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If the Season Started Today (Defense )…

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - Want Hope? Look At The Defense

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what kind of team the Cowboys would be fielding if the season started today. They have 63 players under contract right now, which is ten more than they'll have in Week One. How set are they at some positions, and how much more work is needed at others?

Yesterday we projected what the Cowboys offense would look like using just the players currently signed. We used 24 roster spots, leaving another 24 for the defense (remember, three spots go to kicker, punter, and long snapper). Here's the projection:

DEFENSIVE END

DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Ryan Russell

We're going to assume that the Raiders won't match the contract Dallas just signed Mayowa to. I'm also leaving Randy Gregory off for now as he will be suspended for the first four weeks.

They must be confident in Mayowa if the rumored three-year, $8 million terms of that deal are true. That's about what they were paying Jeremy Mincey, a proven veteran, for the last few years. He at least gives Dallas a rotation piece to go along with the unproven Russell.

Cowboys Blog - 2016 Contract-Year Cowboys: DT David IrvingIrving was getting more work inside last year but could play end if needed. We could also see linebacker Kyle Wilber used as a pass rusher in an emergency.  Obviously, Dallas would rather add at least one more significant player here. They could spend as high as their first-round pick on a defensive end given the uncertainty around Gregory.

 

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Terrell McClain, Chris Whaley

Crawford and Thornton are sure to start next year regardless of what else happens this offseason. The question marks come with the backups. Ideally, Dallas will add a few more ends so that David Irving can remain at tackle where he was excelling last season.

McClain and Whaley are similar in that Dallas has been carrying them for two years now through injury problems. McClain has shown the potential to be an impactful player when healthy but just hasn't stayed available. Whaley is a younger prospect who Dallas has been working to get healthy in the hopes of future contributions. If just one of them can be a factor in 2016, that would be a win for the Cowboys.

 

LINEBACKER

Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha

seanleeDallas could go into next year with this group and feel fairly good about it.  With Lee and McClain returning to their roles there should be open competition for the Sam linebacker role between the remaining players. The rest all provide versatility and value.

The Cowboys could still add a linebacker in the draft. McClain's on just a one-year deal and we know how shaky Lee's health is. If the talent is there then Dallas may take someone to replace McClain next year and bolster their depth now.

CORNERBACK

Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Terrance Mitchell, Deji Olatoye

Until the Cowboys actually do release Carr we have to consider him part of next year's squad. That move likely won't come until after the draft and they've added someone like Jalen Ramsey or at least a player they expect to contribute immediately.

Cowboys Blog - Orlando Scandrick Suspended 4 Games, So Now What?If Scandrick's healthy and ready to go Week One then this is a solid but unexciting group. The issues at defensive end create uncertainty here as we've seen how Carr and Claiborne can struggle when quarterbacks have time to throw. However, there's no guarantee than any rookie corner could walk in and do much better than veterans in their first year.

 

SAFETY

Byron Jones, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath

Lastly, we're assuming that Jones is a safety now and will start next year with Church. That leaves Wilcox and Heath as experienced backups and create a solid foursome here. Perhaps Dallas will end up adding a safety talent and moving Jones back to corner, but I feel pretty good about this being the lineup for 2016.

~ ~ ~

Clearly, things are thinner on defense than offense right now.  Dallas has to add at least one more defensive end they can count on for next year.  Gregory return in Week 5 but could be gone for the entire year with one more illegal substance issue. What's more, he hasn't proven he can be a consistent contributor and likely still needs physical development to stay on the field for long stretches.

The Cowboys could go into next year with their secondary as is but are likely to add talent. Claiborne, Church, Wilcox, and Heath are all on expiring deals. If Scandrick doesn't recover well from his injury then Dallas may have a decision to make on him, too. Despite the worries on the defensive line, I still view Ramsey as a key target for them given what he could offer immediately and going forward.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: LB Kyle Wilber

Jess Haynie

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Kyle Wilber

While not one of the glamour players for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Kyle Wilber has been a steady and reliable asset for six seasons. He is set to be a free agent this offseason, and his return to Dallas is hard to project.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Wilber has only started 16 games but been active for nearly all of them. Even when not having a major part on defense, Kyle has been standout special teams player almost every season.

Dallas saw Wilber's value in 2016 and gave him a two-year extension after his rookie contract expired. Now, though, Kyle turns 29 in April and it may be time to give his roster spot to a younger option with more upside.

It's impressive that Kyle Wilber's lasted this long with the Cowboys. He was drafted to play outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme at that time under Rob Ryan. When Monte Kiffin arrived in 2013 and the switch was made to the 4-3, Wilber was able to transition and stick around for five more seasons.

Cowboys Headlines - Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Wilber's depth value and special teams play earned him $3.25 million over the last two years. Would the Cowboys offer him a similar deal to stick around for another couple of seasons, or is it time to move on?

One factor helping Kyle is that even though Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys promoted from within. Keith O'Quinn has been here since before Wilber's time and knows what he brings to the table. He could push to keep one of his veteran leaders around.

Another consideration is that Dallas isn't flush with linebacker talent at the moment. Anthony Hitchens is a free agent, and if he doesn't return then that only leaves Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson as the known entities.

The Cowboys haven't allowed age to stop them from doing business with Justin Durant the last few seasons. He was 31 when the team signed him last year for veteran depth and insurance.

Could Dallas offer Kyle Wilber a similar deal, one or two years max at a minimal salary, to stick around? It's very possible, and especially if they let him see what free agency has to offer for about a month.

Even if 2017 was the end of his Cowboys run, Wilber has been a success as a fourth-round pick. He's been there when needed and been a leader on special teams. Earning a second contract with your original teams is always an accomplishment.

We'll have to wait and see if he gets a third.


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Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OT Byron Bell

Jess Haynie

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Byron Bell

Offensive tackle became a problem position for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. One guy who helped the situation was veteran backup Byron Bell. He is now a free agent, but Dallas could may be interested in bringing him back next year.

Bell was signed last March to provide depth and insurance on the offensive line. He had experience at both guard and center, starting almost every game since entering the NFL in 2011. Byron had missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury while a member of the Tennessee Titans.

After spending the first part of the year at the bottom of the depth chart, Bell was called into duty after a disastrous performance by Chaz Green in the team's Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith injured, Green got the start and was obliterated by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the tune of six sacks.

Byron got the start the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was clearly better than Green. He would remain the team's swing tackle the rest of the season and got another start in the meaningless Week 17 finale.

Byron Bell, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys OT Byron Bell (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

Now Byron Bell is a 29-year-old free agent. With Chaz Green seemingly a failed experiment, Dallas has to figure out what to do about their depth behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. Could they be in the market to re-sign Bell?

Given his vast starting experience and position flexibility, Byron may have some other suitors in free agency. Offensive linemen age slower than other positions, so 29 isn't the same mark of death that a running back or corner might deal with.

A likely scenario here is that Dallas, assuming they'd like to have Bell back at all, would let him test free agency and then hopefully re-sign him later in the offseason to a minimal contract. Like last year, he would make sense for insurance at the position and especially if the team is going to part ways with Green.

What's more, Byron has increased value after a year in the Cowboys system. Also, in 2017 he was coming off an entirely missed season with the ankle injury. He's a more attractive asset in 2018.

That increased value could be seen by other teams, too. While Bell has had his ups and downs, he's accomplished enough that his name will be noticed among other free agents. A team with major needs on the offensive line might even consider him to compete for a starting job.

We don't know what the Cowboys' interest level is in bringing Byron Bell back, but they may have competition for his services. Given the role he filled to finish 2017, he could wind up an underrated free agent departure this offseason.


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4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster

Sean Martin

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4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster 2

Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.

All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.

4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin

TE Blake Jarwin

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.

Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.

The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.

Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.

4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir, QB Cooper Rush

WR Lance Lenoir

This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.

By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.

Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.

The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.

DT Datone Jones

A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.

Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.

The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.

DT Lewis Neal

Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.

The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.

Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.

Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.

Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.

Tell us what you think about "4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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