The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 24th, just a few weeks away. Inspired by the NFL’s recent Top 100 list, I thought it would be interesting to try rank just the Cowboys players against one another. This should also give us a sense of who will make up the majority of the 53-man roster after final cuts.
The players are ranked based on a variety of factors. Overall talent and performance, legacy with the franchise, and the importance of their position (e.g. left tackle vs. guard/center) were all considered. I also looked at their projected role in 2017.
We've finally reached the Top 10 of our list. You probably already know most of the names, but how do the top-tier Cowboys stack up against each other? Who, in this one writer's opinion, is the most important player on the roster?
10. Cole Beasley, WR
Leading the Cowboys in catches and receiving yards last year, Beasley has gone from a nifty slot receiver to one of the faces of the franchise. He was clearly Dak Prescott's favorite target in clutch moments, seemingly always able to get open and make the catch when the pressure's on.
The timing of Beasley's emergence is fortunate for Dallas as Jason Witten, the longtime security blanket in the offense, is nearing the end. For the next few years at least, Beasley should remain a major factor in the passing game. Even if Dez Bryant is fully healthy in 2017, Beasley could still lead the team in catches as teams focus on Dez and leave him room to wreak havoc underneath.
For however long he remains a Cowboy, Beasley will be one of the fans' favorite players. He plays bigger and tougher than he looks. Cole's social media game is also one of the strongest on the roster. He makes it look fun while being a highly effective player; the ultimate combination for sports entertainment.
9. Jason Witten, TE
It feels weird having Witten outside of the Top Five, but that's what happens after 14 seasons. In what may very well be his last ride with the Cowboys, Jason enters 2017 still a figurehead and leader but not quite the same receiving threat as in his prime.
As we just discussed, Cole Beasley showed more chemistry with Dak Prescott last year. They connected in those crucial moments when we're so used to seeing Tony Romo find Witten. This isn't a bad thing; a Prescott-Beasley relationship has more shelf life than any rapport he'd build with Witten at this point.
That said, Jason's impeccable route-running still allows him to get open despite declining athleticism. He had 69 catches last year and still provides security at the tight end position, much-needed in 2017 with a shaky depth chart behind him. All Cowboys fans hope that, if this is Witten's last season, he goes with a championship bang.
8. Dez Bryant, WR
It's been three years since Bryant was putting up double-digit touchdowns and 1,000-yard seasons, but he still commands plenty of respect. Still just 28, Bryant is capable of putting up those franchise WR numbers again if he can stay healthy. A second year with Dak Prescott will also do wonders for his potential production.
Bryant's impact can't just be measured in stats. He attracts a lot of attention and opens things up for others, especially Cole Beasley working underneath. If Dez can have a strong start to 2017, that effect will be magnified and help Beasley, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and others to enjoy success.
Along with the on-field impact, Dez is one of the emotional leaders of the team. He is now one of the veterans on a suddenly young Cowboys offense. His passion and energy are never lacking, and hopefully his health and performance will match in 2017. Bryant can play a major role in helping the Cowboys achieve their championship goals.
7. Dan Bailey, K
Did I just put a kicker above Dez, Witten, and Beasley?
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Bailey isn't just one of the two best kickers in the NFL today, but he may be one of the two best in NFL history. Games can be won and lost off the foot of a kicker, so having one who is as money as Bailey is crucial for a team trying to build a lasting legacy. Just ask Patriots fans how they feel about Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski.
Or, go ask Bills fans how they feel about Scott Norwood.
The Cowboys felt so good about Bailey after his first three seasons that they signed him to a seven-year contract in 2014. This may seem excessive for any kicker, given how suddenly they have been known to drop off, but Bailey is as icy and consistent as they come. Still just 29-years-old, he should remain a fixture in Dallas for many seasons to come.
6. Ezekiel Elliott, RB
I won't fight anyone who says that Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson are better pure talents than Elliott. They're both outstanding players. But like we saw all those years with Emmitt Smith, the combination of great talent and ideal circumstances are what make the NFL's top rushing attack
Zeke not only brings the great production but his personality is infectious. His hop into the Salvation Army kettle bell last year was applauded nationally, with even ardent Cowboys haters calling for the league to withhold the usual petty fine. Elliott's entire persona, from his flashy running style to his big smile, have him on pace to be the biggest star in Dallas.
With recent front office comments that Elliott's workload should increase in 2017, there is potential for Zeke to break some major NFL records. His 1,631 yards last year made for the fifth-best season in Cowboys history, 214 yards shy of DeMarco Murray's record. Few would be surprised if Elliott gets on top of the franchise record books, but I hope we'll be looking at those league-wide records come December.
5. Dak Prescott, QB
It's tough to pick between Dak and Zeke. In fact, I was one who thought they should have been Co-Rookies of the Year. I put Prescott over Elliott here because of the superior responsibility of the QB position and the leadership role Dak has both on the field and off.
There is seemingly no end to the ways to praise what Prescott did last year. He was arguably the greatest rookie QB in league history. When you factor in that he didn't even get the job until about two weeks before the season started, it's an astounding accomplishment that will go down in the annals of Cowboys lore.
Understandably, some fear the "sophomore slump" for Dak's second season. But if you look back at the history of the truly great quarterbacks, they didn't have that issue. They generally built on the previous year. Prescott's efficiency numbers may take a hit if he starts to get more aggressive, but the things we last year were far more than just a bus driver. This is a precise, confident QB whose approach to the game should only lead to further growth.
4. Sean Lee, LB
The unquestioned leader of the defense, Lee is the only elite talent Dallas has on that side of the ball since DeMarcus Ware. His intelligence and consistency have earned him overdue Pro Bowl trips the last two years and now we just hope some of his teammates will start to get up to his level.
The most important stat for Sean is that he's played in 29 of the team's 32 regular season games the last two years. After so much missed time in the years before, including all of 2014, he appears to have finally put the injury bug behind him and is able to keep bringing his great talent to the field.
Even with all that missed time, Lee never had a season without at least one interception. Last year was the first that he didn't record a turnover, but it's safe to assume that was a fluke. The prospect of Lee joining forces with Jaylon Smith should have you salivating; they could easily form the best LB duo in the league.
3. Zack Martin, G
Many bemoaned the drafting Martin in 2014, looking at the picks already spent on Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick and feeling Dallas already had a strong offensive line. After three seasons, Zack is arguably the best guard in football and nobody seems to have any regrets.
Much like his first-round buddies, Martin is about to get a sizable long-term contract that will keep him as a foundation piece in the Cowboys offense. Mixing power with athleticism, there is no perceivable weak point to his game. Turning 27 in November, Zack is going to be elite for many years to come.
Trying to decide between Martin, Frederick, and Smith is really splitting hairs. They are each elite players at their position. I ultimately had to go by the responsibilities and potential risk at the three positions, and guard comes up short compared to center and left tackle. Zack still make a tremendous impact because of how good he is, but he'd also be the easiest to replace.
2. Travis Frederick, C
The act of the initial snap is easy to take for granted, but we've seen how disastrous it is when something goes wrong. That alone gives Frederick the slight edge on Martin; a critical component to every single offensive play.
Like the elite guard to his right, Frederick is both a mauler in the trenches and an athletic blocker in space. Their versatility allows the Dallas rushing attack to be equally open in its approach, focusing more on the weak points of the defense. They both also keep any interior pressure at bay, leaving pockets clean for the quarterback to make his throws.
The play of these two, along with Tyron Smith, is a huge part in the success that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had as rookies. The confidence they give to their young teammates is invaluable, and Frederick plays such a huge part in that in his relationship and connection with Prescott.
1. Tyron Smith, OT
The league's top defensive ends get paid a lot of money to go get the quarterback. Naturally, the league's left tackles get equally compensated to stop them. The team's highest-paid player after Dez Bryant, Tyron earns his money by taking on the league's best pass rushers and consistently shutting them down.
Of course, Tyron can't win them all. The problem with the tackle position is that a single bad play can have a major negative impact, be it with a sack, turnover, or even a holding penalty. The drive-killers put tackles under considerable scrutiny, which Doug Free certainly experienced his many years in Dallas.
Despite this microscope, we rarely hear Tyron Smith's name in a negative light. We're shocked when he is on the bad end of a play, which is a sign of just how good he is. As elite as they come and with the QB's blind side to guard, Tyron gets the top spot over his fellow offensive linemen and the Cowboys roster as a whole.
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstatement Decision Due Soon
The Dallas Cowboys should know by the end of this week if Defensive End Randy Gregory will be reinstated by the NFL from his indefinite suspension.
Gregory, who has missed nearly two seasons with drug-related bans, requested in May for Roger Goodell to allow him to return to football. The exact date of the request isn't known, but multiple sources put it somewhere around May 18-20.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL has 60 days to rule on a reinstatement request. That would put the approximate deadline no later than this Friday, July 20th.
Gregory was a second-round pick for Dallas in 2015. He was considered to have potentially elite pass-rushing skills but red flags about behavior and drug use hurt his draft stock.
Obviously those warning signs were warranted. Over three seasons, Randy has missed 30 out of 48 games due to suspension.
But reports from around the Cowboys organization and others who've dealt with Gregory rehabilitation efforts are positive. His appeal request appears strong, backed up by several testimonials that he's turned his life around.
Will Roger Goodell agree? Will Randy Gregory return to the Cowboys 2018?
We should know the answer soon.
Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL
Last season could've gone a lot better for Dak Prescott. After a remarkable rookie season, he wasn't able to meet the very high expectations put on him after leading the Dallas Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC in 2016.
Inevitably, the "sophomore slump" managed to get to Dak, even though the numbers make it seem worse than it really was. From his 13 interceptions in 2017, not even half can be completely blamed on him. However, even though he made improvements in his game, it's fair to admit that there was indeed, a slump in his second year in the NFL.
Earlier this week, NFL.com published an article listing the most and the least consistent quarterbacks in the league last season. The way the list works is measuring "their average 2017 swing in week-to-week passer rating." In the list, Dak Prescott is listed as the third least consistent QB in the league, with only Cam Newton and Derek Carr behind him.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys' had a roller coaster for a season, constantly shifting between winning and losing, Dak Prescott also struggled at remaining consistent. It makes a ton of sense, of course, for the Cowboys' 9-7 season had a lot of swings throughout the year.
At times, the team was missing its most important defender in Sean Lee. At others, Tyron Smith and/or Ezekiel Elliott weren't on the field either. This is not an attempt to excuse Dak, for he is partly at fault here, as is the entire team.
From week 10 to 12, Dak failed to throw for a touchdown but ended up throwing five interceptions. Later in the season, failing once again to get a TD pass in two straight weeks, he threw for two interceptions at Oakland then another two when hosting the Seahawks in Dallas.
In a season that will likely determine his future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dak needs to find a way to be more consistent week after week regardless of circumstance. Hopefully, with an improved offensive line and with Ezekiel Elliott leaving every suspension drama behind him, his offense will put him in position to have his best year yet.
In 2016 and in 2017, his Total Quarterback Rating has been in the top 4 among all quarterbacks, per ESPN. Now, this is not a stat that tells the whole story, but it does give you an idea of each quarterback's play. In a run-first offense and with a safe passer like Dak, I'm sure consistency will not be hard to deal with for the young QB next season.
As long as he takes advantage of the new set of targets he'll have at his disposal and his offense's powerful running back with recently-signed draftee Connor Williams, this offense will look a lot more like the one we saw in 2016.
We know Dak Prescott has a lot to prove. He has to make longer throws, throw more aggressively to get his receivers open, and more. But consistency is just as important. In order to be continuously successful and to be a contender year after year, you need that in your signal-caller. Even if key players on the team are down, he needs to be able to shine. It's a sixteen-game season, after all.
It's time for Dak to prove he can handle that.
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