The Dallas Cowboys front office decision makers are going to have a busy offseason in 2019. They've got several important pieces to get under contract as well as players that need contract extensions. DeMarcus Lawrence is a free agent that will likely sign a big deal and may get the franchise tag to prevent other teams from offering a lucrative contract to walk away from the Dallas Cowboys. Other players like Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott have been mentioned as possible targets for contract extensions.
The reason the Dallas Cowboys are looking to hand out extensions to some of those guys mentioned above, is one, because they earned it, and two, because if you pay them a year early, there's a good chance you get them at a better rate than if you pay them once they're free. If the Cowboys wait till Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones all become free agents in the 2020 offseason, they'll have to worry about other teams jacking up the price on their players. Remember this past offseason when Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins signed deals with new teams for more than $14 million per year. It's always better to have sole negotiating rights when attempting to get your players under contract.
The Dallas Cowboys are likely going to get all these guys done this offseason, it's just a matter of when. It's always fun spending someone else's money, so here's how I'd prioritize getting their deals done.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
Another year and another Pro Bowl appearance for DeMarcus Lawrence who followed up his 14.5 sack 2017 season with 10.5 sacks this season and was just as electric against the run. The Dallas Cowboys used the franchise tag on Lawrence last season and he played the full season on it, betting that he would have another stand out year.
That he did.
Lawrence sack numbers may have gone down, but his effectiveness was still on display every week. He's one of the best EDGE players in the NFL and is about to get paid like it. The Dallas Cowboys will look to get a long-term deal done before the start of free agency. Both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have commented on the importance of locking up the best player on their defense. If they aren't able to get a deal done before free agency starts, they'll franchise tag him again and then hope to get his long-term deal finalized before the tag locks in sometime in July.
2. Dak Prescott, Quarterback
I know many people in Cowboys Nation aren't excited about the idea of extending Dak Prescott, but here's what you need to know. He's a good quarterback still developing and has gotten better each season he's been in the NFL.
Dak's about to get paid.
As I outlined a couple of weeks ago, Prescott has done enough to earn one of the top contracts in the NFL. He's been the quarterback of the team that's won the NFC East two out of the last three seasons and has been to the Pro Bowl twice in his young career. In 2018, Dak set career highs in completions, attempts, and passing yards, all the while getting sacked a rate nearly double his previous career high.
Locking up your young quarterback sets the stage for just about everything else on the offense. It creates an identity. Get Dak Prescott done and quit worrying about the face of your franchise for the next five seasons.
3. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys have another year of Amari Cooper under contract for the 2019 season, but he showed his value in the last half of the 2018 season. After coming over from the Oakland Raiders, from week nine through 17, Cooper had 53 receptions on 73 targets for 725 yards and six touchdowns. At a 16 game pace, Cooper would have had 135 targets for 94 receptions, 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns. Any question on whether he's a lead receiver for an NFL team should have been answered by his second half with the Dallas Cowboys.
Of his 1,005 receiving yards, 725 came with the Cowboys while six of his seven touchdowns on the season came after he arrived in Dallas.
Cooper's game fits excellently with Dak who looks to find the open receiver in his progression. Cooper is always open. He creates big windows with his route running ability and displayed excellent hands throughout the season.
The offense got better when Cooper came over and that's no coincidence. With a full offseason to work together with Dak Prescott, the Cowboys will get even more out of Cooper in 2019. Lock your quarterback up and lock his favorite target up at the same time and prosper.
4. Byron Jones, Corner Back
The Dallas Cowboys finally found a role that suits their 2015 first round draft pick, Byron Jones. He played excellent this season at corner back. Byron Jones is a corner back.
Pro Football Focus rated Byron Jones the fifth best corner back in the 2018 season among players that played at lead 600 snaps. Though he did not record an interception, and that's something that you hope will improve with more comfort at the position, he was tied for 10th in the NFL at the corner in pass break ups. He allowed a reception on only 53.6% of the attempts that went Jones' direction, which among corners, was good for ninth in the NFL.
Jones had really nice games against some of the NFL's best in 2018:
- Week 2 vs Odell Beckham Jr.: 1 target, 0 receptions
- Week 5 vs DeAndre Hopkins: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 74 yards
- Week 10 vs Zach Ertz: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 24 yards
- Week 11 vs Julio Jones: 3 targets, 1 reception, 19 yards
- Week 13 vs Michael Thomas: 2 targets, 0 receptions
- Week 14 vs Zach Ertz: 1 target, 0 receptions
- Week 15 vs T.Y. Hilton: 1 target, 1 reception, 8 yards
- Week 16 vs Mike Evans: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 72 yards, 0 touchdowns
Each of the players above are in the upper echelon of their position and Byron Jones only allowed a player to gain more than 25 yards in his coverage twice. Week five against DeAndre Hopkins and Week 16 against Mike Evans. Jones shut out Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr., and held Julio Jones and T.Y. Hilton to just one catch each.
It was a really nice year for Byron Jones in his first full season at corner back and he was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance. A nice contract should be coming his way this offseason.
5. Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
The Dallas Cowboys hit a home run when they drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in 2016. He's been as good as anyone in Cowboys Nation could have hoped for. Elliott's led the NFL in rushing twice in his three-year career and in each of those seasons, he only played 15 games as the coaching staff opted to sit him with nothing to play for week 17.
There was a report at the end of the regular season that Ezekiel Elliott wanted to be extended this offseason as opposed to waiting until the 2020 offseason. The Cowboys have a few options with Elliott. They can extend him, place the first round pick fifth-year option on him, or allow him to play out his contract.
It's no guarantee that the Cowboys would offer Elliott a second contract after the 2020 season. If they're going to sign him to an extension, the time is now. He's 23 years old and an extension now would mean that his contract would run out around age 27 or 28, which is generally the age for running back drop off.
Elliott's coming off a season where he led the NFL in rushing and more than doubled his previous career highs in targets and receptions, and finished with more than 2,000 total yards on the season.
The Dallas Cowboys don't have to do anything with Ezekiel Elliott, but if they're intending to have him signed through his prime years, it makes a lot of sense to get him done now.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of money to spend this offseason getting some of their own locked up to long-term deals. They'll be working with the player's representatives to find numbers that work for both sides over the next few months. Locking in their core players for the foreseeable future is paramount to the Cowboys' window being extended for the next five years.
Should Cowboys Address TE Need Via Free Agency?
A season after Jason Witten's retirement, the Dallas Cowboys still have a need at tight end. Replacing a future Hall of Famer is no easy feat so it's only logical that it would take longer than a season to feel good about who's in at tight end.
The Cowboys currently have two tight ends who could be pretty serviceable going forward. Fourth round pick Dalton Schultz did a very solid job as the team's TE2, specially toward the second half of the season. He turned into a pretty good run blocker and despite only racking up 116 yards in 12 catches, he's a guy the Cowboys' offense could use even more in the future.
Also on the team is Blake Jarwin, who functioned as the Cowboys' main tight end for most of 2018. His performance against the New York Giants in week 17 made us wonder whether or not he could be an important target on the Cowboys' offense.
These two could very well have more in them than what we've seen. With a new offensive coordinator in town, tight end is a position the Cowboys could start using way more. As Bobby Belt pointed out on Twitter a few weeks ago, Scott Linehan's offense doesn't benefit tight ends very much. Before we give a verdict on what Schultz and Jarwin can do, I'd like to see them work with Kellen Moore's offense.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Here's the thing. If the Cowboys are not taking a tight end in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are they really upgrading what they already have? I'm not sure we'll be convinced about that if they draft a player for the position until the third or fourth round. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for the Cowboys drafting a TE in the second round, because I believe there are more pressing needs on the team. However, signing a veteran free agent might be the better option for upgrading the position.
Should a veteran TE be an option?
This year, there are quite a few interesting names in the tight end market. Veterans such as Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and even Antonio Gates will be looking for a new team pretty soon. I know, that would be "getting older." But it could also mean getting better. Building a solid TE committee with a veteran leading Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could be the way to go for this football team.
Eifert is a great tight end... when he's on the field. Durability is his biggest weakness, as he hasn't played more than 10 games since 2016. The Cowboys could take a risk on him and constantly rotate him with Jarwin and Schultz. It may be a huge risk, but it could pay off big time. If the price is right, Eifert should be targeted by the front office.
The 2018 Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, winning only four games. Even still, Jared Cook's season was impressive. He finished the year with 896 yards and multiple 100-yard games. The biggest issue with Cook is his age. He turns 32 in April. But hey, he's literally coming off from a career year.
Jesse James is a younger guy who could also be worth it. He's not an a potent receiver, but he gets it done in the passing game and is one hell of a blocker. James could be a legit, cheaper option for the Cowboys in free agency.
There are a lot of names out there the front office could look at. Charles Clay was just released by the Buffalo Bills and Nick Boyle will be looking for new job after new arrivals pushed him out of the Baltimore Ravens' roster just to mention a few names.
We'll see what the front office's plans are soon enough, but right now, I'd say tight end is a need the Dallas Cowboys should at least try to address in free agency instead of the NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Cornerback
Unlike other positions on their roster, cornerback appears ready to off the Dallas Cowboys stability in 2019. However, that doesn't mean the team can just ignore it this offseason. There are still a few decisions to be made.
Thanks to a shrewd move in April of last year, Dallas will be enjoying Byron Jones' services at a bargain. They picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract and will be paying him just $6.3 million next season.
That's a steal for a Pro Bowl corner, who generally make more than double that amount in a single year. But the Cowboys are still left the decision of whether or not to give Jones a long-term deal now or wait until he hits free agency in 2020.
It's easy to say that they should enjoy the discount and worry about it next year. But then you risk a second Pro Bowl trip and the lure of the open market. Byron's asking price could only go up.
Of course, Dallas could then also have the option of using the franchise tag.
Keep in mind that Jones will turn 27 this September. Dallas could decide that it makes sense to play through the rookie deal this year, franchise him in 2020, and then reassess when he's about to turn 29 years old.
If they give Byron a long-term deal now then they'll have to pay him like one of the top corners in football. It may be wise to wait.
Another decision facing the Cowboys is if they think they can improve at the second starting position. It was an up-and-down year for Chidobe Awuzie, but he was playing his best toward the end of the season. Dallas could hope that a second year with Kris Richard's coaching, and just more general growth for a third-year player, will elevate Awuzie's game.
However, with plenty of cap space to work with, Dallas could pursue a solid veteran option and then allow Awuzie to play the nickel role. It would not only perhaps improve the CB2 position but also bolster depth overall.
Speaking of depth, Anthony Brown returns for the final year of his rookie deal. While never spectacular, Brown has been a gem as a former sixth-round pick with 29 career starts. He brings exceptional value and may even compete with Awuzie for the starting job.
While arguably the team's best young corner in 2017, Jourdan Lewis comes into this season with a lot of uncertainty. He fell out of favor last season, perhaps for not fitting the physical style that Richard likes. But he did manage to snag the game-clinching interception in Dallas' upset win over the New Orleans Saints.
If a scheme mismatch is the issue, the Cowboys could look to trade Lewis this offseason. He still has two years left on his rookie deal and was considered a first-round prospect by some in 2017. A cornerback-needy club might have more use for him than Dallas seems to.
If they did move Jourdan, the Cowboys might turn to Donovan Olumba to fill out the depth chart. He was one of their surprising performers in last year's training camp and spent the year on the practice squad. At 6'2", he has the size that the team seems to be looking for now in its corners.
More than likely, Dallas will ride with this group in 2019 with no big changes. I do think a Lewis trade is possible, especially with the Cowboys short on draft picks this year. But don't expect any major cap space or draft capital to go at one of the team's more solid positions.
With all the other work Dallas needs done this offseason, a little stability at cornerback is a luxury.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Center
Even with Dez Bryant's release and Jason Witten's retirement, the loss of Travis Frederick last season may have been the most damaging to the Dallas Cowboys. The team looks forward to getting their All-Pro center back in 2019 while also having a reliable backup still under contract.
Just within the last few weeks, Frederick has provided encouraging updates on his status for next year. It looks like he'll be able to participate in all offseason activities, but the Cowboys would settle for Week One. There appears to be plenty of cushion for that to happen.
Travis' absence in 2018 was seen in various ways. Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times, second-most in all the league, after just 32 and 25 times the previous two seasons. Part of that is missing Frederick's blocking ability, but also the way he would assist with reading the defense and making pre-snap adjustments.
Dallas would've loved having Frederick out there to help Guard Connor Williams, who worked with Travis throughout the offseason only to lose him in late August. It was not an easy way for the rookie to start his career.
We also saw issues in the run game. Even while Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing, short-yardage situations weren't as easy as they used to be. The Rams were able to neutralize the Cowboys' rushing attack in Dallas' playoff loss, something that Frederick might have helped overcome.
This isn't saying that Joe Looney did a bad job. On the contrary, Looney was more than adequate and helped keep Dallas from suffering far greater damage without Frederick.
After Joe's work in 2018, Dallas won't blink at keeping him on the $1 million salary he's due next year. It's a bargain for a backup of his quality, and especially given his versatility as an option at guard as well.
Not only are Frederick and Looney locked in for 2019, but Dallas also still has backup Adam Redmond under contract through next season. He was added after final cuts last year to be Looney's backup and should return to at least help the team through July and August.
With these guys already in place, there's no reason to think that Dallas will give much attention to the center position during the offseason.
At most, a mid-round draft pick might be used on a player who could potentially replace Looney in 2020 as the backup. Joe's contract ends next season, and he could be competitive for starting jobs with other teams at that point.
With lots of other concerns throughout the roster, Dallas is fortunate to have so much security at center. All signs are positive on Travis Frederick's return, and that is a huge boost to the team as it looks to push forward from last year's playoff run.
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