For the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys have tried to fill a need with a cheap veteran option in free agency. They have had a string of disappointments with these moves and, though it's still early, there are concerns that Safety George Iloka may be the latest failed free agent signing.
When Iloka was signed last March, it was generally perceived that he was here to push for a starting job or, at worst, be a highly-experienced backup with position flexibility. George has 79 career starts, which is more than Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods combined, and he has intriguing physical traits at 6'4" and the athleticism to play either free or strong safety.
But so far through the spring and summer practice reports, Iloka hasn't been standing out. There's no indication he's pushing Heath for a starting job, and fourth-year prospect Darian Thompson is the reserve player making noise.
If George Iloka doesn't start separating himself soon, he may wind up not even making this roster.
The ideal mix at safety, and most other positions, is to have your starters, a solid backup, and then a developmental player. So far, Darian Thompson is distinguishing himself as a potential backup. Kavon Frazier and rookie Donovan Wilson are also in the mix, offering youth and upside that Iloka, at 29, no longer can.
There is still a whole preseason, and plenty more practices, for Iloka to change perceptions. But the silence around him right now is troubling.
Bad Free Agent History
It's concerning that the Cowboys aren't hitting on their free agent gambles. This trend started in 2016 with Cedric Thornton, who was brought in to upgrade defensive tackle but then couldn't even crack the starting lineup. He hung around as backup that year, but then was released at final cuts in 2017.
Also in 2017, Nolan Carroll was signed to replace exiting starters at cornerback. He wasn't impressive in the summer and still managed to start, but then got hurt in the second game of the season. Dallas didn't even bother keeping him at that point, releasing Carroll in October of that same year.
Last year, Allen Hurns was supposed to come in and fill the WR1 void left by Dez Bryant. But Hurns never established himself in the offense, prompting Dallas to eventually trade for Amari Cooper. Hurns fell down the depth chart, not evening beating Michael Gallup for the #2 spot, and wound up getting released just a few weeks ago.
To be fair, these players were available and cheap for some of the same reasons they didn't work out. They were risks, and unfortunately Dallas is on a bad run of busting on these gambles.
Will George Iloka be the next failed attempt to add a bargain player? We can't say that for sure just yet, but right now there are some concering signs.
Hopefully, for the team's sake and the player's, things turn around soon.
QB Colin Kaepernick to Hold Workout, Cowboys Showing an Interest
Former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is apparently attempting to resurrect his NFL career and will hold a private workout for teams on Saturday in Atlanta according to Adam Schefter.
NFL clubs were informed today that a private workout will be held for Colin Kaepernick on Saturday in Atlanta. Session will include on-field work and an interview. All clubs are invited to attend, and video of both the workout and interview will be made available to clubs.
For fans who believed Colin Kaepernick was blackballed after all of the kneeling during the national anthem fiasco, this is long overdue. For everyone else, they probably couldn't care less. But, where exactly do the Dallas Cowboys stand? After all, that's all we really care about here around Cowboys Nation. Right!?
Well, it appears as if the Dallas Cowboys could be at least a little bit interested. Or, it could just be them doing their due diligence. Either way, it looks as if they will have somebody on hand at the workout.
After speaking to another team from my last tweet, as of now, I'm told there is interest within the #Cowboys organization to send at least one representative to Colin Kaepernick's workout, per source.
If you put aside all of the protest stuff and kneeling during the national anthem, this is a move that actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. And, you can bet that this is an opportunity Kaepernick himself has been waiting for.
I'm just getting word from my representatives that the NFL league office reached out to them about a workout in Atlanta on Saturday. I've been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can't wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday.
This may be the opportunity Kaepernick has been waiting for, but why should the Cowboys be interested? Well, let me try to lay it out for you little better…
You see, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need another backup quarterback next season. Cooper Rush is in the last year of his rookie contract and is set to become a free agent after the completion of the 2019 season. In Colin Kaepernick they would not only be upgrading Dak Prescott's backup, but also adding a QB with a similar skill set as him as well.
Now, there is a catch of course. There always is. Kaepernick hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL since the 2016 season. Also, he'd have to be willing to accept a backup role. Those are some pretty big red flags, but he could do a lot worse than bringing his talent to Texas as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys could actually be the best spot for him to resurrect his career. The national attention he would receive as a member of America's Team could be the best place for him to put his talents on display and prove he still has something left in the tank, even if it is in a backup role. If he can do that, there's no telling where his career could go from there.
In all honesty, this sounds like a win-win for both the Dallas Cowboys and Colin Kaepernick. Uniting these two could be a match made in heaven. It's very possible both parties are interested in one another, but unfortunately we won't know how things turn out anytime soon. It's a waiting game now…
Do you think Colin Kaepernick would be a good fit with the Dallas Cowboys?
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott’s MVP Performance
The Dallas Cowboys have lost games to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. Last Sunday Night, the Cowboys hosted the Vikings on primetime and lost in a game that went down to the wire. It felt like the toughest loss of the season. Why? Let's dive in to this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday.
Cowboys Turned Their Back on Dak Prescott's MVP Performance
Cowboys Nation was shocked with the Cowboys' play-calling late in the game and for good reason. After starting the drive backed up at their own five, Prescott completed six of seven passes for 79 yards. Then, on second down and two to go, the Cowboys ran the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for no gain. On a short yardage down, that was comprehensible. Maybe not ideal, but understandable. On third down, though, they handed it off again to Zeke.
In the game in which Dak Prescott was playing at an MVP level, with less than two minutes on the clock, the Cowboys took the ball away from him to put the game on the star running back who was having a rough day with less than 50 yards against a stout Vikings defense.
Now granted, the play on third down seemed to be an RPO concept with Jason Witten as the pass option. But why are you giving Dak one pass option when he's dominated all night? Why are you instead trusting Elliott in a game in which he failed to average three yards per carry? Prescott was unbelievably clutch, throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and a 100% conversion rate on 3rd & 7+.
This was by far the number one reason why the loss to the Vikings was so frustrating to watch. The Cowboys have a franchise quarterback. But they need to learn to trust him as such and put the games on his hands when needed. Not on their running back, regardless of how much they pay each.
Jason Garrett Must Be More Aggressive in Fourth Down Decisions
It's easy to say this in retrospective, but I believe the Cowboys didn't make the right decisions when facing fourth down last Sunday night. The first notorious decision came in the second quarter, when the Cowboys faced 4th & 4 with the ball on the Vikings' 40 yard-line. Being behind 14-0, they decided to punt.
It turned out fine for the Cowboys in the end, tying the game 14-14 later in the second. But the analytics trend in the NFL really has evidence to back up the fact that Dallas should've gone for it in such a critical spot.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys decided to kick the field goal being on their opponents' five. Down 21-28, Brett Maher went out to kick the field goal, which put the Cowboys behind by four points instead of seven. They still needed a touchdown to take the lead with ten minutes left on the game.
Kevin Brady took a deeper look at the Cowboys' win probabilities on this article for Inside The Star.
was working on a post for @InsideTheStarDC on this last night. here's the estimated WP for each scenario on that fourth and goal.
The Baltimore Ravens are taking the league by storm using analytics and making the right decisions in fourth down. Yet, some teams in the NFL are not catching up. The Cowboys are one of those teams.
Cowboys Defense Exposed Again
The main reason the Cowboys lost to the Vikings was coaching and that's clear. But defense earned the second place. Kirk Cousins played a good game versus Rod Marinelli's unit, despite the box score suggesting otherwise. He made a couple of impressive throws at AT&T Stadium while Kyle Rudolph finished night with two touchdown catches and a two point conversion.
Dalvin Cook, one of the toughest offensive weapons to face in this league totaled 183 yards last weekend. It's not easy to face Cook and limit him and the Cowboys failed to do so. The linebackers had a very rough day overall and there wasn't a single performance to point out as a positive.
Slow Starts Won't Stop
Every week. Every week we talk about how this Cowboys team started slow against any opponent. In six games, they haven't scored a TD in the first quarter. Not even at the beginning of the season, when they went 3-0 against poor teams did they start a game on the right foot. Who to blame? Both players and coaches, but I'd lean toward coaching first.
Bottom line, there's a huge problem with the way this football team prepares for gameday and the Cowboys need to figure it out fast. Their backs are against the wall and playing from behind every game costs games. At 5-4 and headed toward tough opponents in the second half of the season, it's time to put an end to such starts.
Are the Dallas Cowboys Letting Ego Affect Offensive Play-Calling?
There is a lot to complain about after the Dallas Cowboys' loss last night to the Minnesota Vikings. But what seems to be the most universally reviled topic is Dallas' stubborn use of Ezekiel Elliott and the run game, and I can't help but wonder if it stems from an ego-driven need to validate Zeke's new contract.
Just before the start of the regular season, the Cowboys made Elliott the NFL's highest-paid running back at $15 million per year. There was no lack of criticism for this decision; many argued that the modern pass-happy NFL doesn't need RBs paid at the franchise level. There were also some direct concerns about Zeke and his ability to endure as a top-tier runner, avoid personal conduct issues, or both.
After nine games in the 2019 season Elliott has given Dallas a decent return on their investment. He is currently ranked sixth in rushing yards per game despite the team's move to a more pass-focused offense. And though it will take doing, Zeke could still make up the roughly 200-yard distance between league leaders Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey.
Even while Dak Prescott is set to have a career-high in passing attempts the Cowboys are still committed to getting Ezekiel Elliott his touches. And that's not bad; you don't spend a 4th-overall draft pick and huge cap dollars on a guy you don't plan to make a focal point of your offense.
But last Sunday night, we saw Dallas keep trying to fit a Zeke-shaped peg into a Dak-shaped hole.
The Vikings were helpless against the Cowboys' passing attack all game long; Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Randall Cobb were having their way with Minnesota's secondary. Meanwhile, Zeke had one of the worst days of his career with only 2.35 yards-per-carry; the lowest production rate he's ever had when getting 20 rushing attempts or more.
Over the course of an entire game you can't completely throw out the run or pass portions of the playbook. You still have to keep the defense honest in either scenario.
And, to be fair, you can understand why Dallas thought Zeke would eventually get it going. After the Vikings got shredded by the Cowboys' passing game most of the night, you would assume they'd eventually start devoting more resources to air defense.
Throughout his time in Dallas, Elliott's best work has often come in the second half. His physical style, coupled with the Cowboys' typically dominant offensive line, is especially brutal for opposing defenses later in games when fatigue sets in.
So yes, the formula was seemingly there for Zeke to break loose. As onlookers, we were as perplexed as I'm sure the Cowboys themselves were at the lack of success Elliott and the run game had as the night went on.
But at a certain point we saw the need to adjust strategy. And as Zeke kept getting repeatedly stymied by the Minnesota defense, the outcry on social media and in living rooms and sports bars got louder by the carry.
And yet the Cowboys wouldn't relent. They wouldn't admit defeat.
Then the final drive came, and despite Dak Prescott playing perhaps the best game of his career the Cowboys handed it to Zeke on 2nd down and 3rd down for -3 yards. He went nowhere or backwards, just like we'd seen most of the night.
And in the end, that stubbornness may have cost them the game.
What concerns me about that loss, and how it unfolded on offense, is that stubborn refusal to adjust strategy. Zeke never should've gotten to 20 carries given how poorly they all went; his longest of the night was only six yards. The run game clearly wasn't working, and leaning on it in those crucial final moments bordered on the cliche definition of insanity.
The concern is that Dallas feels the need to justify Zeke's contract so badly that it's going to distort offensive strategy. And if that does exist, it probably comes from up top.
Jerry Jones has done a lot of great, wonderful things in his ownership and management of the Dallas Cowboys. But it's perfectly fair to say that he allows ego to interfere with logic at times.
Jason Garrett has won way more games than he's lost since becoming Cowboys head coach. But he's prideful; Garrett often references personal and team pride in his public conversations. And he's also proudly loyal to traditional football methodology.
Stephen Jones and Will McClay have done awesome work in their increased handling of the Cowboys' football operations. But rest assured, they also have ego. McClay helped scout Zeke and all of these offensive linemen. Stephen had a huge part in negotiating their big contracts. Their reputations are also tied to the team's success.
I'm not saying that the Joneses or anyone else has handed down an edict on when and how Ezekiel Elliott should be used. I certainly don't think Jerry was in Kellen Moore's ear on Sunday night.
But decision making has many layers, some active and some passive. Even subconsciously, our choices in the heat of the moment are driven by many factors.
Kellen may have been trying to play chess against checkers, calling the run in the face of all logic in the hopes that it would catch Minnesota off guard. But maybe also in that decision was the thought that Zeke is the team's most proven offensive weapon, the reigning NFL rushing champion, and that Moore didn't want to be the guy who didn't give Elliott a chance to do his thing.
I may be grasping at straws here, but I'm just trying to find the logic behind what went down on Sunday night. Because even the more casual football fan could see that Dallas had decision-making disasters throughout that game.
Whatever caused the lapse in judgment, hopefully all involved learned their lesson.
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