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Draft Day Anxiety for Cowboys Roster

Jess Haynie

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Tony Romo

During the 2012 draft, then-Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins was participating in a local draft party. When Dallas' selection of Morris Claiborne was announced, Jenkins was reportedly upset and left sullen for the rest of the night. Entering the last year of his rookie deal, Jenkins saw the writing on the wall.

Though it usually goes unseen, we can be sure that other NFL players have had pretty bad reactions to what their teams do in the draft. Jenkins knew he'd at least get one more year in Dallas. But what if you're the guy who may not even get past final cuts?

Here's a look at some current Cowboys who may not be happy based on how the upcoming 2016 draft unfolds:

TWill1. Terrance Williams, WR

Williams should already be feeling the heat from fellow veteran Brice Butler, whose strong play at the end of last year has many thinking he could challenge Williams for the starting job. If Dallas also drafts a wide receiver with an early pick it could put Williams in a similar mood as Jenkins last year.

Like Jenkins, Williams is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He has started most of his games in three years in Dallas and has solid production. Williams has an impressive highlight reel of circus catches but an equally frustrating collection of dropped passes, many of which have come on third-down.

With Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley already locked up in long-term deals, a decision by Dallas to draft a receiver high would be a pretty clear indication that they don't plan on committing to Williams after this year. I don't expect them to use their fourth-overall pick on a receiver but the 34th pick (second round) is very possible.

Nov 27, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain (55) on the sidelines during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2. Rolando McClain, LB

In my most recent mock draft I have the Cowboys selecting UCLA's Myles Jack with their first pick. While there are technically three starting linebacker positions in the defense, the reality is that adding Jack would be bad news for McClain's long-term prospects.

Dallas employs a nickel scheme with just two linebackers on the field on a large number of their plays. McClain and Sean Lee have those spots now but Jack's coverage ability is one of his strongest traits and where his elite potential really shines. He could supplant McClain in that role, or at least carve out a chunk of McClain's snaps.

The Cowboys have yet to trust McClain enough to give him more than one-year deals, given his history of motivation issues and personal problems. If they take Jack then it's likely they will not seek to re-sign McClain next offseason. If that has a negative impact on McClain's motivation now, it could even accelerate the process of Jack taking over his jobs.

Cowboys Headlines - 83. Darren McFadden

Most guys wouldn't have to worry after having over 1,400 total yards but McFadden's track record for injury and performance drop-offs after big years is a major red flag. If Dallas takes a running back with an early pick then it could mean trouble for McFadden, perhaps in the very near future.

Dallas signed veteran Alfred Morris to a two-year deal in March. This was probably a good thing for McFadden; someone they could trust to take some of the workload and keep McFadden running at high efficiency. Even if it turned out to be a 50/50 split of touches, both players stood to be highly productive behind the Cowboys' elite offensive line.

If Dallas ends up with Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, or even if they take a runner with their second pick, it creates a crowded backfield and perhaps squeezes McFadden out. They've also re-signed Lance Dunbar and his niche role in the offense won't be challenged by another player.

Unlike other positions where a rookie can use some grooming, running back is one where you're compelled to get the young guy going as soon as possible. McFadden would not only be losing touches but could be released for an almost penalty-free $2 million in savings. That money may be needed if Dallas ends up keeping Brandon Carr next year.

Morris_Claiborne_Cowboys4. Brandon Carr & Morris Claiborne

Speaking of Carr, let's address him and Claiborne together. If Jalen Ramsey falls to Dallas then most expect them to jump at it. But even if they were to trade down and get Vernon Hargreaves or some other top corner, or perhaps even if they get one in the second round, then it could spell trouble for one of the veterans.

You've heard these figures before but they bear repeating. If Carr is released outright then Dallas gets about $6 million in cap relief now. If they make him a June 1st cut then it goes up to $9 million and pushes the difference to next year. If Dallas adds a cornerback in the draft then it's likely Carr will be released to help fund rookie deals and give the rookie a clear top-three role.

Claiborne's fear will be more about losing playing time than losing a job. He is on a one-year deal for just $2.6 million, a relative bargain for even a solid reserve cornerback. Claiborne is no doubt hoping he can earn a nice extension with his play this year, but a highly-drafted rookie could take him off the field at times and limit his opportunities to earn it.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar returns to the locker room during afternoon break during Cowboys training camp, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

5. Gavin Escobar

After Dallas signed backup James Hanna to a three-year, $8 million deal many assumed that they aren't planning to extend Escobar after this year. If they were to draft a player on top of that then it would almost assure Escobar will be gone next season.

If Escobar were to have a breakout season then Dallas still has flexibility to re-sign him. Jason Witten's deal expires in 2017 and they could work out a transitional plan for next year. However, if they've added another significant talent at the position then it could create a logjam that forces Escobar to the open market.

Cowboys Headlines - 116. Barry Church & J.J. Wilcox

Much like Carr and Claiborne, last year's starting safeties have plenty to worry about during the draft. One of them could end up released, if not right after the draft then perhaps during the August cut downs.

Wilcox may have already lost his starting job. The talk out of Dallas is that they want second-year stud Byron Jones playing safety next year. It is assumed that Wilcox would be the one getting benched, being more inconsistent than Church. If Dallas drafts a cornerback then it means Jones' move to safety is fairly decided.

Money could make Church the fall guy, though. Dallas can save a little over $4 million cutting Church and just around $1.7 million if they released Wilcox. If they were to add a rookie defensive back and then also elect to keep Brandon Carr around, Church's cap savings are a big chunk that could be needed to pay rookie salaries.

There is always entanglement between the corners and safeties when figuring out your roster, and that's especially true when plays have position flexibility. Byron Jones already has that and adding Ramsey would only further muddy the waters. The only certainty is that someone, for finances alone, would have to be released. Only the Cowboys know who they value most.

Romo7. Tony Romo

Given the relationship between Romo and Jason Garrett I doubt anything happens at the QB position that Romo isn't on board with. However, since I can't be entirely positive about that, we have to mention the possibility.

If Dallas selects Jared Goff or Carson Wentz in the first round then you have to wonder how much time Romo has left. If he's released next year there would still be over $19 million in dead money, albeit with about $5 million in savings from his actual cap hit.

Dallas may conclude that they've got about $24 million tied up in the QB position one way or another next year. That could all be with Romo's contract, or it could be with Romo's dead money about about $5 million that they'd be paying Wentz or Goff on a rookie deal. Then Romo's deal would come off the books cleanly and open up tons of cap space for 2018.

It's hard to imagine them keeping the rookie on the bench for more than two seasons. You want to give the kid time to prove himself before his rookie deal expires. Plus, if the apprenticeship lasts through 2017 and then Romo's released, the dead money drops to just about $8 million with $14 million in savings.

Again, Romo may be fully on board with these plans. However, he could also be like many competitors who don't believe in their own mortality. Romo likely wants to be a career Cowboy but watching his team draft a quarterback in the top five could threaten that goal.



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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2 Comments
  • Mr. Bamboozaul

    It's time to go Goff ing. ..

    • Jess Haynie

      What do you like about Goff over Wentz? Just curious.

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Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?

John Williams

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Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim Quietly Exceeding Expectations? 1

Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.

David Helman on Twitter

Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire

In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.

But in reality, is there?

For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.

First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.

The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.

Film Review: What's Up with Allen Hurns?

In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.

Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?

Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.

That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.

Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.



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Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support

Jess Haynie

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Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.

According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.

A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:

“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.

As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:

“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”

While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.

The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.

Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.



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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Sean Martin

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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion 1

The Dallas Cowboys know what they're doing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Not to be outdone by Philadelphia, the Cowboys brought the 2018 Draft to AT&T Stadium, marking the first time the event's been held in an NFL stadium. This made Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch the first player to be drafted on the field he now calls home. Returning home this week after two straight interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons, Vander Esch is far from the controversial pick that drew jeers inside AT&T Stadium on draft night and every bit the star the Cowboys projected him to be.

The ascension of Leighton "Wolf Hunter" Vander Esch as one of the best young linebackers in the game has happened rapidly. LVE played eight man football in high school, tasked to do everything on both sides of the ball before settling into defense as a walk onto the blue turf.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have more than just a plan to play defense without Sean Lee. Thanks to their 19th overall pick they're thriving as one of the best units in the league, making Lee an afterthought.

Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have changed the entire makeup of the Cowboys defense, two young and athletic linebackers that should be roaming the middle of the field for a long time in Dallas.

This is exactly what LVE was able to do on his interceptions of both Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Vander Esch defending well against the pass is probably the least surprising part of his development, as his coverage skills always overshadowed his strength against the run in college.

It just so happens that Vander Esch tallied 63 tackles in eight games before recording his first career interception, establishing himself as an all-around linebacker with no true weakness. Vander Esch has played with the power and block shedding ability that matches his sideline to sideline range and instincts, as opposing offenses have done little to slow the Cowboys new leader on defense.

LVE2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This is Vander Esch's first interception, which set up a Cowboys field goal against the Eagles. Watch as Leighton reads the eyes of Wentz through the play, first angling towards his check down throw and then gaining depth to intercept the pass.

The subtle yet effective movements from Vander Esch to undercut Wentz's throw is a fine example of how quickly LVE has picked up on Kris Richard's defense, as well as the next level game speed.

LVE1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Sunday's interception from Vander Esch was the type of game breaking play the Cowboys needed to separate from the Falcons in hostile territory. Although the Falcons would rally to tie the game after this point, the Cowboys defense became the first to hold Atlanta under 20 points at home this season, thanks in large part to LVE as always.

The smoothness from Vander Esch on this play is exceptional, stepping up into coverage against the running back before sprinting back in position for the turnover. Calvin Ridley, drafted seven picks after Vander Esch, helps Leighton by letting Ryan's pass go through his hands.

Give Vander Esch credit for being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Every week, the rookie finds a way to do something memorable, and in helping the Cowboys earn their first two road wins of 2018 he finally flashed in pass coverage.

The next challenge for the Cowboys defense comes on a short week, against the division leading Washington Redskins. Though they lost starting Quarterback Alex Smith for the season on Sunday, expected to start Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving, it was Running Back Adrian Peterson that gashed the Cowboys for 4.13 yards a carry and 99 total yards in the Redskins week six win over Dallas.

Given what not only Leighton Vander Esch but the rest of the Cowboys defense has shown against the run in recent weeks, all without David Irving and most recently without either Antwaun Woods or Daniel Ross, the Cowboys should certainly be prepared to play for first place in the NFC East on Thursday.

Tell us what you think about "Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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