As the Dallas Cowboys are set to kick off training camp in Oxnard, California less than a week from now, there are still several positions where questions still need to be answered.
Thankfully, training camp will answer said questions. We can begin to put all of the speculation behind us.
To get you ready for the start of Dallas Cowboys training camp on July 25th, here are the most important training camp battles to watch.
Interior Defensive Line
David Irving's suspension and Maliek Collins foot injury leave the interior of the defensive line as a huge question mark heading into training camp.
There are guys with potential to make an impact in Datone Jones, Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, Brian Price, Lewis Neal, and Antwaun Woods. They could all get reps on the interior with the first team defensive line.
On passing downs we could also see Defensive Ends Kony Ealy, Taco Charlton, and Tyrone Crawford kick inside.
Who emerges from that pack will be the battle to watch.
Datone Jones and Jihad Ward are my favorites to lead the position in training camp and possibly into week one depending on Maliek Collins recovery.
Datone Jones had some really good reps in David Irving's absence last season as a penetrating defensive tackle.
Jihad Ward was highly thought of by the Dallas Cowboys during the 2016 NFL Draft and could have been an option if Maliek Collins hadn't been available in the third round that year.
As has been in the past, the Dallas Cowboys will likely rotate the spots to find the best combination and to keep guys fresh. Who is a part of that rotation remains to be seen.
Before the offseason workouts and practices began, many in Cowboys Nation had already written in second year Cornerback Jourdan Lewis as the nickel CB in the slot.
When the team practiced during OTAs and minicamp, the third corner on the field wasn't Lewis, but third year CB Anthony Brown. It was a surprise to many, but given new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard's preference for height and length from his corners, there's been speculation that Lewis doesn't fit the prototype.
My theory is that Head Coach Jason Garrett likes to give the first team reps to the most veteran players on the team early in the offseason. This is why we saw a lot of Chaz Green running with the first team at right guard while Zack Martin was working on his contract extension. It isn't that Green is better than Marcus Martin or Joe Looney or Kadeem Edwards on the interior, but that he's been with the team longer.
Another theory that makes sense is that Lewis may be called upon to play outside as well. We've seen that Lewis is a better outside corner than Brown. Therefore, if Lewis has to play outside due to injury or ineffectiveness to penciled in starters Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones, then he can step in and Brown is more prepared for slot duty.
Training camp sorts out everything and nickel corner in the slot will be no different. If Lewis plays better than Brown he'll be the starter.
At the moment it looks like the safety position is going to be a three-man rotation with Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods, unless a trade happens for a particular safety from the Northwest.
Heath is the veteran of the group and likely will get the most snaps, but Frazier and Woods have proven effective in particular roles for the team.
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys were struggling against the run and when they inserted Frazier into the lineup on running downs, they became much better at slowing down opposing teams. His ability to get down hill and play sideline to sideline helped the Dallas Cowboys a lot in the second half of the season. His physicality in the middle of the field in the passing game was also an element that had been missing. He still has a lot to prove in coverage to be relied upon as an every down safety, but training camp is the place to prove it.
Xavier Woods was thrust into nickel corner duty early in the 2017 season because of training camp injuries to Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie.
As the slot corner he was pretty good. As he was in college he was an effective player from that area of the field and was able to matchup with opposing receivers.
This was an interesting little stat nugget that I saw yesterday that showed Woods' effectiveness.
In 2017 Obi Melifonwu lined up in coverage 24 times. He surrendered 81 receiving yards. As a comparison Xavier Woods surrendered 83 yards from 187 coverage snaps. Marcus Williams 77 yards from 572 snaps. Adrian Colbert 76 from 291
It's likely that he'll be asked to play more as a traditional safety this season and he has the ability to play in the box or as a deep middle safety. He's the most well-rounded of the three, though he has the least amount of experience.
I've contended that with Xavier Woods at safety, the Dallas Cowboys could stay in their base 4-3 alignment when teams line up in 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 RB). His ability to cover from the slot could allow Dallas to go single high safety and keep their three starting linebackers on the field on early downs. Obviously, when it gets into more obvious passing downs situations, you'll want to bring on your third corner, but with Woods you don't have to.
For all the hand wringing that Cowboys Nation does over Jeff Heath, he's a good player. Is he great? Nope, but he doesn't have to be great. He just has to be in the right position, which he usually is.
Playing safety in the NFL is as difficult a job as their is in this day and age of the league and Heath, while not a Pro Bowler is a role player that you can win with.
I spent a lot of time talking about the tight end position a couple of weeks ago and so I'll refer you to my discussion on how I think the Dallas Cowboys could end up using a committee approach to solve the tight end dilemma.
The experience is lacking. Anything we think about the tight end position at the moment is just speculation.
Generally people think that Rico Gathers doesn't have a shot at the roster, but in this writer's humble opinion, that's a bit premature.
When it comes to position battles, training camp and the preseason usually leads to the cream rising to the top. While the team has been slow to heap any kind of praise on Rico Gathers, that isn't because they don't think he's capable. It's been a tough love approach and they're hoping that he can take another step forward to being a tight end in the National Football League.
We saw last preseason that Rico had the ability to catch the ball and be an effective red zone weapon against players who were not likely to be on their team's active roster. Now we, as well as the coaching staff and front office, need to seem him take a step forward in his progression.
Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin seem to have the inside track at first team reps at the moment, but that doesn't mean they are locked in as your TE1 and TE2.
A lot can happen over the next six weeks that could create opportunities for Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers to ascend the depth chart and both are talented enough to do that.
How much of a transition to the NFL game have they made will be the thing to watch during training camp.
I think it's safe to say that we know who the Dallas Cowboys top five wide receivers are going to be when they make their final cuts to get to 53.
Barring a trade or a Terrance Williams suspension this is what I expect the top of the WR depth chart to look like.
The big question is going to be, "Are the Dallas Cowboys able to keep six or seven wide receivers?"
Roster composition is always a key element when you think about the depth chart. Needs at other positions or their desire to keep a player at another position could impact what the Dallas Cowboys can do at WR.
Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown, Cedric Wilson, and Lance Lenoir will have to show the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff that they can't afford to let one of these guys go.
Noah Brown and Deonte Thompson have the best shot at making the final roster, but it wouldn't surprise me either if the Dallas Cowboys decided to release Thompson and try to squeeze Noah Brown to the practice squad.
I believe that they'll go with at least six, but who the sixth is, is the million dollar question.
This may not seem to be a big question to many as Cooper Rush, the incumbent, played well enough last preseason for the Dallas Cowboys to release Kellen Moore and go with Rush as the backup.
The coaching staff trusted Rush enough to be able to come into a game and manage the offense. Cause in reality, that's all your asking your backup quarterback to do.
The depth chart got a bit foggier when the Dallas Cowboys spent a fifth round pick on Western Kentucky star Mike White. Reports from The Star were that the team loved White and were thrilled to add him to the team.
What that means for the depth chart is an interesting story to follow during training camp. Rush obviously has the edge in the backup quarterback battle, but you can't ignore the draft pick that the Dallas Cowboys used on White.
The best case scenario is that they both play really well in the preseason and somebody comes calling offering a late round draft pick on one of them.
Dak Prescott is a really durable quarterback who hasn't missed a start in two years, so it's unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys would require them to play much. Anything can happen in the NFL and having a backup quarterback who is capable of managing a few starts is almost necessary in today's NFL.
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Which camp battles are you going to be watching when the Dallas Cowboys report for training camp on July 25th? Who do you think are the favorites to emerge from the camp battles listed above?
Deep Dive into the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Salary Cap
The Dallas Cowboys are heading into free agency, which opens March 13th, in really good shape. The Cowboys will be able to be aggressive in the free agent market if they want to. They have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. It could make for a fun free agency period for the front office and Cowboys Nation, however, we know how this team has felt about spending on outside free agents since being burned by the Brandon Carr signing.
In years past, they’ve opted to bargain shop. Last year was a departure from the norm though, as they chased the mythical unicorn that is Sammy Watkins last offseason.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
They haven’t generally been a team that chased big-time free agents, though this could be the season that all changes with several free agent safeties that could be immediate upgrades.
We know they’re going to spend a lot of money on their own with Demarcus Lawrence coming free and Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott looking for contract extensions, but they’re could Ben opportunities to bring in a star from another player to come where The Star.
I hope Jerry Jones has his signing hand ready, it’s going to be putting in a lot of work over the next couple of months.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had people on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+, MySpace, AOL Chatrooms, and via USPS correspondence express concern about whether the Dallas Cowboys will be able to afford all their guys and chase free agents.
Not to worry Cowboys fan, with a little salary cap and contract gymnastics, the sky’s the limit.
Let’s take a look.
Current Cap Space
According to OverTheCap.com, the 2019 Salary Cap is estimated to be around $190 million. After the release of Terrance Williams, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to have nearly $48 million in cap space available to them when free agency opens on March 13th.
When you look at that number by itself, it doesn’t look like a lot with big money contracts coming to DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones. Remember, though, the salary cap may be a fixed number, but contracts are pliable, meaning the team can do several things to create cap space through releases, how they structure new contracts, and restructures.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the Dallas Cowboys will have the money they need to sign the players they want to sign.
Sean Lee, Linebacker
Age and injury catch up to everyone and this is where we are with All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee who will be turning 33 in July. Lee’s career has just been unlucky from the time he set foot in Dallas.
Since coming to the Cowboys in the 2010 draft, Lee has only played in 64% of the possible 149 games that the Dallas Cowboys have played in that time frame. Contrast that with a player like Zack Martin who has played in all but two games in his five-year career. That’s a 92% availability rate for his career.
The Dallas Cowboys don’t typically pay age. The difficult choice with Lee is that he’s long been a leader for the Dallas Cowboys. However, with the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, it’s extremely difficult to justify a $7 million cap hit to a part-time player.
Allen Hurns, Wide Receiver
Allen Hurns was a roller coaster ride in 2018.
First, it appeared he was brought in to be an upgrade at the number two spot. Then when the Cowboys shocked the world and released Dez Bryant, he immediately moved up the wide receiver pecking order, but was generally ineffective. After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, Hurns became somewhat of an afterthought in the wide receiver snap distribution. Then he was lost in the win over the Seattle Seahawks with a gruesome ankle injury.
Allen Hurns is a fine player, but the Cowboys could get $5 million in cap relief by parting ways with the former 1,000 yard receiver.
A couple weeks ago, I outlined why I think Hurns could be a solution to the problem facing the Cowboys if Cole Beasley walked away. Hurns best attributes shine when deployed in the slot and asked to run over the middle of the field.
Coming off of the ankle injury, the Cowboys could easily move on and use that $5 million to extend one of their own or go after a big name in free agency.
Unlikely, but not Impossible Releases
The next few players are players that will most likely be on the squad in 2019. But as we saw with Dez Bryant, there can always be surprises.
Joe Looney, Center
The 2018 season seemed almost sunk when news came down that Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during training camp. One of the stories of the 2018 season, was the play of Frederick’s backup Joe Looney. Looney may not have been the most valuable player, but you can’t understate how important he wasn’t to the success the Dallas Cowboys had in 2018.
We’ve seen what happens when backups who are incredibly inferior to the starter they play behind see action. Think back to Atlanta in 2017. If the Cowboys get better play from Chaz Green and Byron Bell, that game and perhaps the season turns out differently. Kind of like when Cameron Fleming filled in for Tyron Smith this season. It was a completely different result. Was Fleming perfect? No, but he wasn’t a disaster and the Cowboys were able to win games without their All-Pro left tackle.
Joe Looney is going to be with this team unless someone loses their center and wants to trade for him. In the event the Cowboys wanted to get some cap relief, they could save $1.5 million in 2019, with only $125 thousand in dead money on the cap.
I don’t see them making this move, but for those of you curious, there are the numbers.
Joe Thomas, Linebacker
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch got all the glory at the linebacker position in 2018, and for good reason, but Joe Thomas was an important piece to the puzzle as well. He provided excellent depth and a lot of good snaps for the Cowboys in 2018, which is why I think he’s back next year.
He only saves you about $2 million on the cap, but if you didn’t want to pay a backup linebacker $2 million, then you could part ways with him.
Jeff Heath, Safety
Jeff Heath is a solid player, but gets relied upon for a little more than he should. He’d probably be best served with being a rotational safety in the NFL. He has a penchant for making plays, but also has some maddening snaps as well, like the final play against the Rams where Jared Goff was able to scramble for a first down. Heath never saw the bootleg and was late getting to Goff to keep him from picking up the first down.
The Dallas Cowboys like him as a player and he’s likely to stay with the team. He helps on special teams and provides valuable depth.
If they were to move on, they could save $2.5 million.
La’el Collins, Tackle
It’s not often you hear people talk about releasing a starting tackle, and I’m certainly not here to advocate for that.
Collins has had some up and down games, but in his short two-year stint at right tackle he’s been pretty good. He’s stood tall against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
His contract will carry him through the 2019 season, but if the Dallas Cowboys wanted to part ways, again, not saying they should, they could save a whopping $8.5 million in the salary cap.
$8.5 million could be the cost of Earl a Thomas or a Tre Boston. That’s pretty big chunk of change.
When it comes to restructures, the Dallas Cowboys have been selective over recent years with who they choose to flip the switch on.
A restructure doesn’t change the money owed to the player, just changes when the pay out happens. When a team and a player agree to a restructure, the cap hit or base salary is lowered to a more manageable amount and the difference is paid out as a bonus. The bonus is then spread out evenly over the remaining years of the contract.
Player A has four years remaining on their deal with a cap hit of $16 million per year for the rest of the contract. The team and player A agree to restructure the contract to decrease this season’s base salary to $1 million dollars. The $15 million difference is then paid out as a bonus and then the cap hit is added to the final three years. So instead of the cap hit being $16 million per year for the remainder of the contract, it is now $21 million per year.
The problem with restructuring contracts is that you better hope that the players you restructure make it to the end of their contract otherwise you could end up with big dead money holds on your cap.
The Dallas Cowboys could restructure the following players:
Tyron Smith, Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys All-Pro Left Tackle may be the best draft pick they’ve made in the last 10 years. He’s been one of the best in the game at his position for nearly his entire NFL career and until recent seasons, had been incredibly reliable.
According to Over The Cap, if the Cowboys decided to restructure Smith’s contract, they could get $7.26 million added to the salary cap this season.
That’s a big number, which would help you get your hands on a top safety or defensive lineman in free agency. The reasons why you wouldn’t do it surround Tyron’s health.
He’s missed games each of the last three seasons because of back issues. He’s signed through the 2023 season, which is his age 33 season. It’s entirely possible that he continues to play at a high level through the end of the contract, but you’ll always be a bit concerned about his back.
Zack Martin, Guard
If Tyron was the best draft pick, Zack Martin is a close second. He’s been the definition of reliability as he’s provided elite guard play through the first five years of his career making the All-Pro team each of his first five seasons.
If I were managing the cap for the Dallas Cowboys, it would be a no brainer to restructure Martin who is signed through the 2024 season; his age 34 season. Offensive lineman can play at a high level well into their 30’s barring injury and Zack has the ability to be one of those guys. At his current pace, he could one day end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
By restructuring Martin, the Dallas Cowboys could save $7.36 million on the 2019 salary cap.
Travis Frederick, Center
Last summer was a scary situation for Travis Frederick and by all accounts his recovery is going well. It sounds like he should be ready to go by training camp, and if that’s the case, there’s no reason to believe that Frederick won’t be the player we’ve all come to expect and missed during the 2018 season.
He’s a leader on the offensive line. He’s an excellent communicator and really good at blocking other big humans.
Getting Frederick back for the 2019 season is as big of an upgrade as you could have on an offense. He changes everything. He helps set protections and call out stunts. He will make Conor Williams a better guard just by being present. The offense as a whole will be better by having Frederick available.
Like Smith and Martin, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t play out his current contract at a high level. Even if he’s only 75% of his previous self because of the illness, that’s still a really good football player who is worth every bit of the $10 million a year he’s getting paid.
Travis Frederick has five more years left on his contract. If the Cowboys were to restructure his deal, they could gain another $4.1 million in cap relief this offseason.
Tyrone Crawford, Defensive Line
If ever there was a player that was a victim of his contract it’s Tyrone Crawford. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to an extension thinking he would be the answer at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. He was good on his rookie deal but his contract was more of a projection than a deal based on prior production.
Unfortunately, Crawford hasn’t lived up to his deal, but he’s been a reliable and versatile player for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle has been huge over the years and he’s come up with some timely defensive plays.
Crawford has two years remaining on his contract that runs through the 2020 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cowboys keep him around. He’s a leader on the defense and he gives you good quality snaps. As they continue to wait for Randy Gregory and/or Taco Charlton to take steps forward, Crawford is a guy that they like and will continue to find snaps for.
If the Cowboys restructured Crawford’s contract, they could get a little over $3 million in cap savings this year. $3 million may not sound like a lot, but in combination with the other moves they could make with the cap, it can help. Every bit helps when constructing a roster. That money could go to paying for the 2019 draft class.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has a lot of decisions to make this offseason and several of them will be in the form of extensions for their own players. They’ll have to figure out a way to use the contracts to their advantage.
If they did everything that could be an option to them, they could create another $48.22 million in space in the salary cap. If they didn’t release any of the “unlikely releases,” they could still free up another $33.72 million by releasing Lee and Hurns and restructuring Smith, Martin, Frederick, and Crawford.
So, they’ll be going into the offseason with at least $48 million in cap space, but through a few moves could have as much as $81-$96.22 million in cap space when it’s all said and done.
None of this even accounts for the way the Cowboys could structure the contracts of Elliott, Dak, Cooper, Lawrence, and Byron Jones. With some smart salary structuring, they won’t necessarily have to eat much of their cap hits in year one of their new contracts.
Don’t worry Cowboys fans. The Cowboys will be able to create enough money to get the things done that they want to get done. If they don’t sign anyone of note in free agency or extend your favorite player, it won’t be because they couldn’t afford to.
It’ll be because they didn’t want to.
Report: Free Agent DL David Irving Not in Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 Plans
The Dallas Cowboys and troubled Defensive Lineman David Irving appear to be at an impasse. According to a report from David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, the team has "no intention" of trying to re-sign Irving and will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Irving started the 2018 season with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He only appeared in two games after that, registering one sack and four tackles.
Source: Cowboys have no intention of keeping DT David Irving at this time https://t.co/vqMNZty6Aq via @sportsdaydfw
Despite reports of David's ongoing issues with an ankle injury, Dallas never placed him on injured reserve. Then came the reports that Irving was missing practices and team meetings while dealing with personal issues related to the custody of his daughter.
The team stayed pretty mum on the subject of Irving's status throughout the year, falling back on the ankle injury when pushed. But after months, it became clear that either David, the team, or both parties were disinterested in his return to football.
The Cowboys had high hopes after 2017, when Irving posted seven sacks in just eight games. They placed a second-round tender on him last offseason as a restricted free agent and were surely ready to give him a long-term deal if he'd built on that success.
But David's issues, physical or otherwise, have clearly done the opposite.
Dallas is known for working with troubled players, as we've recently seen with Randy Gregory. That they're closing the book on Irving suggests there's an issue with his desire towards football.
It's a sad loss for both. David's potential is enormous, as evidenced by his productivity when he actually does play. But he appears more likely to hit the Commissioner's exempt list in 2019 than the football field, given the reports of multiple failed drug tests over the last year.
Hopefully David Irving can turn things around one day and capitalize on his talent. But if it ever happens, it appears that it won't be with the Dallas Cowboys.
BREAKING: WR Terrance Williams Gets Dropped by Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have ended their six-year relationship with Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. According to multiple sources, they have declined a team option on Williams' contract and he will now be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
The move will reportedly save the Cowboys $2.25 million in salary space this year.
Williams was the team's third-round pick in 2013 and started 68 of the 83 games he played in. He developed into a solid number-two receiver by the end of his rookie deal in 2016 and was given a new four-year contract that offseason.
Terrance Williams career w/ the Cowboys is done. Sources say the club has declined the WR's option for 2019, making him a free agent. The move is no surprise. He caught just 2 passes for 18 yards last season. His departure frees up $2.25 million on the cap.
After another decent year in 2017, things took a bad turn for Terrance last season. It started with an offseason arrest for public intoxication that eventually led to a three-game suspension, although Williams served that while on injured reserve.
The Cowboys already appeared to be giving Williams' spot away when they made several offseason acquisitions at WR; Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin all were brought in even before Terrance's arrest.
While Williams did start in two of Dallas' first three games in 2018, he only had three passes his thrown his way. The team finally put him on IR due to ongoing complications with a surgically-repaired foot.
While it didn't end well, Terrance Williams' time in Dallas was ultimately a solid return for a third-round pick. He made a few big plays and was a proficient run-blocker, good enough to start in almost 75% of the team's games since he was drafted.
The Cowboys now hope that another third-round pick, Michael Gallup in 2018, will do bigger and better things.
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