At this point, we all understand the dire situation that is the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
The already questionable group has lost two projected week 1 starters, Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence, to four game suspensions, and will be looking to fill these holes with rookies and inexperienced players.
Dallas let Greg Hardy, 2nd on the team in sacks last season, walk and then decided to bypass on potential additions to the defensive line during the free agency period.
While I was behind both of these decisions for moral and monetary reasons, it does leave the team with some serious question marks at defensive end this season.
Typically when we think of sack leaders and pass rush, we think of edge rushers. The Demarcus Ware's and Von Miller's of the world who line up in a 5, 7, or 9 technique, pin their ears back, and go for sacks.
Based on their offseason moves and current roster, the Cowboys are going to have to rely on a different type of rush this year, however.
Dallas' major free agent signing came when defensive tackle Cedric Thornton decided to ditch the Eagles for their NFC East rival. Thornton is a stout run defender, but he has also demonstrated a quick burst, good first step, and swift lateral movement.
All qualities which are vital for a defensive tackle to have when rushing the passer.
The Cowboys then drafted Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive tackle Maliek Collins 67th overall, another interior lineman who can make quick lateral movements and create a pass rush.
Known-stud Tyrone Crawford will finally be healthy this season after a successful offseason shoulder surgery this winter. You could tell Crawford wasn't right last season, and yet he still finished 3rd on the team in sacks as a defensive tackle.
Terrell McClain is also returning from injury this season, and if he can stay healthy, he can be a good addition to the tackle rotation defensively.
Many expect David Irving to take a big step forward in 2016. He showed flashes a year ago, but with a full year in the Cowboys' system under his belt, the big, athletic Irving has a chance to give the Cowboys a ton of quality snaps.
Dallas also re-signed Jack Crawford, a hybrid defensive lineman who can move inside and out to give the Cowboys whatever is needed for that particular down.
Ok, I already knew what moves Dallas made this offseason, but how does it translate to an improved rush?
In simplest terms, you can have the strongest edge rushers that money can buy, but if you are weak in the middle of your defensive line, it won't matter.
Think back to the Denver Broncos a season ago. While Denver plays in a hybrid 3-4 scheme, some comparisons to the Cowboys can still be made.
Of course, Von Miller and Demarcus Ware led the team in sacks with 11 and 7.5 respectively. But, their pressures would mean nothing if it wasn't for their interior defensive linemen collapsing the pocket and giving the quarterback no room to step up and avoid the rush.
Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, both listed as defensive ends but would translate to 3-techniques in Dallas, were third and fourth on the Broncos in sacks. Nose-tackle Sylvester Williams only accounted for 2.5 sacks, but time and time again the interior pass rush of the Broncos got into the quarterback's face and allowed for Miller and Ware to get home.
In a perfect world, your edge rushers will force the quarterback to move up in the pocket, while your defensive tackles penetrate the line of scrimmage and get their hips at least two yards into the backfield. Then, the defensive line swallows up the quarterback and it goes down as a sack.
Make or find animated gifs like Von Miller Highlights (AFC Championship) | Patriots vs. Broncos | NFL on gifs.com
Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Ware and Miller both bring pressure from the outside, but if it wasn't for the strong side 3-technique's effective bull rush, Brady might have found a way to escape.
This all brings me to the Cowboys. No, Dallas doesn't have a Von Miller on their roster, but they do have effective interior linemen who can get into the quarterback's face and force mistakes.
Dallas hasn't been this strong up the middle in a while. Even during the Ware days in Dallas, we consistently saw Ware get a pass rush, only to run right by the quarterback as he stepped up into an empty rush lane.
That won't happen this year. Especially not with the defensive tackles the Cowboys will be using each week.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has young, versatile, athletic, and hungry defensive linemen to work with this season, and I fully expect these young pups to find ways to get it done.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
Terrance Williams Contract Creates 2018 Job Security
There's been a lot of talk about what the Dallas Cowboys will do at the receiver position this offseason. While there's a great divide on what the team should do with Dez Bryant, there's a fairly unanimous opinion that Dallas should find an upgrade over Terrance Williams. No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, though, Williams' contract should keep him on the roster in 2018.
Last offseason, Terrance signed a four-year, $17 million deal to stay in Dallas. Because we are now just in the second year of that deal, it is cost prohibitive against the salary cap to release or trade him.
Williams is scheduled to count $4.75 million against the 2018 cap. If Dallas were to cut him, it would accelerate his remaining guaranteed money and create $7.25 million in dead money this year. He would cost more against the cap off the roster than on it.
Even the June-1st provision doesn't help. Williams' dead money in 2018 drops to $4.75 million, which is a net zero against his existing cap hit. It would also push $2.5 million of dead money to 2019. There's no benefit there, and you lose an experienced player who knows your system.
If the Cowboys do like their WR depth enough to want to move on from Terrance, one option is to try to trade him. A trade would lower the cap penalty to $3.75 million and save $1 million. If he's traded after June 1st, it would save $3.5 million against this year's cap.
Of course, it takes two to tango in this scenario. Williams hasn't scored a touchdown since 2016 and has never proven he can take on a significant role in an offense. He was serviceable when Dez Bryant and Jason Witten commanded more attention, but he's a low-end WR2 at best and many teams likely wouldn't want him in their top 2-3 receivers.
Perhaps something could happen during training camps or preseason, when injuries may make other teams desperate. Then again, something could happen in Dallas that makes them less willing to part with Terrance.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that Terrance Williams won't be a Cowboy in 2018. And really, that's not bad thing.
Even if he gets pushed down the depth chart, Terrance would be a good insurance policy against injuries or any other issues that could happen between now and September. $4.75 million is more than you'd like to pay your fourth WR but it's a one-year problem.
If the Cowboys do add more WR talent this offseason, there is a trickle-down effect that strengthens the entire club. Williams, with his experience, is an upgrade over Brice Butler as the fourth receiver.
Therefore, unless circumstances both here and elsewhere allow Dallas to find a trade partner, Terrance Williams should be back next year.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
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