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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

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.

With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.

The Good

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.

The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.

I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.

The Bad

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.

Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.

The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.

The Ugly

There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.

The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.

The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.

What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Brian Martin

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Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Unlike last week, today's Monday morning hangover isn't nearly as bad. Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys had a bounce back game against the New York Giants Sunday night, meaning you were probably drinking in celebration instead of drowning your sorrows. Hopefully, this continues.

Today, I want to do a little recap over what took place last night for the Dallas Cowboys and share with you some of the good and not so good I observed. Luckily, there was much more good for the Cowboys compared to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

First off, how impressive was the Cowboys defensive play against the Giants? The pass rush consistently put pressure on Eli Manning and finished the night with six quarterback sacks. Nearly all of the defensive line got in on the action. I think we can credit Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard for the aggressive game plan.

The pass rush wasn't all that was dominant against the Giants for the Cowboys defense. Dallas' secondary pretty much shut down Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the Giants aerial attack. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire night and it paid off. Again, I think we can give credit to Kris Richard. He's changed how these defensive backs are being utilized.

Jeff Heath, Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The one negative I took away from the Cowboys defensive performance was the missed tackles once again. There were several Cowboys defenders who failed to take down Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley on first contact. Barkley unfortunately was able to pick up several yards after contact because of this. Tackling was a problem against the Panthers as well and it needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys looked like an entirely different unit than what took the field in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan was much more aggressive with his playcalling, evidenced by the long touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first offensive series.

Unlike against the Panthers, Linehan put Dak Prescott in the best position to succeed. He didn't have No. 4 sit in the pocket, instead he put him on the move and allowed him to use his mobility to put pressure on the Giants defense. I believe this is where Prescott is at his best and should continued to be utilized in this manner.

Ezekiel Elliott didn't have the biggest rushing totals, but we all know the Giants defense was trying to take him out of the game. He finished the night with 78 rushing yards on 17 carries, but he did manage to pretty much put the game away with a rushing TD. Personally, I would love to see Zeke more involved in the passing game, especially down the field instead of around on a scrimmage.

All in all, the Dallas Cowboys did what they needed to do in order to secure the victory. They still have several things they need to clean up and improve upon, but what team doesn't at this point in the season. Now, they need to carry over this momentum into Week 3 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.

What do you think about the Dallas Cowboys performance against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Play Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Not many things about the Dallas Cowboys performance through two weeks has been pretty, but when they look up on Monday morning they'll be leading the NFC East at 1-1. Evening their record with a win on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants, the Cowboys did enough in front of their home crowd to hold off a late Eli Manning comeback.

Tavon Austin's long opening touchdown would set the tone for the Cowboys on their first possession. Points would be at a premium for both teams the rest of the way, leaving the Cowboys with plenty to like about their defense and reason to be encouraged on offense.

Here are my full takeaways from the Cowboys first win of 2018.

  • There aren't enough good things to say about the play call from Scott Linehan to get the ball over the top to Tavon Austin for the Cowboys first touchdown. 

The Cowboys were able to take advantage of Giants Safety Landon Collins playing down in the box, something he's had success doing against Dallas before. I thought that trend could continue when Collins called out the Cowboys offense leading up to this game, but it was Dak Prescott getting the last laugh.

Prescott knew exactly where the ball needed to be placed once Austin beat Janoris Jenkins cleanly, giving Tavon room to run under it and find the end zone for the first time as a Cowboy.

  • It was another tough match up for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but this time he was up for the challenge of playing on the second level and getting out in space.

The Cowboys should be happy with Williams' steady progress at LG, as he took another step forward on Sunday night. A converted tackle from college, Williams looked much better playing on the move, which is when the entire Cowboys OL is at its best.

Not only was Williams comfortable handling more wrinkles in the play book, but he was able to play with improved power and leverage to get to the second level often. With Center Joe Looney holding his own against Damon Harrison, the Cowboys went back to their roots in grinding out this NFC East win.

  • That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench.

  • Speaking of the Cowboys safety usage in this game, it was a standout performance against Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants receivers by Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie. 

Both Awuzie and Jones were asked to play on an island for much of this game, and handled this as well as Kris Richard could ask for. Beckham's longest reception was for 17 yards. The Cowboys kept the Giants best play maker in front of them all night, giving them a fighting chance to slow down RB Saquon Barkley.

Barkley was able to punish the Cowboys front seven a number of times with broken tackles, but never escaped the Cowboys grasp enough for the Giants to sustain a drive until the fourth quarter.

I'm not sure if the Cowboys strong cornerback duo of Awuzie and Jones were expected to play this well as early into the season as we are, but their man coverage ability has really allowed Dallas to mix things up on defense.

  • Kris Richard's impact on the Cowboys defense went beyond the secondary play against the Giants, as the team remained aggressive in blitzing the Giants offensive line.

It sure felt good to see the Cowboys exploit the Giants weakness up front, not content with letting their front four create the only advantage on defense. Knowing what Eli Manning is capable of when sitting in the pocket, the Cowboys disrupted the Giants passer all night by relentlessly sending stunts and blitzes at him.

Damien Wilson had a bounce back game at linebacker by using his speed to pressure Manning. Getting home for a game-changing sack, Wilson knocked the ball out of Manning's hand and created a turnover for his defense.

Defensive End Taco Charlton, who had a sack from the RDE position, recovered the fumble for Dallas. It was the right side of the offensive line for the Giants that let them down, but with so much attention being given to DeMarcus Lawrence at left end, Charlton simply had a free run at Manning for his sack.

  • That's a bad miss by Dak Prescott of Rico Gathers in the end zone off the Cowboys only turnover.

Looking to put the game away after their fumble recovery, the Cowboys called the perfect play for Tight End Rico Gathers - who was active in a regular season game for the first time. The play became an example of just how far criticism of Scott Linehan should stretch, as Prescott simply didn't execute.

Gathers sold his route up the field perfectly, breaking for the back corner of the end zone and running to open space before finding the ball sail over his head. Had Prescott thrown a better ball, Gathers turns around and easily secures a touchdown.

Who knows what the internet would be like this morning if he did. Nonetheless, the Cowboys settled for a Brett Maher field goal and took a 13-0 advantage before the Giants began their climb back into the game.

The Cowboys shouldn't be discouraged from using Gathers more in the passing game, but whether or not they will depends on the numbers they need on the active roster each game day.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The only NFC East team to earn a win in week two, the Cowboys have a long way to go to prove they're contenders in the division. With the Seahawks coming to town this week, the Cowboys will be reminded of how quickly things can go wrong, as Seattle's win in AT&T Stadium a year ago ended their hopes of making the playoffs.

On Sunday night, it was the Cowboys hindering the Giants chance to do just that by forcing an 0-2 start in New York. The Cowboys were impressive in their control of the game, executing a great game plan on defense while the offense started fast and finished with a physical drive in the fourth quarter.

Getting back to work after a win is always best, and such is the week ahead for the Dallas Cowboys.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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