The Cowboys' 2018 season ended last night with a disappointing playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And though it doesn't feel like it today, Dallas can approach this it offseason with a lot of optimism and confidence for the future.
Today isn't even the darkest point of the season. Sure, a playoff loss is discouraging. But the Cowboys were on the road against a team that went 13-3 and was well rested after their bye week. The Rams were the better team, by all measures, and they simply did what they were supposed to do.
No, the darkest hour for Dallas in 2018 came after Week 9. Coming off their bye week and having just added Amari Cooper, the Cowboys fell flat at home against the Tennessee Titans. The team seemed lost and unmotivated, and the fall to 3-5 felt like more than just another bad day.
Don't forget the mood following that game. Jason Garrett seemed closer to being fired than ever before, and even Dak Prescott's future with the Cowboys was in question. There was a sense that Jerry Jones might blow the whole thing up.
But then a came a road win in Philadelphia. Then another in Atlanta. The Cooper trade started paying dividends and the Cowboys started looking like a different team.
Even the win on Thanksgiving over Washington, which raised Dallas' record to 6-5, didn't erase all concerns. The Redskins, Eagles, and Falcons were all average-or-less teams. Many felt the Cowboys were just padding their record against the weak.
And then they beat the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints, winners of 10-straight games and 10-1 overall, could barely function offensively against the Cowboys' defense. It was one of the biggest upsets of 2018 and a sign that there was something special happening in Dallas.
The Cowboys went from a 3-5 disappointment to a 10-6 division champion. They won a playoff game against a Seattle Seahawks team that many felt were superior.
And even last night, down 20-7 and seemingly outmatched in every way, Dallas kept fighting.
There will be an entire offseason to work on the technical issues that hurt the Cowboys this year. A new offensive coordinators, hopefully getting Travis Frederick back, development across the board for a very young defense; these and other things can all be addressed in the months ahead.
But a team's personality and spirit, those aren't so easy to change. And what we saw from Dallas this year says that this team has all the heart needed to win a championship.
Some of that came from Kris Richard, the unofficial defensive coordinator who appears close to staying with the Cowboys now instead of taking a head coaching job elsewhere. While the Dallas' defense was good in 2017, it rose to a new level this year.
If Richard is back next season, and if Dallas can find some better X's and O's on offense, then this is a coaching staff who can win a championship.
In only 15 games this year, and despite numerous health issues on the offensive line and a weak passing attack, Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing. He reminded any who doubted it after 2017 that he is the best pure runner in the game, and he'll back next year.
Dak Prescott has plenty of warts as a quarterback, and hopefully some of those will get worked out this offseason. But he established himself as the true leader of the team this year, filling the void left by Jason Witten's retirement. He never quits and his teammates never quit on him, and that's vital for any team seeking playoff success.
Dallas' trade for Amari Cooper, even at the high price of a first-round pick and his impending new contract, seems to have been the right move. He opened up the offense and now gives Dallas a true nucleus to build on, rather than a big hole to fill.
Even without that first-rounder in the 2019 draft, the Cowboys will still have plenty of resources to work with this offseason.
They have enough cap space to work with and can create more with some simple moves, such as releasing Sean Lee. They will need to figure out DeMarcus' Lawrence contact and decide if they want to re-sign Cole Beasley, but the roster gets pretty easy to deal with from there.
So yes, this can be a time of optimism. We're all licking last night's wound, but disappointment shouldn't lead to despair.
The wait of another offseason isn't fun, but your Dallas Cowboys are closer to a championship right now than they've been in a long time.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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