The NFL Draft is coming and there is still a lot of work the Dallas Cowboys need to do to fill out the roster ahead of the 2018 NFL season. Yes, I know it's a bit early, but I want to take a look at the 53-man roster and figure out where the holes on the depth chart are, which might give us an indication of where the Cowboys may go in the draft.
✭ Dak Prescott
✭ Cooper Rush
This should not be a surprise. The Dallas Cowboys felt confident enough in this tandem to release and move Kellen Moore to the practice squad last season. Dak Prescott is the QB1 on this team, of that there is no doubt. What is pretty impressive is the growth Cooper Rush has accomplished in such a short time. From a UDFA to QB3 to the primary backup in less than a year.
You don't hear a lot of rumblings about the Cowboys adding another quarterback. They didn't do it in free agency and you haven't heard much about drafting one during the process.
Now, they still have time before training camp to add a veteran name, if they want to, but it seems more likely they will add another UDFA or two from this year's rookie crop as camp arms and to compete with Rush.
Running Back (3)
✭ Ezekiel Elliott
✭ Rod Smith
✭ Jamize Olawale (FB)
There is room here for the Dallas Cowboys to draft a runner in the middle to late rounds, or to pick up a veteran or UDFA after the draft. They won't go into the season with just these three, and a name that I like in the middle rounds is Nyheim Hines out of NC State.
He's a smaller, quicker back who can catch the ball and serve as a "change of pace" option to Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. Hines ran for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season with the Wolfpack.
Wide Receiver (6)
I really didn't think there was any way the Cowboys would release Dez Bryant. There's been a lot said on that, and I don't care to get too deep into it here, but Dallas could use a youthful addition to the WR depth chart. Wide receiver now becomes a priority for the Dallas Cowboys in the top 100 of the NFL draft.
Terrance Williams' contract and current injury situation doesn't allow for much movement there. Cole Beasley would have the easiest contract to move on from, but he is a Dak-friendly receiver, so I doubt they'd move on from him.
While these are the six guys they have right now, they'll add a top-100 pick and one or two of these guys will be off the roster -- and perhaps on the practice squad -- come week one.
Tight End (4)
✭ Jason Witten
✭ James Hanna
✭ Geoff Swaim
✭ Rico Gathers
To me, this is the make or break season for Rico Gathers. If he can't earn a roster spot in 2018, it's time to move on.
James Hanna is still a candidate to be cut if the team needs to free up some cap space. The team likes him for his blocking prowess, but they also like Swaim as well.
Blake Jarwin is a dark-horse candidate to compete for a roster spot, but if he wins one, it likely means Hanna is gone and that Gathers didn't make the roster again.
I'd really like to see them take a Dallas Goedert or Mark Andrews if they're available in the third round, but I get that with the current group of tight ends, they may feel they can be a bit more patient in finding the heir to Jason Witten's throne.
Offensive Line (8)
The biggest question mark on the offense is at left guard on the offensive line. I would really like to see La'el Collins get another year at tackle to see if that could be his spot long-term before moving him back to guard again.
The Cowboys will tip their hand a bit during the draft as far as what they're going to do with La'el Collins. If they draft a guard in the first couple of rounds, then we know Collins is staying at tackle. If they don't, then it might mean a move for Collins back to guard.
Cameron Fleming was a really nice signing. He started the last five games of the season for the New England Patriots and their three playoff games. That definitely counts for something. If the team feels like he could be the full-time right tackle then we might see them move Collins back to guard this season. If they keep Collins at tackle, then Fleming provides a much better tackle insurance policy than Chaz Green.
Marcus Martin and Kadeem Edwards, while nice depth with potential, shouldn't be counted on as anything more than that.
The only name I'm not sure about being on the roster is Chaz Green. He needs a good camp to keep his job.
Oh the intrigue!!!
Defensive Line (5)
✭ DeMarcus Lawrence
✭ David Irving
✭ Maliek Collins
✭ Tyrone Crawford
✭ Taco Charlton
There are other guys currently on the roster who could make the team out of training camp, but the only guys I'm sure of are these five.
Richard Ash, Kony Ealy, Datone Jones, and a few others will be competing for roster spots, but they aren't names that'll prevent the Dallas Cowboys front office from investing draft picks to upgrade the position.
As we know by now, 1T defensive tackle is a huge need for this team. They struggled against the run for much of the season and, while Maliek Collins was serviceable, he was playing out of position for much of the year.
Vita Vea is the hot commodity, but this team hasn't placed a premium on a 1T in as long as I can remember. He would plug in immediately on early downs for the Dallas D. If they didn't spend a first on him, there are options deeper in the draft to make a move.
I don't see them going after a top-100 3T because they already have three of those on the roster in David Irving, Collins, and Tyrone Crawford. Anything is possible, but I don't see them investing a premium pick where they already have three guys who could take meaningful snaps at the position.
Defensive end is still a place where they could upgrade their weakside rusher. At the moment, all their ends are what I like to call "long and strong" guys. Taco Charlton, while still developing, hasn't shown the burst and bend that is needed to be a formidable EDGE rusher. Tyrone Crawford is solid in his role, but could also be a cap casualty at the end of training camp.
✭ Sean Lee
✭ Jaylon Smith
✭ Damien Wilson
✭ Joe Thomas
There are a couple of guys on the 90-man roster who could break camp with the team, but if I were Will McClay and the front office, I wouldn't feel great about my primary backups being Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, or Tre'Von Johnson.
Thomas would be fine for a spell but not someone who should be counted on long-term.
The Dallas Cowboys need to attack this position with a couple picks and preferably in the first four rounds. They need guys who could step into a rotational role right away. Barring an unforeseen drop by Roquan Smith to pick 19, they should be targeting guys in rounds two through four.
NaVorro Bowman is still unsigned and would be an excellent addition to this linebacker group. If they haven't made inquiries yet, they should look into it after the draft. He would be solid insurance at MIKE linebacker if Jaylon Smith still isn't ready to play.
✭ Byron Jones
✭ Chidobe Awuzie
✭ Jourdan Lewis
✭ Anthony Brown
✭ Marquez White
Dallas could certainly make a late-round selection to add some competition for Marquez White and Duke Thomas -- who could push for a roster spot -- but the top four guys are set and they aren't adding a top-100 cornerback.
This group, along with the safeties, is the unit I'm most excited to see in training camp with the addition of former Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Back Guru, Kris Richard.
He gets the best out of his DBs and was instrumental in the rise of the Seattle Seahawks defense.
✭ Jeff Heath
✭ Kavon Frazier
✭ Xavier Woods
If there's a place I could see them spending a top-100 pick for the secondary, it's at safety.
The talent here is solid, but aside from Heath, we still don't know what we have in Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. Even if they don't go safety early on, they'll probably draft one at some point.
I really like Xavier Woods' promise as the ball-hawking free safety we've been looking for since Monte Kiffin installed the Tampa-2 scheme. The fact remains, though, that Woods is a second year player from small-school Louisiana Tech and still has some growing to do. He and Heath should rotate the FS snaps during the preseason and season.
Kavon Frazier really came on strong at the end of the season and provided an edge to the secondary that had been missing. He was a physical tackler and supported against the run very well. He will likely get a chance to earn the "box safety" role on early downs with Woods spelling him on passing downs.
Special Teams (3)
✭ Dan Bailey
✭ Chris Jones
✭ L.P. Ladouceur
Same story, different year. Other than bringing in a camp leg to spell Dan Bailey during the preseason, the special teams specialists remain the same, and that's a good thing.
The kicking operation with L.P. Ladouceur snapping, Chris Jones holding, and Bailey kicking keeps a great and solid operation together for another year.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By my count, that's 43 roster spots accounted for, though a lot could change, and with the draft looming a lot of the names I listed could be pushed off the roster.
From my depth chart analysis, I'd argue the most pressing needs on the team right now are wide receiver, left guard, linebacker, 1T defensive tackle, safety and EDGE rusher. If they came away with players at each of these positions, then I will call it a successful draft, even if they don't draft my guys.
Where do you think they need to make additions to the roster?
BREAKING: WR Terrance Williams Gets Dropped by Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have ended their six-year relationship with Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. According to multiple sources, they have declined a team option on Williams' contract and he will now be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
The move will reportedly save the Cowboys $2.25 million in salary space this year.
Williams was the team's third-round pick in 2013 and started 68 of the 83 games he played in. He developed into a solid number-two receiver by the end of his rookie deal in 2016 and was given a new four-year contract that offseason.
Terrance Williams career w/ the Cowboys is done. Sources say the club has declined the WR's option for 2019, making him a free agent. The move is no surprise. He caught just 2 passes for 18 yards last season. His departure frees up $2.25 million on the cap.
After another decent year in 2017, things took a bad turn for Terrance last season. It started with an offseason arrest for public intoxication that eventually led to a three-game suspension, although Williams served that while on injured reserve.
The Cowboys already appeared to be giving Williams' spot away when they made several offseason acquisitions at WR; Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin all were brought in even before Terrance's arrest.
While Williams did start in two of Dallas' first three games in 2018, he only had three passes his thrown his way. The team finally put him on IR due to ongoing complications with a surgically-repaired foot.
While it didn't end well, Terrance Williams' time in Dallas was ultimately a solid return for a third-round pick. He made a few big plays and was a proficient run-blocker, good enough to start in almost 75% of the team's games since he was drafted.
The Cowboys now hope that another third-round pick, Michael Gallup in 2018, will do bigger and better things.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys' year in 2018 was marked by big moves at wide receiver. Dez Bryant was released in April and then a first-round pick was traded in October to add Amari Cooper. Could this 2019 offseason offer anything close to that level of activity?
Unlike last season, Dallas should enjoy some stability in its starting lineup at receiver. Cooper returns at a much higher price, with the $13.9 million cap hit from his fifth-year option coming into player. Amari cost just $412k against the Cowboys' salary cap last year.
That huge jump in cap cost may hurt but Cooper backed it up with his Pro Bowl play in 2018. The top WR contracts average $15-$17 million per year, so even now Dallas is arguably getting Amari at a bargain.
The Cowboys didn't give up a first-round pick for a year-and-a-half rental, so we can expect them to seek a long-term extension with Cooper in the near future. With the contracts of DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott more immediate concerns, any new deal for Amari probably won't come until the middle of the season or in 2020.
Not only is WR1 set for next year but Michael Gallup appears locked in as the other starter. Of his 68 targets last year, 40 came in the second half of the year. It was a great season for a third-round rookie, and there are high hopes for Gallup's development in his first full offseason.
The stability up front is a blessing for the Cowboys, but it doesn't relieve them of big decisions at the WR position this offseason. They face a particularly critical choice when it comes to the free agency of Cole Beasley.
It's hard to believe Beasley's already been in Dallas for seven seasons. An undrafted gem, Cole has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players for some time. He led them in receiving in 2016 and has been one of the most efficient, QB-friendly options for the last several years.
Beasley's contract expiring this year is only one issue. He has become very vocal lately about wanting to be a bigger part of the offense. His targets dropped tremendously over the course of 2018, which was especially evident when Cole got just five total passes thrown his way in the two playoffs games.
If Beasley wants a larger role, does that also mean he wants more money? He was making a little over $3 million/season on his last deal.
With Gallup on a cheap rookie contract, Dallas could afford to pay raise Beasley's compensation a bit. But if they don't plan to use him more than they did last year, then perhaps the two parties just aren't a good fit at this point.
If Cole walks in free agency then the Cowboys will now have to find a new number-three receiver. The next best option would be Tavon Austin, but he is also a free agent. However, he could likely be re-signed for a fraction of what Beasley would want.
Austin has the physical skills to be an offensive weapon but he doesn't have the reliable hands that Beasley does. Even if Dallas wants Tavon back solely for his skills on punt returns, they may not be ready to make him a bigger part of the offense.
One option might be promoting Noah Brown, whose at times has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant with his physical playing style. His blocking ability would lend itself to the single-back formations Dallas likes to run out of, and he's flashed some good hands in limited opportunities.
In that scenario Amari Cooper would likely play out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of with his quickness. The same would be done if Dallas went with another internal solution, such as Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams.
That said, the Cowboys are unlikely to pick up the second-year option on Hurns' contract, not wanting to pay him over $6 million in 2019 after last year's low production. It also doesn't seem likely that they want to keep Williams after last year's issues.
Taking all of that into consideration, Dallas may very well be doing some WR shopping in free agency. Fortunately for them, it's a favorable market if you're looking for a slot receiver.
On top of Beasley and Austin already in the free agent pool, Golden Tate could at least match Cole's play if not potentially offer an upgrade. Baltimore's John Brown, Tampa's Adam Humphries, and Washington's Jamison Crowder are all other proven options. Emmanuel Sanders, while not currently a free agent, is a very possible cap casualty for the Broncos.
Guys like Humphries and Crowder are younger than Beasley and could provide better long-term value on their contract. That may be a more attractive option at this point for the Cowboys.
Dallas won't need to add a lot of bodies at WR thanks to a few young prospects. They still have Lance Lenoir and Cedrick Wilson under contract, plus signed 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith as a potential rehabilitation project.
But again, these guys are all just bodies right now. Lenoir has had his opportunities and not done much with them, though he does offer some value as a potential return man. Wilson spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
The Cowboys could still look at a receiver with one of their mid-round draft picks, but it's hard to get much production early there. Last year's play from Michael Gallup was a surprise for a third-rounder.
It's far more likely that Dallas will either work things out with Cole Beasley or pursue a veteran replacement in free agency.
So no, thankfully, we don't have to worry about any monumental changes at the top of the WR depth chart in 2019. But Beasley was more than just a third receiver, and keeping or replacing him will have a significant impact on the offense going forward.
If Dallas is truly ready to commit to Dak Prescott as the quarterback of the future then they can't take anything about his receiving options lightly. Therefore, wide receiver remains an important offseason focus for the Cowboys in 2019.
Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus
Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.
Here’s what he had to say:
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...
...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Brian Martin - Inside The Star
I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.
I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.
They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.
Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.
Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.
While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.
I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.
Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.
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