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.
Should Cowboys Consider Bringing Back Alex Tanney as Backup QB?
If the Dallas Cowboys aren't happy about their quarterback depth by the end of preseason, they should be looking to add someone from other teams' roster cuts. One player that could become available is a former Cowboy, Alex Tanney, and he may be one of the best options they'll have.
Tanney is currently with the New York Giants and served as Eli Manning's backup last year. He's floated around the NFL since going undrafted in 2012, being part of eight different teams.
Alex's tenure in Dallas came in 2013 when the Cowboys signed him just before training camp. Tanney flashed his potential during the preseason but it wasn't enough to get him on the 53-man roster. Dallas kept just two QBs that year, Tony Romo and Kyle Orton, and signed Tanney to their practice squad.
In November of that season, the Cleveland Browns poached Alex and signed him to their roster. Then came a series of stops with other teams' practice squad before finally landing with the Tennessee Titans, where he got his first and only playing time in a regular season game.
In 2015, Tanney finished the Titans meaningless regular-season finale. He completed 10-of-14 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
After spending last year with the Giants as the backup QB but never having to play, Tanney re-signed with New York for a two year deal this past March. But that was before the Giants spent their first-round pick on QB Daniel Jones
New York has kept three quarterbacks on the roster the last two years, but only kept two in 2016. With a clear top-two of Manning and Jones, and Daniel obviously their QB of the future, could they decide to let their other passers go at final cuts?
By only giving Tanney $75,000 in guaranteed money on his new contract, the Giants certainly left themselves the option of cutting him.
Alex Tanney now has seven years of NFL experience with multiple teams. He'll have just spent a full year and a second offseason with one of the Cowboys' division rivals, perhaps offering some insights into Pat Shurmur's system.
Ideally, the Cowboys will be content at quarterback if Cooper Rush or Mike White can earn their confidence over the next two months. But after reported struggles from both during mini-camps and OTAs, there is reason for concern.
This will all be moot, of course, if the Giants decide to keep Alex as a their third quarterback. But there is reason to think he could hit the open market, and if so he may be one of the few decent options that Dallas has to try and improve their QB depth.
In the end, Alex Tanney may not be a better option than Rush or White. But if the Cowboys find themselves desperate by September, he should at least be worth a second look.
Saints WR Michael Thomas Will Drive Up Price for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper
Since he became part of the Dallas Cowboys, Amari Cooper has proved himself worthy of a long-term contract extension. The offense saw a complete turnaround once the former Oakland Raider arrived, picking up way more first downs and moving the ball down the field. With a solid #1 wide receiver, Dak Prescott's game improved and with it, the rest of the offensive performance. At this point, most of Cowboys Nation agrees on how important Amari Cooper is for the Cowboys' future.
At only 25 years old, Cooper has an entire career ahead of him. He's young, yet experienced. The front office is aiming to make Dak Prescott the team's quarterback in the long-term and it only makes sense to give him such a strong weapon in the passing game.
However, if the Cowboys are to keep Cooper, they are to pay a price tag. An expensive one. And the more time they take to sign him, the more they'll have to pay. Of course, this is true in just about every position in the NFL. But when it comes to WR, there's a bit more urgency.
Both Julio Jones and Michael Thomas, two of the best in the game, are seeking long-term extensions. Now granted, these two players may be in different scenarios given their ages (Julio is 30, Michael is 26) and the fact that Jones still has two remaining years on his current contract. Even still, both are in the discussion for being the top receiver in the NFL. In other words, they could be asking to become the highest paid receivers in the league.
In fact, Michael Thomas is reportedly asking for $22M per year. To put it in perspective, Odell Beckham's contract with the Browns, which made him the top paid receiver, averages $18M annually. Thomas is absolutely great, but he's asking for too much money. Whether he'll get it or not remains to be seen.
As much as we love Amari Cooper, he isn't in the conversation for being the best wide receiver in the NFL like Thomas is. Despite that, he'll surely land among the highest-paid. For Cooper, it seems like the floor for his deal is Adam Thielen's contract with the Minnesota Vikings, which averages $16.2M per year. He isn't getting paid anything less than that.
The ceiling though, could drastically change. He's not going to become the top paid in the league, but he could be very close. The thing is, that number could change quickly. At the moment, Odell Beckham sits atop the NFL pass-catchers averaging 18 million. We can only guess, but that could lead to Cooper getting paid around $17M per year.
But if Michael Thomas or Julio Jones get their deals done before, that price could drastically go up. If Thomas gets what he wants (and it's a big if), the ceiling for Cooper's annual salary would have become $4M more expensive.
Hopefully, the Dallas Cowboys get a deal done quickly. Amari Cooper is a great player, and in less than a season he clicked with Dak Prescott, who's also waiting for payday. Right now, we can only be glad neither is threatening to hold out and both are excited for training camp.
Coaches’ “Dislike” of TE Rico Gathers Won’t Keep Him Off Roster
Last year, there was talk that the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff had developed a sour taste regarding Tight End Rico Gathers. Whether it was his personality, work ethic or off-field activities, and if those reports are even accurate, it doesn't really matter. History has shown that NFL coaches will tolerate plenty if a player can help them on the field.
Most analysts have Gathers not making the Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. It means the end of a three-year development project that started when Dallas used a 2016 6th-round pick to take the former Baylor basketball player, hoping to convert his size and athleticism into a capable tight end.
If these are Rico's last few months with the Cowboys, don't blame his exit on any personal dislike on the part of the coaches. He will be gone for football reasons.
Do we think Jason Garrett was fond of Greg Hardy, who the Cowboys signed amid scandal in 2015? Do we think he always loved the way Dez Bryant handled himself? And what about all the other players who we knew so little about personally, but Garrett and his staff saw on a daily basis?
If Gathers gets cut, it's because Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz are better than he is. It's because Dallas didn't see enough need or value to keep four tight ends this year after Jason Witten's return.
Or maybe they'll see something in another former basketball player, free agent signing Codey McElroy, that Gathers just hasn't developed over these last three years.
Of course, the reasons why the coaches may be down on Rico could also be why he hasn't developed enough. If they feel he isn't serious enough about the game, that opinion is largely based on his lack of progress.
Look at what the Cowboys have been willing to deal with the last few years regarding Randy Gregory, who has plenty of personal issues but has worked hard when available. Contrast that with David Irving, whose lack of effort is why Dallas chose to let him walk in free agency.
Even before Garrett's tenure as head coach, Dallas has been willing to business with guys like Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, and Tank Johnson despite known personality issues from previous teams. The Cowboys, like almost any NFL teams, are happy to work with just about anyone who can help them win.
So if we get to final cuts this year and Rico Gathers is released, as expected, don't go down the wrong mental path about why it happened. Don't start blaming Jason Garrett for being unable or unwilling to deal with certain personality types.
It will be about football. It will be because Gathers didn't become good enough of a player.
And after this much time, the blame for that will fall entirely on Rico. He's had more opportunity here than a lot of 6th-round picks get; the Cowboys have clearly been invested in seeing him succeed.
We've all been intrigued at what Rico Gathers could become, especially after some of his big preseason plays. But it appears the experiment is soon to end, and it will certainly be a disappointment.
Just be sure you blame the right person.
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