Yet another "hot hand" Cowboys depth chart controversy has come up with the pending return of Linebacker Sean Lee. Though it's possible for Lee to coexist with the already dominant pairing of rookie Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, Cowboys Nation has convinced themselves the days of seeing the Wolf Hunter as a starter are numbered.
Jerry Jones' recent comments on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas did little to slow this outrage, but do require more context than provided to fully understand.
Jerry Jones says Sean Lee will get his starting job back when he returns from his hamstring injury. Jones on Lee: "When he's right, there's nobody better.
Jones said Lee will be the Cowboys starting WILL linebacker once he's fully healthy. For a 32-year old linebacker that's never once played 16 games in a season, the merits of being "fully healthy" are worth questioning.
Lee shouldn't be feeling the same urgency to get on the field as quick as possible. For the first time, the Cowboys are competent on defense without him, and that's because of Leighton Vander Esch - who admits he's learned a lot from Lee while sidelined.
There is of course the adage that capable players play, and Lee could be in uniform for the first time since a week nine loss to the Tennessee Titans this Sunday. Whether or not he's healthy enough to play his usual workload will determine how many of Vander Esch's snaps he takes, with the Cowboys more than willing to let LVE carry the game if needed.
In the team's previous win at the Eagles, Vander Esch recorded his first interception on Carson Wentz, leading to a Dallas field goal.
The decision the Cowboys must make about their linebacker depth is a topic I've discussed here more than once already. Prior to the Cowboys win over the Saints, I warned that a substandard game from the defense against the top scoring offense in the league shouldn't influence the decision to cut Vander Esch's snaps too much.
"Vander Esch and Lee have only been on the field together for 19 snaps this season, hardly the Cowboys plan when they locked onto the raw defender out of Boise State early in the draft process. In games where both linebackers are available to play, Vander Esch is averaging 32 snaps a game, well below the 58.8 he averages when primarily handling the WILL LB position in Kris Richard's defense."
All Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith did was combine for 19 tackles and hold the Saints to a season-low ten points. The schedule doesn't get easier for the Cowboys from here, as their four game win streak has set up another must-win match up with the Eagles.
Though the Eagles aren't the same team that handed the Cowboys their worst loss ever at AT&T Stadium a year ago, they are 6-6 with life in the NFC East. Having Sean Lee available to help put an end to a late season run by the defending Super Bowl champions is a great thing for the Cowboys, and a luxury they didn't have in last November's 37-9 loss.
Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith suiting up as the three primary linebackers for the Cowboys is not yet something they've figured out. The time is now for playoff hopeful teams to get healthy and explore any lineup changes. The Cowboys should have total faith in Kris Richard figuring out the best way to deploy all of his linebackers.
If Vander Esch is playing less snaps, it means that Lee is back and playing at a high level. The General will be the first to take himself off the field if he's not up to a usual standard of excellence. Such a standard has been remarkably matched by Vander Esch, to the point where the Cowboys should be praised for their added talent at LB - instead criticized for a decision that hasn't happened yet.
What Could the Dallas Cowboys Get for Taco Charlton in a Trade?
Per a report from Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan and 247Sports.com, it seems that the Dallas Cowboys are fielding calls from teams inquiring about Defensive End Taco Charlton. Sources state that teams will be calling the Cowboys during the 2019 NFL Draft about the Cowboys former first round pick.
Source: Teams plan to call #Cowboys on Taco Charlton trade ideas during 'interesting weekend' (vip) https://t.co/lon93QmzIh
It's an interesting turn of events for the former first round pick. Charlton, taken with the Cowboys first pick at the end of the first round hasn't really lived up to first round billing. For a variety of reasons, he hasn't been able to find a consistent role on the field.
With Randy Gregory being suspended indefinitely, there was some thought that Taco would get a chance to earn a role with the starting defensive line, but after the Cowboys traded for former All-Pro Robert Quinn, his path to playing time looks narrow.
With the NFL Draft starting tonight, rumors are swirling on all sorts of players, but it's hard to know which ones are accurate as teams will put out misinformation all over the place. But there's no reason to believe that the Cowboys aren't shopping Taco Charlton.
The question is, what could the Cowboys get in return for Taco Charlton?
Trading Taco Charlton at this point in his Cowboys career would be admitting they made a mistake selecting him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. That doesn't even begin to touch on the discussion of whether they should have taken Pittsburgh Steelers Outside Linebacker T.J. Watt over Charlton to begin with.
The Watt vs Charlton debate doesn't even matter at that point. If you're trading your former first round draft pick, you're telling the world, and your fans that you made a mistake. That being said, once you are willing to admit your mistake, it's best to move on.
In looking at potential compensation for Taco Charlton, it's important to look back and find players with similar careers who were traded. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, I went all the way back to 2010 to look at every defensive end traded and attempted to find players who have had similar production to Taco through his first two seasons.
In Taco Charlton's first two year's he's registered four sacks and 46 total tackles. He's played in 27 games for the Dallas Cowboys. The following players were traded in the middle of their rookie contracts, and to that point had similar career production to Taco Charlton. They varied in their original draft position. Henry Anderson was a former third round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Kamalei Correa was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round. Jihad Ward was also drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Lawrence Jackson was a first round draft pick back in 2008 by the Seattle Seahawks and was traded before the 2010 season. Cassius Marsh was traded by the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2017 season to the New England Patriots after originally being selected in the fourth round.
|Aug 28, 2018||Baltimore Ravens||Kamalei Correa||3||Tennessee Titans||2019 6th round pick (191st overall)|
|Apr 28, 2018||Indianapolis Colts||Henry Anderson||4||New York Jets||2018 7th round pick (235th overall, Zaire Franklin)||2|
|Apr 28, 2018||Oakland Raiders||Jihad Ward||1||Dallas Cowboys||Ryan Switzer||2|
|Sep 2, 2017||Seattle Seahawks||Cassius Marsh||6||New England Patriots||2018 5th round pick (168th overall, Jamarco Jones)|
|Aug 18, 2010||Seattle Seahawks||Lawrence Jackson||5||Detroit Lions||2011 6th round pick (173rd overall, Byron Maxwell)||24|
Four of the five trades of players with similar careers to Taco Charlton included draft compensation. Three of the five trades made were for future draft picks. The trades for Correa, Marsh, and Jackson look to be moves by the original team attempting to get something for a player that they planned on cutting after training camp. Henry Anderson and Jihad Ward were traded for during the NFL Draft.
This gives us a range of pick compensation for Taco Charlton anywhere from the 168th overall pick to the 235th pick in the seventh round. That's a big disparity in value. According to the Trade Value Chart, that's anywhere from 23.8 points to one point in value for Taco. Based on previous trades of similar players, it's possible that the best they could get for their defensive end is a pick at the end of the fifth round.
Trading Taco Charlton isn't as simple as just trading for him. The Cowboys would have to get offers for the player that would make more sense than having the player. If they are able to get someone to give them a fifth round choice or if they're able to use Taco with one of their own draft picks to move up in the draft to get a player they covet, it makes sense to pull the trigger.
If the Cowboys could get an extra fifth, they could use it on a player like Rodney Anderson out of Oklahoma, Kingsley Keke from Texas A&M, or Jalen Hurd from Baylor and have a fresh start with a new player on a rookie contract.
In any trade rumor, it takes two teams to make a deal and if Mike Fisher's source is accurate, then the Cowboys may have several dance partners this weekend.
To me it doesn't make sense to trade him for anything less than a fifth round draft choice. Sure, he hasn't been what the Dallas Cowboys had hoped for when they took him at the end of the first round, but he's still a player that looked to be trending up at the end of his rookie season. In the NFL where rosters turn over quickly, it's best to get something for a player who hasn't lived up to expectations and not ride it out in hopes that they turn it around.
As they say, "hope is not a strategy."
Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract
To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.
The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.
It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.
Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.
In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.
For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.
Connor Williams Adding Size and Strength Huge for Cowboys OL
It's no secret that heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the book on Connor Williams coming out of Texas was that he didn't have enough length to play tackle in the NFL and didn't have enough bulk to play guard. At least not at first.
It was an issue we saw play out early in the 2018 season as he struggled with some of the more powerful defensive tackles. He struggled so much that the team went to Xavier Su'a-Filo during his injury and for a couple games after he was healthy, thinking they had a better option. After having a bit of time to sit back and watch, Williams came back into the starting lineup with a better feel for that power and was much improved over the last half of the season, including the playoffs. He never relinquished his job again.
Though he played better, it was obvious what his number one offseason focus would be; adding size and strength. According to Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, he's done just that.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Jones gave us some insight into how Williams is looking this offseason.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on offensive lineman Connor Williams, last year's second round pick: "My understanding is that he's taken some huge steps in terms of his strength and size. My understanding is that he's put on some really good weight.
Jones then added some lofty expectations on the second year guard from the University of Texas.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "I think Connor Williams is gonna be a mainstay in our offensive line for many years to come. ... I think we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line.
Connor Williams was already proving himself capable of standing up to powerful defensive lineman as late in the season and in the playoffs, but this is very encouraging to hear as we look to 2019.
Against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, Williams and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys interior offensive line had big challenges in front of them. Seattle's Jarran Reed and Los Angeles' Aaron Donald were two of the better defensive tackles in 2018. Donald, is considered by many, the best defensive player in the NFL because of his brute strength that is matched by his quickness.
Against both players, Williams performed well. Not perfect, but well enough to be encouraged about what Williams could bring in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, he only allowed five total pressures during the playoffs, including one in the divisional round against the Rams. There's a reason that everyone is so high on Williams heading into his second year.
The front office included.
Stephen Jones praise is significant. The Dallas Cowboys feature three All-Pro offensive lineman. To say that "we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line" is very high praise. There aren't many teams in the NFL that boast as much talent along the offensive line as the Dallas Cowboys do in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. For Jones to think Williams cold be that level of player doesn't sound like generic front office speak.
With a full year under his belt, including two playoff starts, Williams should be confident heading into his second year. Adding strength and weight will help him anchor better against the strong interiors he'll face weekly in the NFL. Getting Center Travis Frederick back in the lineup will help him with the mental aspect of the game.
There's a lot to be excited about with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and the offensive line remains one of those things. How Connor Williams improves from year one to year two will be one of the major storylines throughout the offseason heading toward week one. The Cowboys offensive line remains a focal point for America's Team and all eyes will be on Williams as he looks to make the second year jump.
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