This is an interesting time on the NFL schedule. We're in that sort of post-free agency purgatory where teams have re-tooled and shuffled players around, but are still looking at the opportunity for major upgrades in the NFL draft. There's a good 6-7 weeks between the start of the new league year and free agency, and the NFL draft. Regarding the Cowboys' strategy on free agency versus the draft, it seems to be fairly consistent over the past five seasons.
Ever since we signed Brandon Carr, we've taken much more of a need-filling approach in free agency to glue up any glaring holes (as well as sign back our own players), in order to put the front office in position to pick best player available at the end of April.
To allow ourselves to do that, however, the Cowboys have to familiarize themselves as much as possible with the prospects of the current year's draft. This comes through various formats: watching tape, attending the NFL Scouting Combine, interviewing players and their former coaches/teammates; the list goes on and on.
Analyzing Dallas' Weight of Pre-Draft Visitors
Another method of familiarization that people seem to get pretty hung up on is the 30 allotted team visits that each franchise is given to bring in prospects, give them a tour of the facilities, introduce them to coaches, administer additional interviews, and so on.
Let's take a look at last year's pre-draft visitors, and follow that list throughout the draft.
2016 Draft Visits:
The first thing you should notice from this chart is that our front office seems to use about half of their visits on prospects in the top 50-60 players of the draft. Last year they used 17 of their 30 visits on players they had rated in the top two rounds. This makes sense given the investment that teams make in the first two rounds.
The next thing you should notice is that only two of our draft picks (three players, including free agent, Rodney Coe) came from the pre-draft visits. This is hugely important, but you have to analyze why to make a proper assumption.
So that's exactly what I did.
Round 1 - This is fairly straight forward. The Cowboys had the top two prospects on the board, both of whom visited Valley Ranch prior to the draft last year. Ultimately, the front office chose to go with the top guy, and we all know how that worked out.
From here, all other pre-draft visit players were selected prior to their next pick in the second round.
Round 2 - This is where things got interesting. Of Dallas' second round rated pre-draft visitors, only two were still on the board when it was their time to pick: Derrick Henry and Connor Cook. Referring back to the Cowboys' draft board, they only had one player remaining (a top-five guy on their board) when it came time to make their selection: linebacker, Jaylon Smith. Thus, the conversation likely came down to these three players.
Given the selection of Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, the idea of selecting Henry was likely quickly scrapped, thus giving way to the choice of picking Smith or Cook. Given that they had a later round grade on Cook, and a top-five grade on Smith, the conversation likely didn't take too long, ending in the obvious selection of Jaylon Smith.
Derrick Henry would be selected by the Tennessee Titans in the middle of the second round.
I mention that this is where our draft got interesting for a couple of reasons. With Jaylon Smith's injury status indicating he would more than likely need to red shirt his rookie NFL season, I have to think that the Cowboys almost knew they would select him in the second round.
Why do I say this? There was a slim-to-none chance that Smith would be selected in the first round and top of the second. Thus, by rating him so highly, it was almost a given that he'd be the highest rated player when they were on the clock in the second (trade scenarios aside).
The only thing that would've made this more interesting is if one of their first-round graded players was available at their second round pick. But, since they weren't, we'll never know. I have to assume that the conversation was fairly quick when they chose to select Smith.
Round 3 - As we came into the third round, the Cowboys were sitting on the clock with three eligible pre-draft visitors on the board: running back Paul Perkins, and quarterbacks Connor Cook and Jacoby Brissett. Again, we can likely eliminate the running back because of the first round selection. This leaves us with the two quarterbacks. So this means Dallas selects their quarterback of the future at the beginning of the third round, right?
Well, not so fast. Given that Brissett had a late third round grade, they were likely targeting him in the fourth round, and thus didn't want to take him this early. So Cook's our man? Not quite. Instead, the Cowboys chose to take a guy they had rated five players later on their board in defensive tackle, Maliek Collins.
I have no explanation for this move, other than either someone pounding the table for the player, or the team being turned off to Cook from the actual visit. They didn't bring Collins in pre-draft, nor did they have him rated higher than Cook.
With Romo's career winding down, Cook seemed like the selection here. We had who we thought would be a staple at 3-technique in Tyrone Crawford, and had just signed Cedric Thornton at 1-tech. The Collins selection seems to simply be a draft day decision based on war room discussion, and one where they didn't pick the pre-draft visitor.
Round 4 [First Pick] - This was another interesting selection the Cowboys made last season. When the fourth round began, Connor Cook was still available, and we all remember what happened: Dallas tried for a second time to trade up to get a quarterback they saw fall a little bit (the first being Paxton Lynch at the end of the first round), only to be out-bid by the Oakland Raiders. Thus, when their pick came a couple of selections later, Cook was off their board.
So, who were they looking at?
Running back Paul Perkins was still available, as well as offensive guard Connor McGovern and quarterback Dak Prescott. In retrospect, we're all sitting at our computer screaming, "PICK DAK!!!!!!!!!!!" However, hindsight is very much 20/20.
So given the Cowboys had three players still on their board, two of which were not considered reaches (given their board), you'd think the pick would come from these guys, right? Think again.
Perkins was likely eliminated -- again -- because of the earlier selection of Elliott. We all know the team liked Dak; after all, they had a million pre-draft workouts with him. But, they also had him rated about half a round later than where they were currently picking at round four, pick three. So, they probably felt he was a little bit of a reach at this point.
Going back to Dallas' overall draft board, removing running backs for the aforementioned reason of picking Zeke, Dallas had DE Ronald Blair, OG Connor McGovern, WR Pharoh Cooper, CB Anthony Brown, and DE Charles Tapper as their top guys, in that order. If we stuck with the pre-draft visits theory, McGovern was the guy. But is he currently a Dallas Cowboy? Nope.
This time, the team goes in another direction again with the selection of Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma.
There are a couple interesting take-aways from this selection. The first is that it would appear when the Cowboys are comparing players at the same position within a couple of spots of each other on the draft board, they will likely sway towards the bigger school guy. But this should not be news to any Cowboys fan. They also went more with need at this pick by selecting a rush end.
Again, the Cowboys do not pick the player that they brought in for the draft workout. Why? Likely another war room discussion, leading to best player available at a position of need.
Round 4 [Second Pick] - At this selection, Dak Prescott, McGovern, and Brown were the top three players on the board for the Cowboys. You have to think that Dallas had lost out on their potential quarterback of the future twice, and wanted a guy who could come in and learn under Tony for a couple of years (*evil smirk*), so they finally get their quarterback.
Turning the page to this season
Current List of Pre-Draft Visitors:
- Derek Barnett
- Takk McKinley
- Taco Charlton
- TJ Watt
- Charles Harris
- Tarell Bashum
- Tanoh Passagnon
- Tre White
- Adoree Jackson
- Derek Rivers
- Chidobe Awuzie
- Gareon Conley
- Marcus Williams
- Kevin King
- Cordrea Tankersley
- Fabian Moreau
- Teez Tabor
- Quincy Wilson
- Justin Evans
- Treston Decoud
- Obi Melifonwu
- Tedric Thompson
- Xavier Woods
- Shaquill Griffin
- Juju Smith-Schuster
- Curtis Samuel
I want to highlight a couple of items that I find a little eye-opening, that should hopefully give us some insight into this front office's intentions a few weeks prior to draft day:
1. The Cowboys first round selection will very likely come from their pre-draft visits.
This should come as no surprise to most fans. If the player you want the Cowboys to select is not on the list of pre-draft visitors, you may want to give up on that dream now. In the past six drafts, only Morris Claiborne was not a pre-draft visitor, as he was likely a player they didn't see falling out of the top five.
This theory eliminates all offensive players from first round consideration, and defensive names such as Budda Baker, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster, Zach Cunningham, Malik McDowell, Carl Lawson, and Sidney Jones.
2. The Cowboys invite widely regarded first round picks as pre-draft visitors, but may not have them graded in the first.
Players such as Laquon Treadwell, Kenny Clark, Karl Joseph and Will Fuller were all considered first round guys who the Cowboys had rated later than most.
I think this second takeaway is very important to understand. It acts as almost a "smokescreen" effect. The Cowboys are certainly okay selecting any of the players they bring in to The Star, but it's not always as early as you think.
This is where my speculation comes in, but I feel like this eliminates the following players from 28th pick consideration: Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Teez Tabor, Adoree Jackson, Cordrea Tankersley, Marcus Williams, Derek Rivers and Obi Melifonwu.
I won't go into a scouting report for each of these guys, but for one reason or another, based on tape, scheme fit, school/division size or character concerns, I don't see the Cowboys having these players as first rounders.
Hot Take: I also think there's a decent possibility that Derek Barnett comes in as a second round grade for this team. I don't believe he fits the mold of what they're looking for as a first round right edge rusher. He's not extremely athletic, and seems to most often win with motor, or incompetence by the offensive lineman.
Yes, I understand that the 28th pick is almost the second round, but I believe that they will like others there more.
The Final Bunch
Taking all of this into consideration, I think there's a strong chance that the Cowboys' first round pick will be one of the following players:
- Takk McKinley, DE
- TJ Watt, DE
- Charles Harris, DE
- Tre White, CB
- Gareon Conley, CB
- Kevin King, CB
- Fabian Moreau, CB
- Quincy Wilson, CB
Now, there are still four player visits to go, so this list can obviously grow. But for now, this is what we're working with. All of these players either showed natural scheme fit or uncanny scheme flexibility on their college tape.
These defensive ends can all be solid 1-gap edge rushers and can immediately contribute in Rod Marinelli's rotation.
All cornerbacks listed above show natural skills and don't struggle in coverage. Marinelli employs a press cover-3 scheme in his secondary, which is a very simple coverage system to grasp. This allows the team to look more for athletic and cerebral cornerbacks.
All five guys hit the measurable threshold this front office looks for, and they all played in big college programs.
No one can say who Dallas will select on the first night of the draft, or even if they'll select a player then at all. All of that depends on their board and what happens on draft night. However, based on past trends, I have a good feeling that one of the above players will be a Dallas Cowboy come mini-camp.
5 Worst Contracts for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have done great work the last few years of shedding bad contracts and getting out of "salary cap hell." However, even this relative fiscal paradise of 2019 isn't perfect. Today, we're going to look at the five worst deals that Dallas still has on the books.
These contracts are only active as of now, in the middle of May, and could be gone by the time we gets to Week One. We'll discuss those possibilities as we go through each player.
What you'll realize fairly quickly with this exercise is that it's a stretch to even say the Cowboys have five "bad" contracts on the team at this point. That's how well the front office has done in learning from the past and getting things to a much more manageable and equitable point throughout the roster.
Maybe that changes in a few years. Some of the big contracts on our All-Pro offensive linemen may lose value as those players start to decline with age and/or health issues. Or perhaps the upcoming new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will turn out to be retrospective mistakes.
But those are conversations and articles for future offseason. For here and now, 2019, here are the five worst contracts on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
DL Tyrone Crawford - $10.1 million cap hit
I know I've been picking on Crawford a lot lately, but that's what happens when you have easily the worst contract on the roster. Tyrone has the second-highest cap hit on the defense and sixth overall on the entire team, and that's an obvious imbalance compared to where he ranks among the Cowboys' top players.
This situation isn't Crawford's fault. Dallas thought they were making a shrewd move by giving Tyrone a sizable contract back in 2015. They expected him to blossom as the 3-tech DT under Rod Marinelli.
That boom never happened, and as a result Crawford's contract ultimately became a bust. He's been valuable as a leader and having DE/DT flex, but he's never been a top player on defense even when he was the highest paid.
I wrote more extensively on what Tyrone's future with the Cowboys might be, especially with the June-1st date looming for potential roster cuts. His job security has taken some big hits lately with the drafting of Trysten Hill and now legal issues, which could result in a minor suspension for Crawford in 2019.
We'll see if Tyrone Crawford makes it to the 2019 roster. He still has value with his versatility and generally solid play, but that overpaying contract could ultimately be his demise.
WR Allen Hurns - $6.25 million cap hit
The only other contract which is truly "bad" for the Cowboys belongs to veteran receiver Allen Hurns. It gives him the 11th-highest cap hit on the roster, and this for a guy who projects to be no higher than fourth on the WR depth chart.
The week before free agency opened in March, Dallas picked up an option to keep Hurns in 2019. It's always felt like an insurance move; Hurns can be released with just $1.25 million in dead money at any point this offseason.
Dallas is likely hanging onto Hurns until they get through the preseason without any injuries to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. It'd be nice to have Allen if something happens to them; he has plenty of starting experience and can be an every-down receiver. Guys like Randall Cobb or Tavon Austin aren't built that way, while Noah Brown isn't experienced enough.
Assuming everyone gets to September intact then I expect Hurns will be released. It's hard to imagine Dallas carrying him as a backup with that cap hit, and especially if they have younger guys like Brown or Cedrick Wilson that they want to utilize.
So no, Hurns' contract shouldn't cost the Cowboys for long. If he stays then it's because he's needed for a starting role, in which case $6 million is reasonable. But if he's going to spend most of the year on the sideline, Dallas has an easy out that I expect they'll utilize soon.
LB Sean Lee - $6 million cap hit
This is another one where how bad the contract is could shift depending on how much the player is needed in 2019. Even with a negotiated pay cut, Sean Lee's still making more than most of the starting defense.
Paying Lee this much to play SAM and then backup Smith and Vander Esch on the nickel is a bit high, even for what he brings as a mentor and coach on the field. But Dallas was willing to overpay for the intangibles, plus the hope that Lee could still play at a high level if called upon.
The biggest concern with Sean Lee, as it's ever been, is his health. He can still ball but has reverted to injury-prone issues in recent seasons. Perhaps a lesser role with fewer snaps will help in that area.
Again, I don't even know if I'd call this a "bad" deal. We have yet to see how much Dallas plans to rotate Lee with their young studs, and he brings things to the LB room that a guy like Damien Wilson never could.
The major liability here is if Lee gets hurt, in which case Dallas basically has a solid chunk of cap space tied up in an assistant coach.
TE Jason Witten - $4.25 million cap hit
You can apply some similar logic to Witten's deal from what we just discussed with Sean Lee. If he contributes on the field then it's not a bad deal. But if age and time away from the game have caused Jason's skills to slip too far, then this is a lot of money to pay for a backup TE.
Like Lee, Witten will hopefully offer a great deal as a mentor for Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and any other young tight ends. He can't make them any more talented, but he can at least help maximize whatever potential they have.
But again, without actual on-field contributions, that mean you're spending valuable salary cap space on coaching. That money could've gone to someone like Jared Cook for a more simple and immediate boost to your offensive firepower.
As we said at the outset, most of these contracts are only conditionally bad. If Witten's year off allowed him to heal and rest and come back with renewed vigor in 2019, then it could wind up being a great deal for the Cowboys.
Father Time may ultimately be undefeated, but he doesn't win every round. Hopefully Jason can fight him off for at least one more year.
DE Taco Charlton - $2.74 million cap hit
Taco's disappointing start to his NFL career has made his rookie contact, which is usually team-friendly, a bit of dead weight on the Cowboys' books. Unless Charlton take a big step forward this year, the Cowboys are stuck paying him like a significant contributor for the next two seasons.
Dallas would get no cap relief cutting Taco this year; his cap hit stays roughly the same if cut after June 1st. It would also push another $1.35 million in dead money onto 2020. Therefore, unless the situation between team and player has become truly toxic, or a trade partner emerges, the Cowboys should hang on to their 2017 first-round pick at least thru 2019.
Ideally, Charlton will emerge this year as a more consistent and motivated roleplayer. There's little chance that he'll start with Robert Quinn coming in, but Charlton could still claim the role of a major rotation piece if he's had some more development.
If that happens, Taco's deal will become far less worrisome. That's a modest salary for a solid backup at most positions, and especially at defensive end.
If Charlton doesn't improve, though, Dallas will finally be able to get some savings if they cut his deal in 2020. In that scenario, he probably isn't around long enough to make this list a year from now.
~ ~ ~
What makes a contract bad or good is subjective. You might look at those huge cap hits on deals for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence or Zack Martin and think they're the biggest problems. But if you're getting All-Pro play at fair market value, you really can't criticize those salary numbers.
It will be interesting to see what happens the next few years with guys like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, whose health issues could change how we perceive their contracts. Both are still young enough to play at a high level, but could we adding one of them to this list in the next year or two?
A few years from now, we make look back on 2019 as an anomaly. Having to reach to find enough contracts to make this list is a great problem to have.
I just hope it stays that way.
Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority
Despite adding Tony Pollard and Mike Weber through the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys still don't have a clear-cut running back to back up Ezekiel Elliott this season. I like the upside of both of these rookies, but I think it would be wise on the Cowboys part to bring in a more established player to become their RB2 this season.
Enter Jay Ajayi, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins running back.
I really believe Running Back Jay Ajayi is exactly the kind of RB2 the Dallas Cowboys need, and currently don't have, to backup Ezekiel Elliott this year. He's an established veteran with a proven track record, but has unfortunately struggled with injuries throughout his career. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward kind of move Dallas likes to make when signing free agents.
We all know the Cowboys like to sign free agents on their own terms. That usually means they are cost-effective players that won't impact the compensatory pick formula. Surprisingly, Jay Ajayi fits into both of those categories right now.
Signing Ajayi shouldn't break the bank for the Dallas Cowboys. They should be able to sign him on a one-year prove it deal because of his recent injury history. He sustained a torn ACL early in the season last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but is supposed to be ready by the time the 2019 season kicks off.
I don't know what you or the Dallas Cowboys think about this, but I think all of this makes just too much sense for it not to happen. The Cowboys would be getting a starting caliber RB to backup Zeke and Ajayi would be receiving a great opportunity to potentially resurrect his career.
Now, I know Ajayi is probably holding out for a starting job for some NFL team, but I just don't see that happening for him. Coming to Dallas and forming an excellent 1-2 punch with Ezekiel Elliott is an opportunity he shouldn't pass up, especially with Zeke's recent off the field incident where he was handcuffed/detained (not arrested) at a musical festival in Las Vegas.
The NFL has shown in the past they are willing to throw the book at Zeke, despite little to no evidence supporting their case. This most recent incident allows the league to do just that once again, meaning No. 21 could be looking at a possible suspension.
With that in mind, the Cowboys backup RB situation is even more concerning. I don't think I would completely trust Tony Pollard or Mike Weber to handle the workload in Zeke's potential absence. Jay Ajayi on the other hand is a different story. I don't think there would be much of a dip in production with him in a lineup.
Like I said earlier though, I don't know where the Dallas Cowboys stand in regards to Jay Ajayi, but this really seems like a win-win situation for everybody involved. If I were the one making the decisions, I would get on the phone with Ajayi's representatives immediately to try to bring him aboard.
Do you like the idea of Jay Ajayi as Ezekiel Elliott's backup running back?
Dallas Cowboys Should Pursue Recently Released DT Gerald McCoy
The Dallas Cowboys have been reinforcing their defensive interior all offseason and look to be in a good position as they get ready to begin offseason training activities and minicamp. Yesterday, I wrote about the possibility of trading for New York Jets Defensive Tackle Leonard Williams. Another defensive tackle has now become available, long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy.
Per a report from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs are going to release McCoy after nine seasons with the club.
BREAKING: DT Gerald McCoy has been informed by the Bucs of their plans to release him after nine seasons. The team decided not to pay him the $13-million salary he was owed for 2019.
McCoy is the definition of a cap casualty as he was set to make $13 million on the cap this year. At age 30 in 2018, McCoy still had six sacks as the Buccaneers 3-technique defensive tackle.
Throughout his career, he's been one of the more productive defensive tackles in the league. From 2012 to 2017 he was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2013.
Since 2012, McCoy's averaged 7.2 sacks, 36.8 total tackles, 9.85 tackles for loss, and 17.85 quarterback hits a season. Over the last three seasons, McCoy's averaged just under seven sacks a season. In 2018, he finished with 38 total pressures, which was 19th among all interior defensive linemen. Only Tyrone Crawford from the Cowboys had nearly as many total pressures on the interior with 37.
Though the Cowboys have brought in Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill to fortify a defensive interior with Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Tyrone Crawford, Gerald McCoy would make an excellent addition to their rotation. Mike Fisher of 247 Sports is reporting that the Cowboys currently have "very little interest" in the defensive tackle.
That's plausible. The Dallas Cowboys have a ton of depth on the defensive line at the moment, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't pursue a talented player such as Gerald McCoy. McCoy has been an excellent 3-tech but also has the size to contribute at 1-tech on passing downs if you need him to.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has a ton of depth and it may not make sense to bring in a guy like McCoy, but they should. Much like the trade for Robert Quinn, you're putting your eggs in the 2019 Super Bowl basket and trying to maximize the talent that you have on the roster this year. They're a team primed to make a deep run in January and McCoy can help them do that.
As in everything, it will come down to the price tag. However, given that the Dallas Cowboys currently have just under $20 million available on the 2019 salary cap, they can get a deal done with McCoy and continue working on the long-term contracts for their star core of players.
Gerald McCoy makes the defense better. He's another guy along the defensive line, in addition to DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, that the offensive line has to think about. He makes things easier for everyone at every level of the defense and shouldn't cost a ton to sign on a one-year deal.
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