As the Dallas Cowboys get ready for tonight's preseason finale, there are many things to watch out for even if not a single starter touches the field. With cutdown day rapidly approaching in September 1, a handful of players will be fighting for the last spots on the team's 53-man roster. One of those players will be Wide Receiver Lance Lenoir.
In an overhauled position, Lenoir had a strong training camp and opened the preseason with an impressive touchdown catch versus the San Francisco 49ers. This was followed by a quiet game against the Bengals when he was targeted only once in a pass that resulted on a 19 yard gain. And then, in the Cowboys' disastrous third week of the preseason, Lenoir had two fumbles. One of these resulted in a touchdown for the Cardinals.
Now, let's get a couple of things out of the way. Byron Jones is the main player to blame for Lenoir's first fumble. He was the one who made the mistake of running into him out of nowhere. Having said that, Lenoir could've done better to avoid the turnover. But let's also mention Lenoir was close to fumbling the ball again in the second half. Not only that but this isn't the first time that has happened. Lenoir also struggled on this department in 2017.
Lenoir is clearly fighting for the position's last spot. He's not fighting any of the top receivers. His battle could probably be narrowed down to Noah Brown and Deonte Thompson. So what does he need to prove to earn that spot?
When the Cowboys take the field tonight to play the Texans, Lenoir has to seize the opportunity of starters not playing to make the best statement he's able to as a receiver. His struggles on special teams haven't helped his case since usually these kind of players need to be contributors as specialists. It doesn't seem like Lenoir will be able to overwrite his special teams history with one strong preseason performance in week 4.
Then again, it won't be an easy task to earn his spot as a receiver. Although it has been widely criticized, the Cowboys' wide receivers aren't a bad unit. Sure, they lack a big household name such as Dez Bryant but they'll be a productive group, especially with Michael Gallup generating a strong chemistry with Dak Prescott.
Before the preseason began, I doubted Terrance Williams' chances of making the roster. I honestly believed the Cowboys would be all in for betting on their young player's upside rather than William's experience. But #83 has had a strong camp and a fairly decent preseason and his time with the first-team offense has shown us just how much this coaching staff likes him.
Probably the best blocking receiver on the team, his roster spot looks secure and it's become clear that Lenoir isn't battling him. Let's count Tavon Austin as a receiver and think about the top five in the conversation.
- Allen Hurns
- Michael Gallup
- Cole Beasley
- Terrance Williams
- Tavon Austin
That leaves us with Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir and Deonte Thompson on the outside looking in. They're likely to go with six receivers on the roster but has Lenoir done enough to be the guy? To be honest, what are the chances of him actually being active once the season begins?
Due to his injury, Noah Brown could be an IR candidate. If the Cowboys decide to release Lenoir, he's likely to go unclaimed and end up on the team's practice squad for the second consecutive season. As for Thompson, he'd end up playing somewhere else. This whole battle could come down to Thompson and Lenoir's performance in the preseason finale since both have had strong training camps.
It's now or never for Lance Lenoir. Will he be able to put on a show tonight to make this whole discussion even more interesting? If so, he'll have to pull it off with Cooper Rush and Mike White throwing him the football. We'll have to wait. See? Who told you preseason games were boring?
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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