Though they may not have been the moves that many in Cowboys Nation were hoping for heading into the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys were very active after the initial free agent spending spree the first week of free agency. While several teams paid a ton of money to during the initial stages, the Cowboys took a breath and continued to execute their game plan.
The Cowboys' front office stuck to their game plan of filling their needs in the free agent pool to allow them to stay true to their draft board. When the NFL Draft comes at the end of the month, the Cowboys won't be locked into needing to draft any particular position.
As far as free agency the Cowboys are concerned, mission accomplished.
So, before the draft comes, let's take a look at each move and the significance of the acquisition power rankings style.
1. Robert Quinn, Defensive End
Robert Quinn comes to the Dallas Cowboys with 69 sacks over his eight year career and is a starter at right defensive end day one. Yes, he comes with some injury concerns, but over the last couple of years, he's only missed two games (in 2017), while compiling 15 sacks combined.
In the five seasons in which Quinn started at least 14 games, he's averaged 11 sacks a season. Even if you take away the 19 that he had in 2012, Quinn still averaged nine sacks a season in the other four years where he started at least 14 games.
He brings speed, agility, bend, and finish to the right side of the defensive line and is a player that demands attention in addition to Cowboys All-Pro Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence.
When the Cowboys line up in September, they'll feature one of the best pass rush duos in the NFL. Getting Quinn for a 2020 sixth round pick and a reduced contract, is a huge get for the Cowboys front office. No other move will have as much of an impact as Quinn will on the Dallas Cowboys in 2019.
2. Kerry Hyder, Defensive Line
They say that you can never have too many pass rushers, and while many would point to Randall Cobb as the next most important signing to Robert Quinn, I'd argue that it's Defensive Lineman Kerry Hyder.
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY PASS RUSHERS!!!
Hyder comes over from the Detroit Lions where he spent 2018 playing nose tackle for Matt Patricia's 3-4 defense. At 270 pounds.
I don't know what Hyder did to Matt Patricia for the Lions head coach to play him that out of position, but Hyder was incredibly undersized to play the 0-tech defensive tackle position.
In 2017, Hyder tore his achilles and that was a year after he exploded for eight sacks in 2016 after playing a full season for the first time in his career. Eight sacks are nothing to sneeze at. In Hyder, you have a player who can play inside at 3-tech and then also play defensive end on both ends of the line.
If he can find some of that pass rush magic from 2016, the Cowboys are getting another pass rusher with inside and outside ability like Tyrone Crawford. With Hyder's ability to play inside, you could potentially see a third and long situation with Quinn, Hyder, Crawford, and Lawrence all playing together.
That gives me visions of the 2007 New York Giants team that would rush four defensive ends on passing downs.
3. Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver
Is Randall Cobb as good as Cole Beasley in creating separation? No. Is Randall Cobb a good slot wide receiver? Absolutely.
Cobb's a different player than Beasley, but he's every bit the player. Cobb is a good route runner. He's not necessarily as quick as Beasley is, but he finds a way to make things happen in the slot and can beat one-on-one coverage and find holes in the zone.
Per Next Gen Stats, Randall Cobb and Cole Beasley both created 2.9 yards of separation at the catch point in 2018.
What Cobb brings to the table is a player who can play on the outside of the formation as well as in the slot. This allows you to move Amari Cooper around the formation more, which gives your WR1 more favorable matchups.
4. Christian Covington, Defensive Tackle
It was clear in the Los Angeles Rams game that the Dallas Cowboys defensive interior struggled against the Rams interior offensive line. Some of it was the matchup, but some of it was related to injuries and an illness to Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins. They were overmatched on the night and the Dallas Cowboys defense had a difficult time slowing down the Rams running game.
The Cowboys have made strides to rectify that by bringing in Christian Covington who played for the Houston Texans in 2018. Playing defensive end in the Texans 3-4, Covington had 3.5 sacks. At more than 300 pounds, he projects to join Woods in the 1-tech defensive tackle rotation.
For a defense that played really well all season and especially against the run, it was a let down. Now with two legit run stoppers, and Covington bringing some pass rush ability to the 1-tech spot, the Cowboys will have more waves of lineman to throw at opposing offenses and will be able to stay fresh.
5. Cameron Fleming, Offensive Tackle
Amidst all the new players coming to town, one of the more underrated moves this offseason was bringing back Cameron Fleming to be the swing tackle for 2019 and potentially be the starting right tackle in 2020.
Over the last three seasons, Left Tackle Tyron Smith has missed games. In 2017, not having an adequate replacement for the All-Pro pretty much ruined the season for the Dallas Cowboys.
Fleming, who wasn't perfect in 2018, is a reliable back up that can play both sides of the offensive line and with La'el Collins set to be a free agent in 2020, the Cowboys have some veteran insurance if they decide to move on from their starting right tackle.
Having the ability to call upon a reserve offensive lineman who has started a Super Bowl is a really nice luxury to have for the Dallas Cowboys. If they do suffer an injury at tackle, the Cowboys may not have an equal replacement, but they have an adequate replacement to fill in.
6. Jason Witten, Tight End
Admittedly, I've had reservations about bringing Jason Witten back. Particularly as it relates to the snap counts of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Witten is no doubt at the end of his career in the NFL and there's no telling how the year-long lay off will impact his play in 2019, but having one of the most important leaders this franchise has had in the 21st century can't be a bad thing.
The reports are that Witten will only play around 20-30 snaps a game and while that potentially cuts into the development of Jarwin and Schultz, Witten is still a player that can impact the game for you. Especially on third downs and in the red zone.
More importantly, he's veteran insurance if the draft doesn't fall how the Cowboys like to select a tight end or in the event that Jarwin or Schultz don't take a step forward in 2019. Having a future Hall of Famer and one of the best tight ends to ever play the position as insurance is an amazing luxury for a team that will contend for the playoffs again in 2019.
7. George Iloka, Safety
The Dallas Cowboys safety group needed an infusion of new blood at the position and so far, it comes in the form of veteran George Iloka. Now, he doesn't move the needle near as much as Landon Collins or Earl Thomas would have, but he's a solid player to put in the safety rotation with Jeff Heath and has some flexibility to back up at free safety as well.
The thing about the Iloka move is that it doesn't prevent the Dallas Cowboys from drafting a safety in the second or third round with the hopes they will be a starter in the NFL .
8. Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver/Returner
I know this didn't get met with as much fanfare as some of the other moves, but I really like the resigning of Wide Receiver Tavon Austin. Especially, if they make Tavon Austin the full-time kick and punt returner.
He showed way too much flash in the Seattle game returning five punts for 75 yards, including one that nearly went for a touchdown. Why the coaching staff seemed reluctant to let Austin field all of the punts in 2018 is beyond me. They didn't really play him much otherwise.
He's a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands, so it would stand to reason that you want to give him opportunities to have the ball in his hands. As the full-time returner, he'd get 3-5 touches in the punt return game.
The only reason I have him so low on my list is fear that the Cowboys may not give him a full shot at being a full-time returner. If there was a known commitment to that, then I'd easily bump him up a few spots, because he has that kind of game-changing ability.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
There's a lot of time left for the Dallas Cowboys roster to take shape and six picks to make in the 2019 NFL Draft that will have an impact on how the final 53-man roster looks come September, but the work they've done so far this offseason has been pretty good.
This team still has some holes, but every team in the NFL does. The Dallas Cowboys continue to minimize weaknesses through free agency while not breaking the bank to do so. As we sit here in early April, there's no doubt that the Dallas Cowboys are a better team now than they were in January.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3
Another preseason game has come and gone, and we're gathering further information to help put together the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster for 2019. How did the events of the last week help to shape our last projection?
Let's dive right in. You can see last week's projection here.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
Changes: Removed Mike White
With Rush having clearly won the backup job already, the question now becomes if White will make the roster at all. As I wrote about yesterday, Dallas may be ready to go back to their past strategy of keeping only two quarterbacks and freeing up a roster spot for another position.
It would be one thing if White was getting outplayed by Rush and still showing some signs of future potential. But the second-year QB hasn't looked good at all, and Dallas has little reason now to worry about losing him if White is placed on the practice squad.
With so many other needs throughout the team, as we'll get into throughout this article, that roster spot just appears to have better uses now than hanging on to Mike White. Maybe his play in the next few weeks will change that, but right now it's not promising.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Assuming his holdout ends before September 8th, Elliott will be the starting running back. Also just as certain now is that Pollard will be an exciting backup and role-player in the offense, and that Olawale is returning at fullback.
The only variable now is at that third and final RB spot; who emerges from the group of Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson, Jordan Chunn, and Mike Weber?
I went into more detail about this yesterday, but I will summarize that it's probably going to come down to special teams. If any of these guys can earn their way onto the coverage units, that will likely secure them a spot on the 53.
That said, I'm deferring to the veteran Morris for now. With none of his younger competition standing out, Alfred's experience and proven ability may be enough. The coaches have already praised what a great fit he is in the system.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Noah Brown, Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson
I had a very hard time leaving Devin Smith off the roster. While he has shined lately, he's also 27 and doesn't offer the same future value as Wilson. I think it will take more for Devin to force his way in.
I know that Noah Brown hasn't played in a preseason game yet but his value as a blocker can't be underestimated. He allows the team to keep just three tight ends and has his own upside as a receiver. I don't think the Cowboys are going to dump him for a shiny new toy given what he's already proven in real games.
If the Cowboys want to hang on to more of these young guys then I still think Tavon Austin's job isn't secure. If some combination of Tony Pollard, Jourdan Lewis, and Cedrick Wilson can handle the kick/punt return duties then Austin is just another backup receiver. He has skill, but maybe not enough value to lose a younger prospect.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
It was fun to see Witten back on the field Saturday night. And he back to his usual business, catching a 3rd-down pass to move the chains and set up the team's touchdown on the opening drive.
There really isn't much to say about the TE position. This this trio is locked in and it doesn't seem that Marcus Lucas or Codey McElroy have much chance of making the team based on the numbers.
The best chance that they have is if Dallas does part with Noah Brown at WR, which could mean needing one more TE for blocking purposes.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
Another easy position to project; the only question is if Tyron Smith's back issues prompt the team to keep an extra tackle. But with Guard Connor Williams also able to play tackle, Dallas may go ahead and lean on that versatility.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Connor McGovern
Again, versatility is the key. It allows Dallas to only keep just eight offensive linemen and free up needed spots at WR and on defense.
Xavier Su'a-Filo is the toughest guy to lose, and perhaps he sticks around if there any health issues that creep up between now and final cuts. We also haven't seen much of Connor McGovern's work yet to know if he can really contribute this year or needs this rookie season for development.
Defensive End (7)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks
Changes: Added Jelks
This going to be an awful year to cut defensive linemen; the talent is deep and there just aren't enough spots to go around.
As I've said all offseason, it's so hard to know what the team will do with Crawford. He's got the worst contract but the team can suffer his cap hit this year, then release him in 2020 for great savings and less dead money. But he's still got starting talent and the ability to play all over the line; tough guy to lose.
I have the Cowboys going long here with seven DEs because, while technically listed here, Crawford, Taco, and Hyder all have the size to play inside as well. I also think Dallas will use the two weeks of Robert Quinn's suspension to evaluate these guys further and decide who to cut when he returns.
While just a 7th-round pick, Jalen Jelks has the physical traits you'd love to develop. I think Dallas may also consider using him as a strong-side linebacker, which we'll get to in a minute. However, he is probably the guy who gets cut once Quinn comes back in Week 3.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
As good as prospects like Daniel Ross, Daniel Wise, and Ricky Walker have looked at times, it's just a bad year for talented bubble guys on the Dallas defensive line. At least one of them will be on the practice squad.
As was already mentioned, Dallas can afford to keep just these four pure tackles because they have the versatility of players like Crawford and Hyder at DE.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Justin Phillips
Changes: Added Phillips, Removed Chris Covington
Justin Phillips has played his way onto the roster with two great preseason games. He's on the small size but has a big presence; any NFL team can work with that.
Sean Lee may be an injury risk at SAM and not have much depth behind him for that job, but Dallas could easily use Jaylon Smith on that side if needed and then bring in Joe Thomas as the MIKE or WILL. This is also where I think Jalen Jelks could find some additional value if he can convert to a strong-side LB.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, C.J. Goodwin, Michael Jackson (R)
Changes: Added Goodwin
With talk that Byron Jones may not be ready for the regular season opener, I think Dallas definitely goes long here to cover their bases for Week One.
As much as I like Donovan Olumba as a cornerback, veteran C.J. Goodwin is a special teams ace and should make the team on that basis. The tough decision will come down to keeping 5th-round rookie Michael Jackson over Olumba; trusting your scouting process over the immediate production.
For now I'm still going with the rookie, thinking that Dallas will want to give him at least one year to work on his body and make the difficult transition to the NFL. But we've seen 5th-round picks get cut around here before; Jackson still has to earn his spot.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson,
Changes: Removed George Iloka
I will probably keep changing the safety picks around through the end of preseason. All we can really say for sure right now is that Xavier Woods is really good; the rest is up in the air.
Jeff Heath is still the other starter until someone shows they can take it from him, and so far nobody has. In fact, George Iloka has done so little that now I don't think he makes the roster.
Dallas could re-sign Iloka after Week One to avoid his having a guaranteed salary as a veteran, but either way I don't think he's here after final cuts.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
The great kicker conundrum continues. Maher remains shaky and there's no sign yet that Dallas is going to consider another option. We just have to keep putting his name here until we have a reason not to.
Kasey Redfern has been pushing Chris Jones at punter, but Dallas may not want to push the $1 million in dead money to the 2020 cap by cutting their veteran. Unless Redfern is significantly superior, I think the Cowboys may just stick with Jones for one more season.
The Brady Report: Tony Pollard, Devin Smith Steal The Show On Offense
The Dallas Cowboys earned their first win of the 2019 preseason on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-10 in Hawaii.
Despite the low scoring affair, there were certainly standout performances from both offensive and defensive players for Dallas. Some who are looking to earn a roster spot, and others who are rather solidified in their place with the team.
Let's get into some of my game notes from the Cowboys preseason victory.
- Tony Pollard. I mean, I've said enough right? The rookie running back was awesome in his one drive of action Saturday night, rushing 5 times for 42 yards and a touchdown on the team's opening possession. Pollard was decisive, patient, and comfortable in the zone blocking scheme, and seemed to know exactly where and how to run on each rep. Pollard is looking like a complete back, rather than just a receiving threat for the Cowboys offense going forward.
- While undrafted free agents Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton have garnered much of the attention, it was Devin Smith who impressed the most out of all the Cowboys' down-roster receivers this week. He caught 3 balls for just 24 yards, but had a fantastic touchdown grab from Cooper Rush in the third quarter.
- Speaking of Cooper Rush, he's your backup quarterback for the 2019 season. The coaching staff gave Mike White a chance to work with the 2's this week, allowing him equal ground for competition with Rush. But even with this opportunity, Mike White did not play well whatsoever. He's indecisive in the pocket, abandons clean protection, runs into pressure, and just looks kind of lost out there. Hopefully White can improve, but Rush is certainly deserving of the QB2 spot going forward.
- While Rush solidified his position as the QB2, QB1 Dak Prescott led another impressive drive on Saturday night. Prescott has command in the pocket and of the entire offense, and he orchestrated an excellent touchdown drive in his own possession this week. Prescott went 5/5 for 64 yards, but the highlight of the game for Prescott was his third and seven completion for 31 of those yards to Michael Gallup. He and Gallup seem to be connecting this preseason, and if that's going to happen regularly, look out.
- Now to the defense. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins continues to show signs that 2019 could be a career season for him. He was disruptive in limited playing time this week, and showcased a scary spin move on the inside. He can be an electric interior pass rusher for the Cowboys, and he looks to be "putting it all together" this year.
- Jourdan Lewis is too good to rot away on the bench, guys. Though he did get beat for decent completion in the first half, Lewis was also sound as a tackler and sticky in coverage once again this week. Lewis looks to be playing at the highest level we've seen from him yet, but once Byron Jones comes back he may not be getting the playing time he'd easily earn elsewhere. Dallas has a bit of an embarrassment of riches at cornerback right now, and Lewis just needs to keep competing every week.
- Lewis' Michigan teammate Taco Charlton had a decent night himself. While Dorance Armstrong has been the talk of the town at defensive end, Charlton deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and was credited with 2 quarterback hits against the Rams. He wasn't creating the level of pressure you'd hope to see out of a former first round pick playing that deep into a preseason game, but you can tell he's looking a bit better as of late. Still, there's a whole heap of defensive ends on this roster who are flat out better than him right now.
- The Cowboys linebackers showed up to play on Saturday night. Of course, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch are who they are, but Justin March-Lillard led the team in tackles with 6, and Justin Phillips came away with an exceptional interception in the third quarter. He made a play on the ball that you don't expect to see from any linebacker, let alone someone of his roster status. This is a really deep linebacker room, and there's a strong chance the Cowboys will have to let go of a good player.
Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott Looks Primed for Greatness in 2019
All offseason, there's been a lot of talk about whether Dak Prescott deserves to be paid like a franchise quarterback. It's been debated in every walk of life in which Dallas Cowboys football comes up in conversation; On the radio, in the newspaper, on the internet, at the doctor's office, in the drive-thru at Whataburger, and every place in between. Regardless of where you stand on the big-money contract extension that Dak Prescott will eventually sign, the more encouraging thing is how he's looked in the offseason and in the preseason. Saturday night was yet another indication that Dak Prescott is going to take another step forward in 2019.
On Saturday night vs the Los Angeles Rams, Prescott was 5 of 5 for 64 yards, including a big 31-yard completion to Michael Gallup. Where the two struggled with having a consistent connection in 2018, doesn't seem to be a problem in 2019 thus far. Dak Prescott has been looking for Michael Gallup a lot in practice and the two have connected three times for 50 yards this preseason. Dak Prescott is definitely looking his way anytime he gets single coverage.
On this play, the Dallas Cowboys motioned Jon'Vea Johnson from right to left across the formation and the Los Angeles Rams showed that they were in man coverage with a single high safety. On the snap, it's confirmed as one of the safeties drops into coverage and the other steps up to help to take Witten on the 10-yard in. Without looking, Dak Prescott knows that Michael Gallup has man-coverage on the right side of the field.
After the snap, he keeps his gaze on the middle and to the left part of the field just before looking right and throwing the ball to Gallup. Connor Livesay, from Blogging the Boys, rightly pointed out on Twitter yesterday, that at the time of the release of the football, Gallup was still engaged with the cornerback before breaking away after Prescott's release. Gallup does an excellent job coming back for the football, going over the top of the defender to make the catch.
Dak Prescott doesn't have anything open on the play, but instead of holding onto the football and potentially taking a sack, he takes advantage of the single coverage deep down the field and gives his wide receiver a chance to make a play on the football. Prescott's ability to hold the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes is what gives this play a chance. If, as soon as he realizes there's nothing open in the middle of the field, he immediately turns to Gallup, the deep middle safety begins breaking that direction and has a chance to disrupt Gallup's attempt to catch the football.
Another encouraging aspect of this throw was the situation in which he took the shot downfield. Prescott, in seasons past, seemed to shy away from high risk throws on money downs and instead looked for just enough yardage to get the first down. Though it's only the preseason, Prescott looks to have the trust of the coaching staff to take some chances, even on third down.
It looks as if Dak Prescott is ready to shine under a couple of coaches who won't force him into being a risk-averse passer, which seemed to be the case under the previous offensive coordinator. Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore has talked a lot about wanting to be a vertical team. Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna's greatest football influence is former St. Louis Rams Head Coach Mike Martz who also wanted to throw a lot of vertical passes from his days with the "Greatest Show on Turf." The combination of Moore and Kitna look to be excellent additions for Dak Prescott.
Through two games in the preseason, Dak Prescott's been perfect. He's gone 9 of 9 for 86 yards, a 106.9 passer rating, and 9.7 yards per attempt. One area where he's improved dramatically is in his time to attempt numbers. Per Pro Football Focus, in 2018, Dak Prescott averaged 2.65 seconds to attempt. In the 2019 preseason, Prescott's time to attempt is 2.42 seconds. Yes, there are attempts where he's holding the ball longer, like the completion to Gallup on Saturday night. But generally, I see a player who is making quicker reads and quicker releases than the one we saw in 2018.
In 2018, when Prescott released the ball in less than 2.5 seconds, he completed 72.5% of his passes and had a 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio. When he released the ball after 2.5 seconds, he completed just 63.1% of his passes with a 15:7 touchdown to interception ratio.
He's not holding onto the ball as long as he did last year, which is an issue that needed to be corrected. If applied in the regular season, it's going to pay huge dividends for the Dallas Cowboys offense.
Yes, it's only the preseason and the Dallas Cowboys are playing against backups, but they also haven't had their full complement of players either. The Dallas Cowboys' starters have played with Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Jason Witten (vs SF), and most notably Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott. The Dallas Cowboys first team, despite missing five Pro Bowl players on offense, have been able to move the ball really well.
It's an encouraging sign for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations and high expectations for a quarterback that they are about to pay more than $32 million a year to. The way the offseason and now the preseason has gone for Dak Prescott, he could be looking at his first 4,000-yard season as a passer.
Dak Prescott is only going into his fourth season in the NFL. He's played 51 games thus far giving him a ton of experience to work from. That experience combined with improved chemistry with Michael Gallup, better game planning and play calling from Kellen Moore, better mechanics, and a better understanding and ability to manipulate defenses, 2019 is shaping up to be Dak Prescott's best season yet.
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