The Cowboys still have plenty of work to do this offseason with their defense. Things are thin with the linemen and there are still some major question marks in the secondary. Thankfully, free agency is still going and the draft is just five weeks away.
What about the linebacker position? Are the Cowboys set there or is more work needed?
After re-signing Rolando McClain and Kyle Wilber this month Dallas will bring back everyone who appeared in games for them last year. Here's the full list as a quick reminder:
- Sean Lee
- Rolando McClain
- Kyle Wilber
- Anthony Hitchens
- Andrew Gachkar
- Damien Wilson
- Mark Nzeocha
- Keith Smith
Dallas won't keep eight linebackers on their 53-man roster so, barring injury, one or two of these guys won't even make the team. Given the numbers, how does this group fill out the depth chart and how likely is it that Dallas will look to add more talent based on what's already here?
Staying As Is
We know Lee and McClain will be Week One starters if they're healthy. That leaves the "Sam," or strongside linebacker spot, open for competition. Last year Dallas tried several different players in that role looking for the best fit.
I think the fact that Dallas even brought Wilber back tells me he's their current favorite for the role. His size and blitzing ability are the most prototypical of the current options. The contract terms, just $1.6 million per year but $1 million in guaranteed money, tell me that Dallas can feel okay about him as a backup if things go that way but also see him as a potential starter.
That leaves you with a veteran reserve and key special teams player in Gachkar, a young-but-experienced prospect in Hitchens, the less experienced Wilson, and project player in Nzeocha. You also have Smith still hanging around, having been cut and re-signed to the roster multiple times in 2014 and 2015 to help with injuries.
Any Free Agents Left?
It wasn't a great market to begin with for linebackers and it's a lot uglier now. You're either looking at well-known names who are past their prime, such as Jon Beason and Chad Greenway, or younger guys coming off disappointing seasons. Nobody stands out as a clear upgrade over our current options.
One such disappointment is a familiar face; Bruce Carter. The Bucs gave Carter a four-year, $17 million contract in 2015 but cut him after the first year. Despite the money, Carter did not earn a starting job for Week One and got his only three starts of the season in the final weeks.
Carter is still just 28-years-old and knows this scheme. Dallas may not want him now but I would assume he's on the short list to be called if they have any injuries in their camps or OTAs. If Carter got lazy after getting paid, perhaps Dallas will once again get the best out of him as he tries to save his career.
Myles Jack is available at the #4 pick in almost any mock draft. Some actually have him going to Dallas. Does this make sense given what they already have at linebacker and their other needs?
We're all very excited about what Sean Lee and Rolando McClain can do when they're on the field together. The problem is that that rarely happens. Over the last two years since McClain joined the Cowboys, he and Lee have only appeared in nine games together. Given that none of the other players have shown the ability to replicate what the leaders can do, adding some more talent is certainly warranted.
Not only would a player like Jack, or some other early-round prospect, provide insurance against McClain or Lee's health now but he'd be a major leverage factor for next offseason. McClain will once again be a free agent and Dallas can use the new young stud to either keep Rolando's price reasonable or just let him walk completely.
~ ~ ~
So CAN the Cowboys go into 2016 with their current linebackers? Absolutely!
SHOULD they? That depends on what opportunities they're presented with in the draft. If they get the chance to upgrade talent, perhaps adding someone better than anyone after Lee and McClain, then they every reason to make that move. It not only helps the future but has the potential to help them a lot right away.
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
Maverick Carter: LeBron James Considered Cowboys During NBA Lockout
Maverick Carter is a pretty important man in the world of sports. As a business man, entrepreneur, and manager of one of the best basketball players of all time in LeBron James, Maverick Carter is certainly used to making headlines.
This week, while on former NFL running back Arian Foster's podcast "Now What? with Arian Foster," Carter claimed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once attempted to negotiate a contract with LeBron James.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Carter claims that Jones contacted LeBron James and discussed bringing him in as a Cowboy while the NBA was without games.
"Jerry Jones, being the smart marketer he is...one day out of the clear blue sky LeBron got a contract I think it was for like one year, a couple million bucks to play for the Dallas Cowboys." - Maverick Carter.
Carter then states that LeBron may have the paperwork framed in his house to remember these discussions with Jerry Jones. LeBron's fandom for the Cowboys has been well documented, as has been his high school football prowess.
We may never know how "real" these discussions were, and of course it is long over now, but just imagining LeBron James getting a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys would break the internet.
You can check out the full episode of the podcast here, and I highly suggest listening to the other episodes Arian Foster has to offer.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
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