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Morris Claiborne: 2016 Playoffs Could Decide Free Agent Future

Jess Haynie

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Morris Claiborne

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.

Morris ClaiborneWhen 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:

BURSTING THE BUST LABEL: MORRIS CLAIBORNE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES

SHOULD COWBOYS GIVE MORRIS CLAIBORNE A CONTRACT EXTENSION?

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.

Morris Claiborne, 49ersClaiborne'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.

Morris Claiborne, Brandon CarrCarr 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 fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason

Jess Haynie

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Randall Cobb

NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.

Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.

Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:

Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.

If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.

The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.

Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.

If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.

If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.



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BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Rico Gathers

Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.

Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.

The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.

While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.

The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.

Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.



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Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started

Matthew Lenix

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Antwaun Woods is just getting started

Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.

The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.

All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.

Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.

How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.

When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.

Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.

There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.

The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.



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