Believe it or not, there is a rumor going around Cowboys Nation that NFL officiating is purposely avoiding calling penalties against the Dallas Cowboys opponents these last few weeks. It's a little strange to think such a thing possible, but it's hard to argue against it after watching the Cowboys play the Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon.
It's a little bit difficult to believe there is some kind of conspiracy going on in the NFL. But then again, it wouldn't be the first time conspiracy theorist stirred things up. I mean, look no further than the entire Colin Kaepernick situation and the rumors of collusion between NFL owners to keep him out of the league. Anything's possible I guess and there certainly seems to be enough ammunition in the barrel to believe the NFL might have it out for the Dallas Cowboys.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones are obviously on the outs with one another. Jerry Jones has recently hired a lawyer in an attempt to block Goodell's new contract, but this fight started long before this.
The NFL has seemed to have it out for the Dallas Cowboys ever since they started the investigation into Ezekiel Elliott's domestic violence accusation. A lot of people believed it was a witchhunt from the get-go since Elliott was acquitted because of lack of evidence after a police investigation, but for some reason the NFL decided to conduct their own investigation anyway.
This of course all spilled over into the on-again/off-again suspension situation that Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in currently. Who knows how this will all work out in the end, but this was the ammunition I was speaking about that has fueled the conspiracy theory fire.
I personally don't know if there's a conspiracy between the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys. But, one thing is for sure. The NFL officiating has been absolutely terrible in the Cowboys games the last few weeks and it has definitely benefited their opponents. But, don't take my word for it. Let's take a look at a little bit of evidence from the Cowboys/Falcons game.
I want you to take a good long look at the picture above and try to explain to me why a photographer from the sideline can take a picture like this, but an NFL official standing a few yards away misses the facemask/hands to the face penalty? It doesn't really seem possible they can miss a blatant penalty like this, especially with the focus on protecting quarterbacks.
That of course was just one of many missed penalties that should've been called on the Atlanta Falcons. Let's take a look at a few more, because the conspiracy theory doesn't look that far off base.
One of these was called roughing the passer. Another one was not. https://t.co/MvtR8wDOKY
This is yet another example of the NFL officials missing an obvious penalty against the Atlanta Falcons. The officials could've called a roughing the passer penalty, a helmet to helmet hit, or even a launching penalty. They could've gone any direction they wanted here, but instead they failed to unleash the flag. Strange isn't it?
The missed penalties not called on the hits on Dak Prescott should have absolutely been seen by the officials, but the hit on Dez Bryant should have been seen as well and flagged.
This was somehow not a foul. Don't tell me your league cares about safety, @NFL https://t.co/eCkFRnyxa2
I don't know how this wasn't flagged by the back judge. This is the definition of a hit on a defenseless player and this wasn't the only time it happened in Sunday's game. The Falcons secondary was extremely aggressive and there were a few other instances where they completely laid out the Cowboys WRs like they did Bryant in the clip above.
I want to show you one more example that feeds into the conspiracy theory that the NFL officials have it out for the Dallas Cowboys.
HOW DO REFS MISS THIS https://t.co/IUzhYTdW3p
Dak Prescott wasn't the only Dallas Cowboys player who failed to get a facemask penalty recognized by the officiating Sunday afternoon. I honestly don't know how they didn't see Alfred Morris get his head and helmet twisted by a Falcons player pulling his facemask. It looks pretty obvious to me, but I wasn't wearing a zebra suit.
Now, I don't know if there is some kind of conspiracy going on or not, but it is blatantly obvious that the NFL officiating has been absolutely terrible when the Dallas Cowboys take the field. It's hard to argue there isn't some kind of conspiracy, but I'll let you decide for yourself.
I do know one thing though. It's going to be really tough for the Dallas Cowboys to win games when they have to beat their opponent and the officials week in and week out.
Do you think there is a conspiracy against the Dallas Cowboys?
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: LB Kyle Wilber
While not one of the glamour players for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Kyle Wilber has been a steady and reliable asset for six seasons. He is set to be a free agent this offseason, and his return to Dallas is hard to project.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Wilber has only started 16 games but been active for nearly all of them. Even when not having a major part on defense, Kyle has been standout special teams player almost every season.
Dallas saw Wilber's value in 2016 and gave him a two-year extension after his rookie contract expired. Now, though, Kyle turns 29 in April and it may be time to give his roster spot to a younger option with more upside.
It's impressive that Kyle Wilber's lasted this long with the Cowboys. He was drafted to play outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme at that time under Rob Ryan. When Monte Kiffin arrived in 2013 and the switch was made to the 4-3, Wilber was able to transition and stick around for five more seasons.
Wilber's depth value and special teams play earned him $3.25 million over the last two years. Would the Cowboys offer him a similar deal to stick around for another couple of seasons, or is it time to move on?
One factor helping Kyle is that even though Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys promoted from within. Keith O'Quinn has been here since before Wilber's time and knows what he brings to the table. He could push to keep one of his veteran leaders around.
Another consideration is that Dallas isn't flush with linebacker talent at the moment. Anthony Hitchens is a free agent, and if he doesn't return then that only leaves Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson as the known entities.
The Cowboys haven't allowed age to stop them from doing business with Justin Durant the last few seasons. He was 31 when the team signed him last year for veteran depth and insurance.
Could Dallas offer Kyle Wilber a similar deal, one or two years max at a minimal salary, to stick around? It's very possible, and especially if they let him see what free agency has to offer for about a month.
Even if 2017 was the end of his Cowboys run, Wilber has been a success as a fourth-round pick. He's been there when needed and been a leader on special teams. Earning a second contract with your original teams is always an accomplishment.
We'll have to wait and see if he gets a third.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OT Byron Bell
Offensive tackle became a problem position for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. One guy who helped the situation was veteran backup Byron Bell. He is now a free agent, but Dallas could may be interested in bringing him back next year.
Bell was signed last March to provide depth and insurance on the offensive line. He had experience at both guard and center, starting almost every game since entering the NFL in 2011. Byron had missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury while a member of the Tennessee Titans.
After spending the first part of the year at the bottom of the depth chart, Bell was called into duty after a disastrous performance by Chaz Green in the team's Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith injured, Green got the start and was obliterated by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the tune of six sacks.
Byron got the start the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was clearly better than Green. He would remain the team's swing tackle the rest of the season and got another start in the meaningless Week 17 finale.
Now Byron Bell is a 29-year-old free agent. With Chaz Green seemingly a failed experiment, Dallas has to figure out what to do about their depth behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. Could they be in the market to re-sign Bell?
Given his vast starting experience and position flexibility, Byron may have some other suitors in free agency. Offensive linemen age slower than other positions, so 29 isn't the same mark of death that a running back or corner might deal with.
A likely scenario here is that Dallas, assuming they'd like to have Bell back at all, would let him test free agency and then hopefully re-sign him later in the offseason to a minimal contract. Like last year, he would make sense for insurance at the position and especially if the team is going to part ways with Green.
What's more, Byron has increased value after a year in the Cowboys system. Also, in 2017 he was coming off an entirely missed season with the ankle injury. He's a more attractive asset in 2018.
That increased value could be seen by other teams, too. While Bell has had his ups and downs, he's accomplished enough that his name will be noticed among other free agents. A team with major needs on the offensive line might even consider him to compete for a starting job.
We don't know what the Cowboys' interest level is in bringing Byron Bell back, but they may have competition for his services. Given the role he filled to finish 2017, he could wind up an underrated free agent departure this offseason.
4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster
Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.
All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.
TE Blake Jarwin
An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.
Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.
The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.
Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.
WR Lance Lenoir
This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.
By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.
Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.
The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.
DT Datone Jones
A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.
Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.
The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.
DT Lewis Neal
Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.
The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.
Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.
Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.
Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.
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