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How Will the Loss of Anthony Hitchens Impact the Cowboys’ Season?

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- Anthony Hitchens, #59
AP Photo/Scott Boehm

Last season, the Dallas Cowboys defense was pretty impressive despite the uninspiring regular season record of 9-7. The unit may have seemed devoid of big playmakers, only scoring one touchdown and making just 10 interceptions, but they did well to stifle teams.

Ranking as the eighth-best in the NFL for net yards allowed per game at 318.1, 11th in net passing yards allowed per game at 214.1, and eighth in net rushing yards allowed per game at 104, the Cowboys defense was hard to conquer.

However, a big piece of that defensive effort was linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

Still only 25 years old, Hitchens put up strong numbers year after year and put up a career-best 84 combined tackles – a number only Sean Lee bested on the Cowboys roster – despite missing four games. The 6’0’’ 235 lbs linebacker ran out of contract over the summer, but the Cowboys didn’t really stand a chance of re-signing him.

Playing Free Agency

Sean's Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Dallas Cowboys Defense 1

Source: Patrik Walker, via Twitter

These days, teams pay good players great player money in the first phase of NFL free agency. With little wriggle room between them and the cap, the Cowboys were unlikely to match the other offers coming in for Hitchens.

The fifth-year linebacker eventually signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on a huge deal which some see as wildly overpriced. Hitchens gets a $14-million signing bonus as well as a fully guaranteed $21.5 million over the first two years of the deal.

Having been all but dormant in the early stages of free agency for some years now, the Dallas Cowboys were expected to try to patch the Anthony Hitchens-sized hole in their defense by signing a decent player. But, instead, the Cowboys opted to sign Joe Thomas. With eight starts over three years with the Green Bay Packers, the move wasn’t exactly inspiring.

Said to be a better version of Kyle Wilber – who was also lost in free agency – Thomas likely isn’t Hitchens’ replacement.

However, the Cowboys have long seen free agency as a way to complement their moves in the draft. The Cowboys like to pick and build their own players rather than bring in others.

That said, if they want to challenge for the NFC East and have a strong showing in the playoffs, they’ll need to bring in a big playmaker at linebacker.

As it stands, the Cowboys are a fair bit back in betting online for the NFC Conference at +900, but some shrewd free agency signings and a playmaker in the early rounds of the draft could change all of that. Replacing the productivity of Anthony Hitchens is a must if they are to build on last season.

On-Campus and Looking to the NFL Draft

In Season For Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Decision On Jaylon Smith 1

Source: Blue Star Brasil, via Twitter

Right now, Jaylon Smith seems to be the answer to the loss of Hitchens, but he’s still got some way to come before he’s at the level the Cowboys need. He continues to suffer from nerve damage in his foot following a knee injury sustained in his last game for Notre Dame, but it's said to be getting better continually. He has a very strong work ethic and can push for a starting spot, but he’s still somewhat of an unknown.

As the Cowboys have been looking at offensive tackles, guards, and wide receivers in the second phase of free agency, they may already be planning to fill their linebacker hole in the draft.

Picking at #19 overall this year, a stroke of luck may have placed an incredibly talented linebacker in the Cowboys’ lap.

Roquan Smith, standing 6’1’’ and 236 lbs, is a formidable inside linebacker and considered to be one of the very best of the class. However, he sustained a hamstring injury during the NFL scouting combine, which could see him drop just outside of the top 15 – into Dallas’ catch zone.

The Dallas Cowboys look set to fill the void left by Anthony Hitchens with a playmaker in the early rounds of the NFL draft. If they don't, however, it doesn’t look likely that the Cowboys will be as formidable on defense, nor will they properly challenge for the division.



This is the General Staff account for Inside The Star, a blog for Dallas Cowboys news, scores, schedule, rumors, and analysis. We are the official home for @CowboysNation on Twitter. Follow us today for new content updates straight from our timeline. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Staff listing.

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BREAKING: Ezekiel Elliott Handcuffed After Incident with Security Guard

Jess Haynie

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No Preseason Work Hurt Ezekiel Elliott's Early Season Production?

TMZ has released footage of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott being handcuffed and escorted by police after an altercation with security at a Las Vegas music festival over the weekend.

Elliott was not arrested and no charges have been filed.

ProFootballTalk on Twitter

Ezekiel Elliott handcuffed but not charged after incident at Las Vegas music festival https://t.co/NJQ6csGgnv

The video shows Zeke engaged in what appears to be an argument with a female companion. Elliott is seen following her through the crowd, and then security starts to get involved after Zeke moves his body to block her from walking away.

One of the security guards says something that attracts Elliott's attention, causing him to move in closer. The guard falls backward from minimal contact. It as soon after that police get involved.

There isn't much here that would cause trouble for the average player, but that's hardly Elliott's situation. He's one of the most prolific stars in the NFL and already has history with the league for domestic violence and personal conduct issues.

Remember, no charges were filed when the NFL gave Elliott a six-game suspension in 2017 after accusations from an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence.

We will have to wait and see how Roger Goodell chooses to treat this latest issue.



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Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott ‘Excited’ About Dallas Cowboys ‘Promise’ in 2019

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys Still Plagued by Red Zone Struggles

There's a lot to look forward to as the team gears up for offseason training activities and minicamp. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys look like a potential contender in the NFC after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling to the NFC representative Los Angeles Rams by a score.

The offseason additions the team has made in addition to the draft have many in Cowboys Nation excited about the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season. That includes Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Ezekiel Elliott: "I'm just excited about the group of guys we have. I'm excited about the talent we have on this team. I'm excited about the leadership group we have. I think we have a lot of the right pieces. I think we have a lot of promise for this season.

I think the Cowboys are right to be optimistic about their team heading into the season. They had one of the top 10 defenses in the NFL and an offense that was trending in the right direction over the last half of 2018.

On both the offensive and defensive side of the football the Dallas Cowboys have gotten better as a team.

The offense sees the return of Travis Frederick to the middle of the offensive line and though Joe Looney was good, he's no Travis Frederick. Frederick's return will improve communication along the offensive line and improve their run blocking up the middle; an area where the Cowboys struggled with consistency in 2018.

Another veteran returning to the Cowboys for 2019 is Tight End Jason Witten. Though he's slowed down some at 38 years old, having his leadership and veteran presence on a team attempting to make a deep playoff run is very important. Witten's as steady a player as has been in the NFL and should still be able to make plays in the run and pass game.

The additions of Randall Cobb and Tony Pollard give the Dallas Cowboys a more versatile group of players for new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to toy with. This versatility will allow them to keep teams off balance. With Randall Cobb, the Cowboys will be able to move Amari Cooper around the formation in order to find favorable matchups in the passing game. Tony Pollard gives the Cowboys a durable gadget option and big-play threat in the run and pass game. Pollard's ability as a returner could help the Cowboys get more favorable field position in 2019.

Ezekiel Elliott himself stands to benefit a great deal from the additions and changes the Cowboys made to the offense. Pollard is an upgrade as a running back to Rod Smith, so the Cowboys can cut Ezekiel Elliott's workload a little and keep him fresh by expanding on the two series a game the coaching staff used to give Smith.

On defense, they added Robert Quinn to a defensive line that already boasts one All-Pro pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill provide depth to an interior that struggled against the Rams in the playoffs and the Indianapolis Colts during the regular season. The defensive line.

In addition to all that, the Cowboys will get to see what kind of progress their 2018 rookie standouts make in year two.

Leighton Vander Esch was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and should have won defensive rookie of the year with his play. Connor Williams looks to have gained the necessary size and strength to play left guard in the NFL. A second offseason at guard should help him to improve at his new position. Michael Gallup was a revelation in the third round of the draft last year. After slowly being worked into the lineup over the first half of the season, he emerged as the Dallas Cowboys second wide receiver.

The NFC East and the NFC is a tough place to play. Every year, it's an uphill climb to win enough games to win the division or make the playoffs, but the Cowboys have put themselves in a fantastic position to do just that. Though no team has been a repeat winner of the NFC East since the early 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys have built a team that will be able to compete with any team in the NFL.

From the roster to the coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys have built a squad that should get anyone excited. Are there questions as the team heads to training camp? Of course. But every team has questions at one position or another. The Cowboys have done an excellent job to minimize those questions through free agency and the draft and have one of the best teams in the NFL on paper.

The excitement that Ezekiel Elliott feels is warranted. The Dallas Cowboys do have a lot of promise as we look ahead. Now as they get ready to start ramping up practices, it's time for Elliott and the rest of the team to go prove it.

And I have a feeling they'll live up to that "promise."



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DT Leonard Williams May be Available, Should the Cowboys Explore a Trade?

John Williams

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DT Leonard Williams May be Available, Should the Cowboys Explore a Trade?

Per a report by Rich Cimini of ESPN, the New York Jets may be exploring a trade for their star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. With Williams set to hit free agency in 2020, the theory is the Jets may not be interested in locking up Williams long-term after just drafting Quinnen Williams with their top five selection in 2019.

Here's what Cimini had to say in his report:

"There's already talk in league circles that Gase could be looking to move on from Williams, who will be a free agent after the season. He's due to make a guaranteed $14.2 million in the final year of his contract. Gase hasn't said anything about Williams that would spark speculation, but it's not hard to connect the dots when examining the defensive line situation."

Rich Cimini - ESPN.com

Williams has been a really good player for the New York Jets who has played 3-4 defensive end and some defensive tackle for the Jets in his four-year career. A former sixth overall pick has had as many as seven sacks and as few as two sacks a season, but he's played in all 64 games in his career, starting 63. He's stayed healthy and been productive on a Jets defense that hasn't been very good over the last few years.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Game Def Def Def Def Def Fumb Fumb Fumb Tack Tack Tack Tack Tack
Year Tm GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits
2015 NYJ 15 3.0 63 29 34 7 21
2016* NYJ 16 2 0 0 7.0 68 36 32 11 19
2017 NYJ 16 1 6 0 6 1 2.0 47 22 25 3 25
2018 NYJ 16 0 0 0 0 2 5.0 42 27 15 11 20
Care 63 1 6 0 6 3 2 0 0 17.0 220 114 106 32 85
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2019.

For the Cowboys defense, he would project as a 3-technique with the ability to be the Cowboys 1-technique in passing situations. Among interior defensive lineman, Leonard Williams finished 21st in run stops per Pro Football Focus and sixth in total pressures with 53. Williams was third among interior players in QB hits with 16 ahead of Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Lineman Chris Jones and Seattle Seahawks Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. For reference, DeMarcus Lawrence had 63 total pressures and 11 QB hits in 2018, while Tyrone Crawford had only 37 total pressures.

The Dallas Cowboys have been working to reinforce their defensive line this offseason after struggling in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams when the Cowboys gave up over 200 yards rushing. Though they like Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins, they obviously weren't satisfied with the going into 2019 with just those two in the Dallas interior.

In free agency, the Cowboys added Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder and then drafted Trysten Hill with their second-round pick. They also added Daniel Wise, a player that was seen as a fourth or fifth rounder in most people's minds as an undrafted free agent and will compete for a roster spot.

As intriguing as Covington, Hyder, Hill, and Wise are in addition to Maliek Collins and Woods, Williams would be an immediate upgrade at 3-tech and the Dallas Cowboys should explore it, even if they don't plan on resigning him beyond 2019.

The Cowboys could swap expiring contracts by sending Maliek Collins to New York and a draft pick. Collins is unlikely to be resigned by the team in the 2020 offseason as they have plans for Hill as their 3-tech of the future.

The Dallas Cowboys showed with the trade for Robert Quinn that they're alright going after the one-year rental player. Leonard Williams would make their defense better for 2019 and while they have high hopes for Trysten Hill, Williams is a known asset right now and wouldn't prevent you from giving Hill snaps at 3-tech.

For a team hoping to make a Super Bowl run, adding a player like Leonard Williams makes a lot of sense. He's another disruptive player that would immediately improve your pass rush and also helps your run defense. The Dallas Cowboys have a team ready to win now, so now's the time to go get players that help you do so.



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