Perhaps no individual Dallas Cowboys player has more riding on this 2016 playoff appearance than cornerback Morris Claiborne. With free agency on the horizon and an injury-plagued past, the Cowboys' most-talented CB could make a big impact on his future with how he performs during this postseason.
When Claiborne's rookie deal expired after 2015, Dallas was not ready to make any long-term commitment to their former first-round pick. Claiborne had just missed five of the team's final seven games; the story of his career thus far. Still believing in his talent, Dallas signed him to a one-year "prove yourself" contract.
You can understand the Cowboys' skepticism. After being taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Claiborne has missed 35 games during his career. That's 43% of the 82 games (including 2014 playoffs) that he could've played in. This doesn't even include games that he left to due to injury, or games where his performance was limited because of health issues.
Claiborne started off this critical last-chance season as well as anyone could've hoped. He was the best cornerback on the field and had got people excited very quickly. Just check out these two articles that were written after the Cowboys first two games:
That enthusiasm didn't last forever, sadly. Claiborne suffered a groin injury in Week 8 and hasn't been seen since. Now, after a nine-week absence, he prepares to rejoin the team in their first playoff game.
Claiborne's entire career has been polarizing but this 2016 season has taken it to a new level. He's never looked better, or closer to a former Top-10 draft prospect, than he did during those early weeks. But then he missed nine games with yet another injury.
Whatever side of the Morris Claiborne fence you're on, there was evidence to support your position. The question now is where the Cowboys stand on Claiborne's future and what, if anything, he can do to move the needle during this next month.
Morris turns 27 this February, still a prime age for a nice free agent contract. What's more, the cornerbacks entering free agency this offseason are not a huge crop. Even with his red flags, Claiborne could still be one of the most attractive names on the market. Here is a sampling:
- Stephen Gilmore - Bills (age 26)
- Trumaine Johnson - Rams (age 27)
- Captain Munnerlyn - Vikings (age 26)
- Marcus Cooper - Cardinals (age 26)
Gilmore and Johnson will be top targets but you could make a case for Mo being in the Top 3 with them. The point here is that Claiborne, a former elite draft prospect, will be open to the rest of the NFL. Plenty of teams and scouts were looking at him five years ago. Will they look again?
So much depends on what Morris Claiborne does during the playoffs. He needs to enter the offseason on a positive note. It can't be just that he was actually available, though. Claiborne needs to be at the level that we saw early in the season; reminding everyone of why he was once a sixth-overall pick.
Dallas will likely try to keep one of either Claiborne or Brandon Carr. They have Orlando Scandrick under contract and rookie Anthony Brown has been a late-round steal. The Cowboys will want at least one of the other veterans around for stability in 2017.
Carr and Claiborne are polar opposites. Brandon is all about reliability, having never missed a game in nine seasons. He never wows you but plays solidly and is a competent starter when the defense around him are performing. Claiborne is the guy who flashes greatness and keeps you enticed with his upside but just hasn't stayed healthy.
Morris Claiborne has every advantage here. With Carr turning 31 this May, Dallas would obviously rather go with the younger guy. But if they lose faith in Claiborne, the Cowboys might give Carr a short-term deal to provide depth and security while they target a young talent in the draft.
While we all obviously want Dallas to advance in the playoffs, perhaps no player needs it more than Claiborne. One game may not be enough to make a statement. Fortunately, any selfish motivation on Morris' part will only help the Cowboys in their goals of winning a championship. It's a mutually beneficial situation.
Even if this is the last we see of Morris Claiborne in Dallas, we can at least be sure that we're getting his best. Claiborne's ceiling makes him our best cornerback. If he can take a weapon away from Aaron Rodgers, or potentially slow down Julio Jones in the NFC Championship game, it will go a long way to making up for all of the disappointing years before.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys to Re-Sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for 2018
Continuity is the key to good special teams play in the NFL. Already losing long-time Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia to the Raiders - who promptly snatched ST aces Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber in free agency - the Dallas Cowboys have announced their intentions to re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for the 2018 season.
Returning on a one-year deal, the fan favorite Ladouceur will be back to do what he does best in cleanly executing almost every special teams snap for Chris Jones or Dan Bailey to handle.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on Monday, according to sources, on a one-year deal. He will be in his 14th season with the franchise. Only Jason Witten, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei will have more years of... https://t.co/yTQbMYyrIv
While Jones has improved as the Cowboys' punter with each passing season, Kicker Dan Bailey actually enters 2018 as another question mark on this unit. With the general belief around the team being that Bailey will be just fine moving forward, the Cowboys will no longer have to worry about who handles long snaps next year either.
L.P. Ladouceur is back in the silver and blue, and in this moment, everything can be alright with the world.
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.
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