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Pre-NFL Draft Dallas Cowboys Offseason Review

John Williams

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Anthony Hitchens

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.

The Cowboys Perfectly Handled the Need for a WR

Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

With Dez Bryant, Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Thompson, and Noah Brown all under contract, that's too many names for the Dallas Cowboys depth chart.

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.

Check out the Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson scouting reports from Sean Martin, who, as fate would have it, will be in Arlington, Tex this year covering the 2018 NFL Draft for ITS.

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.

In case you missed it, you can read Kevin's breakdowns of Cameron Fleming and Marcus Martin.

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.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Departures

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.

Stay tuned.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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2 Comments
  • Chuck Wright

    1st, Hurns isn’t “behind” Dez on the depth chart, Dez is the X WR. . . .if he is a slot (though I suspect he takes T-Will’s job day 1) he is the Y Wide Receiver though like I said, I think he plays the Z. Basically 3 different positions. The problem is Thompson is also well suited as a Y (slot) WR so you now have 4 slots though 2 can play Z as well.

    None of that changes the fact Dallas is sitting with too many WRs. Before his injury announced, I would have traded T-Will just to clear out his over priced contract. Give us a 6th or 7th and he’s yours.

    Would not be shocked to see Beasley traded, not that I don’t love him but last year of his contract and he’s 28/29. WRs don’t age well and you have Switzer and Hurns for 2019.

    Personally I would have dumped Dez, eaten $4 million and saved $12 but JJ loves him so Dez gets a put up or shut up year. . . actually put up or move on.

    2nd, I’d love Indy to over pay for Irving and gives us their 2nd. We don’t have cap space to sign D Law and Irving in 2019. And in my fantasy world, Dallas trades out of 19 into the later part of the 1st round and gains another 2nd rounder. If both were to happen, Dallas now lands 5 players in the top 100.

    Dallas still need OG (though I have little doubt Martin would be fine), 2 LBs, a TE (Whitten’s last year most likely) a WR (yeah, we have to find WRs for 2019 and beyond) a 1 Tech a S and a change of pace RB.

    • John Williams

      At the moment, Dallas is sitting with $55 million in Cap space for 2019 and more than $100 million in 2020. If Lawrence gets $17mil (Olivier Vernon money), Irving gets $12 mil and Martin gets $12 mil, that still leaves you with $14 million in cap space. And currently they only have Scandricks 1.6 million in Dead money.

      I get what you’re saying on Dez, but the team isn’t finding someone that garners the attention of the Defense. You let Dez go and you let go a weapon in the Dallas arsenal.

      I’m with you on Terrance and Beasley. Don’t want to see Bease gone, but his contract is the easiest to move on from. The front office really hamstrung themselves with the TWill contract.

Game Notes

Cowboys Defense Faces Tough Matchup vs Falcons Passing Attack

John Williams

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Bottom Line: Are the Cowboys Better or Worse for 2018?

When you're a 4-5 team in the NFL with preseason expectations of making the playoffs, the last half of the season has a lot of of must-win games. This week is no different. The Dallas Cowboys face another 4-5 team in the Atlanta Falcons who is also looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Both teams are still in the hunt, but have slightly different paths to get there. The Dallas Cowboys would probably have to win the NFC East to make the playoffs with the Falcons only real chance coming via the wild card. The New Orleans Saints look to be the kings of the NFC South this season.

In order to stay in the hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need a huge defensive effort against a fierce Atlanta Falcons passing game. Through the first nine games, the Cowboys have provided reason for optimism that they can slow down Matt Ryan and company, but they've also had some porous efforts this season.

The front seven of the defense has played pretty well through the first nine games of the season and Byron Jones has been one of the best corner backs in the league. They've had problems on the left sde of the defense with Chidobe Awuzie and with the safeties.

The Cowboys will face a really difficult challenge as they travel to face the Atlanta Falcons passing game led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Matt Ryan is in the top five in most passing categories including yards, touchdowns, passer rating, completion percentage, and leads the league in passing yards per game. In yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, and air yards per attempt, Matt Ryan is sixth in the NFL.

As you can see from the chart above provided by Next Gen Stats and NFL.com, Matt Ryan has been average to better than average throwing to every area of the field this season. Particularly troubling is what he's doing when he's throwing to his right, which happens to be the side of the field occupied by Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie is allowing a passer rating of 129.7 this season, which is the 15th worst number in the NFL among corners who have played a minimum of 92 coverage snaps.

What's potentially more troubling than how efficient Matt Ryan's been throwing to Awuzie's side of the field is the fact that Julio Jones will play all over the formation and can beat you in every area of the field.

The chances are high that we'll see Awuzie lined up against Julio Jones on several occasions on Sunday. Pray for Chido, y'all. 

Jones has only scored two touchdowns this year, but through nine games, he's already over 1,000 yards receiving, which is leading the NFL. Julio is fourth in the NFL in receptions and is averaging more than 15 yards per catch. He's third in the NFL in yards per route run at 2.99 sitting behind only Michael Thomas and Albert Wilson among players with at least 20 targets on the season.

From Jones' chart against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week six, you can see that they lined him up all over the formation and they ran him on a large variety of routes to a large variety of depths. Julio Jones is one of the best route runners in the NFL, which is scary considering he provides huge size and athleticism to go with it.

As good as he's been this season, the secondary receivers for the Falcons -- Calvin Ridley, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper -- have also played well. Each of them has more than 400 yards receiving on the season. To put that in perspective, Cole Beasley leads the Dallas Cowboys in receiving yards at 403. Each of the Falcons' top four targets have more receiving yards than Beasley does.

Not sure if that speaks of how good the Falcons passing game has been or how bad the Cowboys passing game has been.

The Cowboys will be facing the player that fans wanted the team to select instead of Leighton Vander Esch at 19th overall; Calvin Ridley. Ridley's been excellent this season with 500 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. He's averaging 13.2 yards per reception. Ridley's second on the Falcons in receptions for first downs and Matt Ryan has a passer rating of 138.9 when targeting Ridley.

Austin Hooper doesn't get the same publicity that Jones and Ridley do, but he's been effective this season as well. Hooper is second on the Falcons in receptions with 46, which is the fourth most among tight ends in the NFL. Hooper will test Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle of the field as well as Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath down the seem.

Mohammed Sanu will be the matchup to watch for Anthony Brown in the slot. Though Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones will run routes from there on occasion, Sanu is the primary slot receiver. He ranks 22nd in the NFL in receptions and yards from the slot. Of his 45 targets, 33 have come while in the slot and 25 of his 34 receptions. When Matt Ryan throws Sanu's way, he's got a passer rating of 125.8.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, you have the Dallas Cowboys defense as one of the worst in the NFL at getting off the field on third down. The Atlanta Falcons are second in the NFL at getting off the field on third down.

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The Dallas Cowboys are likely going to give up some long drives to the Falcons, and that's ok. What they don't want to do is give up big plays to the Falcons passing attack. The Cowboys rank sixth in the NFL in red zone defense allowing teams to score on only 48.1% of their trips inside the 20 yard line. The Falcons are seventh in the league at scoring in the red zone, but have had their issues scoring touchdowns when getting inside the 20. If the Cowboys can hold them to three instead of seven, I'll count it as a successful drive for the defense.

The Dallas Cowboys defense is playing really well this season and it ranks in the top 10 in most team defensive categories. However, if they have a weakness it's been in their pass defense, primarily Awuzie and the safeties. If they want to win this game and continue to get themselves back into the playoff picture, they're going to need better performances from their defensive backs not named Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, and to a lesser extent Xavier Woods.

Facing the Atlanta Falcons prolific passing attack is a huge test for this defense and one that could define the rest of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season.



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Game Notes

Cowboys’ Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups

Brian Martin

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Cowboys' Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups 1
(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

With their seasons hanging in the balance, the Dallas Cowboys (4-5) and the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) know all too well the importance of this matchup. The Cowboys however might have a little extra incentive to win this game, revenge. The Falcons absolutely throttled them in 2017, but Dallas is looking to turn the tables on them this year.

Playing in hostile territory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn't the ideal place to secure a victory, but I believe the Dallas Cowboys have a excellent shot at coming out of this contest with a "W". This time around the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith at their disposal and they should pay huge dividends. Having these two players in the lineup will certainly factor into the outcome of the game, but there are other matchups worth keeping an eye on as well.

Here are the three matchups I believe will decide the outcome of this game:

Amari Cooper vs. Falcons' Secondary

Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper

If the Atlanta Falcons secondary continues to play the way they've played for the majority of the 2018 season, the Dallas Cowboys should be able to find quite a bit of success in the passing game. That's why I'm expecting Quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers to have a big game, especially Amari Cooper.

The Falcons are surprisingly giving up 294.4 passing yards a game, which happens to be third worst in the NFL. But what's more surprising is they are also the worst at defending their opponents best receiver, ranking 30th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). That's why I think Amari Cooper could end up having his best game to date in a Cowboys uniform.

Cooper's ability to threaten an opponent's defense all over the field has already made the Cowboys offense better and that should continue to improve as his bond with Prescott develops. He has already become one of the most highly targeted WRs in the NFL since coming to Dallas and that is not only helping improve their passing game, but the running game as well.

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Falcons' Run Defense

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

As much as I'm excited about the damage Amari Cooper could do to the Falcons secondary, I'm even more excited about how dominate Ezekiel Elliott can be against Atlanta's defensive front. A lot of that has to do with the way both of these teams played in these areas a week ago, and it's a matchup that heavily favors the Cowboys.

The Cowboys are coming off their best rushing attack of the 2018 season. The offensive line completely manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles top ranked run defense last week, allowing Zeke to rush for 150+ yards. We could see a repeat performance, especially with the way the Falcons failed to stop the run last week against the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie Running Back Nick Chubb had a career day against the Falcons a week ago, amassing 176 yards and a touchdown on the ground and another 33 yards and a touchdown through the air. If that's an indication of what we can expect from Atlanta's run defense, Zeke should have a huge game. Controlling the clock with the running game would more than likely secure a much-needed victory.

Cowboys' Defense vs. Falcons' 3rd-down Offense

Byron Jones

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

As good as a Dallas Cowboys defense has been this season, they have really struggled to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. In fact, they're currently the fourth worst third-down defense in the league, allowing offenses to convert a first down 44.07% of the time. That's not good, especially if you factor in that the Falcons convert 51.26% of their third downs, ranking second in the NFL.

The matchup between the Cowboys defense and the Falcons third-down offense could end up being the most important. Dallas absolutely have to find a way to get Matt Ryan and his offense off the field and the ball back in the hands of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They can't allow Atlanta to get out to an early lead, because they're not a team who's built to come from behind.

Hopefully the Cowboys can capitalize on the Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott match ups (previously mentioned), that way they're play on third-down becomes less of a factor. But if it ends up being a close game, they will without a doubt have to improve their third-down defensive efficiency.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys get their revenge against the Falcons?



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Player News

Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room

Sean Martin

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Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room 1

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.

Jane Slater on Twitter

Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line

The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.

Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.

Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp

What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.

The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.

Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.

To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.

Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.

If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.

Tell us what you think about "Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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