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.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys' year in 2018 was marked by big moves at wide receiver. Dez Bryant was released in April and then a first-round pick was traded in October to add Amari Cooper. Could this 2019 offseason offer anything close to that level of activity?
Unlike last season, Dallas should enjoy some stability in its starting lineup at receiver. Cooper returns at a much higher price, with the $13.9 million cap hit from his fifth-year option coming into player. Amari cost just $412k against the Cowboys' salary cap last year.
That huge jump in cap cost may hurt but Cooper backed it up with his Pro Bowl play in 2018. The top WR contracts average $15-$17 million per year, so even now Dallas is arguably getting Amari at a bargain.
The Cowboys didn't give up a first-round pick for a year-and-a-half rental, so we can expect them to seek a long-term extension with Cooper in the near future. With the contracts of DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott more immediate concerns, any new deal for Amari probably won't come until the middle of the season or in 2020.
Not only is WR1 set for next year but Michael Gallup appears locked in as the other starter. Of his 68 targets last year, 40 came in the second half of the year. It was a great season for a third-round rookie, and there are high hopes for Gallup's development in his first full offseason.
The stability up front is a blessing for the Cowboys, but it doesn't relieve them of big decisions at the WR position this offseason. They face a particularly critical choice when it comes to the free agency of Cole Beasley.
It's hard to believe Beasley's already been in Dallas for seven seasons. An undrafted gem, Cole has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players for some time. He led them in receiving in 2016 and has been one of the most efficient, QB-friendly options for the last several years.
Beasley's contract expiring this year is only one issue. He has become very vocal lately about wanting to be a bigger part of the offense. His targets dropped tremendously over the course of 2018, which was especially evident when Cole got just five total passes thrown his way in the two playoffs games.
If Beasley wants a larger role, does that also mean he wants more money? He was making a little over $3 million/season on his last deal.
With Gallup on a cheap rookie contract, Dallas could afford to pay raise Beasley's compensation a bit. But if they don't plan to use him more than they did last year, then perhaps the two parties just aren't a good fit at this point.
If Cole walks in free agency then the Cowboys will now have to find a new number-three receiver. The next best option would be Tavon Austin, but he is also a free agent. However, he could likely be re-signed for a fraction of what Beasley would want.
Austin has the physical skills to be an offensive weapon but he doesn't have the reliable hands that Beasley does. Even if Dallas wants Tavon back solely for his skills on punt returns, they may not be ready to make him a bigger part of the offense.
One option might be promoting Noah Brown, whose at times has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant with his physical playing style. His blocking ability would lend itself to the single-back formations Dallas likes to run out of, and he's flashed some good hands in limited opportunities.
In that scenario Amari Cooper would likely play out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of with his quickness. The same would be done if Dallas went with another internal solution, such as Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams.
That said, the Cowboys are unlikely to pick up the second-year option on Hurns' contract, not wanting to pay him over $6 million in 2019 after last year's low production. It also doesn't seem likely that they want to keep Williams after last year's issues.
Taking all of that into consideration, Dallas may very well be doing some WR shopping in free agency. Fortunately for them, it's a favorable market if you're looking for a slot receiver.
On top of Beasley and Austin already in the free agent pool, Golden Tate could at least match Cole's play if not potentially offer an upgrade. Baltimore's John Brown, Tampa's Adam Humphries, and Washington's Jamison Crowder are all other proven options. Emmanuel Sanders, while not currently a free agent, is a very possible cap casualty for the Broncos.
Guys like Humphries and Crowder are younger than Beasley and could provide better long-term value on their contract. That may be a more attractive option at this point for the Cowboys.
Dallas won't need to add a lot of bodies at WR thanks to a few young prospects. They still have Lance Lenoir and Cedrick Wilson under contract, plus signed 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith as a potential rehabilitation project.
But again, these guys are all just bodies right now. Lenoir has had his opportunities and not done much with them, though he does offer some value as a potential return man. Wilson spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
The Cowboys could still look at a receiver with one of their mid-round draft picks, but it's hard to get much production early there. Last year's play from Michael Gallup was a surprise for a third-rounder.
It's far more likely that Dallas will either work things out with Cole Beasley or pursue a veteran replacement in free agency.
So no, thankfully, we don't have to worry about any monumental changes at the top of the WR depth chart in 2019. But Beasley was more than just a third receiver, and keeping or replacing him will have a significant impact on the offense going forward.
If Dallas is truly ready to commit to Dak Prescott as the quarterback of the future then they can't take anything about his receiving options lightly. Therefore, wide receiver remains an important offseason focus for the Cowboys in 2019.
Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus
Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.
Here’s what he had to say:
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...
...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Brian Martin - Inside The Star
I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.
I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.
They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.
Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.
Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.
While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.
I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.
Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.
Should Cowboys Address TE Need Via Free Agency?
A season after Jason Witten's retirement, the Dallas Cowboys still have a need at tight end. Replacing a future Hall of Famer is no easy feat so it's only logical that it would take longer than a season to feel good about who's in at tight end.
The Cowboys currently have two tight ends who could be pretty serviceable going forward. Fourth round pick Dalton Schultz did a very solid job as the team's TE2, specially toward the second half of the season. He turned into a pretty good run blocker and despite only racking up 116 yards in 12 catches, he's a guy the Cowboys' offense could use even more in the future.
Also on the team is Blake Jarwin, who functioned as the Cowboys' main tight end for most of 2018. His performance against the New York Giants in week 17 made us wonder whether or not he could be an important target on the Cowboys' offense.
These two could very well have more in them than what we've seen. With a new offensive coordinator in town, tight end is a position the Cowboys could start using way more. As Bobby Belt pointed out on Twitter a few weeks ago, Scott Linehan's offense doesn't benefit tight ends very much. Before we give a verdict on what Schultz and Jarwin can do, I'd like to see them work with Kellen Moore's offense.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Here's the thing. If the Cowboys are not taking a tight end in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are they really upgrading what they already have? I'm not sure we'll be convinced about that if they draft a player for the position until the third or fourth round. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for the Cowboys drafting a TE in the second round, because I believe there are more pressing needs on the team. However, signing a veteran free agent might be the better option for upgrading the position.
Should a veteran TE be an option?
This year, there are quite a few interesting names in the tight end market. Veterans such as Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and even Antonio Gates will be looking for a new team pretty soon. I know, that would be "getting older." But it could also mean getting better. Building a solid TE committee with a veteran leading Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could be the way to go for this football team.
Eifert is a great tight end... when he's on the field. Durability is his biggest weakness, as he hasn't played more than 10 games since 2016. The Cowboys could take a risk on him and constantly rotate him with Jarwin and Schultz. It may be a huge risk, but it could pay off big time. If the price is right, Eifert should be targeted by the front office.
The 2018 Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, winning only four games. Even still, Jared Cook's season was impressive. He finished the year with 896 yards and multiple 100-yard games. The biggest issue with Cook is his age. He turns 32 in April. But hey, he's literally coming off from a career year.
Jesse James is a younger guy who could also be worth it. He's not an a potent receiver, but he gets it done in the passing game and is one hell of a blocker. James could be a legit, cheaper option for the Cowboys in free agency.
There are a lot of names out there the front office could look at. Charles Clay was just released by the Buffalo Bills and Nick Boyle will be looking for new job after new arrivals pushed him out of the Baltimore Ravens' roster just to mention a few names.
We'll see what the front office's plans are soon enough, but right now, I'd say tight end is a need the Dallas Cowboys should at least try to address in free agency instead of the NFL Draft.
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