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How Important Are 2016’s First 4 Games For The Dallas Cowboys?

Football is a game of four quarters, save for the occasional overtime thriller. A football season can be looked at through a similar lens. As there are 16 games in a season, that means that there are four quarters with four games apiece. Yay math! The Dallas Cowboys have handicapped themselves for the first quarter of the season with two of their star defensive players suspended for them.

RJ Ochoa



Cowboys Headlines - The Importance Of The First 4 Games Of The 2016 Dallas Cowboys Season 1

Football is a game of four quarters, save for the occasional overtime thriller.

A football season can be looked at through a similar lens. As there are 16 games in a season, that means that there are four quarters with four games apiece. Yay math!

The Dallas Cowboys have handicapped themselves for the first quarter of the season with two of their star defensive players suspended for them. No, that isn't a line from a year ago. This isn't deja vu. It's the same story, just a different year. 365 days ago we were preparing for a first quarter sans Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy. This time around it's Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence. Hooray.

Two years ago after the first quarter finale, an emphatic win at home over the New Orleans Saints, Jason Witten said that the goal was to win each quarter of the season. Winning is defined as going at least 3-1, 4-0 is winning with style. That year the Cowboys won the first two quarters, drew the second, and won the fourth in style. Last year? Dallas barely drew the first quarter and lost the final three.

How The 1st Quarter Relates To A Playoff Berth

How important are these "quarters" though, really? As discussed the Cowboys will be down two men to start, but with eyes set on the playoffs will that really make a difference?

Cowboys Headlines - The Importance Of The First 4 Games Of The 2016 Dallas Cowboys Season

I went back and assessed the playoffs teams of the last three seasons. Three years is a pretty significant chunk of time, and that gives us 36 total teams - 36 total first quarters - to look at.

1st Quarter Record 4-0 3-1 2-2 1-3 0-4
2013 5 1 4 2 0
2014 0 7 5 0 0
2015 5 1 4 2 0
Total 10 (28%) 9 (25%) 13 (36%) 4 (11%) 0 (0%)

It appears that the most common route taken by playoff teams over the last three seasons has been via a 2-2 start. Second is the super popular undefeated stance, third 3-1, and last is the 1-3 variety. As you can see no team that has participated in the playoffs during the last three seasons has started off winless in the first quarter.

The Cowboys first four games of the 2016 seasons are against the Giants, in Washington, against the Bears, and in San Francisco. Considering that the first two of those are division games they are even more important. Dallas started off their season with two NFC East games last year and won them both, so they're experienced in this regard.

You can view the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Schedule right here. If you'd like an iPhone or Android schedule wallpaper you can get one here! For my official breakdown of the schedule you can head right here.

The 1st Quarter Pass Rush - Will There Be Any?

The primary issue that will be plaguing the Cowboys in the early hours of the 2016 season will be the pass rush, or really the lack of one. According to Pro Football Reference's 2015 Offensive Line Grades the Cowboys first four opponents graded:

  1. New York Giants - 24th in Pass-Blocking, 16th in Run-Blocking, 4th in Penalties, T-20th Overall.
  2. Washington Redskins - 13th in Pass-Blocking, 15th in Run-Blocking, 12th in Penalties, 11th Overall.
  3. Chicago Bears - 17th in Pass-Blocking, 5th in Run-Blocking, 20th in Penalties, 16th Overall.
  4. San Francisco 49ers - 14th in Pass-Blocking, 30th in Run-Blocking, 6th in Penalties, 27th Overall.

Thankfully the Cowboys won't be facing any supremely stout offensive lines when they are without their most lethal weapons. This bodes well for the talent that is currently on the roster which has a lot of potential, but is ultimately unproven.

Recent history suggests that if the Cowboys can walk out of the 1st Quarter of the season 2-2 then they'll be well in contention. Given the returning offensive talent, including the newly drafted Ezekiel Elliott, defensive prowess won't be as necessary. Nevertheless it is another point of optimism that the lines they'll be attacking aren't too intimidating.

How do you think the Dallas Cowboys will fare in the 1st Quarter of 2016? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at, or Tweet to me at @rjochoa!

Tell us what you think about "How Important Are 2016’s First 4 Games For The Dallas Cowboys?" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain

Jess Haynie



La'el Collins

When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.

Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.

La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.

For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.

That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.

But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.

But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.

If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.

Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.

They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.

While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.

Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.

If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.

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Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin



Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.

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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams



Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!

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