Can you remember back to a time when you had no internet access? It's hard to imagine. Before the last six weeks, I think 1995 was the last time I lived life without Internet. Oddly enough, that was the last season the Dallas Cowboys won a Super Bowl.
When it goes away you find out just how connected to the Internet we all are.
Now that I'm back online, I'm playing a bit of catch up to how the Dallas Cowboys offseason has unfolded to this point. Now, just 3 weeks away from the NFL Draft, the Cowboys have positioned themselves fairly well to attack the draft.
I wanted to go through the signings and storylines and give my thoughts on what's transpired thus far.
WR Additions Cast Confusion on Depth Chart
I really like the signings of Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. They add some really good production and depth to a WR group that hadn't seen any turnover among its top three wide receivers over the last five years.
Allen Hurns will immediately slide into a number two role behind Dez Bryant. He's very "Dak-Friendly" as he can create separation out of the slot and is in a similar mold of "big-slot" as Michael Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald. Not only can he create separation against DBs and linebackers, he has the size to take on the contact required when going across the middle.
If you couldn't tell, I'm really excited about what Hurns -- only 25 -- can bring to the table.
Deonte Thompson played last year with Chicago and Buffalo and really hit a stride with Tyrod Taylor in the second half of 2017. He's a home-run threat who can also return kicks. He potentially takes over Brice Butler's role on offense while being used in a return role. He doesn't replace Ryan Switzer on punts, but perhaps gives Dallas an option on kickoff returns.
At most, six will be on the roster, and depending on what they do with the rest of the team, they could opt to keep only five. That means one to two wide receivers may not be with the team when week one comes.
If I were to try to project the wide receiver depth chart in April, which is always a foolish errand, I'd say it looks like this come week one, regarding my confidence in them being on the team.
- Dez Bryant - 99%
- Allen Hurns - 100%
- Terrance Williams - 60%
- Cole Beasley - 50%
- Ryan Switzer - 100%
- Deonte Thompson - 75%
I believe they'll try to sneak Noah Brown to the practice squad if they keep Dez, Terrance, and Cole.
Terrance Williams' contract, as Jess Haynie points out, doesn't leave the Cowboys a lot of options, unless they're able to find a trade partner. Cole has the easiest contract to walk away from at this point. With Switzer, there's a redundancy on the roster. Not saying they should release Beasley, but it would make sense if they did.
The Dez Dilemma
Dez Bryant's situation has been discussed ad nauseam, so I won't spend a lot of time on this one. There are two questions that need to be asked.
The First: Can Dez Still Play?
I think he can. He's not an elite WR anymore, but he's also suffered a lot of minor injuries over the last several years that hurt his play and production. I don't worry about Dez (if healthy) producing for DAL.
I don't see the Allen Hurns signing signaling a Dez departure. As much as we are frustrated by Dez and his 2017 performance, we can be sure Dez is more frustrated with himself. He knows he's a better player than that, and so does the front office.
The Second: Is Dez Worth the Hefty $16-million Cap Hit?
In a vacuum, to me the answer is no, but we don't live in a vacuum -- thank goodness, 'cause that would suck.
We live in a world where Dez Bryant and his contract go hand in hand. If the answer to question one is yes, Dez can still play, then you don't worry about question two, you just swallow the number and move on.
If the answer is no, Dez can't play, then you cut him and move on.
The Dallas Cowboys' front office is trying to "have their cake and eat it too." They want Dez to be a Cowboy, but they don't want him gobbling up almost 10% of the cap.
To me, you live with the hand that you dealt yourself.
Offensive Line Additions Add depth
Dallas has seemed to make some nice backup additions in the offensive line.
Tackle Cameron Fleming could be a nice swing tackle option if the coaching staff has completely lost faith in Chaz Green. Fleming, who started for the Patriots during their playoff run, could also be an option at right tackle if they want to move La'el Collins again.
Guard Marcus Martin shouldn't be seen as anything more than a depth player and backup for Dallas.
As Kevin Brady recently wrote, Collins wants to stay at tackle.
If the DAL coaching staff prefers to keep Collins at tackle, then that leaves a big hole along the offensive line at left guard. They can still afford to add a guard in the draft, and it probably needs to happen in the first or second round it seems, but according to Draft Twitter the guard class isn't that deep.
Will Hernandez, Isaiah Wynn, or James Daniels will need to be on the team's radar at 19 if the plan is to keep Collins at tackle.
Dominant D-Line Defenders Given Some Dollars
DeMarcus Lawrence was given the franchise tag and he signed it, guaranteeing him a little more than $17 million in 2018. I fully expect a long-term deal to be finalized before the July deadline. It's all about figuring out the right number for him, but they'll find one.
The franchise tag was a way of preventing another team from driving the price out of the Cowboys' price range. They want Lawrence to have a star on his helmet for his prime years, so Jerry Jones will get a deal done.
David Irving, still only 24, was given a second round restricted free agent tender by the team, which will guarantee him $2.9-million dollars for 2018. The Cowboys should still be looking at paying him a long-term contract for 2019 and beyond. He's as disruptive of a player as you'll find on the interior, and while Maliek Collins is a good 3T tackle, I'm not willing to let David Irving get away.
Depth Added at Linebacker
Joe Thomas was signed to a two-year deal and, as Sean discusses, is a good depth addition who could play all three linebacker spots. But he fits the weak-side position best.
Thomas will help fill the void left by Kyle Wilber on special teams, and could be a rotational player with Jaylon Smith at MIKE if Smith's still not ready for a full-time role.
When I first saw that Orlando Scandrick signed with the Washington Redskins, my first reaction was frustration. My second reaction was more of a shoulder shrug. My third reaction was a bit of a chuckle.
The Washington Redskins always seem to go after the Cowboys' leftovers. They're the guy you room with who wasn't there when you ordered pizza, but saw it in the fridge the next day and ate it cold.
I love Orlando Scandrick the Cowboy, but he was done here, so good luck to him for 14 games a year.
It wasn't surprising to see Brice Butler depart. Yes, he had his shining moments with the star on his helmet, but he also had some not so great moments as well.
Anthony Hitchens is the biggest loss in free agency.
He was an ascending player toward the second half of 2017, when he finally got healthy, but he got paid big money by the Kansas City Chiefs, so I understand and am ok with the Cowboys letting him walk. It leaves a big issue at linebacker though, one that will need to be addressed in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft.
Jonathan Cooper's departure for the San Francisco 49ers isn't all that surprising, and he served as a nice stop-gap in 2017. Dallas simply wasn't going to pay him what he got in free agency.
Keith Smith was a bit of a surprise, but he's a full back and in today's NFL, you aren't using a fullback very much. Teams operate in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) about 70% of the time and when Dallas isn't in 11 personnel, they're in 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) or 13 (1 RB, 3 TE).
Kyle Wilber's departure is kind of a bummer. He was a good special teams player for the Cowboys and pretty reliable. Not a big name for sure, but special teams matters.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Well, now that we're done with the major free agent portion of the offseason, we turn our sights to the draft, which is less than three weeks away. It's exciting times around Cowboys Nation.
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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