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How Cowboys Set up High-Stakes Division Meeting with Eagles at Home

Sean Martin

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How Cowboys Set up High-Stakes Division Meeting with Eagles at Home

At first glance upon the Dallas Cowboys 2018 schedule, the stretch from week 10-14 was always going to define them. The first game of the season at the Carolina Panthers set the tone for the Cowboys struggles through the first half of the schedule, all but burying them before their first meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles.

At 3-5, the Cowboys were win-less on the road and the addition of Amari Cooper did little to spark an inept offense in his first game. Traveling to the defending Super Bowl champions for Sunday Night Football, the Falcons the week after, and returning home for Thanksgiving against the Redskins and Saints last week was a daunting stretch that Dallas emerged with four wins out of.

The Cowboys 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans at AT&T Stadium was their first with not only Cooper, but Marc Colombo as offensive line coach. Hudson Houck was brought back to be Colombo's assistant after the team fired Paul Alexander in his first season.

The Cowboys came out flat on offense with an extra week to prepare and no further changes looming on this side of the ball. What the Titans loss did was force a long look in the mirror for a team that knew everything was in place to turn 2018 around.

The Cowboys defense was allowing 18.9 points per game to this point, a number that's since dropped to 18.6 in support of an improved offense.

Desperate for a win, the Cowboys returned to the basics in the first meeting with the Eagles. Winning 27-20, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott finished a yard short of his season high while scoring a pair of touchdowns.

With rookie Left Guard Connor Williams injured, veteran backup Xavier Su'a-Filo filled in for the first time and played his best game as a Cowboy in support of both Elliott and Quarterback Dak Prescott. Dak found Cooper six times for 75 yards in the win.

Even with Su'a-Filo's play leveling off ever since this win, Elliott putting the Cowboys on his back continued through the team's most recent three wins. The Cowboys realized after their loss in Washington (all but eliminated from the NFC East race with a loss at the Eagles on Monday, losing QB2 Colt McCoy for the season) that playing offense without an outside threat like Cooper was detrimental to the team's progress in several key areas.

Colombo's offensive line has regained the nastiness and cohesiveness that made the Dallas OL the best in the league in year's past.

Cooper's presence has elevated Prescott to one of the most consistent passers in the league behind this line. Simply put, the combination of Dak and Zeke is performing at 2016 levels. The Cowboys won 13 games that year, an unreachable number this year - though this won't disappoint many at The Star currently.

https://twitter.com/BobbyBeltTX/status/1069468871407611904

The Cowboys can likely afford another loss somewhere along the way, but it can't be this Sunday if they hope to win the NFC East. All of their mid-season changes have set up a fight for first place against the Eagles. These same changes were also about the Cowboys proving their critics wrong at every turn.

This 2018 season has truly been a renaissance for many in the organization. At no point in the first nine weeks of the season could you convince any football fan that the Cowboys would be within shouting distance of the third seed in the NFC.

To say the Cowboys will feel added pressure against the 6-6 Eagles only belittles their most recent win against the Saints. Holding the top scoring offense in the league to ten points, Dallas proved they have an elite defense that's going to be very hard to score on for the remainder of the season.

With a defense that keeps them in every single game, the Cowboys offense has everything they need to run through teams in December - starting with Philadelphia. The Eagles secondary remains a weak point of Jim Schwartz's defense due to injury, making Cooper a likely candidate to come full circle himself and help the Cowboys go 5-0 from their first meeting with the Eagles.

There is nothing ornate about the way the Cowboys have turned this season around, as it should be. The Cowboys will never be the flashiest team in the league, a title that could have belonged to the Saints before last week's loss, but understand their strengths and play to them -- for each other -- dangerously well.

Tell us what you think about "How Cowboys Set up High-Stakes Division Meeting with Eagles at Home" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to make $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 as the fifth-year option to his rookie contract. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/15/2019 1:45 pm.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Safety

Jess Haynie

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Xavier Woods

The Dallas Cowboys' safeties may have the been the team's most-talked-about position during the 2019 offseason. Dallas declined making a splashy free agent signing, or even a high draft pick, and that means safety is still a hot topic headed into this year's training camp.

Fans hoping for an Earl Thomas signing or a Juan Thornhill drafting have had to settle for veteran George Iloka and 6th-round rookie Donovan Wilson. These new arrivals don't bring the sizzle that many wanted, but they do add intrigue to the battle for roster spots and depth chart positioning.

Here's the projected safety depth chart right now for the 2019 season:

  1. Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath
  2. George Iloka, Kavon Frazier
  3. Darian Thompson, Donovan Wilson
  4. Jameill Showers

A big reason the Cowboys didn't spend big at safety is Xavier Woods, who is a rising star on defense entering just his third season. Dallas' strategy appears centered around Woods' development, hoping he will anchor the position and make everyone look better.

Woods' fellow starter could be Iloka or the returning Jeff Heath. It is assumed that these two veterans will battle it out for the strong safety job, with the loser being a versatile and experienced backup.

Heath has the advantage of experience with the Cowboys but Iloka has more starting experience overall with 79 games to just 41 for Jeff. You also have to think that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard had a hand in selecting Iloka from the free agent pool, likely coveting his 6'4" size.

Even if Iloka does win the starting job Heath should remain a valued reserve and special teams leader. His $2.95 million cap hit for 2019 isn't that high for someone who fills those roles.

Regardless of starting jobs, we expect all three of those players to make the roster. It's below them where actual roster spots are on the line.

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

After three years at backup safety, Kavon Frazier is facing some real competition for his job in 2019. Not only is there the aforementioned rookie Donovan Wilson, but reserve Darian Thompson may already be moving ahead of Frazier on the depth chart.

Thompson was a 3rd-round pick of the Giants in 2016, the same year that Dallas drafted Frazier in the 6th round. He was named a starter in Week 2 as a rookie, but got hurt that game and missed the rest of they ear. He started all 16 games in 2017, but then was injured again and released prior to the start of the 2018 season.

After less than a week on the Cardinals' practice squad, Thompson got signed to the Cowboys' roster last October as a reserve. They re-signed him this offseason, and reports from mini-camps and OTAs had Darian getting second-team reps in practice over Kavon Frazier and other prospects.

If Thompson has ascended, the biggest concern for Frazier and Donovan Wilson is just how many safeties the Cowboys keep. They've kept five before but could easily go with just four, and that might leave two talented players out in the cold.

If Frazier and Wilson do wind up battling for that fifth and final spot, the rookie may have the edge thanks to youth and his four-year contract. Kavon is a free agent next year, so Dallas might elect to keep the younger, cheaper option for further development.

From starting jobs to just keeping The Star on their helmets, these safeties have a lot to fight for in 2019. It's been one of our most interesting positions to watch all offseason, and that won't change when we head into training camp.

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Are the Dallas Cowboys Carrying any Bad Contracts?

John Williams

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Home Cooking For Preseason Dress Rehearsal 1

Late last week Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon went through the contracts of all 32 NFL teams and attempted to determine who holds the worst contract for each team. Every team in the NFL is carrying bad contracts. Even the Dallas Cowboys, who've become really good at managing their cap. It's the nature of player evaluation and contract negotiations in all sports. You pay players with a balance of historical production and potential progression.

Here are the rules they laid out in their analysis:

  • Had to be a contract of more than $5 million per year.
  • Looked more at the cost of the player beyond the 2019 season.
  • Player progression and trajectory matters.
  • Looked mainly at 2018 production and showed a little grace to players with who were injured.

It's certainly a difficult task to undertake, and there are some really solid choices on their list, like Star Lotuleilei's five-year $50 million deal that he's being paid by the Buffalo Bills. That's a lot of money for a nose tackle. On the flipside, they chose DeMarcus Lawrence as having the worst contract on the Dallas Cowboys. To be fair, they also chose Khalil Mack's contract as the worst for the Chicago Bears.

I guess they aren't a fan of paying elite pass rushers elite money. 

Here's what they had to say about Lawrence's deal:

"This is a similar situation to Mack's in Chicago. Mack and Lawrence are the only two pass-rushers making $21-plus million per year, and Lawrence's new deal with the Dallas Cowboys ties him to the team through at least 2021. Even after that, it'd cost Dallas $10 million to cut him ahead of the 2022 season."

Brad Gagnon - Bleacher Report

In their assessment of Lawrence, they're assuming that he's not going to continue to be a disruptive player for the Dallas Cowboys beyond 2019 or 2020. We talked about Lawrence last week and I listed him as one of the five most important Dallas Cowboys for them to have success in 2019. His ability to play the run and rush the passer at an elite level is invaluable. Sure, paying any player north of $20 million and more than 10% of your salary cap seems like a bad idea on the surface, but when you're talking about one of the five best defensive linemen in the NFL, $21 million per year and $60 million guaranteed is the cost of doing business.

There's a reason the Dallas Cowboys felt comfortable paying Lawrence elite edge money, it's because he's an elite edge. Were it not for injuries early in his career, national observers would be talking about Lawrence in the same light as Mack and Von Miller. Despite two highly productive seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, Lawrence is still highly underrated. If the talk from Cowboys fans is any indication, he's underrated in his own fanbase.

If you go to OverTheCap.com and look at the Dallas Cowboys contractual obligations for the next few years, you see a team that hasn't loaded themselves down with many, if any bad contracts. If there's one that's arguably bad, it's the Tyrone Crawford contract.

The Dallas Cowboys will pay him a little more than $10 million this season and a little more than $9 million in 2020. After that, his contract expires and he becomes a free agent.

Crawford has always been a solid player for the Dallas Cowboys, even if he hasn't lived up to the contract extension he received back in 2015. His ability to play both defensive end positions as well as 3-technique defensive tackle along with his leadership has made him an important piece to the Dallas Cowboys playoff teams over the last five seasons. It's become evident, that for the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff, they'd much rather have Crawford playing at $10 million a season than not have him at all.

In the short term, particularly for 2019, the contract that stands out the most is Allen Hurns.

Hurns signed a two-year deal in the 2018 offseason and the thought was he'd be able to supplement some of the production that was lost when the team released Dez Bryant. Hurns, unfortunately, struggled to hit his stride last season before suffering an ankle fracture in the win over the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.

The sixth-year wide receiver is now set to have a salary cap hit of $6.25 million in 2019. The Dallas Cowboys could walk away from his salary and save $5 million on the cap with only $1.25 million in dead money.

For a receiver who has had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, $6.25 million dollars isn't that much. Remember, Sammy Watkins signed for $16 million a season last offseason and only has one 1,000 yard receiving season to his name.

Again, the Dallas Cowboys dodged a bullet with that one. 

The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, reportedly really likes Allen Hurns. On the field, he can help the team on the outside and in the slot and provides tremendous depth at the wide receiver position. How he, and some of the wide receivers further down the depth chart, perform during training camp and preseason, will make or break Hurns' employment with Dallas Cowboys in 2019.

Even with the contracts of Tyrone Crawford and Allen Hurns on the books, the Dallas Cowboys have $20 million in cap space in 2019 and almost $75 million in cap space in 2020. Sure those numbers will change significantly whenever Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and possibly Ezekiel Elliott sign their new contracts, but the Dallas Cowboys are in great shape in terms of the cap. They aren't carrying much dead money and there are zero contracts on the roster that are weighing them down and keeping them from doing what they want to do in free agency and with their own players.

Good drafting and wise free agent pursuits have finally destroyed the narrative that the Dallas Cowboys were in "cap hell." Sure, it can be frustrating during free agency to watch other teams make moves and improve their team, but it sure is nice that they're in the position to be able to hand out long-term extensions to the core of their team.

Namely the newest iteration of The Triplets.



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