Preseason Week 2: @Los Angeles Rams, August 17 9 PM CT, NFL Network
Even though the Dallas Cowboys starters probably won't play much, this could be a revenge type of game in Hawaii against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams thoroughly embarrassed the Cowboys last year and knocked them out of the playoffs. This could be a heated contest and a preview of what will come when these two teams square off against one another on December 15 in the regular season.
Preseason Week 3: Houston Texans, August 24 6 PM CT, NFL Network
The Houston Texans got the better of the Dallas Cowboys twice last year, once in preseason (6-14) and again in the regular season (16-19). The Cowboys will be looking to turn things around in what should be a dress rehearsal game this time around though. With Texas pride and bragging rights on the line, Dallas' starters should play well into the second half and should get tested by a talented Texans team.
Preseason Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, August 29 6 PM CT
Week 4 of the preseason is generally reserved to those players fighting to make the final 53-man roster. This will be the last chance for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to evaluate some of their down the roster players and help them better determine which ones they want to keep and which ones they want to risk losing. With a talented roster from top to bottom, this year's game could be more important to the Cowboys than it has in years past.
- August 31: Cut Down/Roster Cut Day
- September 1 - Claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction will expire at 12:00 noon, New York time.
2019 Season Opener
Week 1: New York Giants, September 8 3:25 CT, FOX
The Dallas Cowboys will once again kickoff the season opener against their division rival, the New York Giants. This will be the third year in a row these teams will open up the regular season against one another. For the Cowboys, they're hoping to make a clean sweep of the Giants for the second consecutive year, and a Week 1 victory will go a long ways in accomplishing just that.
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