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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (41-50)

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Pre-Training Camp 53 Man Roster Projection

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’ll begin with players #41-50. The rest of list will be unveiled daily throughout the week. By all means, use the comments section to chime in and tell me why I’m an idiot for not giving your favorite player more credit.

50. Alfred Morris, RB

This may seem low for a player with Morris’ name recognition, but it’s indicative of where I feel he is right now with the Cowboys. In fact, I highly doubt that he’s even on the team in 2017.

After failing to impress as the backup running back last year, Morris lost the job to Darren McFadden immediately when DMC was activated from the Non-Football Injury list. He wasn’t heard from again until the meaningless Week 17 game.

With Dallas re-signing McFadden this offseason, Morris will be fighting off younger players for the number-three spot. Rod Smith is expected to compete, providing additional value on special teams and as a backup fullback. Undrafted rookie Jahad Thomas offers a skill set similar to the departed Lance Dunbar and could find work.

Still just 28-years-old, Morris could be of interest to other NFL teams. Dallas may look to trade him before final cuts. Regardless of how it happens, I do not expect Alfred to be a Cowboy this season. They save $1.6 million in cap space if he’s not on the 2017 roster.

Kavon Frazier

S Kavon Frazier

49. Kavon Frazier, S

One of the team’s four draft picks from the sixth round of the 2016 Draft, Frazier didn’t get much playing time in his rookie season. He only dress for nine games and was almost never seen on defense, getting mostly special teams work when active.

The exits of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox seemed to open the door for Frazier to have a larger role in 2017, but competition soon arrived with the signing of veteran Robert Blanton and the drafting of Xavier Woods. Dallas was reportedly high on Woods, having a mid-round grade on him. However, Stephen Jones once said the same about Frazier.

Having a year in the Cowboys system already, Kavon should have an advantage over Blanton and Woods. He should at least make the team this year, but where he is on the depth chart remains to be seen.

Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith (Paul Spinelli via AP)

48. Rod Smith, RB

After making the 53-man roster initially to compete for the fullback job, Rod eventually lost out to Keith Smith and was reduced to a special teams role. He was released after seven games and finished the year on the practice squad.

Smith returns to the Cowboys and the halfback position in 2017. He is an intriguing physical prospect at 6’3″ and over 230 pounds but still having some quickness and receiving skills. ESPN’s Todd Archer recently reported that Rod was getting more work in recent summer practices than veteran Alfred Morris, but that may have just been due to Morris’ age and status.

As already mentioned, I think Rod Smith makes the team as the third RB over Morris. He offers more value with the different roles he can play and more upside as a younger player.

Lucky Whitehead

WR Lucky Whitehead

47. Lucky Whitehead, WR

With the drafting of Ryan Switzer last April, the writing seems to be on the wall for Whitehead. However, as Ric Flair has so often reminded us, “To be the man, you’ve gotta’ beat the man.”

Fighting for his job with the Cowboys this summer, Lucky should be highly motivated. Dallas isn’t just going to hand everything to Switzer; the rookie still has to take them from Whitehead. And it’s not like Lucky, who is just 25 and entering his third year, isn’t also learning new things in the early stage of his career.

We’ve seen Whitehead used on offense in specific packages and his occasional spark in the return game. There’s no questioning his athletic ability, but he will need to stay on the coaches’ good side during training camp. He was benched for a game last season for being late to a team meeting.

Rico Gathers

TE Rico Gathers

46. Rico Gathers, TE

The intrigue is swirling around this basketball-turned-football player, but Rico is still the low man on the TE depth chart. He will need to have a big camp and preseason and to move past James Hanna or Geoff Swaim.

At 6’8″, Gathers is a natural matchup problem for any defense. If he’s picked up enough technique to use the physical gifts, Rico can be a unique weapon for the Cowboys offense. He will get every opportunity to prove himself, but the transition from Baylor basketball to Cowboys Football may be more than just one year can accomplish.

Dallas was willing to let Gathers sit on the practice squad last season, making him open to other team to sign away. Given that, it’s possible that the hype around Gathers isn’t quite the same within the organization. They’re certainly intrigued, but he may not be as close to a roster spot as many fans assume.

Ryan Swizter

WR Ryan Swizter

45. Ryan Switzer, WR

As we discussed with Lucky Whitehead, Switzer has arrived with a lot of expectations already for a fourth-round pick. Many have penciled him in as the primary return specialist and expect him to take offensive touches away from Lucky Whitehead and perhaps even Brice Butler.

In 2006, Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on a smaller return specialist named Skyler Green out of LSU. Green didn’t have quite the same hype as Swizter coming in, but he went from a mid-round pick to not even making the Week One roster.

I bring Green up just to try to help everyone stay a little balanced here. Switzer has a lot of people excited, and rightly so, but the leap from college to the NFL is a tough one. Ryan should certainly make the team and perhaps have a strong impact for a rookie, but nothing is guaranteed.

Byron Bell's Contract Incentives Increase Competition for Chaz Green at RT 1

OL Byron Bell (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

44. Byron Bell, OL

Signed to a minimal one-year deal last March, Bell brings 72 career starts and position flexibility to the Cowboys offensive line. While currently projected as a backup, his tremendous experience edge over teammates could help Bell compete for the open starting job at left guard.

Bell has played both guard and tackle for the Panthers and Titans. He is coming off a major lower-leg injury last summer that cost him all of 2016. Still just 28, Bell is in prime age for an offensive lineman and has reportedly hit his weight incentives so far in his new Cowboys contract.

Even with his solid resume, making the roster won’t be easy for Bell.  He’s up against a lot of competition with Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, and Joe Looney all vying for positions along the offensive line. Experience will help, but it will need to show up in his performance for Bell to have a shot.

Kyle Wilber

LB Kyle Wilber

43. Kyle Wilber, LB

Now entering his sixth year with the Cowboys, Wilber is a trusted veteran in a fairly young group of linebackers. Only he and Sean Lee have played more than three seasons. While never flashy, Wilber is a solid depth option who also plays on special teams.

The youth movement could be a problem for Wilber in 2017. Along with Lee, Jaylon Smith and either Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson should take up the starting spots. One of Wilson or Hitchens will then be a primary backup, either capable of playing the SAM position that Wilber is suited for.

If younger guys like Mark Nzeocha and John Lotulelei also show up this year, Dallas might lean on upside and let Wilber go. They can save about $1.25 million in cap space if he’s released.

Stephen Paea

DT Stephen Paea

42. Stephen Paea, DT

With Terrell McClain leaving in free agency, Rod Marinelli brought in one of his former Bears players in Paea. The veteran powerhouse will compete to play the one-tech role on the defensive line and be a big part of Marinelli’s rotation.

While he shouldn’t have trouble making the roster, Paea will have to fight for playing time. Expectations are high for second-year stud Maliek Collins. Veterans Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton are also in the DT mix. The primary battle will be between Paea and Thornton; Dallas signed Thornton for a larger role last year but he got beat by McClain in the offseason.

There is no question that certain packages and schemes will get Stephen Paea on the field in 2017. How often, though, will depend on how the next two months go.

Brice Butler

WR Brice Butler (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

41. Brice Butler, WR

Many were surprised when Dallas re-signed Butler in free agency. Getting just a one-year deal for a little over $1 million, it is a “prove it” year for the 27-year-old receiver. Opportunities may be tough to come by, though, as Brice will have new competition in the Cowboys offense.

We’ve already talked about Ryan Switzer and his expectations. Also in the conversation are rookie Noah Brown and second-year prospect Andy Jones. If these young guys have good camps and preseasons, it’s very possible that Butler will not make final cuts. He only got $300k in guaranteed money from Dallas, making him an easy cut and little more than an insurance policy.

That said, Butler has the talent to rise above the pack. He may get more chances to be a vertical threat if Dak Prescott‘s playbook gets opened up more. With plenty of options for the short and mid-range passing attack, Dallas may be able to make better use of Butler than last season if Dak gets more aggressive.

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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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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    Good list.

    Completely agree with you on Morris. I think it’s about 90% likely that he’s a cut before the beginning of the season. Just doesn’t do enough to help your team. McFadden provides so much more as a back up runner and can also return kicks. On that front, Rod Smith offers more than Morris at this point with his special teams ability. If they could get even a conditional fifth or sixth for Morris, that would be enough. But as you mentioned that cap savings is incentive enough to cut him.

    Lucky vs Switzer is going to be one of the more intriguing camp battles in my opinion. Switzer is going to be on the roster. The question is will Lucky force them to keep him too.

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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