Next man up has been a hot topic for the Cowboys the last few years, due to the injury issues. Whether it's been Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray or the entire d-line last year, Jason Garrett and his staff have always talked about the next man in line stepping up.
That's been an issue for teams of the past. While the top of the Cowboys roster was loaded with talent, the rest was a bit lacking. The stars would get injured and the next man up was usually someone who wouldn't even be considered for a roster spot by a lot of other teams.
There have been a couple of reasons for the lack of depth on the Cowboys roster, but the main reason was the inability to draft decent players after the first couple of rounds.
Most teams can draft good players in the first two rounds; it's the later rounds that separate good teams from the rest.
Let's look at the 2009 draft, the year before Jason Garrett took over this team.
I'm sure a lot of you cringe when you hear the words “2009 draft.” There isn't a single member of that draft class still around this organization. The first rounder was traded for Roy Williams, who turned out to be a bust. The second rounder was traded to the Bills for a third and fourth rounder. The Cowboys had 12 draft picks between rounds three and seven and got essentially nothing from it.
Sure they got a little use from David Buehler and Victor Butler, but when those are the two most successful members of a 12 man draft class, that's a problem.
In 2010 and 2011, the Cowboys did a little better drafting DeMarco Murray in the third round of the 2011 draft, Dwayne Harris in the sixth, and Sean Lissemore in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. On top of that, they were able to sign Dan Bailey and Chris Jones as undrafted free agents in 2011. The team still wasn't very deep, but they were moving in the right direction.
Will McClay and the scouting department also brought in Laurent Robinson that year. Robinson was one of McClay's early diamonds in the rough.
The 2012 draft really helped the depth of this team.
The Cowboys grabbed Tyrone Crawford in the third, Kyle Wilber in the fourth, James Hanna in the sixth, and signed Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley, and Lance Dunbar as undrafted free agents. This was the best they'd drafted in the later rounds in a long time. They also added Ernie Sims to the roster through free agency, which helped with depth. The roster was getting deeper but it wasn't there yet.
The 2013 draft brought in Terrance Williams and J.J. Wilcox in the third, Joseph Randle in the fifth, and DeVonte Holloman in the sixth. Williams and Wilcox made an immediate impact and Holloman showed flashes before injuries unfortunately ended his career. The Cowboys also brought in Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath as undrafted free agents. Heath started several games in his first year and has been a core special teamer.
The 2013 season proved to be riddled with more injuries than usual as the d-line could not stay healthy. McClay and the scouting department brought in Justin Durant at linebacker and just about every defensive lineman available including Nick Hayden and George Selvie. Those two were able to carve out a role on this team and add to the depth today.
Finally there are the moves the Cowboys made this season.
They drafted Hitchens in the fourth round, Street in the fifth, and Gardner and Bishop in the seventh. They also brought in Tyler Patmon and Davon Coleman as undrafted free agents.
However the biggest move may have come by trade.
Among the veterans brought in this offseason were Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, and Rolando McClain.
This season is the first where I've seen the next man up philosophy work for the Cowboys. Whether it's been Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens stepping up at linebacker or Tyrone Crawford sliding over to defensive tackle, the no-name defense of the Cowboys has been playing much better than expected. Tyler Patmon also stepped in with a pick six against the Cardinals.
This Cowboys team has shown that even when they're banged up - as they have been all year - they're dangerous. I wouldn't want to face this team when they're fully healthy.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign Free Agent Safety George Iloka
The Dallas Cowboys have reached a one-year agreement with Safety George Iloka, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Iloka spent 2018 with the Vikings after six years with the Bengals.
He's started 79 of his 99 career games since being a fifth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2012. Iloka turns 29 years old next week.
The Cowboys have agreed to a one-year deal with safety George Iloka, according to a source. Iloka met with the Cowboys on Friday and was the third safety to meet with the club during the week along with Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry. The Cowboys have... https://t.co/JB5nJLWepc
This isn't the safety that most Cowboys fans wanted. After over a year of pining for Earl Thomas, sights turned to Eric Berry after his free agent visit in Dallas last week.
However, it makes sense that Iloka would be attractive to the Cowboys. At 6'4" and 225 lbs, he fits the physical mold of what Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes in his players. He also is younger than Berry and Thomas without the same recent injury issues.
Iloka becomes one of many Boise St. products on Dallas' roster, joining Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and others. He entered the league with college teammates Crawford and Kellen Moore, the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, in 2012.
We'll have to wait and see how George Iloka fits into the current mix at safety with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. He spent most of 2018 as a backup with Minnesota, but Dallas will likely give him a chance to start.
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