The NFL offseason can be a hard time to get through. July is the month when I'll randomly watch any replay of any Cowboys game. It's also the time of the year when, out of nowhere, I'll look up stats from any NFL player just because I'm curious how many tackles he had, or how many touchdowns he scored.
Last week, I was looking through Cowboys stats. This left me wondering, which players would lead each category this year, as the Cowboys try to compete for a Super Bowl.
I thought it would be a fun exercise to predict the Cowboys team leaders for 2017 in each category.
Predicting The Offensive Leaders
Note: I skipped both passing and rushing categories. Even with all the suspension talk going on lately, I still see Ezekiel Elliott leading the team, and frankly, I don't know who wouldn't. As for the passing categories, we all know who Dak Prescott is, right?
Dak's Best Friend: WR Cole Beasley, Receptions
- 2016 receptions leader: WR Cole Beasley (75)
- Honorable mention: TE Jason Witten (69)
Last year, Beasley led the team for most receptions with 75. He was a fundamental piece for Dak's development as a rookie and he will step up again this year. For Prescott's sophomore season, I'm picking Beasley to lead the team in this category once again.
I expect the 5'8" WR to have an even better year when it comes to receptions. Dak Prescott will throw a lot more than last year, and there's no reason to believe his favorite target won't remain being Beasley.
Besides, the QB-friendly receiver now has a clone of himself in Ryan Switzer, which could help his game even more. I don't know how defenses will come up with a game plan to stop such a loaded offense.
However, I don't expect him to lead the team in yards as he did in 2016.
Throw Up The X: WR Dez Bryant, Receiving Yards/Touchdowns
- 2016 receiving yards leader: WR Cole Beasley (833)
- 2016 receiving TDs leader: WR Dez Bryant (8)
Remember when Dez had an awesome season in 2014?
88 catches, 1,320 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Then 2015 happened, which ended up knocking him out of the top-5 WR conversation. 2016 though, was not ideal at first, including the fact that he suffered another injury.
When he came back though... well, he came back.
A quick look at the numbers is more than enough. (If the chart below seems familiar to you, that's because you read fellow writer Christopher Wätjen's great article on Dez Bryant. And if you haven't, you should.)
For Dez, it's all about remaining healthy. This time his quarterback is not a rookie. This time, defenses will respect Cole Beasley way more. And well, we all know you can't forget about the running game when you're facing Ezekiel Elliott.
Only reason why he didn't lead in these categories last year, is the fact that he missed three games.
This year, no one will stop him. ('Specially not you, Josh Norman).
Predicting The Defensive Leaders
Inside Pressure: DT Maliek Collins, Sacks
- 2016 sacks leader: DE Benson Mayowa (6)
This was a tough one. And you may think this is a bold prediction, but is it really?
Collins didn't miss a single game last year. After a very good rookie season, I expect him to be the Cowboys defensive lineman with the most snaps played at the end of the year. Collins had five sacks last year as a rookie. This year, he will be on the field most of the time and is arguably the best DL on the team.
If David Irving hadn't been suspended for four games, he would definitely be my pick. Missing four games may be a little bit too much though.
With such uncertainty among the edge rushers, however, it wouldn't come as a surprise if a defensive tackle ends up leading the sack category. I don't expect the Cowboys to have a great pass rush, but I do see Collins getting 8-10 sacks as well as an improved DL.
CB Anthony Brown, Interceptions
- 2016 INTs leader: S Barry Church (2)
Intercepting the ball is something our defense has struggled to do these past years. Right now, our secondary is without a doubt promising. After heavily addressing the position this offseason, the Cowboys now have a group of athletic and young DBs.
However, lots of these players have a lot to prove before we consider them a great secondary.
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Anthony Brown looks to become the CB1 for the Dallas Cowboys. Throughout his rookie year, he made a lot of plays in big moments and was consistently good in coverage. After losing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr this offseason, Brown will need to step up.
He is the best outside corner on the roster right now. This year, a projected starter, Brown will be around the ball more often and hopefully, he will produce the takeaways this defense so desperately needs.
Also, rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie both show a lot of promise and were known for their takeaways in college. This could end up being a very productive secondary, and a dominant one for years to come.
Defense General: LB Sean Lee, Tackles/Tackles For Loss
- 2016 tackles and tackles for loss leader: LB Sean Lee (93/13)
Sean Lee might not be the MIKE of this defense, but he is the most important linebacker on the team.
Last year he led the team with 93 tackles and 52 assists, combining for 145 tackles. He also was the best in tackles for loss, leading the team with 13. Lee was all over the field last year. Not only was he the best LB on the team, but one of the best in the NFL.
In a Cowboys defense which is full of question marks, Sean Lee is one of the most important players on the roster, and the most important on defense.
Picking any other player from the Cowboys to lead this category is an absolute bold prediction.
Completion Denied: S Byron Jones, Passes Defended
- 2016 passes defended leader: S Byron Jones (10)
Perhaps Byron Jones hasn't lived up to the hype in the INT department, but he is still one of the best defenders on the team and is an essential piece to this secondary.
He has led the team in passes defended both in 2016 and 2015. Last year he had 10, which is a number that can be improved a lot, and with a group of young and athletic DBs, it's fair to think it will.
Byron Jones is one of my favorite Cowboys right now, as he appears to save the team from a lot of big plays. I expect Jones to have his best season this year and hopefully, he can even add a few interceptions.
Life After Doug Free: Jason Witten, Penalties
I added this as a little bonus.
Discussing this article with Inside The Star Staff Writer, Jess Haynie, he came up with including the penalties category. Doug Free seemed to draw a flag every week and after his retirement, we wondered who would be the player with the most penalties this year.
We said the same name at the same time.
Jason Witten is my favorite Cowboys player of all time, I love the guy. But to be honest, he is not the same athletic tight end he once was, and he did draw yellow flags once in a while.
Be it false starts or offensive holdings, I'm picking Mr. Reliable to make Doug Free the most proud. This doesn't mean I expect him to have a bad year at all.
Is September here yet?
Do you agree or disagree with these predictions?
2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1
Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.
Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.
Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.
The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.
Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas
Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.
Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.
The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.
Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.
Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial
Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.
Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.
Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.
Pues en Dallas, hoy dos jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.
Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.
Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.
Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.
Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.
Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?
Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.
The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.
The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.
Lock Down the Big Guns
Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.
Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.
As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.
Adding New Talent
One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.
Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.
If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.
Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.
Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.
The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.
As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.
Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.
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