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Sean’s Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins’ Improvements, Concerns at LB

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins' Improvements, Concerns at LB

The Dallas Cowboys' 24-20 win over the Oakland Raiders in their 2017 preseason dress rehearsal left us with plenty to digest - including a potentially season ending injury to MIKE linebacker Anthony Hitchens. As expected, the Raiders were a fantastic test for the Cowboys across the board. Dallas' starters remained in the game to some capacity through the first half, until Cooper Rush came in for most of the second half at QB and allowed us to continue evaluating this offense at a high level.

Here are my biggest takeaway's on both sides of the ball in another edition of Sean's Scout.

Sean's Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins' Improvements, Concerns at LB 1

  • La'el Collins keeps finding his way into my notes for the right reasons, and it is because he's done nothing but improve with every rep he gets at RT. Going up against one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Khalil Mack, Collins' ability to flash his athleticism and steer Mack around the pocket multiple times showed off his mental sharpness at the position as well. It is well-known that Dak Prescott struggled as a rookie at sensing pressure off of that left edge as a rookie. With Doug Free as the starter at RT, his struggle was always allowing his rusher to flatten the corner and power right towards Prescott in the pocket. Collins' play with his hands was also improved, as he did not overextend on many blocks. He will be just fine in protecting Dak Prescott this season and allowing him to step up in the pocket when needed.

 

  • Speaking of Dak Prescott, before he gets put in bubble wrap this week against the Houston Texans, his ability to throw the ball with confidence and elite accuracy down the middle of the field continues to be a thing of beauty. On Jason Witten's touchdown, Prescott easily executed a play fake that opened up a throwing lane over the middle for Witten. Being so close to the goal line, the window was still tight with a DB breaking across on Witten. Prescott's accuracy caused the DB to be flat on the play, giving him no chance as #82 simply had to catch it in stride and score. Even more impressively is that Prescott missed some shot plays down the sidelines earlier in that drive, but was able to recover and wear down the middle of the field to keep the offense moving. I'm not sure there's a team in the league right now that feels good enough about their depth in the secondary if asked to defend Dallas' spread looks on offense.

 

  • The Cowboys were 25th in the league last year at yards after the catch, and I expect this number to dramatically increase in 2017. So much of Prescott's early success as a rookie was due to a simplified offense that allowed him to verify every throw with his eyes before he made it. With his pocket presence and movement ability improving by the day, Prescott is hitting his targets in stride all over the field. Brice Butler - who's already been a fan favorite pick for the "breakout player" award - could benefit the most from this, along with of course Cole Beasley, a leaner Dez Bryant, and eventually Ryan Switzer.

 

  • Damontre Moore's two game suspension to start this season is unfortunate, but I am hopeful that by week three he can help ease the loss of David Irving through the following week and continue to play well after that. Rod Marinelli has used him as a jack of all trades, reminding me of Irving in his ability to be disruptive inside and out. Moore may not have the same length, but his first step off the ball is probably unrivaled with these Dallas pass rushers right now. Moore has dominated this preseason with his ability to finish, turning this explosive ability into some bend and power on the edge - forcing a fumble in this game with a sack tightening off the corner.

 

  • Lewis Neal has been just about everything the Cowboys should have expected with their seventh round pick DT Joey Ivie out of Florida. Both may be long shots to make this team, but to this point the UDFA in Neal has outperformed Ivie at the 3T spot with his ability to play with his hands and read blocks. I've been critical of both of these areas in Ivie's game, as he was a penetrating player relying on speed on tape in college. Neal has comparable speed, paired with the physical traits to shoot gaps and rally to the ball down the line.

 

  • It is hard to undermine just how valuable Damien Wilson has been this preseason, and his regular season value may have just increased dramatically with Anthony Hitchens injured last night. I'm not sure if Wilson is this team's every-down MIKE LB, but he was out there nearly all night against the Raiders all over the field. Wilson has been one of the few constants at the LB position for the Cowboys through training camp and the preseason so far, as he's excelled in a scheme that fits his ability to play in space at the correct depth and run hard to the football. Doing this at SAM is even more impressive, as Wilson still possesses the strength to hold the edge at this strong side position. Should he miss time due to a suspension the start the season the Cowboys are going to be in some serious trouble at linebacker.

 

  • This was likely the only chance we'll get this preseason to evaluate the depth the Cowboys have at running back from Ezekiel Elliott all the way down. Elliott received six carries and looked just fine, slashing through even the smallest of holes in the offensive front while continuing to run with speed and power. You have to continue to be pleased with what the stable of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, and Ronnie Hillman are doing, but there is simply not a back on this team that can provide what Elliott does out of the backfield. Alfred Morris has run hard as always, but leaves a lot to be desired in reading his blocks quickly, sticking his foot in the ground, and banging up the field with any balance. Morris typically picks the right hole, but it takes an extra beat compared to Elliott - which leaves him stumbling across the line of scrimmage too many times. As a pass catcher, it was actually Ronnie Hillman that looked like the shiftiest back on this team aside from Zeke, but with limited reps this preseason he faces an uphill battle making the 53 man roster. Ezekiel Elliott's appeal of his six game suspension to start the season is set for Tuesday.

✭✭✭✭✭

Just one more preseason game remains for the Cowboys to evaluate this roster and cut it down to the 53 players that will host the Giants on September 10th. Getting young players, particularly this 2017 draft class, back onto the field during practice this week would be encouraging as most starters will likely sit out the entire game on Thursday night.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: RB Depth On Display, Collins’ Improvements, Concerns at LB" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Star Blog

Could Loaded FA Safety Market Drive Down Earl Thomas’ Value?

Brian Martin

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Could Loaded FA Safety Class Drive Down Earl Thomas' Price Tag?

It's no secret the Dallas Cowboys and Earl Thomas share a mutual interest in one another. Thomas has publicly stated his desire to join America's Team and the Cowboys did their darndest to make that happen last offseason. Nothing ever materialized a year ago, but it's looking as if the stars have finally aligned and a union between the two could merely be just weeks away.

Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys may have dodged a bullet last year when the Seattle Seahawks refused to part ways with their All-Pro safety. Not only would they have had to surrender a high draft pick, but they would've also had to extend Thomas' contract. Fortunately, timing is everything and now the Cowboys might just have to do the latter.

A potential contract between the Cowboys and Thomas is of course what I want to dive in today. I'm not going to get into numbers right now, because it's nearly impossible to project any kind of contract for any safety this offseason, especially for the former Seahawk, Earl Thomas.

Earl Thomas

Free Agent FS Earl Thomas (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Right now, it's a little difficult to know who might have the advantage in contract negotiations, Earl Thomas or the Dallas Cowboys. A lot of times the one that has the leverage, however slight, is the one that gets the better of the deal. As surprising as it may be, the Cowboys might just have the advantage here and I'll tell you why.

First off, this year's market for free agent safeties is pretty stacked with starting caliber players. See below:

  • Earl Thomas
  • Landon Collins
  • Lamarcus Joyner
  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • Adrian Amos
  • Clayton Geathers
  • Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
  • Glover Quinn
  • Tre Boston
  • Kenny Vaccaro
  • George Iloka
  • Jimmie Ward
  • Adrian Phillips

Earl Thomas is obviously the headliner here amongst the free agent safeties, but having so many starting caliber players available could drive down Thomas' market value just a bit. This is especially true when you take into consideration the market for FA safeties just a year ago. It was almost a complete standstill last year, with only Kurt Coleman signing a three-year $16.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Not even the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu could get more than a one-year deal.

With all of these safeties available in free agency, we could be looking at another stingy market. This of course could be good or bad news for the Dallas Cowboys, especially as it pertains to Earl Thomas. Since he is the top FA safety available, everything could once again be at a standstill until he is signed.

Earl Thomas

Free Agent FS Earl Thomas (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Of course, we all know this will ultimately come down to determining Earl Thomas' market value. There is no denying he is still arguably the best free safety in the game today, but there are concerns about his age (30) and the two lower leg injuries he's sustained in the past three years.

Even with the loaded free agent market of starting caliber safeties and Thomas' age and recent injury history, he's still likely to receive a contract that earns him $10 million annually, give or take. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets another four-year deal worth $40 million, $25.7 million guaranteed, with a $9.5 million signing bonus like he signed with the Seahawks back in 2014.

The Cowboys of course would probably find a four-year $40 million deal for Earl Thomas acceptable. They would more than likely frontload the contract with a lot of protection in the details. They have the cap space to make this happen and still be able to sign their own, so money shouldn't be a problem.

Now, whether or not Thomas' market value may dip a little due to all of the above mentioned reasons will be something we will have to wait and find out. Regardless, I'd be a little shocked if Earl Thomas doesn't finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Do you think Earl Thomas' market value will take a little hit this offseason?



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Star Blog

Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors

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Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors

What a difference a receiver makes, right? As Dallas fans, we know the impact of a player who can shake coverage, get open, and catch the ball. How was the season going before the Cowboys pulled the trigger for Amari Cooper in the deal with the Raiders? Cooper proved to be the lightning rod and a turning point in a season that was growing increasingly dismal. Dak Prescott and Cooper went together like peanut butter and jelly, while the Cowboys stormed to a division title and a postseason berth.

Now, imagine all of that times two… maybe even two and a half if Antonio Brown could be had from the Steelers. Scary right? We understand there’s only one ball to go around but that didn’t stop Kevin Durant from joining the Warriors, did it?

As of this writing, the best online sportsbooks like Intertops, are dealing Dallas as the seventh of 16 choices to win the NFC championship at odds of 12-1. Imagine how those odds would shrink if Brown wore a Cowboys uniform next season, giving Prescott the luxury of not one upper echelon wideout but that plus an elite receiver. Hut, hut, hut and a few clouds of smoke later the Cowboys would be moving the chains or celebrating in the endzone.

Brown and Cooper would be a devastating combination with Ezekiel Elliott coming out of the backfield. Brown was made for Dallas, it gives him an even grander stage than the one he shared with Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh.

Despite the fact that the 'Boys haven’t won a Super Bowl since Barry Switzer was roaming the sidelines in the mid-90s, America’s Team still resides in Dallas. But we need a game-changer and Brown is just such an athlete. But what do we give in return and will that cost be worth whatever productive years Brown has left after this one? Let’s not forget that the mercurial Miami native will be 31 when the season begins and men who make a living with their legs don’t get better at that age. But Brown is so good and so unique that, even if he drops half a click, he's still amongst the best in the game.

That level of talent is hard to replicate and it could be the missing piece which allows Dallas to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender next season and the year after.

However, up to this point, we’ve been very good at dreaming of a Brown to Dallas trade but haven’t quite worked out the details. It takes two to tango and if we expect to get the Steelers’ attention we need to give them something valuable in return. Dallas surrendered their first-round pick (27th) this season when they traded for Cooper so that’s no longer an asset.

Pittsburgh would be vying for a first-round pick (and likely more) for Brown's services but some have speculated Dallas would consider dealing rookie-standout Leighton Vander Esch.

Wait... what? We know, you’re clutching your pearls, and the words are stuck in your gasp. We get it. The kid was a home run this past season, leading the Dallas defense in tackles and earning a Pro Bowl invitation in his inaugural NFL season. But this would be a Faustian deal.

The Cowboys give up a player who is poised to be a stud for years to come for a playmaker in Brown that could render a Super Bowl in the immediate future. Brown's expiration date will surely turn his milk sour sooner rather than later, but in the here and now, Antonio Brown could be the bell cow who leads the Cowboys to the promised land before he’s put out to pasture.

Just something to think about...



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Star Blog

2018 In Review: CB Anthony Brown Bounces Back

Kevin Brady

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Anthony Brown's Resurgence A Great Sign for Cowboys Defense
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To say it's been an up-and-down start to the career of young cornerback Anthony Brown would be an understatement.

As a sixth round pick in 2016, everything Brown contributed during his rookie season was a plus. Due to injury he was asked to step into a greater role as the season went on, and he performed well enough to make the front office comfortable allowing multiple veterans to walk for nothing in free agency the following Spring. Brown looked like a legitimate starting cornerback in the league, and when Dallas brought in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during the next draft, the young secondary seemed set.

Then 2017 happened. And Anthony Brown struggled. Really struggled.

These struggles, coupled with the emergence of both Lewis and Awuzie during their own rookie seasons, made Brown's status heading into 2018 rather uncertain. Some wondered if they would trade him for a day three pick, others thought Brown could even end up being cut. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were slated to compete for the nickel cornerback job in training camp, and as it turned out, all Brown needed was that one extra chance to compete.

Brown won the job outright during the preseason, and began 2018 as the starting nickel. A fan favorite, most thought Lewis would reclaim his rightful spot on the depth chart sooner or later, but Anthony Brown's play (and Kris Richard's preferences) kept Lewis on the bench for much of the season.

Simply put, Anthony Brown balled in 2018, and was the Cowboys' second best corner for most of the year. By the end of the season Chidobe Awuzie had regained form, but Brown and Byron Jones were the most consistently reliable corners on the roster all of 2018.

Brown tallied 44 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception in 2018, and finished third on the team in pass breakups with 8. As the slot corner Brown had an excellent season, especially for a former sixth round pick.

Now he enters a contract year, and with the Cowboys having so many guys to pay over the next two offseasons, he could find himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. And if he can keep up his play from last year moving forward, he could be in for a nice payday that Spring.



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