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.
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, the Dallas Cowboys haven't received much production from their wide receiver group outside of the occasional big play from fellow wide outs Michael Gallup or Tavon Austin. Well, the Oakland Raiders apparently are willing to listen to offers for Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and, according to Michael Rapaport, are asking for a first round draft pick in return.
Raiders want a first round pick for Amari Cooper, per @RapSheet.
The Dallas Cowboys could use someone with Cooper's ability, even if he has been a drop machine through his first four seasons. In his first two seasons in the NFL, 2015 and 2016, Cooper averaged 77 receptions on 131 targets, for 1,111.5 yards, and 5.5 touchdowns. Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Cooper averaged 11 drops a season, including 18 in his rookie season.
Any time you start a discussion about whether you should trade for someone, the question always begins with "what are you paying?" What would you be willing to pay for Amari Cooper? After back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, he only went for 680 yards in 14 games (48.6 yards per game). Though the yardage wasn't great last year, he did catch seven touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders.
So far in 2018, Cooper is averaging 46.7 yards per game on 3.67 receptions per game and has only scored one touchdown.
I wouldn't send a top 60 pick for Amari Cooper. He's a good player, but is he better than what Michael Gallup could be? Because if you trade for Cooper he's going to likely eat into Gallup's snap count and we need to find out if Michal Gallup is a player that the Dallas Cowboys could rely on in the future. But, if the Cowboys coaching staff brought Cooper in to replace Allen Hurns, then I'd be very happy to talk about acquiring the former first round draft choice.
A starting wide receiver group of Cole Beasley, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup would be a very difficult group to cover and Quarterback Dak Prescott showed on Sunday that he has what it takes to get the ball down field to his receivers.
The Cowboys probably wouldn't make this trade, unless Jerry Jones got involved, because they value their draft picks too much, but if the Dallas Cowboys could get him for a third round pick I'd do it in a heart beat. For a second round pick, I'd have to get a fifth or sixth back from Oakland in that deal. Cooper's a good player, but hasn't shown to be one of the best at his position.
There are a couple other players from Oakland that I'm more interested in trading for.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
What do you think? Would you trade for Amari Cooper, and if so, what would you be willing to give?
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Win Big On the Ground, In Trenches With Rout of Jaguars
On paper, the Dallas Cowboys were going to struggle generating any offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The league's top defense matched up against a Cowboys team that came in ranked 30th in pass yards per game, with the defensive front to slow down Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys seemed destined for a 2-4 start through the end of six weeks.
Thankfully, NFL games are not played on paper, and the action on the field at AT&T Stadium would tell an entirely different -- albeit unforeseen -- story of the Cowboys dominance. With a season high 206 rushing yards, the Cowboys ran wild on the Jaguars, making this win look remarkably easy behind a defense up to the task of defending the lead from the opening drive.
The Cowboys improved their home record to 3-0 this season. Now coming off their most impressive effort of 2018, the team earned a shot at first place as they travel to the Washington Redskins in week seven - searching for their first road win of the season.
Here are my initial thoughts on the Cowboys drubbing of the Jaguars, a wonderfully unexpected result that keeps plenty of postseason dreams alive for Dallas.
- Jerry Jones caught a lot of heat this week for his comments on Head Coach Jason Garrett's job security, but certainly deserves a lot of credit for wanting to see more of Quarterback Dak Prescott as a runner.
Jones called Garrett the "real deal", a sentiment better reserved for Prescott when he's able to take matters into his own hands and run the football. With 82 yards on the ground, Dak was eight yards shy of doubling his previous career high, sprinting down the sideline for the Cowboys first touchdown of the game.
Prescott's rushing ability takes advantage of the Cowboys offensive line's ability to get out in space and block. A fearless runner that can keep defenses honest on his own before unleashing Elliott on the ground, Prescott's legs are the key to the Cowboys repeating a performance like this later in the season.
- Without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars are not built to play from behind, and the Cowboys defensive line made sure of this.
The "Hot Boyz" were at full strength with David Irving back on the field for the first time this season. Rushing with DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, and Randy Gregory on the Jaguars' third down attempt following Brett Maher's first FG, Irving was able to chase after Bortles and force an incomplete pass out of bounds as he recorded the QB hit.
With Jaylon Smith also blitzing on the play, this had to be an incredibly proud moment for Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and the Jones' upstairs, as their trust in both Irving and Gregory paid off to create a fearsome pass rush.
Knowing they had interior defenders that could get off blocks and finish plays, the Cowboys defensive ends in this game were aggressive rushing up the field and collapsing the pocket on Bortles.
- Michael Gallup is slowly emerging as this team's number one wide receiver, thanks to his ability to make plays on contested balls.
Look no further than Allen Hurns' stat line from this win to see why rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is going to be crucial to the Cowboys passing offense as this season progresses. Hurns was the only receiver targeted that failed to bring in a catch, as Prescott has struggled to find any rhythm with the big-bodied free agent signing.
On the other side of the field, Gallup has flashed similar 'above the rim' abilities to Hurns, while also being a more reliable route runner with big play potential after the catch. Cole Beasley was open all afternoon against the Jaguars secondary, but early in the game when Prescott needed a play he was able to fit some great passes into Gallup.
I include Gallup's touchdown catch that was called back, since it was a safe strike from Dak. Putting the ball where only Gallup could make the incredible catch, Gallup was inches away from scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Instead, with the Cowboys rotation at WR trimmed down due to injury, Gallup staked his claim for a larger share of the snaps in the Cowboys 40-point performance.
- This was another good game for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but I thought he had a chance to prevent the Calais Campbell sack that forced the Cowboys to settle for three points on their first possession.
As Prescott stepped up in the pocket, Campbell was able to change directions and cut across the face of Williams. With nobody else in front of him, it looked like Williams was in prime position to deliver a shot to Campbell, but was unable to get a hand on the Jaguars top pass rusher.
Reacting late to the whole play, Campbell finished the play for his only sack, a stat the Cowboys will certainly take when evaluating a fairly dominant day for their entire offensive line.
- The rate at which Linebackers Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch are making open field tackles is easily the best thing going for the Cowboys defense right now.
Whenever Jaylon Smith appears in the vicinity of an opposing receiver or running back, they better brace for impact. Where Smith has been the enforcer of the Cowboys defense at MIKE, Vander Esch is playing off him perfectly as the second starter with range and athleticism to cover from sideline to sideline.
The Cowboys have allowed an average of 16.67 points over their last three games without Sean Lee, a full point better than the three games Lee's played against the Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. This is exactly the reason why Dallas was so comfortable drafting Vander Esch.
Even still, having the Boise State product rising to the occasion so early in his Cowboys career alongside Smith gives the Cowboys a LB pairing they can trust for years to come. This is more than they ever signed up for when drafting both players to ideally play with Lee, something they'll still get the chance to do in the coming weeks.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Alternating wins and losses through their first six games, the 2018 Cowboys remain an enigma that (again, on paper) have a lot to build on after defeating the Jaguars soundly. The ease at which the Cowboys moved the ball should at least partially be attributed to how difficult it was for the Cowboys to manage any offense in their three road losses.
With a defense that's shows up each week to keep Dallas in any game, the time is now for the offense to travel away from AT&T Stadium and earn the Cowboys first winning streak at Washington. In doing so, the Cowboys would claim first place in the NFC East.
Given the expectations set on this team before the year, this feels like the only surefire way for the Cowboys to put their tumultuous start behind them, serving as a reminder that the NFL is the ultimate week-to-week league.
Keeping that in mind, this team deserves a day to enjoy their decisive win from Sunday. Welcome back to Victory Monday, Cowboys Nation.
Dallas Cowboys Beat Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7: Who are the 3 Stars?
What a way to bounce back after a disappointing loss on the road in week five against the Houston Texans. As frustrating as that outcome was against the Texans, this victory was equally as sweet, as the Dallas Cowboys bounced back with a dominating 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That was a much needed win for a team that hopes to be contending for the NFC East title in 2018. And you better believe that at 3-3 on the season, they are still in the thick of that divisional race.
There were a few stand out performances in the blowout victory, but to make this a more difficult exercise for myself, I'm not including any honorable mentions. That's just cheating.
Make sure to let us know who your 3 Stars are in the comment section.
If there was ever a time and ever a moment in which Dak Prescott needed to have a career defining performance, this was the week that he needed to do that.
The virtual boo birds were out in full force this week following another poor performance for the Dallas Cowboys quarterback in the last 13 games. Prescott responded in a huge way with big time throws on third downs and looking extremely poised and confident.
The final passing line isn't all that extraordinary as he went 17/27 for 183 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a passer rating of 107.5, per NFL.com. Sure, if you just look at passing stats, you can argue it's not that impressive, but when you include his rushing numbers in the discussion, even the staunchest realist or Dak-hater has to admit that Dak Prescott had a great day on Sunday.
Dak Prescott set career highs in carries (11) and rushing yards (82) while adding a touchdown on the ground. It was his first rushing touchdown since week 15 of 2017. For a quarterback to end up only 18 yards shy of a hundred yards rushing is huge for your offense.
They weren't all designed runs either.
Dak Prescott in games past tried to force passes when running lanes were available to him on the outside. On Sunday against the Jaguars, he took his opportunities to run the ball when he was flushed from the pocket and the Jaguars paid dearly.
He looked like the Dak Prescott that took the NFL by storm his rookie season and for eight games in the 2017 season. He was poised in the pocket, confident in his arm and his receivers, and was seeing the field better than he had in the previous 13 games.
All against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys needed a big game from a wide receiver in a bad way and Cole Beasley stepped up. After a week of being asked questions about the play and production of the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group Beasley had answers all day on Sunday against a variety of coverages and players when Jacksonville went man-to-man.
After posting nine catches for 101 yards and both of Dak Prescott's two passing touchdowns, Beasley silenced the "wide receivers are the problem" critics with a performance reminiscent of his 2016 career year.
Cole Beasley was getting open at will against man coverage and finding soft spots in the zone matchups often. Beasley's been so vocal about his wish to be compensated as one of the best slot wide receivers in the NFL, and against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he looked like one of the best slot receivers in the NFL.
There are several players, as well as the offensive line, who could have been the third star from Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, but I think Randy Gregory deserves mention here.
We all know Gregory's story at this point.
Randy Gregory had a really good game. He was third on the team in tackles with three, had two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and his first sack since January 1st 2017. A total of 651 days. That was week 17 of the 2016 season. Only Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith had more tackles than Gregory did Sunday.
It's only his second career sack, but what a confidence boost for Gregory who has worked really hard on his sobriety to get himself in a position to play in the NFL.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
After a tremendous win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dallas Cowboys remain only a half game back in the NFC East divisional race. They'll have a chance to take the lead in the division next week as they travel to Washington to play the divisional leading Redskins next Sunday afternoon.
There's no better way to start a Monday than with a Dallas Cowboys victory Monday. Did I leave someone off this 3 Stars list who deserved to be there? Let us know.
Who were your 3 Stars of the Game?
Star Blog6 days ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog2 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News6 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dez Bryant Tweets Desire to Return to Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog5 days ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Players Who are Performing at an Elite Level
Game Notes2 weeks ago
Takeaway Tuesday: CB Awuzie Hasn’t Met Expectations in 2018