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.
Report: Raiders Sign Former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber
A Free Agency period filled with departures continued for the Dallas Cowboys today, as the Oakland Raiders have reportedly signed the now-former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber.
The Raiders have signed LB Kyle Wilber: https://t.co/TaC6cqjval
Wilber has been with the Cowboys since 2012, and has played in all 16 games four of the past five seasons. Most of his time has come on special teams, but he did provide solid linebacker depth for the Cowboys since joining the team.
Dallas has now lost both Wilber and Anthony Hitchens, depleting their linebacker depth even further over the last couple weeks.
The Raiders have now signed two key special teams contributors for the Cowboys in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber this offseason. Hopefully Dallas can replace these types of "replacement level" players throughout the rest of the offseason, especially during the NFL Draft.
Report: Cowboys Officially Release CB Orlando Scandrick
After requesting his release from the team just a few days ago, Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick has gotten his wish. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Scandrick has officially been cut by the Dallas Cowboys.
I'm told the #Cowboys have informed CB Orlando Scandrick he will be released, per source.
This move will reportedly save the Cowboys roughly $1.4M against the salary cap, as we hope they finally look to make some moves during the Free Agency period.
Scandrick's release comes after an offseason in which the Cowboys totally overhauled the back end of their defense, specifically their cornerbacks. With the emergence of young, promising players such as Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, and the health issues of the aging Scandrick, the move makes a lot of sense.
In fact, after the Cowboys drafted Awuzie in the second round of last year's draft it was rumored the Cowboys were looking to move Scandrick for extra draft picks. Instead, one year later, they have cut him to save some cap room.
Orlando Scandrick should have a market to find a new team elsewhere, but his time in Dallas has now come to a close.
Dallas Cowboys Restructure Travis Frederick’s Contract, Clear Cap Space
Patience is a virtue for football fans everywhere this time of the year, especially those of the Dallas Cowboys. A team known for using free agency to deal with their own expiring contracts and players, Cowboys Nation has been anxiously awaiting an addition to improve this roster before the draft. While the wait will continue for outside help in Dallas, the Cowboys have created $7.5 million in cap space by restructuring the contract of Center Travis Frederick.
C Travis Frederick will restructure his deal to help clear up roughly 7.5M in cap space for the #Cowboys per source informed
Restructuring the contracts of their cornerstone players is nothing new for the Cowboys. Rarely doing so with a clear "next move" in sight, the market for top FA talent at WR and OL may have already passed the Cowboys.
Having the space to negotiate with available players now opens the door just slightly further for Earl Thomas or Tyrann Mathieu acquisitions to become realistic. Reportedly, the Cowboys have inquired about both safeties (Thomas via popular trade talks and Mathieu as a free agent, released by the Cardinals) and have been met with price tags the Jones' were forced to turn away.
Giving up assets for players that will warrant large future contracts is not currently the Dallas Cowboys' way, but being able to sign somebody in free agency has been. To avoid a repeat of 2017, a season arguably derailed as soon as the team's free agent class failed entirely, the Cowboys will need to find proven players that can contribute on the market in the coming weeks.
With the help of the anchor to their star-studded offensive line, the Cowboys can come to this market with slightly thicker wallets now. Keep the optimistic tweets alive, and tip Travis Frederick accordingly.
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