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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts
For the first time since 2003, the Dallas Cowboys were shutout on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Their five game winning streak snapped, the Cowboys also saw their chances at clinching the NFC East dashed before the late kickoffs. Needing both a Redskins and Eagles loss to win the division without the benefit of a win themselves, the Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive with a walk off field goal at the Jaguars.
Washington Quarterback Josh Johnson won his second start since 2013 with 151 yards and one touchdown. The Redskins aren't the only NFC East team playing with a backup QB, as the Eagles must once again rally around Nick Foles against the Rams to extend their shot at the playoffs on Sunday Night Football.
The Cowboys certainly didn't deserve a celebration of any kind after their performance at the Colts. An emotional letdown after a win streak that featured triumphs over the Eagles twice, Redskins, and Saints, the Cowboys were slowed to a complete stop on offense while struggling fundamentally on defense.
Uncharacteristic missed tackles and lack of pressure on Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck allowed Indianapolis to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into an easy 23-0 win. Defending their home field, the Colts came out like a team still fighting for their playoff lives, while Dallas played like a team knowing two more chances at winning the division are still to come.
Instead of being able to watch and root against the Eagles tonight, the Cowboys can focus on not letting an embarrassing loss define a season that'll still end on a high note should they defeat the Buccaneers or Giants. A week 16 or 17 win automatically seals the division for the Cowboys, even with the Redskins improving to 7-7 moments before the Colts secured their shutout.
It was a masterful performance from Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus, preparing his team against Scott Linehan's offense to disrupt the momentum of one of the league's hottest teams.
Praising the Redskins for defeating a Jaguars team the Cowboys handled 40-7 much earlier in the season is hardly the situation Cowboys Nation wants to be in right now, but the team still has everything in front of them once Sunday's sixth loss is put behind them.
IND 23, DAL 0: Cowboys Get Shut Out, Embarrassed by Colts
The Dallas Cowboys must think they've already won the NFC East, because they looked like a team with nothing to play for today. The result was an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys were shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, which was Jason Witten's rookie year.
Dallas squandered a major time-of-possession advantage in the first half, finishing three drives with a blocked field goal, punt, and a failed 4th-and-1 play near the Colts' goal line. Indianapolis capitalized on their own drives and took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Colts got the ball back to start the third quarter and drove down for another touchdown. Down 17-0, Dallas responded with a weak drive and a punt. The game felt out of reach even then, with the Cowboys just looking flat from that point forward.
Ezekiel Elliott had 87 rushing yards 41 receiving for some empty production. Amari Cooper won't be winning any awards this week, held to just four catches for 32 yards.
Dak Prescott completed 62% of his passes for 206 yards. He was sacked three times and threw a late interception; an overthrown ball got tipped by the receiver and picked off on the team's final offensive series.
While the offense was especially bad today, the defense wasn't much better. Dallas surrendered 139 yards rushing yards and two touchdown to Colts RB Marlon Mack, who hadn't had a 100-yard game since October. Andrew Luck wasn't sacked and went virtually untouched the entire day.
The Cowboys could have taken the NFC East with a win, but they didn't come close. Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call with the postseason only a few weeks away.
- With the Redskins defeating the Jaguars today, Dallas will have to wait until next week to try to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys needed losses by both Washington and Philadelphia if they didn't win themselves. The Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
- The Cowboys will get some softer competition to finish the year, hosting the Buccaneers next week and then going to play the Giants in Week 17.
- With the Bears defeating the Packers today and moving to 10-4, they will likely stay the #3 seed in the playoffs. That means Dallas, assuming they do win the NFC East, will almost certainly be hosting the 5th-seeded Seahawks in the first round.
- Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, but neither he or Leighton Vander Esch were making the big plays that we've grown accustomed to.
- Xavier Woods had the highlight play on defense, delivering a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Colts TE Eric Ebron and stop a potential big gain.
- Blake Jarin and Dalton Schultz combined for seven catches for 68 yards; another week of increased TE production from what we've seen must of the year.
- Fullback Jamize Olawale doesn't get many opportunities on offense, and he may not get more after dropping an open touchdown on the team's second drive of the day.
Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Trailing Colts 10-0 at Halftime
The Cowboys have had no trouble moving the ball today, but they've failed to finish drives with points. Dallas is thus trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 at halftime.
Dallas has had possession for over 19 minutes compared to just 10 for the Colts. But their three drives have ended with a blocked field goal, a failed 4th-and-1 play near the endzone, and a punt.
The offensive line continues to suffer from health issues. With Zack Martin already out and Connor Williams starting at right guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game with an eye injury during the second quarter and will not return. Backup Adam Redmond is now playing.
The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win in any of their final three games. They could also clinch today if the Redskins and Eagles lose. Washington is trailing 10-3 in Jacksonville at halftime, and the Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
Hopefully, Dallas will start showing up on the scoreboard in the second half.
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