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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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Dallas Cowboys

What to Expect from Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Group in 2019

John Williams

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Amari Cooper

In a span of a week, the Dallas Cowboys have solidified their wide receiver group with the resigning of Tavon Austin to a one year deal and the signing of former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb. Despite the loss of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys have a created a really good group of receivers for Quarterback Dak Prescott to throw to.

Cobb joins a really nice group of players that includes incumbent starters on the outside in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well as solid depth players in Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Throw in Cedric Wilson, the Dallas Cowboys sixth round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft and the Cowboys may have one of the deeper receiving corps in the NFL.

The question is, how will the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff delineate the roles?

Let's take a look.

Outside Receivers

As I mentioned before, the Dallas Cowboys are returning their top two options on the outside in Amari Cooper, who is the X wide receiver and Michael Gallup, the Z receiver. Both players will go into week one as the starters at their respective positions in two-wide receiver formations.

Despite some of the overthrows from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup, Gallup had a really nice rookie season and got better as the year went along, even leading the Cowboys in receiving in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In that game, Gallup recorded the first 100 yard game of his career. Sure, it was in an attempt to comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, but it is impressive nonetheless. His touchdown catch against the Seattle Seahawks the week before was clutch. The Cowboys needed that to take the lead at the end of the first half. 2018 was only the beginning for Michael Gallup. He showed an ability to win with a full offseason to work with Dak Prescott, their chemistry and connection should only improve.

As for Cooper, his presence was felt right away as the offense just looked different once he stepped on the field. It's no coincidence that Dak Prescott's two best career games in terms of passing yardage came with Cooper in 2018. He's such a threat that he opens up space for the rest of the wide receiver group. His route running, speed, ability to run after the catch make him a threat to score any time he's targeted.

Behind Cooper and Gallup, you have options in the event that one of them gets hurt. Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Noah Brown are all players who took snaps on the outside for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 and did so with effectiveness. Hurns best game of the year came just before the Cooper deal was made as he went for five receptions for 75 yards.

Tavon provided down field speed on several occasions and provides some gadget quality that the Dallas Cowboys love to have. Noah Brown is a player that the Dallas Cowboys love to deploy as a blocker in the running game. While it looked like he might get more run in the passing game in 2019, the depth additions will limit him again to a specialty role. If needed, though, he could be an option to take snaps on the outside as his big frame allows him to box out defensive backs down the field.

There will be snaps on the outside for someone when the Cowboys go to 11 personnel, because of Amari Cooper's ability to slide into the slot.

Slot Receiver

Obviously, the writing is on the wall with who the Dallas Cowboys are planning on deploying in the slot as things stand right now, and that's Randall Cobb.

While Cobb should be penciled in as the starter in the slot, I doubt that he's going to get 100% of the snaps there in 11 or 10 personnel groupings. Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson could all push for playing time from the slot.

Last month, I wrote a piece about Allen Hurns and his effectiveness in the slot and why the Cowboys should feature him there. With Cobb coming off an injury laden season, the Cowboys would be wise to give some snaps to Hurns along with Tavon Austin.

In Jacksonville, Hurns was incredibly effective from the slot running posts, slants, and ins and outs. His size and route running made him an effective mismatch against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks alike. Remember, it wasn't long ago that Hurns had a 1,000 yard season with Blake Bortles at the helm.

Tavon Austin's quickness is an asset that could be very effective in the slot as well. Though he lacks size, he's a player that opposing defenses have to account for because of his ability to make big plays once the ball's in his hands.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys haven't been shy about carrying seven wide receivers on their 53-man rosters and it's possible, though unlikely that they could do it again in 2018. As things stand now, I see Noah Brown and Cedric Wilson as the potential odd men out. Of course, this could all get reshuffled if the Dallas Cowboys use a top 100 pick on a wide receiver in the draft.

With Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Randall Cobb only under contract through the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to invest at the position despite the strength of the position in 2019.



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Report: Dallas Cowboys Set to Meet with Safety George Iloka

John Williams

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Why Cowboys Should Acquire Recently Released S George Iloka

As the Dallas Cowboys continue the process of building a roster capable of taking them back to the playoffs, and hopefully to a Super Bowl, this next season, they’re bringing in another safety to try and strengthen their top 10 defense. This time it’s free agent safety George Iloka, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Dallas Cowboys are set to meet with

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys are hosting former #Vikings and #Bengals safety George Iloka for a visit tomorrow, source said. They're still looking to add in the secondary.

It will be the third meeting this week that they’ve had with a veteran safety after hosting recently resigned Indianapolis’s colts Safety Clayton Geathers and former Kansas City Chiefs Safety Eric Berry.

The Cowboys feel really good about Xavier Woods at safety, but definitely could use some depth at the position as they head toward the 2019 NFL Draft.

Iloka is coming off a season where he was relegated to a reserve role for the Vikings. In five of the last six seasons, Iloka’s played all 16 games, and the one season he didn’t, he played 12. He has nine career interceptions, and has three seasons with more than 70 total tackles.

Back in August of last year, Brian Martin argued that the Dallas Cowboys should pursue Iloka after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals. He would play the strong or box safety role in the Cowboys defense if they were to come to an agreement.

Stay tuned for more Free Agency coverage from us here at InsideTheStar.com.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Impact of Free Agency Moves & Rumors

Jess Haynie

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Randall Cobb

With most of the marquee NFL free agents already off the market, many are already turning their eyes to the 2019 Draft. Whether a glaring need went unaddressed or the needs have simply changed, the draft offers the next big opportunity for teams like the Dallas Cowboys to stock talent for next season.

While they've been conservative so far this offseason, Dallas has been active in the last few days in covering bases and giving itself more flexibility for the draft. They don't want to have to reach on a talent because of a need, nor do they want to tip their hand too much to the rest of the league.

As of now there are still some significant acquisitions that could happen. Dallas has visited with veteran Safety Eric Berry and Defensive Lineman Malik McDowell, plus are reportedly in trade talks with Miami for Defend End Robert Quinn. Any of these moves could have a big impact on their need levels for the draft.

We've already seen some changes thanks to offseason activity. With Tuesday's signing of Randall Cobb, plus moves to retain Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns, Dallas may not be looking at a receiver as early as we might've thought. The same can be said for Jason Witten's return and the tight end position.

If the draft were today, without accounting for any of the players that the Cowboys have had talks with but remain unsigned, here's how I would rank the team's 2019 draft needs:

  1. Safety
  2. Defensive End
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Tight End
  5. Running Back
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. Offensive Tackle
  8. Cornerback
  9. Linebacker
  10. Kicker
  11. Center
  12. Guard
  13. Quarterback (Mike White is their drafted backup project for at least another year.)
  14. Punter (Could add someone to compete with Chris Jones and save some cap dollars.)
  15. Fullback (They re-signed Jamize Olawale, who they barely use anyway. Zero need here.)

I put safety on top because it's the spot that could most use an immediate upgrade and has some pressing future need. Dallas didn't make the big move for Earl Thomas that many hoped for and Jeff Heath's contract expires after this season. Hopefully, a second-round talent could compete for a starting job now and at least replace Heath in 2020.

Even with the Kerry Hyder signing defensive end has some major red flags. DeMarcus Lawrence has sworn he would holdout without a long-term deal. Randy Gregory is suspended again, and now Tyrone Crawford is now facing potential league action from an incident with police last week. Unless the Cowboys think Taco Charlton is going to make a big push in his third year, they could be hurting for a pass rush in 2019.

I expect things with Lawrence will get resolved, and I doubt Crawford will get suspended for more than a game or two if at all. But Dallas could still use another solid DE if they don't get this deal for Robert Quinn done.

Remember, the 2019 Cowboys aren't working with a first-round pick. Barring a trade, they'll be waiting until the 58th pick to make their first selection. That limits the impact potential of their picks and makes what they do with the Day 2 picks all the more critical.

REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

Safety Eric Berry, currently a free agent. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

So what if the Cowboys pull off these three potential moves, adding Berry, McDowell, and Quinn? Each player would help to address the top three needs on my list.

Eric Berry hopefully solves the immediate upgrade need at safety, though it may not do much for the future. He turns 31 this year and was released by Kansas City because of multiple injury issues. Dallas could still consider taking a rookie prospect, perhaps even releasing Jeff Heath for cap savings if needed.

Malik McDowell was considered a first-round talent in 2017 but has never played after a major ATV accident prior to his first training camp with Seattle. If he's finally recovered enough to return to football and play at his original potential, he could give Dallas a talent infusion that none of their draft capital could provide.

Robert Quinn has been around a while but will be just 29 in May, and is still putting up sacks at a solid rate. He's averaged 7.5 sacks the last two years with two different teams. He would go a long way to stabilizing things at defensive end and allowing Dallas look at guys like Gregory and Hyder as icing on the cake.

If Dallas lands all three players then I would adjust the list as follows:

  1. Tight End
  2. Safety
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Running Back
  5. Defensive End
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. etc.

If you think about it, the safety and tight end positions would be kind of similar in this scenario. You'd have Eric Berry and Jason Witten as the veteran stopgaps, Xavier Woods and Blake Jarwin as intriguing young guys with starting potential, and Kavon Frazier and Dalton Schultz as other young depth.

However, at every step, safety would be deeper and have more upside. Berry should have more to often than Witten, Woods is more proven than Jarwin, and Frazier is more experienced than Schultz.

Plus, we didn't even mention that you'd have Jeff Heath for experience and versatility at safety. Meanwhile, TE Rico Gathers probably won't be on next year's team.

So yes, I'd vault tight end to the top of the need list. Dallas may like Blake Jarwin but they could find a far more polished and talented player with the 58th pick.

Christian Covington

Defensive Lineman Christian Covington (Maria Lysaker - Cal Sport Media)

Even with McDowell and Christian Covington added to the mix, Dallas would still be wise to address the defensive tackle position. They have several contract issues coming up at once in 2020.

Covington and Maliek Collins will be unrestricted free agents next year. The Cowboys will also likely want to finally shed Tyrone Crawford's contract, with $8 million in cap relief possible. That would leave them pretty bare at defensive tackle.

Dallas could make a move now to solidify their rotation and prepare for the future. They'd have a little more stability at defensive end with assumed multi-year deals for Lawrence and Quinn, making tackle the more immediate concern.

The backup running back spot can't be ignored, with only Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn currently signed behind Ezekiel Elliott. If Dallas doesn't bring back Rod Smith between now and the draft, they may want to spend a high pick for Zeke's relief man and an additional offensive weapon.

Elliott's own contract will be up for discussion as soon. Having a talented player with a four-year rookie deal behind him could give the Cowboys much-needed leverage in any future talks with their franchise back.

~ ~ ~

We'll see if Dallas lands any of the players we've hypothesized about. Any of them would help lessen the need at their positions, but those would still remain important areas for the Cowboys to look at in the upcoming draft.



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