No, the 2017 season didn't go as planned for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it finished with a bit of a whimper. The injuries, suspensions, drop off by your WR1 and starting QB, the lack of creativity by the coaching staff, and the lack of execution by the players left many fans -- me included -- frustrated at the culmination of it all.
The fact remains, though, that they were a 9-7 team despite the problems. 9-7!!!
If you interact much with the Cowboys fan base in forums, comment sections, Twitter or Facebook, you'd think that this was a repeat of the disastrous 2015 4-12 season. While it has flaws, this team is still much closer to a contender than it is to being a cellar dweller like the Cleveland Browns.
Remember, we still have a quarterback who will be entering just his third year in the NFL in Dak Prescott. If the first two seasons are any indication, he will continue to grow and show improvement.
Dak Prescott, to me, is more the dude we saw in 2016 and the first-half of 2017 than the guy we saw in the last half of 2017. He got annihilated in the Falcons game and didn't trust his protection after that. An offseason to refresh and a healthy Tyron Smith will have him moving the chains with the efficiency we became accustomed to in 2016.
The running game is still in its prime with an offensive line anchored by Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Tyron Smith. La'el Collins will have a second full offseason to work at tackle after a solid first year at the position. Tyron Smith will be healthier, though back issues tend to linger. Rest is his biggest ally right now, and by missing the playoffs, he's getting more of it. The other day Tyron claimed to be in the best shape he's been in a long time.
Ezekiel Elliott should be fairly fresh given his league mandated, midseason six-game vacation. Having upward of 80 fewer carries on his ledger is no small thing for a workhorse running back. With another offseason under his belt, it should only prepare him to be a better runner and player as he enters his third season in the NFL.
Dez Bryant still has game changing ability, though some drops, injuries, emotional outbursts, and mental lapses are what everyone remembers. He'll need to be better in 2018, but I think his 2017 is an outlier. Right now, I stand about 99% certain that Dez will be back.
The unit that has me the most excited for 2018, however, is the defense, especially the secondary.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods were all rookie revelations in their first year in the NFL. Now, they're being coached by the guy who helped lead the Seattle Seahawks into the "Legion of Boom" era, Kris Richard. With a lot to work with already, Richard should be able to take their games to another level.
In addition to those guys, Byron Jones, who is a lot better than many want to admit, is moving to what could be his best position, cornerback. Many, including myself, are excited to see what Byron could do as a boundary corner with his athleticism, length, and sticky-coverage ability.
Kavon Frazier found himself a role in the last half of the season, and the defensive backfield is beginning to take shape. Let us not forget the GOAT, Jeff Heath. He isn't the best safety in the world, but he will make some plays for you.
The secondary is full of ascending players and solid depth. Can't wait to see them take the field.
DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving will be retained and continue to be the monstrous pressure producing, quarterback sacking, line of scrimmage disrupting, Duo of Destruction. They torment quarterbacks and ball carriers, and make life a lot easier for Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and whoever else gets snaps on the defensive line.
With another year of growth for the secondary, this group of defensive linemen will get many more opportunities to put quarterbacks on their backsides.
Speaking of Taco, he was a much more productive player in the second half of the season than he was the first half.
As you can see here, most of Taco's production happened week eight and later in his rookie season. I expect that progression to continue.
Jaylon Smith is another year removed from his knee injury and was making a lot of progress in getting his mind, body, and spirit back into the football swing of things. 2018 should be just another year of progress. He still has a long way to go, but the further he gets from his injury, and another offseason to prepare for a full NFL Season, the better he'll be.
They've made some nice additions so far in free agency, as I discussed the other day in my Pre-NFL Draft Offseason Review.
It seems with each draft they get a bit closer to completing their identity as the smash-mouth, run the football and play defense kind of team that they've been trying to become.
The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, scouting department, and front office have really found their stride when it comes to the draft. At this point, anything less than three or four day-one contributors seems like a draft failure.
With a lot of options at 19 to fit the bill, whether it be a guard in Isaiah Wynn, James Daniels or Will Hernandez, or an EDGE player like Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport, the Cowboys will be able to improve their football team with good football players.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Despite the way 2017 ended, this team is a lot closer to contending for a Super Bowl than you might think. Who thought that the Philadelphia Eagles would be contenders after the 2016 season? Not many.
I'm not ready to make a prediction just yet, that will come later, but I do believe the Dallas Cowboys will contend for the playoffs once again in 2018.
Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?
The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.
As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.
Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.
How long until all of cowboys twitter completely turns on Zeke? Like immediately after pollards first long td run or????
— E.D.I.T.H. (@cashfeen) August 19, 2019
I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.
Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.
So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.
The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.
I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.
But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.
There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.
As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.
Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.
Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.
Actually John, I do have a question. I haven't reviewed film from Saturday yet (that's my Tuesday deal each week of the season), but your take on Taco? I thought he had maybe his best preseason game in some time. Enough to secure a spot?
— Marlon C Taylor (@MarlonCTaylor) August 19, 2019
Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.
Cowboys leaders in disruptions (sack, TFL, QB hit, INT, PD, FF) through two preseason games:
1. Taco Charlton - 4
2. Donovan Olumba - 3
t3. Ricky Walker - 2
t3. Kerry Hyder - 2
t3. Trysten Hill - 2
t3. Joe Jackson - 2
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 19, 2019
Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.
Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019, but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.
While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.
Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.
PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 18th Overall Quarterback
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.
As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.
Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 18th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.
"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."
The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.
"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."
Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.
While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.
Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard Continues Excellent Training Camp
Rookie Running Back Tony Pollard hasn't wasted any time making his mark on the Dallas Cowboys organization. The buzz around the fourth-round pick began to pick up steam back in May during OTAs when he broke a long touchdown run in practice. It was a sneak peek into the speed, change of direction and vision that the former Memphis Tiger possesses.
46.2k Likes, 700 Comments - Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) on Instagram: "Rookie on the run 🌟 #EarnTheStar"
Dak Prescott has been impressed by the rookie since OTAs, confirming his pre-draft thoughts about Pollard. "He's somebody I watched before the draft that I was excited about. I looked up his highlights and they said receiver at first. I was like 'Dang, I thought we were getting a running back.' But then you see him playing running back and he's still having success. You look at Randall Cobb's highlights, it's the same thing he did in college. It's exciting," Prescott told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
Pollard has only added to the hype of what he can bring to the Cowboys offense since first stepping on the field in May. Even in a short sample size against the 49ers a little over a week ago he showed the patience needed to be an effective runner on the pro level. 16 yards on 4 carries won't blow you away but it's all about reps at this point for him and maximizing them before the season starts. Also, he silenced those who doubted he if could run between the tackles in the NFL.
Recently, he showed off a different dimension of his skill set in practice during some one-on-one battles with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, considering Pollard had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards and 9 touchdowns in college.
Tony Pollard ghosts LVE in 1v1s. Beautiful https://t.co/PEJMw8hmBP
Tony Pollard beats LVE deep down the sideline. Perfect throw by Dak. #Cowboys https://t.co/2dDp0mUSMs
In the first video above, in particular, Pollard does a great job of selling his route to the outside before gaining inside leverage to beat Vander Esch. This is the kind of savvy you want to see from a young running back transitioning to the NFL.
Pollard once again put on a show Saturday when the team played the Los Angeles Rams in Hawaii. The Cowboys went 97 yards on a twelve play drive to take an early 7-0 lead. He would gain 42 yards on 5 carries and add a catch for 9 yards as well, topping it all off with an impressive 14-yard touchdown run.
The NFL really let the Dallas Cowboys draft Tony Pollard in the fourth round. (via @nflnetwork) https://t.co/Hqkd6e4YuE
Three things stand out about this run in my eyes. First, the patience Pollard shows in letting the play develop. Running backs sometimes are too impatient and let potential big plays go to waste. Great job by him setting up his blocks and hitting the hole. Second, the balance he shows after taking a hit early in the run. What you always want to see is your running back(s) have the ability to not go down on the first contact they receive. Lastly, the awareness to cover the ball at the end of the run to avoid a turnover and cross the goal line.
So far in two preseason games, Pollard has 9 carries for 58 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per rush, putting him almost right at his 6.8 yards per rush average in college.
Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones hasn't been quiet about his feelings on what he's seen from Pollard so far. After the first preseason game, Jones said he was confident Pollard could "carry the load" if All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott's holdout goes into the regular season. After Saturday's victory against the Rams, Jones had another raving review of the rookie, but with a slight twist to it.
"What's amazing for him is to come in here and he hadn't done that much," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "He knows exactly what to do and he knows how to do it. If he goes out there and he plays to that level he's going to be [at] for the next several weeks, he's going to be right in the middle of it early. That will really complement what we're doing with Zeke, not replace that, I mean that, not replace it. Nobody is getting cute here, certainly be a great compliment to have a great running game where I can picture those guys [having] success at the same time out there really giving the defense some fits."
The Cowboys have a one-two punch at running back with the potential to set the NFL on fire. As Elliott continues to work out a long-term deal with the front office, Pollard will keep getting the much-needed reps on order for him to be ready to go on September 8th against the New York Giants, regardless if he's the starter or not. Once Elliott and Pollard are providing their services simultaneously, we could be looking at the NFL's top overall backfield.
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