The playoffs start this Saturday--one familiar truth resounds and it has the making of a “Groundhog’s Day” movie. For the third consecutive year the Dallas Cowboys finished 8-8 and lost their week 17 “win and you’re in” game.
Again, the Cowboys were battling unforeseen factors that seem to always haunt this team. It seemed like players were dropping like flies from the onset and the team struggled to recover, starting 19 defensive lineman who weren’t even thought to be good enough to be on active rosters.
That being said, it’s understandable that frustration is mounting amongst Cowboys Nation. Cowboys fans are used to a history of winning and the general thought is that this current crop of front office guys and coaches is marring the image of a once legendary franchise.
With the offseason upon us, it’s important to ask the question, “what changes are going to be made to put us in a position to contend?”
For this installment we’ll look at the coaches and what their future holds:
The Current Figureheads:
Jason Garrett: Coach Garrett isn’t going anywhere. Jerry Jones continues to echo his commitment to Garrett at least through his contract, which expires after 2014. Garrett is a smart guy who believes in a process but has been haunted by poor game management and a merry-go-round of supporting staff that has threatened any benefit of continuity he brings. With one more year to prove he’s the guy in Dallas, I expect Garrett to take some control and save face.
Monte Kiffin: Kiffin is over 70 years old and ran a defense, albeit decimated with injuries, that was historically bad—surrendering over 400 yards a game. There is a thought that Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme can’t win in this league but I tend believe that this scheme didn’t fit with this group of personnel. The biggest problem was trying to force fit players into a scheme instead of the opposite.
Bill Callahan: Callahan is a tremendous offensive line coach who can directly be credited the development of Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Tyron Smith. However, since his promotion to offensive coordinator, Callahan has been under fire. This offense is one of the most talented in the league and at times looked like they were comparable to that of Jacksonville. There’s no doubting the benefit of Callahan on this staff but his ineptitude calling an offensive ball game is a real issue.
What Lies Ahead?
Earlier this week I reached out to Dallas Cowboys writer Jeff Sullivan to discuss what we can expect coaching wise. Jeff replied via Direct Message on Twitter saying, “Kiffin is gone, that’s all that is certain right now. Some position guys will be let go. If not Marinelli, could start over on (defense).” Consequently, I asked if Kiffin goes if Marinelli (often known as a loyalty guy) would follow other guys he gets along with, namely Lovie Smith. Jeff had this to say, “(Marinelli) would leave if Lovie lands a head job.” So that leaves us with a very real possibility that defensively we’ll clean house.
What about the offense?
The team has been hush on what moves are pending but I would imagine that Bill Callahan is facing the same fate as that of Kiffin. This team needs a serious change but more importantly, Garrett needs an opportunity to bring in a staff he trusts to execute the “process” he’s trying work out.
The Cowboys will miss Callahan’s ability to develop offensive linemen but they will be happy to have a fresh face at the position that Garrett feels confident in letting run a gameplan.
Norv Turner: Turner and Garrett have history together and Turner also has history with this franchise. Too me, this is an appealing location for Turner, not just because of Garrett but because he knows there will be a possibility of becoming a head coaching candidate again if he has success here.
Gary Kubiak: Why not? Kubiak is a brilliant coach who really should be considered for Head Coaching vacancies around the league. However, there is a hot new trend of either getting successful older coaches (Gruden, Lovie) or big name college coaches (Bill O’Brien, Charlie Strong). If Kubiak is still looking for a job, why not contact him.
In-House: Why not someone like Wes Phillips? Or Derek Dooley? There is benefit to guys who already know the players and won’t want to implement an entirely different scheme. Dooley has bred some very good players and has experience competing tough SEC defenses. Some options there.
Leslie Frazier: Frazier was recently fired from Minnesota but is essentially a Garrett clone. He runs a similar style of defense to the Tampa 2 and has been successful in doing so. Frazier is a straight-faced, tough coach who players have loved everywhere he’s went.
Jim Schwartz: Not a likely candidate here but an option. Schwartz is fiery but I also think he’s a grade-A jerk. If this happens, God help us all.
Todd Grantham: Grantham has history with the Cowboys as a defensive line coach and has been making his bucks coaching strong defenses and NFL-caliber talent at the University of Georgia. Grantham can run any scheme but seems to prefer a 4-3. From that base he does everything from the 4-3 flex to the bear. He’s a strong defensive mind that has a good future.
Jason Garrett, as I’ve said before, is going to do everything that he can make sure he puts the best coaching staff together to ensure he achieves his goal and ultimately a contract extension. It's early but here is who I think he brings in:
Offensive Coordinator: Derek Dooley
Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier
Defensive Line Coach: Todd Grantham (though you’d have to give him great incentive to leave the Georgia Program… $$$)
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
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