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How Could George Iloka Impact Safeties Jeff Heath & Xavier Woods?

Jess Haynie



Jeff Heath, George Iloka, Xavier Woods, Safety

The signing of free agent Safety George Iloka over the weekend has put a big question mark over the position for the Cowboys. He was backup last year in Minnesota and is on just a one-year contract, so does Dallas expect him to start? And if so, what does that mean for Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods?

Had Dallas signed someone like Earl Thomas or Eric Berry, or even several of the less lofty names that were on the open market, then a starting role wouldn't even be up for debate. We'd only be asking which player between Heath and Woods would be moving to the bench.

But Iloka doesn't bring that same pedigree. He only started three games last year for the Vikings due to injuries, serving a primary reserve all of 2018. This was after he'd been a five-year starter with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2013-2017.

It's important to fully understand Iloka's situation. He was released by the Bengals in the middle of the 2018 preseason after they'd spent a second-round pick on Jessie Bates. They saved over $5 million in salary cap space on the deal, having just signed George to a five-year, $30 million extension in 2016.

Mid-August is a bad time to become a free agent, and especially at 28 years old. Most starting jobs are already decided and even primary backup roles are generally filled out. Teams are mostly assessing their developmental players by this point.

It says something that Mike Zimmer, Vikings head coach, decided to add Iloka just a few days after he was released by Cincinnati. Remember, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2008-2013. That means he helped draft Iloka in 2012 and had him as a full-time starter the following year.

George Iloka

Safety George Iloka

Most teams would've waited until after Week 1 to add a veteran like Iloka, so that his contract would not be fully guaranteed. But Minnesota, with Zimmer likely the driving force behind the move, scooped George up almost immediately.

This wasn't because the Vikings were hurting at safety, either. They had multi-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith and veteran Andrew Sendejo locked in as starters, plus Anthony Harris as a solid backup.

The point here is that this isn't the time to blindly exclaim, "He didn't even start with his last team!" These weren't typical circumstances.

That said, there is some question as to what George Iloka's role will be with the Dallas Cowboys.

Jeff Heath has been full-time starter the last two seasons and is still in his physical prime. Xavier Woods worked his way into the starting lineup in 2017 and held it for all of last year.

With Kavon Frazier also under contract as a backup with three years of experience, one could ask why Dallas would sign Iloka if they didn't intend him to start.

At the least, George should be competing with Heath and Woods for a top spot on the depth chart. But I don't expect him to be handed anything.

Dallas will likely open training camp with Heath and Woods as the starters, as they tend to do whenever the previous year's starters return. Iloka will get opportunities but will have to take the job away from one of them.

Is Jeff Heath Set for Cowboys Captaincy in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

I think the guy who should be most worried is Heath. The Cowboys can save $2.5 million of his cap hit if he's released, which is money that could go towards mid-season contract extensions with Dak Prescott or Amari Cooper. Those savings could also simply be rolled over into the 2020 cap if they aren't used.

With Jeff set to be a free agent in 2020 anyway, Dallas would have less reason for loyalty over Xavier Woods and the two years left on his deal.

Also, Iloka is more likely to fit in at strong safety. That's been Heath's role the last two years.

Dallas won't necessarily cut Heath if he loses his starting job, given Jeff's veteran experience and his standout ability on special teams. His $2.95 million cap hit isn't too high for a primary veteran, and especially one who can play both positions.

Still, this isn't certain. Xavier Woods is still young and raw in some ways, and prone to draw penalties with his big hits. If he doesn't polish his game more in 2019, Dallas could wind up liking their two veterans more.

It's even possible that it will be Iloka who winds up on the bench. Nobody on the current roster really stands out as a fourth safety, so perhaps the Cowboys see George as just a solid depth option as he was for the Vikings.

In fact, this morning's news on Iloka's contract with Dallas might suggest a lesser role:

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys signed George Iloka to a one-year, minimum salary benefit contract that will count $735,000 against the cap. He will make a $930,000 base salary and $90,000 in bonus money. Of the base salary, $210,000 is guaranteed.

Clearly, a lot is still up in the air after this signing. While George Iloka is intriguing and has more experience than probably all of Dallas' other safeties combined, he's being given bare-bones deal that could mean he's going to be nothing more than a backup or rotation player. Nothing is guaranteed.

What's more, we still have the 2019 NFL Draft to consider. One thing this Iloka deal tells us is that Dallas is hardly out of the business of acquiring safety talent, and could still go as high as their 58th overall pick.

If that happens, we could again be looking at the disparity in Heath and Iloka's contracts. Iloka would make way more sense as the experienced, versatile, and far cheaper reserve at that point.

For that matter, there's no guarantee that George will be on the Cowboys' 2019 roster. They may simply be taking a flyer on one of the last decent free agent safeties available, creating some competition for training camp without any sense of major commitment.

So no, this signing didn't answer much. If anything, it may have created even more questions.

We may have to wait until final cuts to know how George Iloka truly impacts things at safety, if he does at all.

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!


Dallas Cowboys

Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?

Jess Haynie



Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey

The debate over "Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey" for from the 2016 NFL Draft has never really stopped in Dallas. From before that draft until now, Cowboys fans still argue over which player the team should have taken. For the team, could they face that question again in the next few years?

A little over three years ago, the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth-overall pick. In so doing, they also snubbed Ramsey; the cornerback expected to become a Cowboy and wound up going with the fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Where you stand on this issue likely has a lot to do with how you value running backs. Some argued in 2016, and still do, that no RB is worth that high of a pick or paying top dollar for in future years. You've seen plenty of those opinions this offseason as talk of a long-term contract extension for Elliott has heated up.

Those same folks would have loved for Dallas to take Jalen Ramsey, who instantly became one of the NFL's top corners. And in 2021, with both players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, they would probably rather see the Cowboys let Elliott walk away and use that money to add an elite player at a position like cornerback.

We mention Ramsey here because of his very public feud with Jacksonville over his contract. The team reportedly informed him they would wait until next year to do a long-term extension, and Ramsey made it known through social media that he was going to drive the price up. Given his known issues with Jaguars' VP Tom Coughlin, it could lead to a parting of ways.

If  Jalen Ramsey hit the open market, and still want to be a Cowboy, could the CB end up in Dallas after all?

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Let's hypothesize that both Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have to play 2020 on their fifth-year options. Now the Cowboys are having to decide if they want give Zeke a long-term deal, the franchise tag, or just let him go.

How does the prospect of potentially signing Ramsey, or some other elite talent at another position, sway Dallas' thinking? Could they decide that the best bang for their buck is to spend roughly $15 million per year at RB or at CB, OT, or somewhere else?

The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl corner in Byron Jones but there's still a lot of uncertainty at the other starting position. Neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis have been consistent enough and both will have expiring contracts in 2021.

Ezekiel Elliott will turn 26 that year. He will have five seasons of workhorse mileage. And this is the same Cowboys team that decided to let DeMarco Murray walk away a few years ago.

Of course, Elliott trumps Murray in almost every way. He's been elite every season so far, not just one, and has been far more durable. Assuming personal conduct issues don't remain a problem, Zeke will be much harder to let go of than DeMarco was.

However, the salary cap forces teams to think about the entire roster when making personnel decisions. Even if you can justify paying Elliott huge money, that means less for someone else. And even if it makes sense for a year or two, what about when Zeke is creeping closer to 30 years old?

Jalen Ramsey

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey

Again, I mentioned Ramsey here because of the intrigue with his contract situation in Jacksonville and connection to Dallas from the 2016 draft. It would be quite ironic if the Cowboys, five years later, were again having to decide between the same two players.

But Jalen exemplifies a greater issue that Dallas faces in the coming years. Does it make sense to tie up so much money at running back and weaken yourself at other positions?

While RBs as special as Ezekiel Elliott don't grow on trees, it's still one of the easiest positions to fill. Assuming the Cowboys still have one of the NFL's top offensive lines in a few years, they will be tempted to try and get solid rushing production with a much cheaper ball carrier.

When Dallas let DeMarco Murray go and then drafted Ezekiel Elliott a year later, some thought it could be the start of a new trend in roster management. Draft a RB high, get 4-5 years out of him, and then let somebody else pay him the big money. Rinse and repeat.

But then Zeke came along and has been the stuff of legends. If he has a long-term career in Dallas, he will be right there with Emmitt and Dorsett in the top-three of all time Cowboys running backs.

Elliott isn't just highly productive but brings personality and excitement. Guys like that are hard to let go of; they are as valuable for marketing as they are on the field.

That said, a lot can change in the next year or two. More issues with the league office, or a major injury, could have a dramatic effect on how we see Elliott's long-term value. It may make the decision much easier.

But assuming Zeke remains as valuable as ever, the Dallas Cowboys could be facing another major quandary between the running back and other elite players like Jalen Ramsey. What most helps the team win, and what has the most value over multiple seasons?

Hopefully, Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing well enough to keep the debate going.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch

Jess Haynie



Mitch Hyatt

Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?

Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.

While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.

For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.

Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.

“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”

Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.

The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.

If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.

Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.

Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.

If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.

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Dallas Cowboys

Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?

Mauricio Rodriguez



Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Melina Vastola / USA TODAY Sports

Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.

A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.

In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.

Michael Jackson

CB Michael Jackson

When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.

While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.

After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.

In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.

Tell me what you think about "Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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