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Identifying Replacements for Cowboys Departed Free Agents

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Free Agency: Is LB Anthony Hitchens A Priority?

The Dallas Cowboys approached free agency with a familiar focus on re-signing their own players. While this isn't the flashiest way to add talent, it is a proven way to compete, especially considering the prospects the Cowboys have developed well enough to offer second contracts.

For as many homegrown players as the Cowboys have leading the way, they did allow the likes of Anthony Hitchens, Jonathan Cooper, and Brice Butler to depart this offseason.

Whether through signing other free agents or drafting, the Cowboys are weeks away from sorting out who fills in for these players on their deep 90-man roster. Here are my predictions for the early favorites in Dallas when looking to fill in these roles.

Has Anthony Brown Lost His Spot in Dallas Cowboys Secondary? 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick: Anthony Brown

When Orlando Scandrick defected from the Cowboys to the Washington Redskins, he left behind a void that covered 85% of last season's defensive snaps. Scandrick's effectiveness as the Cowboys slot cornerback can be fairly called into question despite his veteran status, losing a step over the last few seasons.

Turn the page to 2018, and the Cowboys are in position to have some of the best depth at slot CB in the league. Under new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, this potential has already been on display at the Cowboys previous OTAs and mini camp.

Last year's standout rookie Jourdan Lewis could progress even further by kicking inside for his second season. To earn this role vacated by Scandrick, he'll have to first beat out Anthony Brown. Looking to recapture his form from a stellar 2016 season, Brown plays with the speed and awareness that the Cowboys expected from Scandrick in his prime.

Now, they can expect to hold up at cornerback without Scandrick thanks to Anthony Brown, as well as Jourdan Lewis and Duke Thomas.

Defensive End Benson Mayowa: Dorance Armstrong

It's unfortunate the Cowboys don't have bigger shoes to fill when it comes to Benson Mayowa, moving on to the Arizona Cardinals after totaling seven sacks in two seasons for the Cowboys. Mayowa was never able to truly hold down the starting job at right defensive end, a position the Cowboys will still deal with uncertainty at in Oxnard.

Awaiting the reinstatement status of Randy Gregory, the Cowboys also have Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton prepared to play in rotation at RDE. In terms of replacing what they had in Mayowa, rookie Dorance Armstrong fits the mold well.

Both athletic rushers with length and flexibility on the edge, it's unclear how much Armstrong will be asked to contribute in his first season. Having a similar plan after signing Mayowa would have been ideal for the Cowboys, but moving forward with this depth across the entire defensive line is an overall team strength for DC Rod Marinelli to maximize.

Working with a defensive end like Armstrong, who peaked with 10 sacks as a Junior in 2016 at Kansas, Marinelli and the Cowboys should look at anything they get out of this 'high ceiling' prospect as an added bonus in 2018.

Offensive Tackle Byron Bell: Cameron Fleming

If this season is truly going to be a prove it year for Quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys must avoid the major injuries that completely wrecked his offense a year ago. Most notably, this offensive line did not play up to their own standards when Jonathan Cooper and Tyron Smith were out.

Committed to protecting Prescott again, the Cowboys prioritized their backups at tackle and guard to bring in Cameron Fleming and Marcus Martin. Fleming will serve as a replacement to Byron Bell, who finds himself with the Green Bay Packers now.

Where Bell struggled at left tackle with his footwork and overall movement ability, Fleming is a proven tackle that knows how to win, signing in Dallas by way of the New England Patriots. He is the ideal swing tackle to be ready for either Smith or La'el Collins, something never said about Bell.

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Dallas Cowboys LG Connor Williams

Left Guard Jonathan Cooper: Connor Williams

This one is as easy as it gets, and part of the reason I named Williams the Cowboys rookie with the most upside last week. Now with the San Francisco 49ers, Jonathan Cooper left behind a starting job at left guard for the Cowboys in free agency.

With no intentions on handing this job to Marcus Martin, the Cowboys couldn't pass on Texas standout Connor Williams at 50th overall in the NFL Draft. Keeping Williams in the state of Texas is much more than just a feel good story for everyone familiar with what he went through to battle back from injury, but one with massive implications on the Cowboys offense.

Idolizing Tyron Smith throughout his journey into football, Williams will now team up with Smith on the left side of the Cowboys offensive line. The results should be stunning for this athletic and cohesive front line, especially when factoring in Travis Frederick on Williams' right side, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins.

Linebacker Kyle Wilber: Chris Covington

Primarily a special teams ace for the Cowboys, Kyle Wilber followed Rich Bisaccia to Oakland this offseason. Joining Keith Smith with the Raiders, Wilber also leaves behind a depth option for the Cowboys at both SAM linebacker and defensive end.

While rookie Chris Covington lacks the strength and experience to play defensive end, he will have to emerge on special teams to make this roster as a sixth round pick. In doing so, Covington would be absorbing the primary duties of Wilber while developing as a backup at linebacker -- just as Wilber was if called upon.

Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys: By the Numbers

Wide Receiver Brice Butler: Deonte Thompson

It's common knowledge at this point that the Cowboys are going with a receiver-by-committee approach for 2018. Most notably replacing Dez Bryant, who remains a free agent, the Cowboys have also found speed on the outside with Deonte Thompson and rookie Cedrick Wilson.

Thompson is a very similar player to now Cardinals WR Brice Butler, who never quite found his footing in the Cowboys offense. The same has been said about Thompson through multiple teams, seen last with the Bills where he caught 38 passes for 555 yards in 2017.

Like Butler, Thompson has no problem getting over the top, and is even more refined in his ability to run intermediate routes. The Cowboys have plenty of use for Thompson's speed should they choose to use it, something they couldn't consistently do with Butler.

Cornerback Bene Benwikere: Marquez White

Yet another Cowboys free agent that signed with the Cardinals this offseason, replacing Benwikere comes down to who makes the final 53-man roster for the Cowboys. Rarely contributing on defense as an average depth player, any backup cornerback that actually makes this team is effectively the "new" Benwikere.

I'll take Marquez White's year of experience and toughness to earn him a spot once again over the likes of Donovan Olumba and Kam Kelly. Even if White doesn't provide the special teams snaps that Benwikere could, he is a capable backup at both cornerback and safety, which is more than enough for the Cowboys to consider this an upgrade at the position.

Linebacker Anthony Hitchens: Jaylon Smith

Perhaps the biggest name to leave the Cowboys this offseason, Anthony Hitchens is reunited with Matt Eberflus as a high-profile signing with the Colts. Not re-signing a player as solid and reliable as Hitchens forced the Cowboys to rebuild a bit at linebacker, doing so by spending the 19th overall pick on Leighton Vander Esch.

Sure, Vander Esch may be getting the first crack at Hitchens' old MIKE LB spot, but I believe improvements from Jaylon Smith this season will closely resemble what Hitchens leaves behind.

Practicing without a brace and preparing for a monster season, the sky is now the limit for Smith in returning to his college form. At his best, it won't matter where the Cowboys deploy Smith, as his reaction ability and power against the run will help this defense get off the field.

The same was often said about Anthony Hitchens, who quietly handled duties at all three linebacker positions at different times in Dallas.

Linebacker Keith Smith: Jamize Olawale

Never doing without their fullback, the Cowboys traded for Jamize Olawale this offseason from the Raiders -- where Keith Smith joins Kyle Wilber and Ryan Switzer as former Cowboys. Smith justified his spot on the depth chart at fullback very well, playing 85% of the Cowboys special teams snaps while being an emergency option at linebacker.

Jamize Olawale may not be an option at linebacker for the Cowboys, but the team should feel good about their depth elsewhere at this position. The bigger problem spot for Dallas exists at tight end, where Olawale can help relieve the need for a consistent threat by catching passes out of the backfield.

Olawale has certainly been an under the radar player this offseason for the Cowboys, but as we get a feel for what they have planned for him in Oxnard, Olawale should help the Cowboys move on from a player well-respected by coaches and fans in Keith Smith.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

For the most part, the Cowboys have potential upgrades in place for their class of departed free agents. Each season's roster turnover is a humbling reminder of how important it is to capitalize on opportunity in the NFL. Realizing this despite being such a young team, the Cowboys signed the right veterans in free agency to avoid devastating injuries in 2018.

It will take expected contributions from veterans, draft picks living up to the billing, and free agents stepping up quickly for the Cowboys to contend this season. The pieces are in place for this roster to develop into one of the league's most talented by the end of the year however, where the best offensive line and running back in the sport become so much more important.

Tell us what you think about "Identifying Replacements for Cowboys Departed Free Agents" 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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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Offense

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2019. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter, roleplayer, or developmental prospect.

We'll start with the offense.

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, FB Jamize Olawale, WR Amari Cooper, OT Tyron Smith, G Connor Williams, C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, OT La'el Collins, OT Cam Fleming

There are no foreseeable issues that could change where these 10 players fit into the 2019 offense. Barring injury or some surprise trade, such as Dallas moving La'el Collins, we know exactly where these guys will fall if they're here and healthy.

Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are no-brainers, as are your five starting offensive linemen. I also included Fleming as he was clearly brought back to be the swing tackle this season. That could all change in 2020, but for this year at least his role is certain.

You may be surprised to see any fullback in this top tier, but the Cowboys gave Olawale a three-year contract to return this offseason. They made $2.8 million of it guaranteed; you just don't do that if you have any doubts about keeping him on the 53. There's no question that Jamize will be part of the team in 2019.

Some might argue that Connor Williams' starting spot isn't guaranteed, but I just don't see it. They lived the rookie growing pains last year and are hoping for much more going forward. A mid-season switch could occur if he struggles, but Williams will be the Week One starter at left guard.

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

WR Michael Gallup, WR Randall Cobb, G/C Joe Looney

I almost put Gallup in the first tier but "sophomore slumps" are a real thing. Until we see him building on last year as hoped, there is room for something to go awry.

That also brings Cobb's role into question. Any slippage in Gallup's game could lead to increased opportunities for the veteran. Really, even if both guys are bringing it in 2019, how exactly the targets and usage get split between them isn't entirely certain. If Cobb is back to his peak form in Green Bay, he will be hard to take off the field.

I also put Joe Looney in this second tier because I think he could be trade bait. If a team is hurting at center before Week One, is there a more attractive trade target in the NFL?

Dallas could afford to trade Looney if they feel good enough about Connor McGovern as a backup center. Adam Redmond could also be in the mix, serving as the backup last year when Looney was starting.

It's very unlikely that Dallas would give up one of the best backup offensive lineman in football. But if a team is desperate enough to dangle a third-round pick in front of them, the Cowboys might have an offer they can't refuse.

Blake Jarwin

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin (Kevin Terrell via AP)

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

RB Tony Pollard, TE Jason Witten, TE Blake Jarwin, TE Dalton Schultz, OL Connor McGovern

This tier is dominated by the mysterious tight end position.  How much playing time will Jason Witten really get? How have Jarwin and Schultz developed and how will it all shake out?

Witten should be the ceremonial starter, but what really matters are total snaps and targets. Even if Jason is the first man out on game days, Jarwin could still wind up being the most-used TE of the group. It all remains to be seen.

We are also expecting a lot from rookie RB Tony Pollard this year, but we don't know yet how much responsibility he'll be given. Will he be the true backup RB or more of a gadget player? Will he take the KR and PR jobs aways from Jourdan Lewis and Tavon Austin? Lots to still be determined here.

Another rookie with question marks is third-round pick Connor McGovern. Will he be given a significant job right away or be carried, perhaps with several game day inactives, for development towards 2020? It's doubtful that he could push Joe Looney out of a job, but will he show enough that Dallas is willing to part with Xavier Su'a-Filo?

Mike White

Dallas Cowboys QB Mike White

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Mike Weber, RB Darius Jackson, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns, WR Noah Brown, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT Mitch Hyatt

In the top three tiers we've named 18 players who are locks to make the 53-man roster. You generally have 24-25 player on each side of the ball, so that means only 6-7 roster spots left on offense. That means some of the guys named here won't make the team.

Will Cooper Rush and Mike White both have jobs? If Rush remains the backup QB, Dallas will probably hang on to White for another year. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys could easily let Cooper go to save a roster spot for another position.

Assuming Dallas doesn't add any veteran RBs between now and camp, it seems Darius Jackson and Mike Weber are competing for the same job. There's also a chance that neither makes it; the Cowboys could use Jamize Olawale as the emergency third back. They may be happy to stash with Jackson or Weber on the practice squad.

Things get really interesting at receiver once you get past the top three. Do veterans Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin's experience edge lift them above guys like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson? Or will Dallas choose the upside of youth and their cheaper contracts? The bottom half of the WR depth chart appears entirely open right now.

The Rico Gathers Experiment seems close to ending, but he's still here and has a chance to change perceptions. The one-game suspension won't matter if the Cowboys like what he has to offer the rest of the season. But keeping a fourth TE could be tough with the numbers at other spots, and Gathers is unlikely to leap above Jarwin or Schultz.

Numbers are also an issue for the offensive linemen. We know the top eight; five starters, Fleming, Looney, and McGovern. If the Cowboys keep nine guys, they may go with Mitch Hyatt as an additional tackle rather than bring Xavier Su'a-Filo back. They already have the interior line covered.

Codey McElroy

Dallas Cowboys TE Codey McElroy

Tier 5 - Longshots

We'll all have our "pet cats" and favorite underdogs over the next two months, but they will all be hard-pressed to make the roster given the current depth.

Maybe a guy like RB Jordan Chunn shocks us by beating out Weber and Jackson, or perhaps a dark horse WR like Jalen Guyton or Jon'Vea Johnson forces his way into the conversation. Crazier things have happened.

But this 2019 Cowboys roster is about as stacked and predictable as it's been in a long time. Strong drafting has give us a lot of young talent with years left on their rookie deals, and those guys are hard to budge.

The key for these players is to be too good to risk losing on the practice squad. Convince Dallas to make room for them, perhaps by keeping just two quarterbacks or going short somewhere else.

Because only 46 guys are active on game days, roster spots 47-53 can be dedicated to securing players and development. These young prospects want to force their way into those spots, and likely cost a veteran like Cooper Rush or Allen Hurns a job in the process.

~ ~ ~

Where players fall in these tiers could change once we start getting some reports form training camp. How expendable you are can shift depending on performance, or if the circumstances change at your position.

We'll hit the defense tomorrow.



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Bold Prediction: Tony Pollard has Rookie Season Similar to Alvin Kamara

Brian Martin

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Predicting Cowboys RB/WR Tony Pollard's Rookie Season Statistics

The Dallas Cowboys drafted over half a dozen players this year in the 2019 NFL Draft, but the only name we have really been hearing anything about is rookie Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard. Cowboys Nation is really intrigued with the former Memphis Tiger, so today I thought I'd take a look at what he could potentially do with the Cowboys in his rookie season.

The first thing we have to try and figure out is what kind of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys this season. Will he just be used to give Ezekiel Elliott a breather from time to time, or will he be expected to form a 1-2 punch with Zeke? An argument can be made for either of these two scenarios.

If you were to ask me my honest opinion though, I believe Tony Pollard will be more of a sidekick to Ezekiel Elliott in 2019 rather than someone who spells him when needed. Pollard has the skill set and versatility to become a really good complement for Zeke, and that's the way I believe the Dallas Cowboys will utilize him as a rookie.

If you're looking for more of a visual, look no further than how the New Orleans Saints used Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara these past few seasons. On their own, Ingram and Kamara are above average RBs in the NFL, but when in the lineup together they form an impressive duo that puts opposing defenses at a disadvantage. That's what I envision for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard

Dallas Cowboys RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard

If that's not a bold enough prediction for you, I'll take this a step further. I wouldn't be surprised if Tony Pollard has a rookie season similar to Alvin Kamara's first year in the NFL in 2017.

As a rookie, Alvin Kamara had 120 rushing attempts for 728 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also accumulated 81 receptions for 826 receiving yards and 5 TDs. That production earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year.

It's probably a bit of a stretch to predict Tony Pollard have that kind of production with the Dallas Cowboys, especially considering the heavy workload they've put on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders these past few years. But, I really don't think Kamara's rookie stats are that far off.

I think it's reasonable to believe Pollard will have between 88, double of Rod Smith's carries in 2018, and 100 rushing attempts this year. He should also haul in around 40 receptions in the passing game as well. Overall, I think he will have around 800 total yards, 500 rushing and 300 receiving, and 5-8 touchdowns.

Would you take the over or under on those numbers?

I don't know where you stand, but I truly believe Tony Pollard can help the Dallas Cowboys, and most importantly Ezekiel Elliott as a rookie this year. He should be a playmaker as both a runner and receiver on offense, and that's not even mentioning what he can do in the return game. It's easy to forget he was one of the best kick returners at the collegiate level.

You may not believe me, but I think Tony Pollard will have a pretty impressive rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys this year. Whether or not it measures up to Alvin Kamara's though is yet to be seen.

What are you expecting from Tony Pollard in his rookie season?



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Cowboys Twitter Tuesday: Answering Defensive Back Questions

John Williams

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Is Jeff Heath Set for Cowboys Captaincy in 2018?

Each week I’ll collect your questions from Twitter as well as any questions left in the comment section and attempt to condense a few into a common theme.

Last week, we talked about the 53-man roster. In particular the wide receiver group and one player who contributed to the 2018 squad, that may not make the 2019 team out of training camp.

Today, I want to tackle a couple of defensive back questions, as right now, that’s arguably the biggest question mark for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season.

Steve Haley on Twitter

@john9williams Is Jeff Heath really as bad as everyone thinks?

It was a rough 2018 for Safety Jeff Heath. According to Pro Football Focus, Heath finished second in the NFL in missed tackles with 19. While a glaring issue for a player who you rely on to be a sure tackler and a reliable player, there are several stand out safeties that also finished in the top 10 in missed tackles, per PFF. Jessie Bates III, Derwin James, Landon Collins, and Malcolm Jenkins all finished inside the top 10 in missed tackles.

For Heath, though, were too many times where Jeff Heath had the ball carrier in his grasps and allowed himself to get carried or miss the tackle completely, because he was attempting to strip the football. And was rarely successful.

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard made an interesting point in favor of Heath when he talked about the Cowboys winning 10 games and made the playoffs with Heath as the starting safety.

Heath stays under a microscope because he’s always been one of the whipping boys for Cowboys Nation.

The Dallas Cowboys had several opportunities to upgrade the box safety or strong safety role in team but passed at every turn. Instead they brought in George Iloka on a veteran minimum contract to be depth at free and strong safety. They also drafted Donovan Wilson in 2019 to provide some special teams play and potentially compete for the starting strong safety spot.

The moves the Dallas Cowboys made would seem to indicate they have a high comfort level with Jeff Heath as the other starting safety next to Xavier Woods. For a team that has had few misses in recent years, how they’ve approached the safety position this offseason speaks volumes.

TommyDaTexan on Twitter

@john9williams Is @ChidobeAwuzie going to be challenged for the #2 spot at CB and by who?

Head Coach Jason Garrett loves to create competition for his football team. Generally, the only players that find theme selves as unquestioned starters are the quarterback and veterans with a track record of production.

Chidobe Awuzie is one of the players I’m most intrigued to watch this season because of the way he played last year.

Statistically, Awuzie has a rough season in 2018, but if you watch him closely, there were few times that he wasn’t in excellent position to defend the pass. He just wasn’t able to make a play on the ball to prevent the reception. He struggled in the first half of the season and was getting picked on, but if you’ll recall, he had a really good second half of the season.

I really like Awuzie’s game. He’s got good athleticism and is able to play the ball in the air. He’s a physical player and is willing to play the run. I think he’s a player that is primed for a breakout season. Remember he was limited for much of his rookie season because of injury, so 2018 was his first full training camp and season. After getting beat a lot in the first half of the season, he settled in during the second half.

The player that could challenge Awuzie at left corner back is Jourdan Lewis. Lewis has sticky coverage skills and by all reports has been the best defensive back in the OTA and minicamp practices. Much had been made about Lewis’ body not fitting Kris Richard’s prototype for a corner back, but Richard has talked glowingly about Lewis this offseason.

With Byron Jones our nursing a hip injury, Lewis could very well start the season at right corner, but if he continues to play well and Awuzie struggles, you could see Lewis take over on the left side.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

What do you make of this year’s defensive back group? Do you think Jourdan Lewis could wind up as a weak one starter?

If you’ve got any Cowboys questions, make sure you leave them in the comment section.



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