No matter what else happens this offseason, we know that one of Dallas' starting defensive ends in 2016 will be third-year stud DeMarcus Lawrence. After posting seven sacks in his last eight games of 2015, all expectations are that Lawrence will be at least a double-digit sack artist and perhaps make his first Pro Bowl.
I hope you feel really, really good about Lawrence. Because after him, things at defensive end go right off a cliff.
Last year's core group of Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey, and Jack Crawford are all still free agents. Randy Gregory will be suspended for the first four games of next season. That leaves just one player, second-year lineman Ryan Russell, as the only other defensive end to play Week One.
Russell played in one game for Dallas last year. He didn't register a sack or even a tackle. His stat line for 2015 only says "one appearance." That makes him the football equivalent of a movie director's nephew who got to be "Customer #4" in the background of a restaurant scene.
Clearly, the Cowboys are in a precarious spot with their defensive ends. They can't rely on the draft alone to fill the holes. Even if they added two or three rookies, they are still rookies. It's rare that a rookie pass rusher realizes his potential in his first year. Often they need physical development on top of technique refinement before they're ready to excel as professionals.
What's Left in Free Agency?
Let this sink in. One popular site, WalterFootball.com, has the remaining defensive end talent ranked. Of the top five still unsigned, three are names we know very well: Hardy, Mincey, and George Selvie. The other two are Jason Jones (Lions) and Wallace Gilberry (Bengals), ages 30 and 31 respectively.
That list doesn't include guys who've been playing as 3-4 outside linebackers who would be defensive ends in our scheme. They include veterans like Kroy Biermann, Lamarr Woodley, and O'Brien Schofield. The downside here is that asking an older guy to become a down lineman is the reverse of what tends to happen; older guys moving to the 3-4 to limit contract and prolong their careers.
Take all of this in and there's no question that Greg Hardy is, by far, the most talented and high-upside option left in free agency. However, all signs are that he burned his bridges in Dallas with his conduct and a soured relationship with Jason Garrett.
There have been rumors that Hardy was openly disrespectful and undermining of Garrett in the locker room, which makes sense when you saw how coldly Garrett announced that "Greg Hardy is a free agent" a few weeks back. There is no reason to think, at any level of desperation, Dallas is going to bring him back.
Dallas will surely add some veterans before the draft. Mincey could return and Jack Crawford, though listed as a defensive tackle, has the flexibility to play end if he's brought back. We also know that Tyrone Crawford could play outside if needed, though that would be far from ideal.
Are the Cowboys painting themselves into a corner with the need for defensive ends? When they're on the clock with that fourth-overall pick, will they feel forced to take Joey Bosa or DeForest Buckner regardless of who might be higher on their board? That is the big concern right now.
I don't love Bosa, Buckner, or any other DE prospect with that high pick. I'd much rather see them use it on defensive back Jalen Ramsey, if he's available. If not Ramsey then perhaps it's time to get the quarterback you love or to take running back Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the best talent in the entire draft. However it shakes out, I just loathe the idea of letting superior talent pass you by at other positions in the name of filling a need.
Unfortunately, we may be headed to that very situation. You can't completely dismiss need in the draft and wind up struggling all of next year because you're so thin at defensive end. Even if Lawrence is about to into Reggie White reincarnate, he could still get hurt. Gregory is one toke away from a year-long suspension. This could turn into a disaster very quickly without some more options.
What... do I sound nervous?
You bet I am.
Is 2019 Wide Receiver Group Best Dak Prescott Has Worked With?
Dak Prescott will be leading the Dallas Cowboys offense for the fourth consecutive year in what has been a very unlikely career. In three seasons, he's led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles and one playoff win. He's done so with quality offenses, starting by a strong offensive line and an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliott. During his career in Dallas he's had some solid receivers, but he hasn't played with a group as strong as the one he'll have in the upcoming 2019 season.
This year's starters will be headlined by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Although there's many other intriguing players to watch at the position, those three are the presumed starting three.
Despite the big debate among fans and analysts, Prescott has been able to win games for this football team. Perhaps his worst came at the beginning of last season, when the team's plan of not having a WR1 backfired terribly.
In the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, Dak averaged only 202 yards per game. In that span he threw for less than 200 yards in four games. Once the team traded for Cooper, that average rose all the way up to 274 yards per game. He threw for less than 200 yards in only one occasion since then.
Michael Gallup is poised for a breakout season after a rookie season in which he improved every week. The Cowboys' 2018 third-round pick didn't get as much playing time at the beginning of the season as he fought for snaps with Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin among others. In the postseason, Gallup caught six passes for 119 yards. He still has a long way to go, but the talent is clearly there.
As for Randall Cobb, many fans have doubts. He's coming in to replace Cole Beasley, who was such an effective slot wide receiver. Cobb's style will likely be different, and although he might not be as good at shaking defenders off as ol' #11, he'll be more of a downfield threat than Beasley.
Comparing this starting group to the ones from prior years, it really seems like the best Dak Prescott has worked with. During his first couple of years in the league, Dak played with a Dez Bryant that (like it or not) wasn't anywhere close to his peak. 2016-2017 Dez wasn't on last year's Amari Cooper's level. Williams had his moments, but wasn't consistent and was well-known as a body-catcher.
This year's group has its question marks, that's for sure. Randall Cobb hasn't played a full season since 2015 due to injuries and Michael Gallup doesn't have a ton of experience and is yet to breakout. Even still, it seems like Prescott will have a great group of pass-catchers to help him lead the Cowboys to another NFC East title. It'll be an interesting fourth year for the young Cowboys quarterback. It's definitely good to see he'll have help.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be bringing back the same key trip of players at offensive tackle from last year. But with talk that 2019 could be La'el Collins' last season in Dallas, will we see signs that the Cowboys are preparing for future changes in how they handle the position in this year's training camp?
With Tyron Smith as an All-Pro fixture at left tackle, and Cameron Fleming re-signed this offseason to be the swing tackle, the intrigue swirls around Collins and his impending free agency in 2020. If the Cowboys have no intention of paying La'el what he can command on the open market, what might they do now to lay the groundwork for Collins' exit?
Here's a quick look at the projected OT depth chart for 2019 camp:
- Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- Cam Fleming, Jake Campos
- Mitch Hyatt, Derrick Puni, Brandon Knight
As was just said, the returning top three are locked in to those spots. Campos is a carryover from last year's practice squad, so that experience gives him a potential edge over the three undrafted rookies.
Back to the top, though, and this situation with La'el Collins. If Dallas had Collins locked up for years to come, they would likely only keep the two starters and Fleming as a backup. A fourth OT is unlikely to be active on game days, and they have Guard Connor Williams' college experience as a tackle in case of an emergency.
If the Cowboys are truly thinking that La'el won't be back in 2020, perhaps they use a roster spot now to hang on to a player who they value for depth next year.
This is where undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt becomes an intriguing figure in this 2019 camp. He comes from a championship college program at Clemson and was projected as a late-round pick this year. Dallas made him a priority free agent signing after the draft.
Of course, Campos, Knight, or Puni have the potential to make some noise as well. But Hyatt would seem to have the most upside of the group, and Dallas might be willing to consider him as a 2020 swing tackle option if he can hit the ground running in camp this year.
Cam Fleming is also going to need to have a strong camp to help the Cowboys' in their strategy. Letting Collins go would be predicated on their comfort level with Fleming as the right tackle next year. If he struggles now, then doesn't get much playing time in the regular season, that would likely shake their confidence.
The final result of all this talk could be that La'el Collins and Dallas actually do figure out a way to continue their relationship. But when the Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of this last draft it felt like a future-pointed move, with Collins' projected departure the likely impetus for the investment.
What we may wind up seeing is McGovern taking over at left guard and allowing Connor Williams to replace Collins at tackle. But that's a discussion better saved for next offseason.
You can read more about La'el Collins impending free agency in this recent article by our own Kevin Brady. A few weeks back, I also discussed the idea that Dallas should trade Collins now rather than lose him as a free agent next year.
For now, the offensive tackles in 2019 should have continuity and stability. But if we really pay attention in this training camp and preseason, we may see signs of what the Cowboys are planning to do at the position in the coming years.
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Randall Cobb Will Be a Different Slot WR for Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys signing Randall Cobb might just be the most underrated move of their offseason. For less than five million dollars, they got an experienced wide receiver who is only 28 years old. The former Green Bay Packer has had a solid career wearing green and yellow and now gets the chance to play with the Cowboys' colors. But what can we expect from the veteran wideout?
There are some players who are absolute locks to make the 53-man roster and Cobb is one of them. That much is clear. On the depth chart, he probably sits behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who will likely be the number one and number two receivers, respectively.
With Cole Beasley departing to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, Cobb is expected to take his place as the offense's starting slot receiver. Cowboys Nation knows very well just how good Beasley was at playing in the slot. His ability to shake defenders off was really impressive and his hands were reliable. However, we might see something different from Cobb.
Yes, it all points toward him playing the same position, but don't expect him to be a Beasley 2.0. This is of course, not a bad thing. Something fans consistently complained about Scott Linehan's offense were the short routes receivers had to run. In Cobb's short time with the Cowboys, we're seeing deeper routes even out of the slot position.
Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com wrote: "the ball to Cobb even playing out of the slot is further down the field. We hadn’t seen that from Cole Beasley and visually it looks different."
This should be exciting for Cowboys fans, specially considering all the positive reviews on new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. What we see from Randall Cobb in 2019 could be very different from what we had seen from Beasley in prior years.
It's also worth mentioning that word is Cobb has quickly developed an important chemistry with his new quarterback, Dak Prescott. Beasley was very important in Prescott's rookie season, when he averaged 52.1 yards per game and accounted for five touchdowns.
While Beasley was an important receiver for Cowboys, he wasn't really known as a team leader. Cowboys reporter Lindsay Cash Draper wrote about Cobb's leadership skills will carry on to the team whether he's doing it intentionally or not. It's always good to have such presences out there on the training field to spark the team.
Randall Cobb won't be this team's #1 guy or anything like that, but he will surely contribute every week. When we look back to this offseason, I believe this signing will look like a great move by the Cowboys' front office.
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