The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of decisions to make in the coming weeks regarding who will be on their roster for the 2017 season. When your team goes 13-3 in the regular season, deciding who to bring back can be a bit tougher than when the team goes 3-13.
Let’s take a look at each position group with free agents and try to dissect what the team could be thinking for each player.
QB: Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez, Kellen Moore
I added Tony Romo to this list because let’s face it; a choice has to be made with him. I’m not going too deep with this one because frankly, I could write a 5,000-word article on this subject and still just scratch the surface.
Mark Sanchez... if I’m going by just his performance in the last game of the regular season, I would have left him in Philly. However, not having half of your starting offensive line, starting wide receivers, and starting running back in the game can have an effect on one’s performance.
Sanchez did play a huge role in helping Dak Prescott grow on the field this season and that can’t be overlooked. I think the Cowboys believe if you get him in a situation where he has all the weapons around him -- like Prescott has -- then he would perform better. So I think Sanchez comes back.
Kellen Moore knows this offense maybe better than offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Moore also was a huge help to Prescott in this regard. He’s not a bad option to have for a third QB and will likely be brought back.
RB: Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar
Lance Dunbar has had every opportunity to make an impact on this team and just hasn’t done it. He didn’t seem to be the same player he was prior to injuring his knee in 2015. With as many weapons as the Cowboys have on offense, you’re not going to get a lot of looks. What looks he did have, that explosion wasn’t there. I believe we have seen the last of Lance Dunbar in a Cowboys uniform.
Darren McFadden showed some explosiveness when he returned from injured reserve late in the season. The coaches liked what they saw and chose to make him the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott, deactivating Alfred Morris. McFadden will probably return and again be the primary backup to Zeke for the 2017 season.
WR: Terrance Williams, Brice Butler
Terrance Williams is not a #1 receiver in any offense, but he is a lot better than what some teams have at the receiver position. He has become a really good route runner and is an extremely good run blocker. The Cowboys value him a whole lot more than fans do. I don’t think the team will be able to afford to bring him back. He gets paid somewhere else.
Brice Butler flashed some ability this season when given the chance. He also showed nothing in a lot of those chances as well. Butler will be brought back on a team friendly deal. A big reason for that is because once you get past Butler on the depth chart, the pickings are slim.
TE: Gavin Escobar
When you mention Gavin Escobar, a lot of fans roll their eyes; to this day you still hear them ask, “Why did we use a 2nd round pick on him?”
Right now I’m sure the team is wondering the same thing.
Escobar was coming off an Achilles injury in 2015 and never really seemed to have an impact on the team. He was forced into seeing more action when Geoff Swaim went down, but I feel the team moves on from Escobar.
OG: Jonathan Cooper, Ronald Leary
Jonathan Cooper was highly coveted prospect by the Cowboys when coming out of the University of North Carolina. After being released by the Cleveland Browns, the Cowboys finally got a chance to get their man. Injuries have played a big part in Cooper’s development and I’m not sure the team saw enough there to want to bring him back.
Ronald Leary will be a sought after free agent and there is no way possible the Cowboys can re-sign everyone on that dominating offensive line. Not to mention, when you have someone of La’el Collins' caliber waiting to come back, it makes letting Leary walk a little easier. One positive note of Leary's likely departure is that the Cowboys will probably get a high compensatory pick in the 2018 draft.
DT: Richard Ash, Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain
Richard Ash was a needed body during the last game of the season; it’s possible they bring him back as a camp body too.
Jack Crawford won't put up gaudy sack numbers, but he’ll give his all every single play. He was used at defense end a lot this season because of Randy Gregory's suspension and DeMarcus Lawrence's suspension and injuries. The coaches really love what Crawford brings to the team. I could see the team making an effort to bring him back.
Terrell McClain was finally able to show what he can do in Rod Marinelli’s defense when healthy. So much so, I’m not sure if they will be able to afford to bring him back. McClain showed a lot of burst in the middle of that defense and made a difference in the run and pass games. I think the team wants to bring him back, but I’m not sure they'll be able to.
DE: Ryan Davis
Davis was brought in during the season and never had the sort of impact the team had hoped for. He was inactive for stretches of the season, which isn't a good sign for a player who’s getting ready to hit the free agent market.
LB: Andrew Gachkar, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar didn’t see as many snaps on defense this season as he did in 2015, and he saw those mainly because of injuries to the position. He’s been a good special teams guy for the last two seasons and if he gets brought back, that will be the main reason.
Justin Durant was contemplating retirement before the Cowboys signed him in the offseason. For the first time during his tenure with the Cowboys he was mostly healthy. With the improved play of Anthony Hitchens and the emergence of Damien Wilson, his snaps will be limited next season. I’m not sure Durant is good with that at this point in his career. I believe he walks.
CB: Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Morris Claiborne got off to a fantastic start and finally looked like the sixth pick of the 2012 draft. However, the injury bug bit him again and he missed the second half of the season. Playing on a one-year deal for the 2016 season, the team could try re-signing him to the same one-year deal, but I have my doubts.
Brandon Carr is probably the most underappreciated player on the Cowboys defense. No, he never got the interception numbers the fans were hoping for, but he's played in every game since joining the team. That in and of itself is a remarkable feat in today’s game. After the divisional round loss to the Packers. it was reported Carr was thinking of retiring and needed some time to think about things before making a decision. I think if Carr decides he still wants to play, the Cowboys will re-sign him. He loves it in Dallas and the team thinks very highly of him.
SS/FS: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox
Barry Church is needed on this defense. The Cowboys' defensive play improved greatly when he returned from injury this season. Other than Sean Lee, I think Church is the most important player on this defense. He will be re-signed.
J.J. Wilcox is finally starting to see how things work in this league. He is just beginning to become the player the Cowboys believe he can be. He has grown leaps and bounds since he first came into the league. The team re-signs him as well.
NYJ 24, DAL 22: Cowboys Comeback Comes Up Short Again
The Cowboys are now 3-3 after creating another halftime deficit and not being able to overcome it. Their losing streak continued with a 24-22 loss to the previously winless New York Jets.
Dallas trailed 21-6 at halftime in one of the more embarrassing first halves of football we've seen this team play. It took an improbable 62-yard field goal from Brett Maher to give them some kind of positive feeling heading into the locker room.
The worse sequence came earlier in that quarter. Trailing just 7-3 at that point, the Cowboys marched over 50 yards to put themselves in scoring position. But a 4th-down try came up short, and then the Jets answered with a 92-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Robby Anderson.
That play seemed to knock the wind out of Dallas' sails, and they were still reeling on the Jets' next possession when New York scored another touchdown on a six-play, 65-yard drive.
The Cowboys struggled early on offense, and that had a lot to do with missing personnel. They went into the game without Randall Cobb, Tyron Smith, or La'el Collins suiting up. Then Amari Cooper had to exit early with a quad injury and didn't return.
The halftime adjustments were there. Dallas outscored New York 16-3 in the second half and pulled within two points on a late touchdown run by Dak Prescott. But the two-point conversion attempt failed when Dak got hit and tossed an errant ball to a blanketed Jason Witten.
Another week. Another loss. And now the Eagles are coming to town next Sunday night.
If the Cowboys don't start figuring out how to play well early, this season is only going to get uglier.
- Prescott put in an admirable effort given the amount of pressure that Gregg Williams' defense was applying. He completed 28-of-40 passes for 277 yards and had the rushing score, giving up no sacks or turnovers.
- Dak's rushing TD, the 20th of his career, tied Roger Staubach for the most in Cowboys QB history.
- Ezekiel Elliott had a big day with 105 yards on the ground and another 47 receiving, plus a rushing touchdown. One of his biggest plays won't show up in the stat sheet; he drew a defensive pass interference call on the Cowboys' final drive running a deep route as a receiver.
- Brett "Mixed Bag" Maher gave you the full range of his wows and woes today. That 62-yarder was truly special, putting him in rare company as just the third NFL kicker to ever hit multiple kicks of 60 or more. However, he also missed one from just 40 yards out. The Cowboys have now lost two games by just two points in which Maher missed an easy field goal.
- Chalk up two more sacks for Robert Quinn, who has five now in just four games. Outside of those plays, few Cowboys even breathed on Sam Darnold today.
- Jourdan Lewis got more playing time today with Anthony Brown getting hurt, and he did what he tends to do with a clutch interception. Lewis' picked off Darnold early in the third quarter after the Jets had driven down to the Dallas' 11. It helped keep New York off the scoreboard and was critical to the Cowboys' comeback efforts.
- Thankfully, this loss did not cost Dallas their shared NFC East lead with the Eagles. Philadelphia also fell today in their road game against the Vikings. Both teams are now 3-3 as they prepare for next week's rivalry game.
Cowboys Wishlist: Win In The Trenches, Limit Le’Veon Bell
My biggest wish of the day is for the Dallas Cowboys to win their football game. It's been more than two weeks since we've been able to enjoy a good victory. The New York Jets present us with a favorable matchup and what should be an easy game for the Cowboys. However, this is the NFL, and surprising things can happen any given Sunday. Dallas can't take this game for granted.
Let's get into this week's Cowboys Wishlist! Make sure to let me know yours in the comments section below or tweet them at me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Wish #1: No Turnovers
Last week's performance was a painful one to watch. While we can take a look at every single aspect of the game to find out why the Cowboys lost, it's actually pretty simple. Dak Prescott and the Dallas' offense turned the ball over three times. If you have a -3 turnover differential, you're losing that games nine times out of ten.
The Cowboys offense is better than given credit for, but if they keep handing the ball to opposing teams, no one will notice that. It's a simple wish, but an important one. Just stop turning the ball over.
Wish #2: Win in the Trenches, Limit Le'Veon Bell
As Aaron Jones plowed his way through the Cowboys' defense for 107 yards and four rushing touchdowns, the lack of quality defensive tackle play was very noticeable. The defense was pushed around in the trenches just about every play. Antwaun Woods has been injured recently, but not even with him coming back will the Cowboys solve their problems.
As the team's three-technique, Maliek Collins has also struggled to stop the run and bring pressure. This time, they're facing a Jets offense that's led by RB Le'Veon Bell. Could things go south versus a 0-4 New York squad? I doubt it, but if they do, I'd bet it's because of Bell. Hopefully, the Cowboys win the battle.
Wish #3: Blake Jarwin Plays More
I can't get over the fact that with the Cowboys trailing late in the game last Sunday, it was Jason Witten who was still on the field and not Blake Jarwin. I love Witten, but doesn't Jarwin have better deep-threat potential? I've been surprised by #82 and how well he's played since coming back, but I'm still a firm believer that Jarwin should get more playing time.
Through five weeks, Jarwin has played on 125 of the offensive snaps while Witten has been in for 240. I wish Jarwin gets more playing time today.
Wish #4: Cowboys Start Fast
What is wrong with the Cowboys when the games start? They have yet to have a good start this season. Even when they faced the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and the Miami Dolphins they struggled to get it going. I don't know if it's an execution problem or bad play-scripting from the coaches but this will get the Cowboys in trouble if it isn't fixed.
It's a 60-minute game and if you start playing well late, you'll be beaten as the season goes on. The Cowboys need to figure this out, and the Jets are a fortunate opponent to get back on track.
Will Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence Finally Go Off Against Jets?
With only 2.5 sacks in five games thus far in 2019, DeMarcus Lawrence is currently on pace to have less than 10 sacks on the season. That would be a disappointment for all parties after the Cowboys defensive end just signed a massive contract extension this offseason, but today's game against the New York Jets may give him a chance to make up some ground.
The Jets have been abysmal at protecting their quarterbacks so far this year. Despite only playing four games, being one of the few NFL teams to already have its bye week, New York has given up a league-high 23 sacks already in 2019.
That's almost six sacks per game. Six!
Granted, some of that volume has come from having third-string QB Luke Falk playing the last three weeks. But even when Sam Darnold was playing in Week One he still got taken down four times.
The opportunities should be there for Lawrence to pad his stats. Even just a two-sack day would greatly boost his numbers, but there's potential for more with how bad the Jets have been at pass protection.
DeMarcus' slow start in 2019 has been due to a variety of factors. For one, he missed almost all of training camp and preseason practices by remaining on the PUP list until August 20th. Lawrence had offseason shoulder surgery and was recovering until just a few weeks before Week One.
Another reason is that, at least through the first four weeks of 2019, Tank was the most double-teamed edge rusher in the entire NFL.
That hasn't been all bad for the Cowboys. After all, the attention that Lawrence draws has helped Robert Quinn get off to a hot start since his Week 3 debut.
In fact, Quinn may be who prevents Tank from having a big day in New York. It will be interesting to see which guy gets to the QB first.
There's also a chance that, if this game winds up being a blowout, Dallas will limit Lawrence's playing time due to some nagging injuries. They want their franchise DE ready to chase down Carson Wentz next Sunday night.
Wins are bigger than stats, of course. DeMarcus Lawrence gets that and hopefully most fans do as well. His impact is bigger than just sacks; just his presence can positively impact games and create opportunities for other pass rushers and blitzers.
Still, we all love seeing our favorite Cowboys among the league leaders at season's end. Lawrence probably won't be catching Shaquil Barrett (9 sacks) this year, but hopefully today's game allows him to move up the board.
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