Granted, you could say this about most top talents on teams across the NFL and on either side of the ball. But these key Cowboys face some extra pressure because of the circumstances surrounding them; roster turnover, suspensions, and question marks throughout the rest of the defense.
What's more, these defensive leaders also face having to support what many feel will be a league-leading offense. They are up against the criticism of being the team's biggest weakness and liability, amplified by the fact that Tony Romo and Jason Witten's window is closing.
Let's take a look at each player and see what opportunities and concerns they face in 2016. How can they individually impact the collective direction of the defense?
Outside of the quarterback, Lawrence may be under the heaviest scrutiny of any other Cowboy in 2016. Not only is he a third-year player with breakout-season expectations, but Lawrence upped the ante with a four-game suspension for PEDs. That mistake has cost him some goodwill, which only increases the need to perform.
Lawrence set the bar high with how he finished last season; seven sacks in his final eight games. Even with the suspension in 2016, that projects to at least a 10-sack season if he's producing at the same rate.
Stats aren't everything, of course, but few positions are more tied to a single number than defensive end. In the 4-3 scheme, DEs are judged by sacks by the mainstream. How you play against the run or how much you pressure the QB is something for the coaches. When it comes to Pro Bowls, All-Pro selections, and other notoriety everyone looks at your sacks.
DeMarcus Lawrence has to deliver. He can make everyone forget about the suspension with strong play in the other 75% of the season, and hopefully in January.
I wrote back in May about how Crawford needed to finally reward the Cowboys faith. That's even truer now, given the other issues on the defensive line.
Crawford's already missed the first week of camp with a minor back issue. He's expectedto return next week, but it still seems like there's always something with this guy. The Cowboys can't afford another year of injury excuses from one of their highest paid players.
While the combination of Terrell McClain and Cedric Thornton did well together in his absence, Crawford is supposed to be a different caliber of defensive tackle. He's paid like an 8-10 sack guy who should be closer to the Pro Bowl than Injured Reserve.
While the Cowboys are trying to cobble together some defensive ends for Weeks 1-4, they need stability and dynamic play in the middle of the line. McClain and Thornton can be solid but Crawford is the one with game-changing potential. It's time for potential to become performance.
Nobody on our defense has earned more confidence than Lee. He is one of the best players in the NFL when his body allows it and easily the top defender in Dallas.
Last year Lee played in 14 games, which felt miraculous after the last three season. Lee missed all of 2014 with a major knee injury and 15 games between 2012-2013. We can only hope that last season was the start of a new trend, rather than the anomaly.
The pressure on Lee has been increased by the absence and seemingly permanent downfall of middle linebacker Rolando McClain. I was excited for having Lee and McClain perhaps finally put in full healthy seasons together, but now it looks like Rolando will never put on a Cowboys jersey again.
Dallas has some good options to replace McClain. Anthony Hitchens is in his third year, has played the position before, and so far has had a strong camp. They also brought back veteran Justin Durant as insurance.
Like with Tyrone Crawford, Lee has to be the bedrock that all these other moves and relief efforts are be built on. The trickle-down effect of one dynamic player can be huge for his position. Sean Lee is certainly that, so long as his health doesn't get in the way.
After missing all of 2015, Scandrick returns as the team's top cornerback and one of its most vocal leaders. We can only hope that his play will live up to it.
Scandrick was 27-years-old the last time he played football. He's now 29, which can be a big leap for players who rely on their speed and agility. Throw that on top of returning from a severe knee injury and there is some question as to how much his physical tools will be diminished.
I've always felt like we've overrated Scandrick a little in Dallas. Yes, he's been our best cornerback for several years. But the bar has been set pretty low for that position for a long time. Combine that with his age and absence and I'm a bit concerned about relying on him so heavily in 2016.
Matters are only worse with the questions marks surrounding Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
We've heard only good things about Claiborne's play so far in Oxnard but that's been the case every year. I won't put any stock in it until it happens in the regular season. Carr is now 30 and should be relied upon less as time goes, rather than being our only stable corner.
Scandrick is supposed to the guy who makes everyone else better. He's supposed to draw the tough assignments and be the playmaker. Hopefully he still has the tools to make it happen.
We're all making a big assumption that Jones, the second-year player transitioning to full-time safety, will be an improvement over J.J. Wilcox. All signs points to "Yes," but all we have right now is speculation.
There's no question that Jones has the athleticism, ball skills, and intelligence to be a dynamic safety. However, even for a first-round pick, it's a lot to ask of a guy in his second pro season.
Moving to Jones safety is not just about what he can do that Wilcox couldn't, but also what he might do to help Church. If Jones can be a ballhawking, "center field" safety then it allows Dallas to get Church closer to the line of scrimmage. This is where Church excels and the combine effect could have a dramatic improvement on overall safety play.
It's been a long time since it felt like Dallas' safeties were a strength for the defense and not a liability. Turning just 24 this September, Byron Jones has been given a significant responsibility. If he delivers, he might be the Cowboys best defense draft pick since DeMarcus Ware.
Free Agent WR Allen Hurns Plans to Sign With Cowboys
It looks as if the Dallas Cowboys will be adding yet another wide receiver through free agency. According to sources, Allen Hurns plans on signing with the Cowboys.
WR Allen Hurns just told me, "I'm going to sign with Dallas." #Cowboys
This is a move that seemed unlikely after the Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson a few days ago, but I know a lot of Cowboys Nation will be excited about this transaction.
While this move is exciting, it does create more confusion for the Cowboys and their wide receivers. It's difficult to imagine all of these WRs sticking to the roster, which means there will be some tough decisions that need to be made.
What will the Cowboys do with Dez Bryant?
Will Cole Beasley be cut or traded?
Are the Cowboys comfortable absorbing Terrance Williams' cap hit if traded or released?
Will this keep the Cowboys from drafting a WR early?
All of these questions and more will have to be answered eventually. But, one thing is for sure, things are definitely about to get interesting.
Of course, there is a bonus here for the Dallas Cowboys. Since Allen Hurns was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he doesn't count against the Cowboys compensatory picks next season.
Please stay tuned and we will continue to keep you updated on contract details and any other news involving Allen Hurns as it becomes available.
What do you think about the Allen Hurns signing?
What Signing Thompson Means for Hurns and Cowboys WR Position
UPDATE: News of Hurns saying he will sign with the Cowboys broke as this article went live.
Free Agency began a bit late for the Dallas Cowboys, but they've already done enough to get fans discussing about the latest additions to the roster. Adding help on offense, defense and special teams in form of tier-2 free agents may not be what Cowboys Nation wants to see, but I'm certain they wouldn't have enjoyed giving Sammy Watkins a three-year $48M contract, either.
However, the Cowboys are clearly in the wide receiver market after an offensively disappointing season. They have quite a few of this year's class of wide receivers prospects scheduled to visit Dallas, and they've hosted some WR free agents as well.
This week, they even signed one.
Deonte Thompson, who started seven games for the Bills last year, is coming to Dallas on a one-year $2.5M contract. The 29-year old could be the burner receiver this offense is missing and could end up being an improved version of Brice Butler for the Cowboys in 2018.
He hasn't had a great career but last season was his best year so far. Starting three games for the Bears and seven for the Bills, Thompson was able to rack up a career-high 555 yards and two touchdowns.
His best attribute as a player is definitely the speed he brings to the table and his ability to separate down the field, which he'll be looking to do on Dak Prescott's offense this season.
But there was another wide receiver visiting Dallas this week and now we wonder whether or not the Deonte Thompson signing will keep the Cowboys from targeting former Jaguars' WR Allen Hurns.
According to Todd Archer, that won't be the case.
Told the signing of Deonte Thompson does not close the door on the Cowboys' interest in Allen Hurns, who visited the team Wednesday and had dinner. Things could get interesting in the Cowboys' wide receivers' room. https://t.co/Ivt5uk9kBN
It shouldn't be. First of all, Hurns is a much better player than Thompson and would provide this offense with a receiver who can play in the "X" or in the "Z" role. We've been talking about getting Prescott a reliable target to try to give him a "best friend." Allen Hurns could be just that.
Sure, he's had a couple of down seasons, but the talent is there to take.
Simply put, the Deonte Thompson signing shouldn't stop the Cowboys from looking at WR in the first round of the NFL Draft. Allen Hurns would.
It sure would make things interesting in the wide receiver room for Dallas. Despite what many believe, Dez Bryant will probably remain a Cowboy even if Hurns is signed. Let's say the Cowboys go out there and get the 26-year old from Jacksonville and have to decide which six receivers to keep for the season.
They'd possibly have to decide among these:
- Dez Bryant
- Terrrance Williams
- Cole Beasley
- Ryan Switzer
- Allen Hurns
- Deonte Thompson
- Noah Brown
- A drafted rookie?
This is where a lot of dilemmas start taking form. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer are basically the same player and if you're not going to use them both at the same time, do you keep them anyway? What about Terrance Williams? He could be the worst receiver to make the cut just because of his contract.
Noah Brown showed promise in 2017, are they ready to move on from him? And finally, a rookie could very well end up beating Deonte Thompson, who was guaranteed a million in his contract.
Wide receiver is indeed one of the top needs for the Dallas Cowboys. They could head to the 2018 NFL Draft needing one in the top rounds or they could be fine signing Hurns and taking a late-rounder receiver to compete in training camp for a spot on the roster.
As long as they're having a tough time deciding because they are all good, it should be fine.
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
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