Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys are 3-1 and are set to square off against their first AFC opponent of the 2016 season this week when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sunday afternoon.
The Cowboys probably put a little scare and a lot of us last week when they fell behind 14-0 to the San Francisco 49ers, but fortunately they continued to battle and came away with a 24-17 victory.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a more talented team than the 49ers, but I don't know by how big of a margin. This will once again be a big test for a young Cowboys team, but definitely a game they can win.
Below are some of the random thoughts I have had this week and a few of them are related to this week's matchup with the Bengals.
One: I wonder if the Dallas Cowboys will be buyers or sellers before the trade deadline November 1? I don't really see the Cowboys bringing in anybody via trade, but I could see them testing the waters with a couple of their players to determine if they have any trade value. Darren McFadden and James Hanna could be returning to the team in a few weeks and that could mean alterations will need to be made to the 53 man roster. McFadden could be of interest to a RB needy team via trade and Hanna's return could finally make Gavin Escobar's tenure come to an end with the Cowboys, especially with the emergence of Geoff Swaim. I don't know if there's much of a market for Escobar, but it is definitely worth exploring. Due to the depth that both the RB and TE positions, there doesn't seem to be much of a need for either player. Trading them would at least give the Cowboys some sort of compensation.
Two: The long-awaited return of DeMarcus Lawrence from his four-game suspension is finally over, but I wonder what kind of shape he is in? Being in shape and being in "football" shape are two different things. Last year Greg Hardy was in a similar situation after serving his suspension. He got out to a fast start, but became less effective as the season wore on. The pass rush for the Cowboys can certainly use all the help they can get, but it might be wise to keep Lawrence on some kind of pitch count until he is acclimated to the game once again. This is especially true when you take into account his back problems. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him being more of a pass rushing specialist until he is ready for a larger role.
Three: Speaking of DeMarcus Lawrence, I wonder which side he plays on this season? Lawrence has played both RDE and LDE during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, so it will be interesting to see where he lines up against the Cincinnati Bengals this week. To be completely honest, I don't really think it matters. Rod Marinelli will put him in the best position possible to succeed and harass opposing quarterbacks. We may see him switch back and forth from the right and left sides depending on the matchup from week to week.
Four: I wonder if this is the week we see the winning streak for the Dallas Cowboys come to an end due to all of the banged up players at key positions? The injury bug has bitten, and bitten hard for the Dallas Cowboys. Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Orlando Scandrick, and La'el Collins all missed last week against the San Francisco 49ers, and it doesn't look like anyone of these players will be at 100% anytime soon. The Cincinnati Bengals are definitely a beatable team, but with so many key players banged up at important positions, it makes it that much more difficult to come away with a victory. We're still a few days away from gametime, so hopefully we will receive some good news on the injury front.
Five: I wonder how defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is going to game plan against Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro wide receiver AJ Green? AJ Green is arguably the best WR the Cowboys defense has faced this season, with maybe the exception of Odell Beckham Jr., so it will be interesting to see how they try to contain him Sunday afternoon. Morris Claiborne has been playing the best football of his career and could be asked to shadow Green, or Marinelli could decide to go a different direction. Regardless of what they choose to do, Green has to be accounted for wherever he lines up and can't be allowed to take over the game.
Is there anything you have on your mind this week?
Please feel free to take advantage of the comment section below to share any of your lingering thoughts or opinions regarding the Dallas Cowboys.
Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett?
Training camp is always an exciting time for the Dallas Cowboys, with 2018's proceedings being no exception. A major difference this year is the hype carrying over to the Cowboys coaching staff, featuring newcomers at the positional level everywhere but running back, safety, and defensive tackle.
Experienced coaches like Kris Richard, Paul Alexander, and Sanjay Lal will have a big impact on the Cowboys development as a 9-7 team that's only gotten younger this offseason. Still likely in need of a playoff appearance to save the job of Head Coach Jason Garrett and his coordinators, one can't help but question Garrett's effectiveness with this year's team.
The Cowboys appearance on NFL Films' latest All or Nothing series offered Cowboys Nation a rare look inside this team's day-to-day activities, including Garrett's role as a motivator and leader to many coaches no longer with the team.
Garrett's walk through a proverbial hall of mirrors at The Star reflects much deeper though. Ultimately, it's the players that decide games on Sundays, and the Cowboys didn't have enough of their blue chip ones on the field together for 2017. Whether or not this changes in 2018, the Cowboys can do little to shake the truth that conditions must be perfect for Garrett to captain this team to success.
If having a future Hall of Fame tight end like Jason Witten around wasn't enough for Garrett, going all in on this team in their first year without not only Witten but Dez Bryant feels foolish.
This underdog status and youthful nature may very well bring the Cowboys back to their 2016 form. I've already mentioned mirrors however, and how about the smoke? Garrett's best year out of eight full seasons, that 13-3 campaign was surely not all 'smoke and mirrors', but it is now far enough in the past to expect improvement from the Cowboys head coach.
Garrett must overcome massive changes on the offense he once coordinated to see third-year Quarterback Dak Prescott put this team back in the playoff picture, or the Cowboys will only continue to change face even more dramatically for 2019.
Long gone are the innocent days of Garrett playing catch under the California sun with a rookie Prescott, who had no idea the impact he'd make on the entirety of this franchise so quickly. Now, the Cowboys may have to quickly separate this duo if looking to preserve a window of contention under Dak's rookie contract.
It truly will be fascinating to see the new points of emphasis this revamped Cowboys coaching staff brings to the team not only on the field in Oxnard but through their team meetings and into the regular season. As Garrett allows the likes of Richard and Lal to oversee important changes at CB/S and WR respectively, his overarching message of character, competition, and respect will still echo throughout the team.
Whether or not the slew of new players Garrett has to coach can inspire him to implement this message effectively, or if his days are numbered given the slack the Cowboys have already provided, is the most important story line for the Cowboys in 2018.
By most team's standards, a 9-7 season given the circumstances around the Cowboys a year ago is acceptable -- which it ultimately was for Dallas as they kept Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli.
This team's shortcomings through a disappointing season was enough for the Cowboys to begin reevaluating the coaches below this trio though, leaving only their ninth year head coach to fall victim to the level of turnover NFL teams are experiencing on the fly right now.
The Cowboys roster has received this message loud and clear. Will Garrett's carry the same impetus, and will it truly matter for the 2018 season?
Is WR Cedrick Wilson the Player With Most to Gain in Training Camp?
Within the Dallas Cowboys' uncertain wide receiver core, is sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. Considered a draft steal by many, Wilson's name is often lost in the mix among Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and third round rookie Michael Gallup. Just days away from the start of the 2018 training camp, Cedrick Wilson might be the player with the most to gain on the team.
Wilson comes from the Boise State Broncos, where he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,511 last year. As a sixth-round rookie, the young 22-year old receiver has an uphill battle ahead of him to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if he emerges victorious in this battle, though.
You see, the lack of a #1 receiver has been one of the main story lines for the Cowboys and for good reason. Heading into the preseason, there is no clear-cut "#1." But even though there isn't a big name such as Dez Bryant, I'm sure we'll feel way better about the wide receivers once the season starts and the offense manages to sustain a good passing attack led by Dak Prescott.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup seem like the two front-runners for being the "X" receivers on offense, the position in which Wilson lined up at Boise State during his last year in college football. It's tough to imagine a sixth round rookie being the starting "X" receiver in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he can't earn an important role at some point of the year.
In 2017, the offense struggled due to the receivers failing to create separation downfield. Wilson, although a raw route-runner, was a very dangerous vertical threat in Boise State and could be just that for the Cowboys down the road.
He needs to improve as a player, but with Sanjay Lal focusing hard at route-running with his receivers, Cedrick could become an important target for Dak earlier than expected.
In order to do so, the young wide receiver will have to find success in training camp. Wide receiver will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing position battles on the team, with many young yet unproven talent.
There's too many receivers that will be fighting for a roster spot over the following weeks, so Cowboys Nation is bound to be disappointed with so many so-called "pet cats." One or two of these guys will be released and I bet it'll hurt, just as it happens every year.
In all seriousness, though, with his ability to stretch the field and be a vertical threat plus his experience as an "X" receiver, Cedrick Wilson might not only make the roster, but become a significant piece for this new-look offense in Dallas during his rookie season.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
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