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A Pessimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason

Sean Martin

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A Pessimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason 1

This won't be easy for either of us. The NFL offseason is already a dark place, as our lives are void of Dallas Cowboys football, but the reality of this roster-building portion of the year is that few teams will set themselves up for any long-term success that they may have worked towards in 2016 - the rookie-led, 13 win Cowboys being no exception. I've always considered myself an optimistic personality in Cowboys Nation, and I even planned out my most optimistic 2017 Cowboys offseason as a Valentine's Day gift yesterday.

The goal in that breakdown was not to be wholeheartedly realistic, and that same goal will apply here. This is the last shred of optimism from here on out though, its time to get dark.

Cowboys 2017 NFL Free Agency Approach

Once again facing a tight cap situation paired with a rather daunting list of key free agents, it shouldn't be all that hard to get pessimistic about the departures we could see from the Cowboys in free agency.

In my optimistic approach, I listed the players the Cowboys ideally re-sign, but here are the ones they'll be unhappy to lose.

Morris Claiborne

 

Cowboys Free Agents Signed Elsewhere

  • CB Brandon Carr
  • CB Morris Claiborne
  • S Barry Church
  • S J.J. Wilcox
  • WR Terrance Williams
  • WR Brice Butler
  • DT Terrell McClain
  • QB Kellen Moore
  • QB Mark Sanchez

Morris Claiborne and Brice Butler were already not re-signed by the Dallas Cowboys in the perfect world that was yesterday, but losing two starters apiece at both cornerback at wide receiver would be disastrous.

Before we even get to drafting potential replacements and developing the players already locked in for 2017, a Cowboys team with desperate needs on the defensive line - that can't possibly be entirely fixed in one offseason - would look drastically different in the secondary, which was the best part of the defense last season.

To make matters worse, the defensive line also loses a high-quality starter in 1T DT Terrell McClain. Pessimism sucks.

A Pessimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason 2

On the offensive side of the ball, at least Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley give the Cowboys some stability at WR, but losing Williams and Butler would certainly force this team to address the position pretty early in the 2017 NFL Draft.

This is not a draft strategy that lends itself to bringing in the best talent, and with many fans in agreement that draft capital already needs to be spent on defense no matter what free agents are signed, opening up a glaring need at WR is less than ideal.

Kellen Moore and Mark Sanchez would also exit Wade Wilson's quarterback room, taking with them some of the stability that Dak Prescott thrived on as a rookie.

Backup quarterback issues in Dallas again?? Bleh.

Dallas Cowboys 2017 NFL Draft

Draft night has arrived, and it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to shine from The Star. Will McClay and his brain trust will be tasked with the mission of turning this dreadful offseason around - but with their 2016 draft class is there really any way to mess this up?

Sure there is!

As a draft scout myself, I'm not in the business of naming specific prospects that I think are destined for complete failure at the next level. We do already know however that the Cowboys are entering this hypothetical with a glaring need at WR, so let's go ahead and ignore the Terrell McClain-less defensive line in the first round.

Selecting with the 28th overall pick, our nightmare scenario will pull Clemson WR Mike Williams, Western Michigan WR Corey Davis, and Washington WR John Ross all off the board at this position of need. For good measure, we can rule out bypassing the lackluster receivers remaining for a pass rusher by taking Carl Lawson, Charles Harris, and Takk McKinley out of the equation.

A Pessimistic Approach to the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Offseason

Also realizing their massive need at cornerback, the Cowboys then pull the trigger on their guy with a defensive back like Fabian Moreau out of UCLA. With CB being the deepest position in this draft, Dallas would be best not to reach for one in the first round, and while Moreau is a nice player the Cowboys could do better in the first round.

With an eye for offensive talent, we'll say that the Cowboys scouts land a promising but unproven collegiate WR in this 2017 Draft, but miss out entirely on a big name pass rusher when the likes of Derek Rivers all get their names called before the back end of the 2nd round.

Facing the pressure of replicating their 2016 draft success, the Cowboys fall flat on their face, and draft analysts everywhere are straining to find the impact that these rookies will make for 2017.

Cowboys Player Development

"Ok, the Cowboys still have enough pieces in place to go contend this season, with a few players that will take major steps forward." - You right now, probably.

My Twitter handle is at the bottom of this article, and you can feel free to "@ me", because we're about to throw America's Team off the rails. In my optimistic player development plan, two defensive linemen took big strides in Maliek Collins and David Irving, while the secondary saw Anthony Brown continue to improve as a starter.

Without just reversing that player development with the same names, here is the pessimistic angle on two developing players that will be absolutely critical to the 2017 Cowboys season.

Dak Prescott

QB Dak Prescott

*Wipes tears off of keyboard*

The one position the Cowboys need to be set at over the coming seasons is quarterback, as they feel they are in the perfect situation with Dak Prescott. The fourth-round pick from 2016 is going to put Tony Romo on the street this offseason, and that is remarkable for so many reasons.

So then what happens? Prescott proves to be a one-year wonder, Mark Sanchez and Kellen Moore are gone, and the Cowboys are a void once again.

Ezekiel Elliott and the running game still keep the Cowboys relevant enough to pick in the middle of the rounds at the draft, but their QB problems get blown open once again with the regression of Dak Prescott.

Can I delete this now?

DE DeMarcus Lawrence

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to have a lot to prove in 2017, coming off of a 2016 season that was effectively washed away with injuries after a breakout 2015. Already far from the dominant, fear-imposing pass rusher the Cowboys envisioned when they drafted Lawrence in the second round in 2014, Lawrence will be an experienced defensive end potentially playing with a ton of unproven and young talent around him next season.

In a perfect world the Cowboys find edge rushers capable of turning Lawrence into a more rotational player this offseason, and in a more realistic one they watch him take strides in his game. In this realm of pessimism however, Lawrence is going to essentially prove to be a draft bust in the final year of his rookie contract, failing to ever find a true role or make an impact - forced to line up all over a makeshift defensive front with little results.


You made it. Congratulations. This pessimistic view of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys offseason is over, and it is once again important to provide some closing context. No matter how realistic you view this exact scenario to be, understand that the NFL offseason is an exercise like none other - that very few teams navigate flawlessly. 

The Cowboys 2017 offseason doesn't need to be flawless, but it does need to be very good, and you can reward yourself with this optimistic plan one more time right here to get back on track with Dallas' quest to Super Bowl LII. 

Tell us what you think about "A Pessimistic 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.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. bad dawg

    February 19, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    I agree with you on them struggling, but just through the 40% of the season. Then Fred Ross WR(Mustang 5.0) and Bobby Engram TE F-150 RAPTOR (rookies) , the Earth Movers(F-450’s O/L), the Porsche(Zeke), the F-350(Jason), F-250(Dez) ,Eco boost 150(Beez) and last, but not least, the Engineer (Dak) with precision, poise, placement and performance , revving up the offense to high octane and fuel us to 11-5 and the hottest engine in the NFL ALL THE WAY UP 35 TO THE TWIN CITIES.

    Defensively we unleash and unveil the new Jaylon Smith(,the new ZR-1 Camaro), ride the supercharged Range Rover (David Irving) , drive really hard the Crawford’s, Carr’s, Church’s, Hitchen’s, Durant’s, Collin’s Tapper’s and Taco Charlton’s (Chevy’s Dodge’s, Tundra’s, Titan’s) and finally we cruise, pick up and destroy free wheeling hitchhikers with the Brown’s, Joneses, Heath’s Sidney Jones (Corvette Convertibles) all under the direction and tutelage of the Chief Engineer (Sean Lee). Can you see that Navy F450 lifted up with 22’s, Silver F350 lifted, Blue and Silver F250 lifted, Blue and White F150 lifted, Navy and Silver Mustang and 150 raptor, Blue Star Porsche Turbo S convertible leading the Convoy with Dak orchestrating and directing it? I can see it clearly now the rain has stopped! And, you will to!
    ,

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Offensive Tackle

Jess Haynie

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La'el Collins

The Dallas Cowboys would seem fairly settled at offensive tackle for 2019, with last year's starters both still under contract and set to return. But the need for a reliable backup has become increasingly important, and Dallas may also want to use this offseason to start planning for the future.

Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return to their starting roles, but not without some concern. Smith has now missed three games in each of the last three seasons, though a few of those have been for veteran rest at the end of the year.

We all remember the Chaz Green debacle in 2017 Atlanta.  That led to the Cowboys paying veteran Cameron Fleming $2.5 million last season to come and play as the swing tackle, and Smith's ongoing issues with health will make his backup an offseason priority once more.

Meanwhile, Collins has started every game since taking over as the right tackle in 2017. He's been solid but not a star, which is a disappointment after his draft year hype and some of the talent he flashed at left guard during his first two seasons.

2019 is a contract year for La'el. He will turn just 27 by the 2020 season, making him an attractive potential free agent. But his play has arguably not lived up to his current salary, which has him as one of the higher-paid right tackles in the NFL already.

Anyone who has the privilege of playing next to Zack Martin has no excuses.

Cowboys Place LT Tyron Smith On IR Before Week 17

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith

Even with his many trips to the Pro Bowl, Tyron Smith isn't immune to contract talk. The 2020 offseason presents Dallas with about an $8 million cap relief opportunity by releasing Smith. It would only leave them with about $5 million in dead money, which is less than they've had when releasing stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant in recent years.

While still just 28 years old, Tyron has been getting increasingly bothered by nagging injuries. Bad backs and necks tend to become lifelong issues, and we've already mentioned the games he's missed over the last few seasons.

When healthy, Smith is still about as good as they come at left tackle. But could his health issues spark an early decline in skill? And if it happens as soon as 2019, could Dallas start looking at that cap space more intently?

With Cameron Fleming now a free agent and these 2020 question marks looming on both starters, there's a good argument for the Cowboys to spend their second or third-round pick at offensive tackle.

Ideally, a "Day 2" rookie would be able to take over as the swing tackle this year. Dallas could still sign a veteran insurance policy to compete in camp and the preseason, or even carry both players next season.

But more important aspect would be taking a player now to groom for 2020, when you might need to make a big decision on either Collins or Smith's future. Or, at the very least, have a solid swing tackle in place for the duration of his four-year rookie contract.

Cameron Fleming

Dallas Cowboys OT Cameron Fleming

That said, free agency starts a month-and-a-half before the NFL Draft. The Cowboys can't really afford to wait for the draft to find a swing tackle, or else they may wind up with nothing.

The simplest move would be to just re-sign Cam Fleming. He is an adequate player with plenty of experience, and could likely be retained for about the same salary as last year.

But given Fleming's age (26) and experience, which includes starting in playoff games and even a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he could attract teams looking for even more than just a backup. Thankfully, there a still a number of veterans out there if Dallas has to find a replacement.

One guy to consider, especially for just a one-year deal, is Ty Nsekhe from the Redskins. He's a native of Arlington, TX and has started 14 games over the last three seasons, backing up the oft-injured Trent Williams. On the negative side, Nsekhe turns 34 next October.

As a whole, this 2019 offseason doesn't present any immediate dangers. The Cowboys will need to figure out their swing tackle situation by either re-signing Fleming, adding a different veteran, or drafting a replacement.

But given the contract situations of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in 2020, Dallas could make a move in the next few months to help prepare for a potential big change a year from now.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie

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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.

Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.

But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.

What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.

It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.

Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.

How Does LB Joe Thomas Fit Into Cowboys' 2019 Plans?

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.

A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.

However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.

They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.

The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.

Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.

Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.

There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.



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Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit

John Williams

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Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Is Getting Better By The Week

There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.

Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.

The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.

That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.

Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.

According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.

The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.

This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.



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