The Cowboys did not add any new talent to the linebacker group for the 2016 season. Free agency came and went without any fresh faces being signed. Though they drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round he is not expected to play this year. To the surprise of some, Dallas will trust in last year's group to develop and improve.
All of those players but one were still under contract; Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Mark Nzeocha, and Damien Wilson. Rather than just allow those four to compete, Dallas still elected to re-sign Kyle Wilber to a two-year deal. That decision certainly puts a spotlight on Wilber right now among his peers.
Granted, there's another way to spin the re-signing. Dallas may have seen Wilber simply as a trusted reserve who also offers some pass-rushing skill, which they certainly need. His contract only totaled $3.25 for two seasons, which is backup money. He may not have a leg up on anyone for the third starting job, or even be in consideration for it.
That said, there are several reasons to believe that Dallas could be eyeing Wilber for the job. Consider the following:
1. They Re-Signed Him Before the Draft
Dallas did not wait until after seeing how the draft or free agency unfolded before deciding to keep Wilber. Free agency opened on March 9th and Wilber was signed on March 11th. Dallas didn't even make him wait on the market and try to drive his value down, as they've done with some other veterans in the past. That decisiveness speaks to a certain value they place on the fifth-year veteran.
2. Slower Development
Though he's never emerged as a star, Wilber has remained useful despite having to adjust to the 4-3 scheme after being originally drafted to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's had to learn how to play in coverage and the transition has likely slowed his development from what we tend to expect.
Dallas recognizes this and may feel that Wilber's best years are ahead. If he can build on the last four years and reach peak performance now, the Cowboys will be getting quality play at a major bargain.
3. Not a Full-Time Starter
Though it's a starting position in the "base defense," the strongside linebacker gets limited snaps compared to middle and weakside guys. When the Cowboys move to their nickel, it's the strongside LB who leaves the field for that third cornerback to come on. Against passing teams, it's not uncommon for the nickel defense to be used more than the base scheme.
As the Cowboys look to manage their salary cap and keep their resources in the most important positions, perhaps a guy with Wilber's dependability is enough for them in that third LB role. He may not play more than 40% of the snaps in the season, so why not spend your draft picks and cap dollars elsewhere?
4. Pass Rushing Ability
With Orlando Scandrick returning and Byron Jones likely moving to safety, Dallas' confidence in their secondary will likely increase. This could allow for them to utilize more blitzing in the front seven which makes Wilber's strongest attribute even more valuable.
As was mentioned, Wilber started in the league as a 3-4 outside rusher. If the Cowboys don't ask their linebackers to drop back into coverage as much then Wilber could be used to attack the edges more than ever since moving to the 4-3. That versatility will only allow Rod Marinelli to be more creative.
5. The Prototype
If Marinelli sees his strongside linebackers according to the traditional 4-3 textbook, Wilber fits the mold better than the rest. Hitchens, Gachkar, and Wilson are all a little smaller and better suited for the middle and weakside roles. Nzeocha has size but is almost still a rookie after being injured most of last year.
Wilber is best suited to stand up against the run of any of the OLB candidates. He has also proven to have enough coverage skill to not be a major liability. While size isn't everything, it is a good tiebreaker when talent appears to be even.
~ ~ ~
Right now, everything seems pretty even among Wilber and his fellow linebacker prospects. Sean Lee and Rolando McClain are the only guys with clear roles and starting jobs. We don't know how the Cowboys have these other players rated against each other and who they're favoring for certain roles at this point.
However, we do know that they thought enough of Wilber to re-sign him. We know that Wilber started as many games last year (nine) as any of the other candidates. Dallas may be most comfortable with Wilber based on his experience and production thus far.
For a position that isn't necessarily critical, just being comfortable is okay. You can live with that. Based on the new contract, Dallas seems okay living with Wilber for a couple more years.
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign Free Agent Safety George Iloka
The Dallas Cowboys have reached a one-year agreement with Safety George Iloka, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Iloka spent 2018 with the Vikings after six years with the Bengals.
He's started 79 of his 99 career games since being a fifth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2012. Iloka turns 29 years old next week.
The Cowboys have agreed to a one-year deal with safety George Iloka, according to a source. Iloka met with the Cowboys on Friday and was the third safety to meet with the club during the week along with Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry. The Cowboys have... https://t.co/JB5nJLWepc
This isn't the safety that most Cowboys fans wanted. After over a year of pining for Earl Thomas, sights turned to Eric Berry after his free agent visit in Dallas last week.
However, it makes sense that Iloka would be attractive to the Cowboys. At 6'4" and 225 lbs, he fits the physical mold of what Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes in his players. He also is younger than Berry and Thomas without the same recent injury issues.
Iloka becomes one of many Boise St. products on Dallas' roster, joining Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and others. He entered the league with college teammates Crawford and Kellen Moore, the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, in 2012.
We'll have to wait and see how George Iloka fits into the current mix at safety with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. He spent most of 2018 as a backup with Minnesota, but Dallas will likely give him a chance to start.
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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