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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (31-40)

Jess Haynie

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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (31-40)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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.

Today we move on to the players ranked #31-40. We’ll see some key backups as well as players who may be contending for starting jobs.

Cedric Thornton

DT Cedric Thornton

40. Cedric Thornton, DT

The Cowboys gave Thornton a four-year, $17 million contract to join the team in last year’s free agency. That kind of money tell you they expected him to have a significant role, likely starting, on the 2016 defense.

However, Dallas didn’t know that Terrell McClain was finally going to have a healthy and productive season. They also didn’t know that they’d be drafting Maliek Collins and that he’d turn out to be a third-round steal. Thornton fell to the bottom of the depth chart, but that had more to do with the talent in front of him than any failings on his part.

The 2017 situation isn’t much different. Collins is going to be the focal point at DT and there’s still Tyrone Crawford to consider. Dallas also signed veteran Stephen Paea, a former Rod Marinelli player in Chicago. Thornton will still make the team with no cap relief available from shedding his contract, but his role may not increase much from last year.

Joe Looney

G/C Joe Looney

39. Joe Looney, OL

While much of the offensive line is being shaken up, Looney should be a stable presence and resume his role as backup center. If he gets a shot at the left guard starting job, “Jumbo Joe” could be competitive. He was used as a sixth blocker in limited packages last year.

The veteran’s versatility as an interior line reserve will make him hard to cut. That’s a good thing for Looney, because his contract makes it very easy. He is only guaranteed $50k of the $850k in 2017.

The backup center role is where Looney’s real security comes in. Dallas may give Jonathan Cooper a look there, but Looney is trusted and experienced. His biggest concern will be younger center prospects like Ross Burbank or Ruben Carter emerging during camp.

Charles Tapper

DE Charles Tapper

38. Charles Tapper, DE

While Jaylon Smith is the debuting player everyone is most interested in, Tapper may not be too far behind. A fourth-round pick last year, Charles hopes to meet the high bar set by his classmates from the 2016 draft.

Tapper missed his rookie year due to a spine defect that was discovered during the offseason. He had corrective surgery and is reportedly good to go for 2017. After the contributions that Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown made on defense last year, it’s no wonder that fans are anxious to see what Tapper can do.

Many feel Tapper played out of position at Oklahoma, not getting to rush the passer as much as his skills would suggest. He will have no such issue in Dallas; the Cowboys are going to be looking for him to get to the quarterback as much as he can. If Tapper can show up early during training camp, he could carve out a big role quickly.

Geoff Swaim

TE Geoff Swaim

37. Geoff Swaim, TE

Before the 2016 season began, Swaim had risen to the number-two spot on the depth chart after James Hanna’s injury and Gavin Escobar’s fall from grace. He showed a little spark on offense early, having a catch for over 20 yards in each of the first two games.

There should be open competition for that second TE spot now between Swaim, Hanna, and perhaps even Rico Gathers. Both Swaim and Hanna are known as solid blockers with some receiving ability, so it’s hard to give one the nod over another right now.

Swaim is four years younger and would be much cheaper next year, so Dallas would love for him to win the job. They could release Hanna for close to $3 million cap relief in 2018.

Kellen Moore

QB Kellen Moore

36. Kellen Moore, QB

The Cowboys clearly trust Moore to be their backup quarterback, adding no real competition for him in free agency or the draft. Barring injury, he a virtual lock to be the second QB and will probably be the only reserve passer that Dallas keeps in on the 2017 roster.

Moore’s football intellect has been praised more than once by Cowboys coaches and others throughout his career. That is a handy trait to have in the QB room, making him an asset to Dak Prescott and the coaches as they work out gameplans. It’s clear that Scott Linehan values Moore’s presence, having brought him over from Detroit and likely being a key reason he was re-signed this year.

On just a one-year contract, Moore’s contributions will hopefully all be behind the scenes. He can earn new deal with Dallas by being a resource to the offense. If Kellen does have to play, hopefully time in the system will allow him to perform better than in 2015.

James Hanna, Ravens

TE James Hanna

35. James Hanna, TE

In last year’s free agency, Dallas gave Hanna a three-year deal worth close to $3 million per season. They clearly liked what he offered and he was expected to be Jason Witten’s primary backup. However, a knee injury cost Hanna all of 2016.

As we just discussed with Geoff Swaim, Hanna will have competition for that job now. He and Swaim are arguably neck-and-neck and the younger guy might get the tiebreaker because of age and upside.

Where Hanna could outshine Swaim is in the passing attack. He has tremendous athleticism for his size and could be a dangerous new wrinkle. The big problem for Hanna has been staying healthy. though, and that could sink him quickly with Swaim and Rico Gathers right on his heels.

Keith Smith

FB Keith Smith

34. Keith Smith, FB

While not a full-time starter because of the various formations used, Keith Smith has emerged as a trusted lead blocker for the Cowboys rushing attack. He graded out as one of the league’s top fullbacks in 2016.

Smith not only gives you a backfield blocker but also plays a key role on special teams. He can even serve as an emergency linebacker, having played that position from 2014-2015 and in college.

With Rod Smith returning to halfback, Keith should go unchallenged for the fullback spot this year. The only threat would be Dallas using tight ends in the backfield, which they’ve done in past seasons, but all signs point to Smith returning to help clear paths for Ezekiel Elliott.

Chaz Green

OL Chaz Green

33. Chaz Green, OL

If he’s not the starting left guard than he’ll likely be the swing tackle, making Green an important figure in the upcoming training camp. The former third-round pick needs a healthy season to keep himself in the team’s long-term plans.

Green has missed most of his first two years with a foot injury in 2015 and a back injury last year. He had surgery last December and should be a full participant going forward. Chaz is expected fight with veteran Jonathan Cooper at left guard, but he has the versatility to play different spots on the line.

It’s possible that Green could still compete at right tackle. If he has a great camp, Dallas might decide to cancel plans on moving La’el Collins there and feel good about starting Green on the outside. That might be the ideal scenario, allowing Collins to stay at guard where many feel he has elite potental.

Nolan Carroll

CB Nolan Carroll (24) in summer practice.

32. Nolan Carroll, CB

Signed to a three-year, $10 million contract last March, Carroll was expected to be one of the team’s top three corners in 2017. That was before the draft, though, where Dallas spent their second and third-round picks on Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Carroll’s job security may have taken a very quick and unexpected hit. The addition of young talent, plus his DWI arrest last month, may have rendered Nolan expendable. He will likely suspended at least two games to start the season.

It is doubtful that Carroll will be released, but Dallas will have to get their young guys ready to play during the weeks that he’ll be suspended. This could wind up in them keeping those spots on the depth chart, pushing Carroll down to the bottom.

Of course, it’s too soon to know what the rookies will do. Carroll could easily return and be a primary piece in the secondary. The Cowboys certainly paid him enough to suggest that. How the veteran performs over Awuzie and Lewis will be one of the more interesting stories to follow during camp.

Darren McFadden, Patriots

RB Darren McFadden (James D. Smith / Dallas Cowboys)

31. Darren McFadden, RB

Dallas re-signed McFadden last March, comfortable with him as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott. Even though he turns 30 in August, McFadden still showed the wheels last year to be effective and has a better running style for our scheme than Alfred Morris.

Where McFadden is especially good for Dallas is in his receiving and blocking skills, making him a perfect third-down back. He should be able to compliment Elliott well throughout the year and allow the Cowboys to get Zeke rest when needed.

That said, McFadden only got a one-year contract to come back. What’s more, he only got $80k in guaranteed money. Dallas clearly has reservations about his age and injury history and are leaving their options open. The job is certainly McFadden’s to lose, but the Cowboys are ready to have to change plans if needed.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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5 Comments
  • George_Johnson

    Jess Haynie: I think time in the system will allow K Moore to play better than 2015. In 2015 he had limited reps to get ready to play, missed preseason because he was not on the team, and was playing for the first time against first team defenses. He actually played well enough to earn the 2nd team QB position in 2016. S Linehan thought he played pretty well overall but made too many mistakes. K Moore is a student of the game and is likely to correct his mistakes. I expect him to likely have an outstanding preseason and may in fact outplay D Prescott. He should be ready and has lots to prove.

    • Jim

      Lol

      • George_Johnson

        Laugh all you want. I am as serious as can be.

  • George_Johnson

    Jess Haynie: One more thing I forgot about K Moore. S Linehan doesn’t need a 2nd team backup QB to be a coach and mentor for D Prescott and the team. He needs K Moore to be ready to play. The 2nd team QB is a critical part of the team. If the starter goes down the success of the team and the win/loss record can’t be on the line. I therefore believe S Linehan is confident that K Moore can do the job. He would be foolish and could risk his own job to have someone at 2nd team who cannot do the job.

  • Stephen L. Holley

    ” MANZIEL”!!!

Dallas Cowboys

DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys

Mauricio Rodriguez

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DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

For Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, it was now or never. With an expiring rookie contract, it was time for him to make a name for himself. Between injuries and a suspension, Lawrence wasn’t close to being a great player before 2017. He accounted for eight sacks in 2015 and only one in 2016.

However, last season he was finally able to get double-digit numbers by sacking opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times. Lawrence also had 36 tackles and four forced fumbles. Not only was he a very good pass rusher, but he also became a great run defender.

Simply put, DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence went from an average player to one of the NFL’s best defensive ends in 2017.

It seems like finally, after years of waiting, the Dallas Cowboys have found their “War Daddy.” But, as is always the case for the Cowboys, there’s a problem. DeMarcus Lawrence needs to be paid in order for him to stay. With number 90 ready to hit free agency, the Cowboys’ front office has a choice to make.

They can give him the big multi-year contract he wants, they can tag him, or the Cowboys can watch him walk out the front door and thrive somewhere else in the league.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Scott Cunningham / Getty Images)

There’s a problem with giving him a big-time contract though. Lawrence had a great 2017 season, but before that, he hadn’t proved anything. Tank has provided one quality season for the Dallas Cowboys. Are they willing to pay him a lot of money and take the risk of seeing him play like in 2015 or 2016?

It wouldn’t be the first time that an NFL player has had a great “contract year” season just to become an average football player. The Cowboys should look at the possibility of keeping Lawrence for at least one more year by giving him a franchise tag.

But First of All, What is a Franchise Tag?

The offseason is a time in which we sort of understand certain concepts but don’t truly understand them completely. Simply put, every year each NFL team has the right to hand out a franchise tag to one of its players. Tagging a player means giving him a one-year deal with a high payment, basically forcing the player to stay with the team for one more season.

In some cases, the player might even end up on another team, despite being tagged, but that would depend on the type of franchise tag he receives.

There are three types of franchise tags:

  • Exclusive Franchise Tag: With this tag, the player gets paid the average of the top five salaries for the player’s position (in this case, defensive end) for the current year. With this tag, no other team can negotiate with the player (hence the term exclusive). However, only guys like Kirk Cousins or Von Miller get exclusive tags, so it probably won’t be the case for Lawrence.
  • Non-exclusive Franchise Tag: Out of every tag, this is the most used. With this tag, the player receives the average of the top five salaries at his position over the last five years. Other teams can actually negotiate with the player though. If offered a deal by another team, the current team has the right to match the offer. If they decline to do so, they get two first-round picks in compensation.
  • Transition Franchise Tag: This isn’t as compromising as the other tags are, since the team doesn’t even receive compensation if the player takes a deal with another team. The player is paid the average of the ten best salaries at his position. The current team has the opportunity to match any offers made to the player.

In DeMarcus Lawrence’s case, the “non-exclusive” tag would make the most sense, but even if the Cowboys decide to tag Lawrence, there’s still a big problem… cap space.

Per Over The Cap, Dallas is expected to have a cap number of around $18M. The projected tag for a DE in 2018 is over $17M. The Cowboys have to make some moves if they want to keep Tank on the roster.

Whether it’s releasing some players or restructuring a ton of contracts, something will need to get done in Dallas. Lawrence is not the only player the Cowboys should be concerned about re-signing, so they’ll definitely need the cap space.

We may see some surprising cap casualties if the Cowboys really want Lawrence. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this team says goodbye to Dez Bryant, for example.

I don’t see how this team could let DeMarcus Lawrence walk in free agency. I don’t think they should. Let’s hope Tank is wearing a star in 2018.

Tell me what you think about “DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Cowboys Have Need for Speed at Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot needs in the 2018 offseason. Running back may seem low on the list, but Dallas should not take it for granted. They have an opportunity to add some needed speed and explosion to their offense.

Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith will form an exciting one-two punch at the top of the RB depth chart. Alfred Morris‘ contract has expired and it’s unlikely he’ll return with Smith’s late-season push for a larger role.

Rod Smith is an ideal backup for Elliott. He has the right mix of power and athleticism to run some of the same plays, plus he’s not a bad receiver. He could even work as the third-down back when Zeke needs a breather.

Ezekiel Elliott, Broncos

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Between those two, Dallas has all the power and standard running they need. That’s why I believe they should use the number-three spot this year on a true speedster.

I’m sure the first name that pops in mind is Lance Dunbar, who held that role to varying degrees from 2012-2016. Dunbar could be used in a variety of speed-based plays, go out as a receiver, and even return kicks at times.

The Cowboys have a candidate for this role already in Trey Williams, who was on the practice squad and will be with the team at least to start the offseason.

Small and versatile, Williams looks like he fits that Dunbar mold. However, Williams isn’t a true burner. He clocked just 4.49 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s quick and agile, but isn’t necessarily going to beat guys to the edge.

With the way Dallas’ offensive linemen can move and work out in space, a back with blazing speed could do some real damage. All he needs is a lane and he could make house calls.

Right now, wide receiver Ryan Switzer is the only player Dallas has who can assume some of those Dunbar-like roles. He could be effective on screens and reverses. But a guy with those same skills at RB can be even more dangerous. He can leave defenses guessing even more because they’re not sure which position he’s playing until after the huddle breaks.

That third roster spot is wide open, so the Cowboys should spend the offseason looking for a weapon that provides a different skill set and more for opponents to worry about.

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Cowboys Face Tough Decision with DL Tyrone Crawford

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys Sign Tyrone Crawford To Long-Term Contract 1
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

As the Dallas Cowboys look to get back into the playoffs next season, they have some work to do on their current roster. Talent needs to be added and retained, and that takes money. Veteran Tyrone Crawford’s contract puts the Cowboys in a tough spot.

Crawford isn’t the Cowboys’ best defender, but he did have the highest cap hit in 2017, even more than linebacker Sean Lee. Crawford will count $9.1 million against Dallas’ salary cap next season, which is currently second behind Lee’s projected $11-million hit. That fact alone would make you think Tyrone Crawford is likely to be released this offseason.

It would seem even more likely when you consider how guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving have eclipsed him as impact players on the defensive line.

However, Crawford’s contract isn’t so easily discarded.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford

Because of past restructuring, Dallas won’t get much cap relief by cutting Tyrone outright. He still has $7.3 million in dead money on the deal, which means cap savings of only $1.8 million.

That’s a small return for losing a solid, dependable player and great locker room guy.

Crawford can play inside or outside in the 4-3, and he’s been a veteran leader on an otherwise young roster.

If Dallas were to make Tyrone Crawford a June-1st release, they would get $6 million in cap space for 2018 and push another $4.2-million in dead money to 2019. That sounds nice on the surface, but keep in mind Dallas can’t use that $6 million during free agency in March. It only becomes available after June 1st. Still, the Cowboys could find ways to use that money.

It could fund their rookie pool, or go toward a new contract for Lawrence or Irving. It could also be used to sign other June-1st cap casualties. If nothing else, it could be rolled over to next season. But again, you lose a solid player in the exchange.

Tyrone Crawford may not be worth a $9.1-million cap hit, but you have to factor in replacement cost.

Dallas could certainly get by. Assuming Lawrence and Irving return, they also have Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, and Charles Tapper under contract. Benson Mayowa has one year left on his deal, but is likely to be a cap casualty himself. The Cowboys also have several young prospects in Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and anyone they might add in this year’s draft.

This would be a no-brainer if Crawford’s contract hadn’t been reworked in the past. Dallas would likely get a nice chunk of immediate change if they cut him, but they created their own problem here with the restructuring. Now they have an asset who isn’t worth his price, but doesn’t offer enough relief to be worth cutting.

It’s a tough call; one of many the Cowboys will face in the 2018 offseason.

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