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NFC East 2017: Evaluating the Cowboys Division Rivals

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Evaluating The Cowboys NFC East Division Rivals
Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

After finishing in first place in the NFC East in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys will look to retain their NFC East title in 2017. Dallas added plenty of new players over the offseason via the NFL Draft and free agency, but so did the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

In order to get back to the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys must focus on beating the three teams they will see most.

New York Giants

The Giants were the one team last year the Cowboys could not figure out.

In two meetings with the Giants, the Cowboys lost both games. While neither lose was a blowout, when two of your three regular season loses come from the same opponent it calls for a bit of concern.

Key Free Agency Additions

  1. D.J. Fluker - OT
  2. Brandon Marshall - WR
  3. Shaun Draughn - RB
  4. Devin Taylor - DE

The Giants added multiple players via free agency this offseason with the four listed above being the most important. The Giants offensive line has been the team's Achilles heel over the past few seasons.

Giants at Cowboys Trash Talk Begins With Janoris Jenkins, Dez BryantD.J. Fluker is a former first round pick who had a roller coaster of a career with the San Diego Chargers.

Brandon Marshall was brought in to be a compliment to the team's number one receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. There is no question that Brandon Marshall has seen better days, but adding him into the mix with an already high-powered offense makes the Giants offense tough to defend.

Shaun Draughn and Devin Taylor were also signed by New York this offseason. While Shaun Draughn isn't a flashy player he has just as much chance to win the starting running back job as second year player Paul Perkins, or rookie Wayne Gallman.

Devin Taylor was a late signing for the team, just last week. Taylor is a veteran player who plays the run very well and will be a good rotational player behind often inured Jason Pierre-Paul.

Key Departures

Top 5 Free Agents That Could Fill Holes For Cowboys 6

DT Johnathan Hankins #95 (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

The departure of Johnathan Hankins could come back to haunt the Giants, especially in their match-ups against the NFL's leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott.

  1. Johnathan Hankins - DT
  2. Marshall Newhouse - OT
  3. Victor Cruz - WR

Hankins was one of the top run defenders in the league last year, and a main reason the Cowboys struggled to get things going on the ground against the Giants.

The Giants offensive line wasn't very good, to put it nicely. Losing Marshall Newhouse doesn't help. Newhouse was by no means an elite offensive lineman, but when you lose something you don't have much of to begin with, it definitely hurts.

When healthy, Victor Cruz has been causing the Cowboys problems for years. Luckily for Dallas, they no longer have to deal with the salsa dancing slot receiver anymore. Cruz signed with the Chicago Bears after getting pushed down the depth chart by second year player Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall.

Key Draft Picks

Evan Engram

TE Evan Engram

The Giants covered a lot of their holes in this draft, while also ignoring some of their biggest weaknesses.

  1. Dalvin Tomlinson - DT
  2. Evan Engram - TE
  3. Wayne Gallman - RB

The signing of Dalvin Tomlinson to replace Johnathan Hankins was a smart move by their front office. Hankins was a valuable player on defense last year and losing him to the Indianapolis Colts made Ezekiel Elliott a happy man.

One of the strangest picks in the first round was Evan Engram to the Giants.

Evan Engram has all the talent in the world, but he's not a traditional tight end. All signs from the coaching staff -- and sources around the league -- point to Evan Engram being asked to play as a true tight end limiting his ability to reach his full potential.

Wayne Gallman was a great value pick for the Giants in the fourth round. Gallman is a three-down back who has no problems blocking, running the football, or catching the ball out of the backfield.

Gallman and Perkins will likely battle for first team reps and may even end up splitting carries throughout the season.

Cowboys Headlines - The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly For Cowboys Against Giants

QB Eli Manning #10, QB Dak Prescott #4 (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Summary and Record VS Dallas Cowboys

The Giants will decline in 2017. Their offensive line is a huge weakness and, while the offensive weapons are there, the team struggled offensively last year.

The additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram look like great picks for New York, but with no clear-cut running back and a weak offensive line, I expect both the offense and the defense to take a step backward.

The Cowboys will win the first game of 2017 at AT&T Stadium against the Giants and lose their game on the road later in the season. The Giants and Cowboys will be in a season long battle for the NFC East Division title.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins had a very good offseason in my opinion. They made good moves in free agency and had one of the better drafts.

The Cowboys were 2-0 against the Redskins last year, both tough games.

Key Free Agency Additions

Terrell McClainThe Washington Redskins lost both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, but made a point to fill their spots quickly by signing Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick.

  1. Terrelle Pryor - WR
  2. Terrell McClain - DT
  3. Brian Quick - WR
  4. Zach Brown - LB

Terrelle Pryor was quite the surprise for Cleveland last year after making his transition from quarterback to wide receiver. The 6'4 wide receiver is a tough player to defend due to his size and his speed down the field.

The Redskins also signed veteran wide receiver Brian Quick, who spent his last five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Quick struggled to get much going with the Rams, but will look to have a career year with his new team.

You hate to see one of your team's players leave to join a division rival but that's exactly what Terrell McClain did.

After a great year playing the 1-technique in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme, McClain was signed by the Redskins to play in their 3-4 scheme. I'm not quite sure his fit with Washington as he's neither a true nose tackle nor a 3-4 defensive end.

I'm curious to see how McClain plays this year in his new scheme.

Zach Brown may have been the Redskins' best signing of the offseason. After struggling to stop the run in 2016, Washington went all-in on one of the better run stuffing linebackers in the NFL.

Zach Brown had six games where he registered double-digit tackles for Buffalo last year. While Brown faces some competition before he can take over as the starter, he could be a huge upgrade for the Washington Redskins in 2017.

Key Departures

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys at Redskins: Team Itinerary and Broadcast Information

WR DeSean Jackson #11, CB Morris Claiborne #24 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

While the Redskins did a great job adding talent to their roster with free agency and the draft, they also lost a lot of their players in free agency.

All of these guys were starters for Washington.

  1. DeSean Jackson - WR
  2. Pierre Garcon - WR
  3. Chris Baker - DT/DE
  4. Ricky Jean Francois - DE

DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon played huge roles in the Washington offense last year and were two of Kirk Cousins' favorite targets. The Redskins are relying heavily on the development of Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor, but both players have huge shoes to fill in the Cousins-led offense.

Chris Baker was one of, if not the best player on the Redskins defense. Ricky Jean Francois was a starter on the defensive line for just about half of the season. Both players were leaders and played consistently good football on a rather disappointing Redskins defense.

Both players will be missed.

Key Draft Picks

Jonathan Allen

DL Jonathan Allen

As I mentioned above, the Redskins had one of the better drafts this year. Getting former Alabama DL Jonathan Allen with the 17th overall pick is an absolute steal, but to match that with former UCLA CB Fabian Moreau in the third round? Sheesh.

  1. Jonathan Allen - DE/DT
  2. Ryan Anderson - OLB/DE
  3. Fabian Moreau - CB
  4. Samaje Perine - RB

Jonathan Allen will likely step in and fill Chris Bakers' role as the team's do-it-all defensive lineman.

Allen had some shoulder concerns that pushed him down draft boards and right into the Redskins' lap. The Cowboys offensive line must be on their "A" game every time they line up against Jonathan Allen.

The Ryan Anderson pick was one of the few head-scratchers of the Redskins' draft.

Ryan Anderson is an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid who will likely play as an outside linebacker in Washington's 3-4 scheme. Anderson isn't a great pass rusher and isn't quick enough to cover sideline to sideline in the running game and passing game. I am very curious to see what role Anderson will play in Washington.

The Fabian Moreau pick broke my heart. Moreau was one of my favorite players leading up to the Draft. Moreau injured his pectoral bench-pressing just weeks before the NFL Draft and started sliding down draft boards immediately.

Moreau was viewed as a late first, early second round pick before the injury. Moreau is sticky in coverage and has excellent instincts. The Redskins have another great corner to match with pro bowler Josh Norman once Moreau is healthy.

The Redskins' running back carousel continues to spin, but the team may have found their RB1 in the fourth round in this years draft.

Samaje Perine fits the Redskins ideal of a north to south power runner. Perine is a powerful runner who won't offer much as a receiver. Perine will likely be in a camp battle with Rob Kelly for the #1 running back spot, but don't be surprised if he wins.

Jason Garrett

Summary and Record VS Dallas Cowboys

The Washington Redskins will struggle on defense this year. Losing Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois will prove to be big loses.

I can see the offense also taking a huge dip in production after losing their top two receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. With no real established running game, a lot of projection at the wide receiver position, and a young inexperienced defense, the Redskins could be in for a tough season.

I see the Cowboys sweeping the Redskins in their two regular season games.

The Redskins consistently struggle to deal with Cole Beasley and now they have a Beasley clone to worry about, too. With Ezekiel Elliott likely to improve -- along with Dak Prescott -- the Cowboys should have no problems against the Washington Redskins.

Philadelphia Eagles

With rookie Carson Wentz leading the charge, the Eagles struggled last year finishing the season 7-9, last in the NFC East.

The Eagles spent a ton of resources giving Wentz as many weapons as possible and the excuses for him should be silenced if he struggles again this year.

Key Free Agency Additions

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys Vs. Bears: Can Cowboys Slow Down Alshon Jeffery?

WR Alshon Jeffery #17 (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Eagles were not shy in adding plenty of offensive talent in free agency.

  1. Alshon Jeffrey - WR
  2. Torrey Smith - WR
  3. LeGarrette Blount - RB
  4. Timmy Jernigan - DE/DT

Alshon Jeffrey is looked at as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL when healthy. And that's the big question for Jeffrey, can he stay healthy?

Jeffrey has dealt with his fair share of injuries and was handed a suspension at the end of last season for failing a drug test. Another question with Jeffrey is if he can be successful in Philadelphia's offense.

Jeffrey has had a majority of his success as a vertical-threat receiver. Carson Wentz doesn't like throwing the football deep, like at all. Wentz had one of the worst YPC (yards per completion) percentages in the league last year at 6.2. Jeffrey is a very talented receiver, but will likely have to change his style of play in order to make a difference in the Eagles offense.

Similar to Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith's success comes in vertical plays. Smith is one of the most dangerous deep ball receivers in the league. But in an offense that rarely lets the ball fly, how much of an impact will he make?

LaGarrette Blount was a late signing by the Eagles, and a big one. Blount, who was with the Patriots in 2016, led the league last year in rushing touchdowns.

The Eagles haven't had a consistently good running game since LeSean McCoy left after the 2014 season. Blount, while scoring plenty of touchdowns last year (18), didn't have a great season. Blount finished with 1,161 yards on 299 attempts for a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry average, his second worst average in his eight year career.

Timmy Jernigan was a signing the Cowboys front office didn't want to see. Jernigan was one of the best 3-4 run-stuffers in the game last year with the Ravens. Jernigan came over in a trade just before the draft to fill the hole left by Bennie Logan.

Jernigan will likely start at one of the defensive tackle spots in Philadelphia's 4-3 scheme and get more reps as a pass rusher.

Key Departures

Dallas Cowboys Sign CB Nolan Carroll,Cowboy fans are very familiar with Nolan Carroll's departure from Philadelphia, seeing as he landed in Dallas and has already made the wrong sort of headlines.

  1. Nolan Carroll - CB
  2. Bennie Logan - DT
  3. Connor Barwin - DE
  4. Chase Daniel - QB

Carroll was one of the better players in the Eagles secondary last year, and with the lack of talent and inexperience I was surprised they allowed him to walk.

The Eagles will miss Bennie Logan, especially when they play the Cowboys. Bennie Logan is one of the best run defenders in the league and offered a decent amount of pass rush from his position.

Logan took care of a lot of the dirty work along their defensive line and will certainly not be missed by Cowboys Nation.

Connor Barwin isn't the same Connor Barwin from five years ago, but he still is a very talented player as a situational pass rusher.

Barwin was third on the team in sacks last year, behind both Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. Barwin was the veteran along the defensive line that ranked 16th in the league in sacks last season.

Chase Daniel barely saw the field last year so you're probably wondering why I included him on this list, I did so for two reasons. 1) Carson Wentz took his fair share of hits last year and 2) I'm not sold on Carson Wentz being the franchise guy that Philadelphia so desperately wants him to be.

Now that's not to say 30-year-old veteran Chase Daniel is, but he has had success in the league when he was asked to play.

Key Draft Picks

Derek BarnettThe Eagles took Derek Barnett out of Tennessee with the 14th overall pick in the draft to try to fill the void at defensive end. Barnett was one of the most productive pass rushers coming out of college in quite some time.

  1. Derek Barnett - DE
  2. Sidney Jones - CB
  3. Rasul Douglas - CB
  4. Mack Hollins - WR

Barnett isn't overly athletic, but very smart and he has good technique. He isn't fast but he explodes off the snap, which he has a good feel for. Barnett is still very raw and must develop more of a pass rush-move arsenal other than his ability to bend and his hand usage.

Sidney Jones -- once looked at as a first rounder -- was the Eagles' second round pick. Jones tore his Achilles at his pro day and will likely need a red shirt year to get back to full strength.

In the third round the Eagles drafted former West Virginia CB, Rasul Douglas.

Douglas had a great senior season at West Virginia and a really nice week at the senior bowl. He's a long corner that is primarily looked at as a zone CB. Douglas isn't overly athletic and is still very raw with his technique, but he may be one of the most talented defensive backs on the Eagles roster to start the 2017 season.

The Eagles added plenty of receivers this offseason in free agency and the later rounds of the NFL draft. Still unsure of their plan.

If Carson Wentz was the gunslinger type of quarterback that had success throwing the ball deep down the field I would understand, but he isn't. Mack Hollins, similar to Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, was used primarily as a vertical threat at North Carolina. Hollins is a slower, less physical clone of Alshon Jeffrey.

 - Cowboys Vs Eagles

Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

Summary and Record VS Dallas Cowboys

If Carson Wentz has completely changed how he plays the game from 2016 to 2017, my opinions on adding Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Mack Hollins could certainly change, but for now they just don't make much sense for this team.

I liked the addition of Derek Barnett, but I'm not sure he has much of an impact right away. Same goes for Sidney Jones. But two years from now we may consider Sidney Jones one of the biggest steals from this draft.

The Eagles didn't do as much to their secondary as I thought they would and I think that is certainly going to come back and bite them.

The Cowboys win both games against the Eagles this year, and I predict the Eagles really struggle again this year. Carson Wentz -- to me -- is not a franchise quarterback, and I haven't been a fan of his since he declared two years ago.

The Philadelphia defense lost some key pieces to their defense and the pieces they added to their offense don't fit with their offensive game plan.

The Dallas Cowboys went .500 against their division rivals last year. Losing both games to the Giants, splitting the games with Philadelphia (the loss came in a meaningless game), and sweeping the Redskins. With a lot of new faces in the division, we will see who will run the east in 2017.



Born in 1995, loved Football but more importantly the Dallas Cowboys since day one. Living in Redskins Country flying the Blue and Silver flag as high as possible. Covering the Dallas Cowboys for InsideTheStar.com and CowboysNation.com. Catch me on twitter @ConnorNFLDraft!

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PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.

Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.

These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.

PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.

https://twitter.com/PFF_Cowboys/status/1151155572059717632

PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.

"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."

The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.

Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.

While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.

With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.



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3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Matthew Lenix

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3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.

1. Culture

Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.

"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.

This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.

2. The other weapons around him

The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.

Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.

Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.

3. Motivation

Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.

"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.

Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.

Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.



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Is La’el Collins Playing For A Contract On A Different Team?

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

How good is La'el Collins?

This is a question that Cowboys fans have disagreed on since his rookie season. Collins, who originally joined the team as their left guard replacing an injured Ronald Leary in 2015, moved out to right tackle in 2017, starting all 32 games there the last 2 seasons.

Collins' play has been somewhat up-and-down, as should be expected when a lineman not only switches from guard to tackle, but from the left side to the right side as well. Still, he's been a solid right tackle and a stable presence for a Cowboys offensive line which has struggled with major injuries at other positions over the last couple of years.

While Collins has not been the "elite" level player fans had hoped for when signed after the 2015 draft, he's been a solid player nonetheless. Dak Prescott has faced more pressure from the right side of the line than the left, but a good portion of that pressure has to do with him struggling to sense pressure from that right side.

The Dallas Cowboys seem rather undecided about La'el Collins' future with the team themselves, though. Dallas went out and draft guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft, starting the whirlwind of rumors that McGovern will be the starting left guard in 2020. This would kick second year player Connor Williams out to right tackle, allowing Dallas to let Collins walk without too much worry.

While this is well and good on paper, on the field the transition will likely not be as smooth. We've already seen how tough it is to move from left guard to right tackle in just one offseason, even if you were a college tackle once upon a time. Connor Williams could face these same struggles, despite possibly even anticipating the change a year out.

Regardless, La'el Collins is now in a contract year and is playing for that new deal come 2020. Dallas may not be looking to extend him, mostly due to the plethora of new deals they'll be handing out to other players, but he will be a hot commodity come free agency if and when he hits the open market.

Collins could very well be playing for a new contract elsewhere this season, as his days in Dallas look to be numbered.



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