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Sean Lee: Time for the General to Surrender

John Williams

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REPORT: Cowboys LB Sean Lee to Miss Games with Hamstring Injury

“Football is a meritocracy,” said Tony Romo about this time two years ago. He’d just been told that Dak Prescott would remain the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, though Romo was deemed healthy enough to return to action. Well, the Cowboys face a similar situation with another rookie playing excellent football with a veteran on the sideline. The rookie is Leighton Vander Esch and the veteran is Sean Lee.

When Romo stepped aside he issued the words that have become synonymous with who Tony Romo is, “Football is a meritocracy.” As sad as it is when it comes to the end of a player’s career, the time has come for General Lee to wave that white flag as a full-time player in the NFL.

Lee has been one of the best linebackers in the game during his tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, but has always been limited by his body’s inability to stay healthy. In most seasons, the Cowboys haven’t had an adequate replacement for Lee on the depth chart and that led to disastrous outcomes like the Green Bay and Los Angeles games in 2017.  Most years, we’d sit around for weeks telling ourselves, “if the Cowboys can hang in there until Sean Lee gets back, then they’ll be alright.” 

That all seems to be over now. The Dallas Cowboys finally have a player on the depth chart who can adequately, and perhaps more than adequately, replace Sean Lee’s production at the weak side linebacker position in Vander Esch. You don’t have to be a film grinder to see that the 19th overall pick has become a difference maker for the Cowboys and someone you can’t take off the field. He’s the future, but he’s also proving to be the now at WILL for the Dallas Cowboys and the coaching staff as well as Sean Lee need to recognize that. 

Vander Esch has two interceptions in the last two games, won defensive player of the week for his play against the Philadelphia Eagles. Per Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch is second in the NFL among linebackers in tackles and fourth in the NFL in stops. 

He’s been one of the best players on the team this season and shouldn’t come off the field, even for an All-Pro like Sean Lee.  

So the coaches have a difficult decision to make, but with the Dak Prescott-Tony Romo decision as a template, it’s not really a difficult decision. 

It’s time for Sean Lee to take a step back. He’s a leader on the defense whether he’s on the field or on the sideline. He’s a huge asset to the linebacker room in-game preparation, and he can still make plays for you when asked to do so. Lee, however, doesn’t need to see a full-time compliment of snaps when he returns unless we see a drop off in play for Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch’s play and Lee’s body are telling us that the time is now to make the transition to life on defense beyond Sean Lee.

Lee is still an important player to have around and he’ll get some snaps, but the WILL linebacker spot needs to be Leighton Vander Esch’s moving forward. 

Because, after all, “football is a meritocracy.” 



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to make $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 as the fifth-year option to his rookie contract. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/15/2019 1:45 pm.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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Can Xavier Woods Take the Next Step into Dallas Cowboys Stardom?

John Williams

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Xavier Woods' Ascension Will Make Everyone Forget About Earl Thomas 1

The Dallas Cowboys have always been a team that has had lots of star power. Even in their down years in the early 2000s or the 8-8 teams of this decade, the Cowboys have always had names that struck a chord with NFL observers. Heading into the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys have household names on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football, but there are several players who can still take the leap to join that list of stars for America's Team. The staff over at DallasCowboys.com discussed who they thought could be an emerging star for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019.

Surprisingly, none of them mentioned Xavier Woods.

Along with Byron Jones and Anthony Brown, Xavier Woods helped to solidify the Dallas Cowboys secondary that helped the team become one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2018. Woods became a physical playmaking free safety for the team last year and gave the front office and coaching staff enough reason to not make a significant upgrade at the position.

After what the Cowboys didn't do in the offseason, it's obvious that they are confident that Woods will continue to take steps toward being the free safety they've been longing to find since Darren Woodson retired. They felt good enough about Xavier Woods that they opted not to pursue any of the big name free agents in Eart Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins, or Tre Boston. In the draft, with pre-draft visitors Juan Thornhill and Taylor Rapp staring them in the face, the Cowboys instead drafted Trysten Hill to be their 3-tech defensive tackle for now and the future.

Per Pro Football Focus, among safeties that played at least 352 snaps in coverage, Xavier Woods finished tied for sixth in the NFL with a passer rating allowed of 62.8. He was seventh in the NFL among safeties in yards allowed per coverage snap, 10th  in snaps per target, and 12th in snaps per reception allowed at 31.1. Woods allowed the 12th fewest receptions and the seventh-fewest yards in the NFL among safeties. He tied for the team lead with two interceptions on the season to go along with his nine pass deflections, which finished third on the team.

What doesn't show up in the boxscore are the bone-jarring hits that he put on receivers coming over the middle of the field. Several times during the 2018 season did Woods lower the shoulder on a player to separate him from the ball after the reception was made.

Xavier Woods physicality combined with his ability to make plays on the football is something the Dallas Cowboys haven't had in years. If Woods can take another step forward in his play in 2019, there's no reason to think he can't contend for a Pro Bowl spot and be the next player to join the Dallas Cowboys group of stars.



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REPORT: Cowboys DE Randy Gregory to Request Reinstatement on Monday

Jess Haynie

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Randy Gregory

Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan is reporting that Randy Gregory, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive end currently under indefinite suspension, will request a full reinstatement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this coming Monday. Gregory hopes to rejoin the team and be a full participant in Dallas' 2019 Training Camp and preseason.

Last February, Gregory was hit with the suspension after another violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. It is unknown what sort of violation occurred; Randy's probationary status means several different possibilities for what triggered the suspension.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

EXCLUSIVE: Cowboys Gregory To Appeal For Reinstatement To NFL On Monday With Specific Proposed Plan https://t.co/qSx2nf5IQl

The Cowboys have expressed confidence throughout this offseason that Gregory would be able to return for the 2019 season. This may due to the league's softening stance on marijuana use, or their belief in Randy's genuine efforts to confront his issues.

According to Fisher's report:

"The application will include an update on Gregory's process as a result of his in-depth treatment in behavioral and substance-abuse clinics and will feature a continuing "personal responsibility'' plan that will likely have him living with family members in DFW."

If it works out for him, Randy Gregory will return to a much more crowded defensive end position than last year.

The Cowboys have loaded up at DE this offseason. They added veterans Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder, then drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. These four join DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, and Dorance Armstrong as returning players.

Gregory has the talent to be factor regardless of who else is around. Hopefully he's done enough to earn his way back onto the team and avoid future suspensions.



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