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An Optimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason

Sean Martin

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Ezekiel Elliott, Eagles

I've always considered myself an optimist when it comes to the football team we all obsess over daily, and the Dallas Cowboys 2016 season gave us plenty of reasons for such optimism. Now begins the long haul of an NFL offseason and roster build, with months until we'll see anything resembling America's Team on the field again. The question we have to ponder until then is simple - what will the Cowboys actually look like at the start of the 2017 season? 

Cowboys Nation is certainly expecting the team to look like a Super Bowl contender, and with this optimist's approach to the coming free agency period and NFL Draft you'll practically be touching the Lombardi Trophy in Minnesota.

Onward!

Cowboys 2017 NFL Free Agency Approach

The Dallas Cowboys will have 18 of their own players hit the free agent market this offseason, and if their recent strategy tells us anything about how they'll approach these players, expect many of them to become the priority free agents for Dallas to re-sign.

The Cowboys also won't have much cap space at all to work with in free agency, so retaining their own quality guys at the right prices should be viewed as a win for this portion of the offseason.

An Optimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason

Re-Signed 2017 Dallas Cowboys Free Agents

Remember, this is an optimist's approach to the entire offseason for the Cowboys, and it is unlikely that all seven of these free agents can stay with the team for 2017.

With that said, the Cowboys should be ecstatic if they can retain Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox for their secondary. All three players have tons of valuable starting experience, and shouldn't break the bank on the open market. This core would prove to be a formidable group - stable enough to inject rookie draft picks into with the expectation of them succeeding.

You wouldn't consider me an optimist if I also didn't try to fix the much-maligned Cowboys defensive line this offseason, and the first step of this before the draft is bringing back DT Terrell McClain. Finally healthy through most of 2016, McClain proved to be the perfect starter at the 1T DT position for Rod Marinelli. The 3T spot is the most important position in Marinelli's scheme, and with a young starter like Maliek Collins at the spot, it would help to keep an experienced 1T playing next to him in McClain.

Justin Durant is the last defender I would like this team to keep for 2017, but is also probably the most expendable - making this list for pure optimism purposes. Sean Lee and (fingers crossed) Jaylon Smith expect to hold down the depth chart at LB for some time to come, and the depth behind them is solid with young players like Damien Wilson and more experienced ones with potential like Mark Nzeocha. Even still, Durant is a good guy to keep around as a veteran with a knack for big plays, and should not draw much interest from other teams.

Cowboys Free Agency: How Important Is Re-Signing WR Terrance Williams?

The offensive side of the ball is much more set for the Dallas Cowboys, as my optimistic offseason includes re-signing WR Terrance Williams and QB Kellen Moore. Out of all seven names above, Williams is by far the most optimistic name to expect back, as the market for receivers with traits like his should easily get too expensive for the Cowboys in a hurry.

More realistically, QB Kellen Moore could continue to work with Scott Linehan, providing the valuable stable backup option to Dak Prescott. We'll address the elephant in the room that is this offseason's approach to Tony Romo, but some inexpensive option is going to have to back up Prescott in 2017 - and there are few outside options as good and simplistic as Kellen Moore.

Dak Prescott, Tony Romo

Getting The Most Out Of Tony Romo

Tony Romo is not going to be a member of the greatest football team in the entire universe come the 2017 NFL season. Even in an article where I've allowed myself to be as optimistic as possible - a lifelong Romo supporter too - this reality has to be accepted as near-fact at this point.

In fact, the most optimistic approach to Tony Romo this offseason may not even be finding a way to keep him, as the cap implications would directly contrast the approach outlined above in keeping other key free agents.

Romo's release also wouldn't help the Cowboys much, but a potential trade certainly would. While trading a player that NFL executives from around the league will expect to be released is no easy task, I optimistically wouldn't rule Jerry Jones out of making any clutch deals.

A deal for Tony Romo won't land the Cowboys a superstar, but based on Will McClay and staff's recent draft success, any extra third round pick could land a diamond in the rough - or become part of a larger trade package on draft night.

The Cowboys most optimistic 2017 offseason plan involves trading the greatest QB in their franchise's history. Isn't this sport weird?

Dallas Cowboys 2017 NFL Draft

I did this three round mock draft for the Dallas Cowboys a few weeks ago, and when it comes to addressing positional needs, I think it is the perfect optimistic scenario.

It is still too early in the 2017 NFL Draft process to pinpoint specific prospects that could be targeted in each round by the Cowboys, but addressing the pass rush in the first round is a welcome idea.

Cornerback will also be a need (despite re-signing Carr in this hypothetical) for the Cowboys, and fortunately one that they will be able to address at seemingly any point in the draft with such an incredibly deep class this year.

Lastly in the mock, I added another WR despite finding a way to bring back Terrance Williams. Isiah Ford would be a welcome addition to the Cowboys offense, but again there will be plenty of skilled receivers to choose from in the draft.

2017 NFL Draft Class Lines Up With Dallas Cowboys Needs

Essentially, the easiest event this offseason for Cowboys Nation to be very optimistic about is the NFL Draft. Dallas' 2016 class might be their best ever, the 2017 class was nearly built for them, and this front office is as eager as ever to add the few key missing pieces to a roster that projects to be one of the league's best.

Trust the process.

An Optimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason 3

Dallas Cowboys left guard La'el Collins (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

Cowboys Player Development

Free agents were signed, rookies drafted, and the build up to 2017 Dallas Cowboys football couldn't be generating more hype. The second this team hits the field for a simple stretch, it will undoubtedly feel like football season once again, as our attention will shift to the development of some players that could be critical to overall success.

Avoiding the obvious names like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott along with the free agents we re-signed above, here are some players that - if they take the necessary steps forward - will put the Cowboys over the top.

DT Maliek Collins

As mentioned, Collins earned the starting job at 3T DT as a rookie who missed most of the summer offseason program. This summer, the sky will be the limit for Collins to grow further in this role, especially if reinforcements are brought in elsewhere to add to the defensive line.

The Cowboys rotation of defensive tackles is one of their greatest defensive strengths, and Maliek Collins will have a chance to be the anchor of this group next season.

DT David Irving

Willy Wonka (HD) "Pure Imagination"

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Everyone's favorite "orphan" defensive lineman, David Irving is the type of physical freak that epitomizes what the Cowboys defense has been for some time. The difference for Irving is that he has already shown legitimate development in working with his positive traits.

A long-armed and quick defensive end/tackle, it is critical that the Cowboys figure out exactly what position they want Irving at for all of 2017 early in this offseason - in order to ensure he can take even further strides in his game.

CB Anthony Brown

No matter who the Cowboys add in the back-end of their defense, second-year player Anthony Brown is going to be asked to take a big step forward in 2017. A sixth round pick from 2016, the speed Brown displayed on tape at Purdue suited him well when his awareness turned him into the draft steal he was.

There's no reason not to expect Brown to continue to take strides this offseason, but his progress should be monitored closely.

LG La'el Collins

With Ronald Leary expected to leave in free agency, a "new" starter will join the Cowboys offensive line in La'el Collins. Collins was of course the starter in place of an injured Leary in 2015, and fit in incredibly well before being injured himself in 2016.

The Cowboys have been very careful with how they have handled every move on their world-beating offensive line, so it goes without saying that they'll be very interested in every step of La'el Collins' recovery and development this offseason.


When you go from 4-12 to 13-3, you deserve to look at the future with some optimism. While I plan on continuing to do that through the 2017 offseason, my pessimistic approach to this offseason will come out tomorrow here at Inside The Star - you've been warned Cowboys Nation.

Tell us what you think about "An Optimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Player News

Breaking: Cowboys Acquire Amari Cooper for 2019 1st Round Pick

John Williams

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Oakland Raiders' Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block

The Dallas Cowboys are recovering from a disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins, but that hasn't stopped them from being aggressive to try to salvage a 3-4 season. It looks like the Dallas Cowboys are going all-in on Dak Prescott for 2018 and 2019 to see if they can return him to his 2016 form. It's being reported by Josina Anderson that the Dallas Cowboys are set to acquire former first round pick and Oakland Raiders Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

Breaking: A source tells me that WR Amari Cooper will be traded to the Dallas #Cowboys.

Amari Cooper has been the subject of a lot of trade discussion over the last week and a half and it looks like he's going to be coming to Dallas to help solidify their wide receiver group. Adam Schefter from ESPN is reporting that the compensation the Dallas Cowboys are sending for Cooper is a first round pick.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys traded a first-round pick to Raiders for WR Amari Cooper, per source.

 

That's way more than I was wanting to spend to get him in here, but Cooper is just 24 years old. He's playing in his fourth NFL season and has averaged  After posting 1,000 yard seasons in each of his first two years in the NFL, Cooper fell back down to earth in 2017 with only 680 yards on 48 catches. He did have seven touchdowns last year and did that in only 14 games.

In 2018, he's averaging 4.4 receptions per game for 56 yards and has one touchdown on the season. On a Oakland Raiders offense that is struggling, Cooper is second in targets, third in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. It's bold move for a player that has had his fair share of drops in his career, though he seems to have gotten better in that area.

Despite a pretty good game from the wide receiver trio of Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, and Allen Hurns, it looks like the Dallas Cowboys are dissatisfied. Over the last few years teams like the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles have taken chances on acquiring players via trade and it's worked out well for them. The Dallas Cowboys are certainly taking a big risk, but Amari Cooper has the talent worth taking a chance on.

With the Cowboys heading into the bye week and in need of an offensive spark, if they were going to try to salvage their season, they needed to make a move. It can be debated that the price was too high, but Cooper instantly makes this offense better.



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Dak’s 1st Loss at Redskins Leaves Cowboys Losers Before Bye

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Dak's 1st Loss at Redskins Leaves Cowboys Losers Before Bye

The Dallas Cowboys went in to Washington losers of their last three road games this season, in position to change that behind Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott's previously undefeated record against the Redskins. In the end, the ball was ultimately taken out of their hands as the Cowboys played for overtime, watching their effort come up short again with Brett Maher's miss from 52-yards out.

As was the case two weeks ago in Houston, the Cowboys multitude of errors have been focused into one play, with L.P. Ladouceur becoming the scapegoat for his penalty that pushed back the Cowboys final field goal attempt. With an unmanageable 14 days before their next game, the real issues inside this Cowboys team have plenty of time to surface, as enough were on display Sunday for Dallas to miss out on another shot at the division lead.

Here's a look at my initial notes from this Cowboys loss, sending them into their bye week at 3-4 and 1-1 in the NFC East.

  • This was yet another game where the Cowboys dealt with the ups and downs of rookie Left Guard Connor Williams.

On the same drive that Prescott left the field to be checked in the medical tent following a big hit out of bounds, Michael Gallup was able to provide a spark with a 22-yard gain on a perfect strike from Dak.

Williams helped make the play possible by holding off a bull rush from Daron Payne. The Redskins feature both Payne and his former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen at defensive tackle. They ensured the Cowboys would get nothing going on the ground in this game.

Five plays later, Williams would be called for a chop block that put Dallas behind the chains. The drive stalled and the Cowboys punted, which was a much better result compared to Prescott's attempt at overcoming Williams' holding penalty in the fourth quarter.

Erasing a first down to Cole Beasley, Prescott ran into pressure in his own end zone on third and long, inexcusably fumbling the ball for an easy Redskins recovery and touchdown.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

Y'all are really going to make me do this... okay. Here we go. https://t.co/awNm55TxnH

  • Michael Gallup finally scored his first career touchdown, and has to be asking himself if they can really be so easy, as he ran wide open down the left sideline to score from 49-yards out.

Gallup sold his route brilliantly, getting his defender to bite hard on the stop route before releasing over the top. Even with some pressure in his face, Prescott delivered a perfect pass that allowed Gallup to walk in.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

I truly love me some @michael13gallup. https://t.co/KEjh9BDUPS

Give credit to the receivers around Gallup for setting up this play. Allen Hurns caught five passes, his most in a game for the Cowboys, many of them coming on the same route that Gallup faked before running vertical.

The Cowboys have deserved criticism for their lack of route designs on the outside, but when they execute well enough to win as they did here, it's easier to see the trust that remains in this team for Scott Linehan as their play caller.

It's unfortunate we didn't get to see Prescott throw at least two more passes down the stretch. Beasley was having his way with a depleted Washington secondary, and with a timeout in their pocket the Cowboys could have worked the middle of the field to attempt a winning touchdown.

Instead, their tying field goal attempt left them with plenty to think about over the bye, including if the kick would have been good from 47-yards out.

  • The Cowboys red zone defense stood tall once again, keeping the Redskins out of the end zone both times, including at the start of the third quarter thanks to a DeMarcus Lawrence stop on Adrian Peterson.

There were plenty of plays in this game where the Cowboys made Peterson look a few years younger, but the timeliness of DeMarcus Lawrence's splash plays against the run were all they needed to get the Redskins off the field in big spots.

It's not often we talk about a defensive end being clutch, but that's exactly the type of player the Cowboys have in their franchise left end.

Instead of going up 14-7 and forcing a Cowboys three-and-out on the next series, the Redskins 10-7 advantage would stand through the third quarter. These three points came on a 21-yard Hopkins field goal, set up by Lawrence screaming off the edge on third and a yard to plant Peterson for a loss of two.

  • This play may get lost in the shuffle when breaking down the Cowboys miscues for a whole extra week, but one that will stick with me for a while is Prescott's missed swing pass to Elliott.

As Tony Romo was keen to point out on the call of this game, Prescott left plenty of throws on the field, including one to Gallup on his decisive fumble. Where most of these missed chances were passes Prescott didn't pull the trigger on, the one he did against the blitz that resulted in an incomplete pass to Elliott was stunning.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

How does this happen? Seriously. How? HOWWWWW?!?! https://t.co/40V9Jx5EEP

The Redskins had scored their first touchdown of this game by throwing to their running back against the blitz, and the Cowboys could have been set up to do the same if Elliott catches this ball on first down.

The clock was a factor at this point, as the Cowboys took another 20 seconds to score on a third down rush by Prescott. The Redskins failed to take much time off the clock on their next series, with Alex Smith going out of bounds on third down.

The Cowboys' final drive began with 1:09 remaining, and it's anyone's guess as to how the game would have ended if they had just a few more seconds to manage.

  • The Cowboys were without Tavon Austin, taking away their outside threat in the running game, and turned to Cornerback Jourdan Lewis to handle their only jet sweep of the game.

The Cowboys knew Lewis better than most teams in the 2017 Draft, the cornerback out of Michigan that never carried the ball in college. The Cowboys had a few options in replacing Austin if they wanted his speed threat to remain in the game, instead doing away with most of these plays.

Instead of Deonte Thompson, Rod Smith, or even Beasley handling this role, the Cowboys ran one jet sweep to Lewis for seven yards.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

So I'd wondered if we might see Zeke as the jet motion/sweep guy with Rod Smith at RB sometime. But CB Jourdan Lewis? Interesting. Creative. I like it. https://t.co/KC3pZL1glI

Lewis has been getting more involved in Kris Richard's defense, and it was certainly different to see him used on offense for the first time.

  • The Cowboys welcomed back Sean Lee in this game and proceeded to allow over 100 rushing yards for the first time since week three - Lee's last game prior to Sunday.

In no way are the Cowboys a better defense without Lee, but they would be wise to spend a significant portion of time over the bye week figuring out their linebacker rotation with Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch.

Vander Esch was the Cowboys leading tackler coming into this game, and a huge reason why this defense held the Lions, Texans, and Jaguars in check without Lee. Playing 21 snaps against the Redskins to Lee's 38, there were snaps where LVE was noticeably missing.

The Cowboys have allowed at least 100 yards on the ground 72 times since Lee's arrival in 2010, playing to a 23-49 record in these games. In the 63 games they've held teams under 100 rushing yards, the Cowboys are 48-15.

This makes getting to the bottom of how Adrian Peterson was able to go for 99 yards at 4.1 yards per carry a key for this Cowboys defense by week eight - where they'll attempt to keep an offense that can hopefully find answers of their own in yet another game, this time on Monday Night Football against the Titans.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The feeling that the Cowboys have already missed on enough opportunities to contend in the NFC East this year will be hard to shake as the Cowboys return to Dallas on Tuesday at 3-4. This won't stop these players and coaches from doing everything they can to get back to .500 and remain in the hunt at 4-4.

In a league where fortune favors the bold to go above eight wins, the Cowboys will have to wait even longer than their 14 days between games to prove they're not another 8-8 Jason Garrett team. With poor coaching decisions and a quarterback incapable of overcoming them, the Cowboys remain in the midst of an identity crisis at week eight, thanks in large part to the left upright at FedEx Field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Dak’s 1st Loss at Redskins Leaves Cowboys Losers Before Bye" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Next Day Rant: Dallas Cowboys Have Neglected Offensive Line

Jess Haynie

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Next Day Rant: Cowboys

You can point fingers in a lot of directions over the Dallas Cowboys' loss yesterday to the Washington Redskins. But if you pull back and look at the overall picture, a poor performance by the offensive line was behind several of the itemized issues.

Let's start with the run game, where Ezekiel Elliott was held to the second-worst day of his NFL career. Zeke only produced 33 rushing yards on 15 carries, with no single run greater than six yards. Dak Prescott and Jourdan Lewis had a combined 40 yards on seven carries, but Washington was able to shut down the more predictable handoffs to Elliott.

One game doesn't make a season, and Zeke was the league leader in rushing up until last week. But there was a time when no defense could take Elliott away like Washington did yesterday, and that sets a disturbing precedent moving forward.

Even more disturbing are the hits quarterback Dak Prescott is taking. With four sacks yesterday, Prescott has already been taken down 23 times in 2018. Comparatively, Dak was sacked 32 times last year and just 25 times in 2016.

And we're not even halfway through this season. And that doesn't include all of the additional hits after the ball is released, or when Dak gets tackled on an improvised run.

Let's not forget Conner Williams' killer penalty, either. A 16-yard pass on 3rd down was taken off the board by the rookie's holding flag, and Dallas was pushed back to their own 10-yard line. The next play, Dak Prescott gets strip-sacked and Washington goes up 20-10 with the recovery touchdown.

Ronald Leary, Ron Leary

Former Cowboys guard Ron Leary

Yesterday's game just drove home an issue I've had for a couple of years of now. Since their outstanding 2016 season, it feels like the Cowboys have taken their offensive line for granted.

It began with how the team handled things at left guard in 2016. They opted to let starter Ron Leary leave in free agency, not wanting to pay heavily for a guy with significant risk from degenerative knee issues.

I had no issue with Dallas letting Leary go, but replacing him was where the team got cute. They signed Jonathan Cooper, a first-round bust from the 2013 draft, and hoped that he could plug in and at least be solid between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.

This worked, for the most part, as Cooper started 13 games. But Dallas took a big risk in preparing for that season, trusting in either Cooper or Chaz Green to be the starting left guard as the team made a push to return the playoffs and compete for a championship.

Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in yards-per-game, but the offense was not what it was the year prior. The line may have been solvent with Cooper in there, but there was a clear regression with Leary.

Don't forget about the transition at right tackle, either. An abrupt retirement from Doug Free after 2016 prompted the Cowboys to move La'el Collins back to his college position of tackle.

When Collins was signed in 2015, the team ultimately decided he had more potential as a guard. That's where they worked him for two seasons, but then circumstances led to the shift in the 2017 offseason.

Too many moving parts and risky decisions, especially for the unit that had driven your team to its 2016 success.

Dallas Cowboys: What's The One Thing That Makes The OL Great? 1

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, RG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick

Dallas has leaned on its All-Pro trio of Smith, Frederick, and Martin to anchor the line. They've trusted that the other spots could get less attention and investment and that their top three would raise all ships.

There is some logic to that gamble, and the salary cap era mandates that you can't shell out big bucks and high draft picks at every position. The Cowboys can't really be faulted for attempting this in 2017, given where they were with the cap and the roster.

But after last year's 9-7 finish and playoff miss, it was time to get serious about the offensive line again. Instead, Dallas trusted that a second-round pick moving from tackle to guard would be adequate at left guard.

I'm not here to crush Conner Williams. He's flashed plenty of good things, and I think he's going to work out fine in the long run.

But the Dallas Cowboys have been playing the long game for too long. Too many decisions have been based on long-term potential over immediate concerns. They built this team to operate on the strength of the offensive line, and they've taken too many gambles with that group given its severe importance.

Of course, they didn't know that Travis Frederick was going to go out with this neurological issue. Nobody could see that coming. But if it was a torn ACL instead, it wouldn't change the impact of his absence.

Joe Looney has been solid, but now you don't have the All-Pro center there to help the rookie left guard. Williams suffers for not having Frederick next to him, and Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott suffer in the trickle-down impact.

Yesterday may have just been an especially bad day at the office, but it's indicative of the gradual degradation of the offensive line. You pay the price one way or another in the NFL, either in money and draft picks or in poor performance on the field. The bill comes due one way or another.

In Washington, the Cowboys suffered for not doing more to keep the offensive line strong. They can only hope that it doesn't continue to cost them games, and perhaps a lot more, as the season continues.



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