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Dallas Cowboys Positional Outlook: Offensive Line and Safety

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Cowboys Blog - Tony Romo: Over-hyped or Unappreciated? 2

Starting every Wednesday, we at Dallas Cowboys Nation are going to take a look at how each positional group did this past season. Additionally,  we will also take a look at who is available to help this team moving forward. If you want a specific group discussed, you just need to contact Dallas Cowboys Nation or myself on twitter (@CowboysNation or @PatSportsGuy).


 

Without further ado I will start with the safety and offensive line this week, which was the request of a faithful follower Brian Fortenberry. There was no group on the field that performed any worse than the offensive line. Tyron Smith was by far the best of the group; it is hard to get a gauge on the center position with Ryan Cook and Phil Costa splitting time this past season.

The guard tandem of Mackenzie Bernadeau and Nate Livings were liabilities when it comes to protecting Tony Romo. As far as the run game, they were brought in to open holes and push the defense back. Both seemed to fail in that regard. Of course the worst on the line was Doug Free. He led the league in pre-snap penalties and holding calls. His play has many fans questioning the four year $32 million deal that Jerry Jones gave him.

My rankings for the 2012 offensive line look like this (best to worst): Smith, Cook/Costa, Livings, Bernadeau and Free. With no money under the cap I do not foresee that changing much. Pro Football Focus recently came out with their offensive line grades, showing us how the Cowboys stack up against the rest of the league individually.

Grades:

Cook: 13/35
Livings: 24/71
Smith: 53/69
Bernadeau: 68/71
Free: 64/69

With the current situation for America’s team, could help be on the way? There are moves that should be made in order to give this team a competitive chance coming into next season. Free should be removed from this team, as he has issues with pre-snap penalties, footwork and leverage. By cutting Free, it would free up $7 million in cap space (pun intended). This could allow Jerry and company to take a look at Donald Thomas, formerly of the New England Patriots. Thomas not only has the ability to start but his contract demands are much less than that of Free. As most will see, Thomas plays guard and not the tackle position.

Jason Garrett could slide Bernadeau over to the center position to open up room for Thomas, creating a need at the tackle position. I would address that need in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Cowboys are unlikely to draft a player like Eric Fisher of Central Michigan or Luke Joekel of Texas A&M, however they may very well land a player the likes of Lane Johnson of Oklahoma or D.J. Fluker of Alabama. When it comes to building for the future at the guard position, Larry Warford of Kentucky should be available when the Cowboys step to the podium in the second round. This draft is very deep at the offensive line position.

295353-dallas-cowboysThe second worst position group in my estimation is the safety position. The Cowboys took an early season hit with the loss of Barry Church to an Achilles injury, which meant they would need to special team specialist Danny McCray. McCray wasn’t even a starter during his time at LSU, which most fans now know why. In passing situations McCray was either played close to the line much like a linebacker or was replaced by a list of cornerbacks. If McCray wasn’t such a big part of special teams, I would imagine he would have received his walking papers alongside Gerald Sensabaugh.

Sensabaugh did perform better than McCray and wasn’t as much of a liability in coverage. Not to say that he was good, he played decently. However with no elite speed or the ability to be that center fielder for this defense, he became a salary cap casualty as the Cowboys needed to cut $20 million by Tuesday at 3 p.m. CST. During his four year tenure in Dallas, he had a total of eight interceptions none of which happened this past season. What didn’t help his case was only having three forced fumbles during that same time, one coming this past season but no recoveries. For a team that had trouble creating turnovers it made the decision easier, not to mention Monte Kiffin may have felt he didn’t fit his scheme.

One good quality of the upcoming draft is that safety is another deep position. The biggest name that has been thrown around is University of Texas product Kenny Vaccaro. He is the most complete safety product and a player that most Cowboys’ fans are very aware of. He is great at coming up to stop the run and defending the pass. He will take bad angles occasionally but this is very coachable. If the Cowboys don’t select offensive line in the first round expect Vaccaro’s name to be thrown about the war room.

As previously stated the Cowboys have no cap room, so the recent list of possible safety targets isn’t going to be an option. What remains to be seen is the possibility of the Free release and the Romo extension to give this team some leeway. Either way you look at it, Jerry will need to do some maneuvering as they only have $175,000. Which isn’t even enough to sign their upcoming draft picks or undrafted free agents; it just might be time to part with some cornerstones and build this team for the future.



Patrick Conn is the founder and creator of Valley Ranch Outsiders. His work has been seen on SI.com, FanSided, Yahoo and Blue Star Times. He is an avid Cowboys fan and NFL Draft analyst. He currently hosts a podcast about the Dallas Cowboys.

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Breaking News: Allen Hurns Released

Matthew Lenix

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Breaking News: Allen Hurns Released

The Dallas Cowboys are releasing Wide Receiver Allen Hurns after just one season with the team according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys releasing WR Allen Hurns, per source.

Hurns was brought in as a possible replacement for Dez Bryant considering they had a similar skill set, but that never quite worked out. He only managed 20 receptions for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns in 7 starts. He's coming off a horrific leg injury suffered in the Cowboys playoff win against the Seahawks last season.

This saves the Cowboys 5 million in cap space putting them around 24 million overall heading into the 2019 season currently. This now opens up snaps for some of the younger receivers on the Cowboys roster.



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Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What will Kellen Moore’s Offense Look Like?

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Can Kellen Moore Have a Kris Richard-like Coaching Impact With Cowboys? 1

Four more days till the Dallas Cowboys hold their first training camp practice and the work begins to build this team into a Super Bowl contender. It's been 23 years since the Dallas Cowboys won their last Super Bowl and Cowboys Nation has been restless for Lombardi number six for about 22 of those years. Is this the year that the Cowboys finally breakthrough? Over the next seven months, we'll find out.

If the Dallas Cowboys are contenders at the end of the season, the biggest reason will be that the offense has turned into an elite unit to match a defensive group that proved to be one of the best in the NFL in 2018.

And if the offense is a top 10 unit in 2019, the biggest reason will be Kellen Moore's ability as an offensive coordinator. The Cowboys have the talent to be one of the best offenses in the NFL like they were in 2016, they just need an offensive play-caller who can add a bit of unpredictability and intelligence to the offense in 2019.

With that let's dig into your questions for this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.

So much of what the Dallas Cowboys need to add to their offense has less to do with the plays that are called and more to do with when they call plays and how they deploy their personnel.

The Dallas Cowboys need to improve in the red zone. One way to do that is to scheme guys open using crossing route combinations and rub routes. The Dallas Cowboys have some really good route runners in Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup, and Jason Witten. The Cowboys need to use those strengths.

The other thing the Dallas Cowboys need to do is to begin throwing more frequently on first down and in run formations to keep defenses off balance. Too many times in the last couple of years, opposing defenses knew what was coming based on the personnel groupings and formations they were deployed in. The Cowboys ran a lot on first downs and opposing defenses were looking run on those first down regardless of formation. If the Cowboys can come out and throw the ball effectively on first down it will open the offense up a lot more and keep defenses off-balance.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the offense heading into 2019 focuses on what kind of influence Kellen Moore is going to have on this group. I wrote about this in more detail earlier this offseason when I reviewed Jon Gruden's Quarterback Camp episode with Kellen Moore.

Here were the biggest themes that I picked up on during his interview.

  • Kellen Moore Wants to be "multiple." Meaning Moore wants to be able to run the same plays out of a variety of formations and personnel groupings. Whether he's running 10 personnel (1 RB, 4 WRs) or 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs), Moore wants to be able to run the same types of plays and route combinations. If the Cowboys are able to do this, it will keep the defense from being able to anticipate what the Cowboys are wanting to do on offense.
  • Kellen Moore wants to create anticipation in the offense through week-long preparation. We know that Dak Prescott puts in the work to be as good as he can be. Prescott's work ethic combined with the preparation led by Moore and Quarterback's Coach Jon Kitna should help Prescott improve his anticipation by seeing where to throw the ball before the play even starts.
  • Kellen Moore wants to use presnap motion to keep the offense off-balance and create confusion among the defense. Presnap motion forces the defense to adjust and communication during that adjustment could lead to miscommunication. For too much of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys were a little too predictable on offense, which was a complaint of some of the outgoing players when they left the Cowboys. Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy was learned under current Washington Huskies Head Coach and former Boise St. Head Coach Chris Petersen who's long been known for his offensive creativity and play calling.
  • Kellen Moore wants to get creative in the red zone through gadget plays. Boise St. was known for using gadget plays like the "Statue of Liberty" play they used in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

If Moore is truly able to increase the level of unpredictability of the Dallas Cowboys offense, it should help the passing game and the running game be able to take advantage of mismatches across the formation.

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Kellen Moore's football mind has been highly thought since coming out of college. With training camp, the preseason, and the regular season coming, we're finally going to get to see that big football brain at work. For the Dallas Cowboys to have success in 2019, they need the Kellen Moore mind to be as good as advertised.



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3 Reasons Not to Panic Over Dallas Cowboys Contract Negotiations

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Sportrac Predicts Extensions for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper

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.



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