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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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Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices

John Williams

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Why Cowboys Rookie DE Dorance Armstrong is the Pass Rusher to Watch in Carolina

With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.

You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."

First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.

Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.

Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.

"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."

Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com

Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.

Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.

Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.

Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.

David Helman on Twitter

D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.

Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.

Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.

"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."

Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com

The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.

With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.

However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.



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BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Rico Gathers

Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.

Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.

The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.

While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.

The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.

Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.



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Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started

Matthew Lenix

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Antwaun Woods is just getting started

Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.

The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.

All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.

Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.

How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.

When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.

Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.

There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.

The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.



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