The Dallas Cowboys, like every other team in the NFL have to abide by the salary cap rules whether they like it or not. Sometimes that means they have to make some tough decisions regarding their roster and 2017 should be no different. The Cowboys cap casualties have yet to be announced, but one player that might be feeling a little nervous about his time with America's Team is coming to an end is backup running back, Alfred Morris.
The former Washington Redskin and two-time Pro Bowl running back was signed to a two-year, $3.5 million contract in 2016 by the Cowboys. Alfred Morris was expected to form a 1-2 punch with the former 2008 first-round draft pick, Darren McFadden.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was short-lived with the selection of Ezekiel Elliott in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Elliott went on to have one of the best seasons for a rookie running back in the history of the NFL. Morris was Elliott's backup for the majority of the season, but was made inactive once McFadden made his return from his elbow injury that wiped out the majority of his 2016 season.
McFadden is now a free agent, while Morris is in the last year of his contract and could end up being one of the Cowboys cap casualties, saving them $1.6 million in 2017. That $1.6 million savings could be used to bring back Darren McFadden, who seems to be a favorite of the Cowboys coaching staff.
Let's dive into this little bit deeper though to determine who might be the better fit.
RB Alfred Morris: 2-Time Pro Bowler
Alfred Morris is a two-time Pro Bowl player and has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark three out of five years in his NFL career. He's not the biggest or fastest running back in the NFL, but he is a good fit to run in the zone blocking scheme that the Cowboys offense uses the majority of the time.
Morris' willingness to remain patient in the running game allows the blocks in front of him to develop. When he sees a crease, he puts his foot in the ground and relies on his vision and low center of gravity to pick up his yardage. He's not going to break many long runs because of his lack of top end speed. Instead, he is more of the type of RB that will wear defenses down throughout the ballgame.
Another plus about Alfred Morris is his ability to stay healthy. He has never missed a game in his NFL career because of injuries.
Unfortunately, Morris really isn't a three down player. He's not a very good pass catcher out of the backfield and he also really struggles in pass protection. These are some of his biggest flaws as a player, especially with the Cowboys who like to utilize their RBs in the passing game.
It's Alfred Morris' flaws as a player that could make him one of the Dallas Cowboys cap casualties.
RB Darren McFadden: Former First Round Draft Pick
Darren McFadden is the more talented of the two players, which is why he was drafted so highly in the 2008 NFL Draft to begin with.
McFadden has never been voted into the Pro Bowl and has only eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark twice in his NFL career. He is a downhill runner and that would probably be a better fit in a power blocking scheme. But, he has already proven that he can be effective running behind the Cowboys impressive offensive line.
With the exception of Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden is the most complete back the Cowboys have had the last few seasons. He is an underrated receiver out of the backfield and is excellent in pass protection. He may not have the breakaway speed that he once had earlier in his career, but he can still challenge defenses out on the edge.
His biggest flaw is the fact that he has struggled to remain healthy during his nearly decade-long career in the NFL. This is a little bit worrisome because the Cowboys will need a RB that they don't have to worry about being available when needed.
Despite what his size would suggest, McFadden isn't going to pick up a lot of those tough yards in short yardage situations. He doesn't run with a lot of power and tries to run away from defenders instead of delivering the blow.
Which Player Has Most Continued Upside With The Cowboys?
Generally when you compare players and analyze their future upside with their respective team, their age comes into play. Alfred Morris (28) is younger than Darren McFadden (29), but I believe McFadden still has more upside for the Dallas Cowboys.
McFadden is a more complete running back that can stay on the field for all three downs. Plus, he has already proven that he can be the workhorse back for the Cowboys offense. You may have forgotten, but in 2015 he started 10 games for the Cowboys and finished fourth in the NFL with 1,089 rushing yards.
We never really got a chance to see what Alfred Morris could do as the featured back for the Cowboys in 2016. But, given the small sample size we saw last year, he didn't inspire a lot of confidence that he could handle the job as well as McFadden did in 2015.
Verdict: Darren McFadden
Who Survives The Cowboys Cap Casualties Game In 2017?
As things stand right now, the running back that survives the Cowboys cap casualties has to be Alfred Morris. He is still under contract for the upcoming 2017 season, while Darren McFadden will test his market value and contemplate his offers from other teams in free agency.
Having said all of that, I believe the Dallas Cowboys would prefer to have Darren McFadden return over Alfred Morris. Once McFadden returned to the lineup last year, he pretty much made Morris an afterthought.
The Cowboys coaching staff clearly values McFadden's ability to be a three down player and his veteran leadership. So, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he is the one they try and make a part of the 2017 plans if they had to decide between the two players.
Verdict: Alfred Morris because he is under contract.
Who do you think the Cowboys should go with, Alfred Morris or Darren McFadden?
A Lot Had to Happen for Amari Cooper to Join the Cowboys
Amari Cooper was a game changing player from the moment he showed up at The Star in Frisco, Texas. In the first game against the Tennessee Titans, you could just tell that this was a different kind of player. The Cowboys hadn't had a wide receiver with his mixture of size and skill.
But Amari Cooper's presence with the Dallas Cowboys may not have happened in 2018 if any one of a number of dominoes didn't fall during the 2018 offseason and regular season.
Shunned by Sammy
Early in the free agency period, it was reported that the Dallas Cowboys had brought in Sammy Watkins and made him a lucrative offer that would have paid him around $16 million per year, but as Patrik Walker from 247 Sports discussed, he ultimately signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for more guaranteed money.
I recall first the feeling of dread when I heard about the pursuit of Sammy Watkins, immediately followed by relief when I saw that he signed with the Chiefs. I was in the midst of a government mandated internet blackout.
Don't get me wrong, Sammy Watkins is a fine player, but he isn't a $16 million per year player. Aside from his athleticism and size he doesn't really bring much to the table. He was pretty much a younger, and similarly injury prone -- at their respective points in their careers -- as Dez Bryant.
In 2018, Watkins only played in 10 games for the Chiefs and barely passed the 500 yard mark while catching only three touchdowns. Now, he's not the top priority in the Chiefs passing game, but he's not a player that can be relied upon to lead an offense.
Had the Cowboys signed Watkins last offseason, it's highly unlikely that they would have traded a 2019 first round draft pick to add another wide receiver in Amari Cooper.
Dez Bryant Goes Bye-Bye
The next thing that happened that may not have, was the release of long-time Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant. Dez Bryant had been with the team since 2010, when the team made him their first round pick that season. After post really good numbers from 2012-2014, Dez had a drop off in production, mostly due to injuries in the 2015-2017 seasons.
Dez Bryant, a fan favorite, was a player that relied upon his superior athletic ability, physicality, toughness, and ability to get passes in the air that made him special. Injuries to his legs and feet started to rob him of his athletic ability. Combine that with the fact that he and Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott could never really get on the same page when it came to fade routes, traditional or of the back shoulder variety.
Had the Cowboys not made the decision to move on from Bryant, the Cowboys offense would have probably been better the first seven games of the season. They may not have necessitated allocating a first round pick to acquire Cooper and it's possible he gets traded somewhere else or stays in Oakland altogether.
Poor Starts to the Season
The Oakland Raiders went into the 2018 season having made a lot of noise by signing Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. After a 1-5 start to their season, the fire sale continued as they put Amari Cooper on the trade block.
The Dallas Cowboys started the season 3-4, but looked much worse on offense than what we could have anticipated. We knew they would take a bit of a step back in the passing game as they were trying to work in new faces, but it was bad for the first seven, and really eight weeks of the season.
The Cowboys went into the season with a plan to use their wide receiver group as a committee to try and fill their needs with several players of varying skill sets. Sounds good in theory, but in practice it was a debacle. Receivers not named Cole Beasley, struggled to get open and the offense was listless through the first two months of the season.
Had either team been better than they were to start the season, the chance of a trade taking place would have been small. Teams like to think they can get by with what they have. Had the Cowboys been 4-3 instead of 3-4, they may have thought they could get by with Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup as their lead receivers.
It was rumored that prior to the Dallas Cowboys sending their 2019 first round pick to the Oakland Raiders that the Philadelphia Eagles offered a second. The Raiders, who were looking to stock pile picks to rebuild, held out for the first they desired for their former 2x Pro Bowler.
Had the Raiders took the Eagles offer as the best offer on the table at the time, the Cowboys would have missed out on Cooper and likely missed out on the division and the playoffs in 2018. On the flip side, we know how much the Cowboys value their draft picks. We've seen them pass on game changing player who would have cost much less because they value their draft picks and believe in their ability to find difference makers in any round.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys were really fortunate to end up with Amari Cooper. If any of the above things goes differently, it's extremely unlikely that he's wearing a Cowboys uniform in 2018 at all. Now, coming off a 1,000 yard season -- in only 15 games -- and a Pro Bowl appearance, Cooper is set to get paid some big money by the Dallas Cowboys front office. As they get ready to pay Cooper upwards of $16 million a year or more, they should have only one thought on their mind for the good fortune that brought Cooper to Dallas;
NFL Honors: Leighton Vander Esch Receives 0 Votes for DROY
The Dallas Cowboys front office hit the ball out of the park when they drafted Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch back in April, 2018. Since then, Vander Esch has earned the starting role that previously belonged to Sean Lee, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and made the second-team All-Pro. Even for a first round draft pick, the rookie exceeded expectations.
For many, he was a clear candidate for the NFL Honors' Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, the voters didn't see him as such.
Defensive Rookie of the Year voting: Darius Leonard - 29 Derwin James - 20 Bradley Chubb -- 1
Three rookies received votes for the award, but the Wolf Hunter wasn't among them. Instead, Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard and Los Angeles Chargers S Derwin James walked away with the vast majority of the votes. For the Denver Broncos, LB Bradley Chubb received only one vote.
This is actually surprising to me. Leighton Vander Esch's season was pretty impressive. His performance on the field week in and week out was dominating. How can you make the second-team All-Pro and get no votes while Bradley Chubb gets one?
Now granted, the competition this year for this award in particular was loaded with notable nominees. After all, Darius Leonard led the NFL in tackles, had seven sacks and forced four fumbles. Being completely honest and unbiased here, I would've voted for Leonard as well. Derwin James managed to translate what he did in college to the field and played many different positions. He even lined up in various spots as a linebacker. For the Chargers, he did it all.
Even still, there's a big argument to make for Vander Esch and I'm surprised no voter did so. His direct competition for the award was undoubtedly Darius Leonard. Although the Colt had the most tackles and the better stats, that's also because he played way more snaps than Vander Esch did. Per Pro Football Reference, Leonard participated in 956 defensive snaps (91.31% of his team's total defensive snaps) while Vander Esch only played in 784 (76.56%). Despite having 172 snaps less to his name, Vander Esch trailed Leonard by only nine solo tackles.
At the end of the day, what matters is that the Dallas Cowboys have one hell of a football player at strong linebacker. Oh, and another great LB to play beside him named Jaylon Smith. Vander Esch may have lost the battle against Leonard for DROY, but it'll be fun to see how both players continue to grow and do great things for their respective football teams.
DeMarcus Lawrence Top Free Agent of 2019 Offseason
We currently sit at 42 days away from the beginning of league wide Free Agency for the NFL. It's one of several opportunities that the Dallas Cowboys will have to upgrade a roster that looks ready to contend for their sixth Lombardi Trophy in 2019. Yesterday, Pro Football Focus released their top 50 free agents for the 2019 offseason and Dallas Cowboys Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence ranks as the guy at the top of the free agent class for this coming offseason. Cowboys Nation shouldn't be surprised by this development.
DeMarcus Lawrence is elite.
Here's what Pro Football Focus had to say on Lawrence:
"The Cowboys asked him to prove it, and Lawrence did just that. His 89.5 overall grade this season ranked seventh among all edge defenders in the NFL. Soon to turn 27, Lawrence is the rare elite edge defender hitting free agency in his prime."
Michael Renner - Pro Football Focus
Player grades are a subjective analysis, but it gives a barometer for how Lawrence is regarded league-wide. Not only is Lawrence viewed as an excellent player by Cowboys analysts, national media respects his game as well.
Lawrence finished the 2018 season with 10.5 sacks, marking the second time in a row that he had more than 10 sacks. In three of his last four seasons, Lawrence has had more than eight sacks for the Dallas Cowboys. He's one of the best, if not the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL.
Lawrence forced two fumbles, had his first career interception this season, recovered a fumble, and forced 15 tackles for loss. He finished with 44 stops on the season, which Pro Football Focus defines as "tackles that constitute a "loss" for the offense." Those 44 stops tied him for fourth in the NFL.
DeMarcus Lawrence isn't just an elite pass rusher, he's an elite run defender as well. The way he sets the edge for the Dallas Cowboys defense makes life easier for their two dynamic linebackers in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
Lawrence is in line to see a very rich contract this offseason that could pay him up to $20 million per year over the next four to five years, and he deserves every penny. He's a leader on the team and brings an energy and intensity throughout the week that galvanizes the rest of the defensive line group to play with high energy and effort.
If the Cowboys front office is unable to get a deal done with Lawrence prior to the deadline to assign the franchise tag on March 5th, then the Cowboys will likely assign their elite pass rusher the franchise tag for a second year in a row. The tag would be a place holder, which will prevent Lawrence from hitting free agency and creating a bidding war for his services, until the two sides could reach an agreement.
In the modern NFL where almost every team is throwing the ball 60-70% of the time, having a pass rusher like DeMarcus Lawrence is a must for a defense. We've seen with past Cowboys teams what the lack of a pass rush can do for your team. It's deflating. The Cowboys will do everything they can to get Lawrence locked up for the rest of his prime.
The only question is, how much will he cost?
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