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.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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