One thing has been clear after two games, though. Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback on the team.
Finally healthy and able to play to his potential, Claiborne is on track to maximize his "prove it" opportunity this season. An unrestricted free agent in 2017, Claiborne may wind up being one of the better options on the market.
Naturally, the Cowboys must be wondering if they want to compete with other clubs or go ahead and lock up Claiborne now. Here are the major pros and cons.
PRO: Keep the Price Down
Claiborne's 2016 deal starts at just $2.7 million with roughly another million in incentives. His rookie salary in 2012 was almost $3 million. It's little more than half of what he made last year.
Claiborne has never had a "payday" by NFL cornerback standards. Despite his struggles since entering the league, this is still a guy who once went sixth in his draft class. Claiborne no doubt envisioned having a $10-$15 million per-year contract one day.
Last Spring, 28-year-old Josh Norman got five-year, $75 million deal from Washington. Janoris Jenkins, 27-years-old, got $62.5 million over five years from the Giants. Even at 29-year-old, Shaun Smith got a four year, $40 million contract from Oakland.
Claiborne will have just turned 27 when free agency opens next year. He will be a former sixth-overall pick who may have just had a breakout season. Claiborne will want to get paid, and he probably won't have to look hard for a willing employer.
Dallas should be able to get a discount if they can re-sign Claiborne sooner rather than later. Not only do they keep him from improving his resume, but the Cowboys also can use Claiborne's own health history to their advantage.
After so many physical issues, Claiborne must be worried that any single play could wreck his comeback year. Betting on himself is a huge gamble. Claiborne may be willing to jump at a modest long-term deal rather than roll the dice on making through the season.
CON: Current Health Could be Fool's Gold
Claiborne's history with injuries is a double-edged sword. While it's something Dallas might be able to use as leverage, it could also come back to bite them if he winds up hobbled or unavailable for the next few seasons.
Reclamation projects happen often in the NFL, but often when a new team tries to give a failed early-round pick a second chance. Dallas did this with offensive tackle Marc Colombo back in 2005. He wound up being a fixture at right tackle for the next five seasons.
Dallas went into an internal reclamation project by re-signing Claiborne. So far he's looking like another success, but there's still a lot of football to be played.
PRO: Stability at Transitioning CB Position
Brandon Carr is likely playing his final year as a Cowboy. Orlando Scandrick turns 30 next year and is having some worrisome health problems this season.
Keeping Morris Claiborne around may be necessary just to help stabilize the cornerback position while dealing with these other players. You need at least three quality corners in the modern NFL.
Even if Anthony Brown develops into a quality player, counting on him too much in 2017 seems foolhardy. Dallas will need to add talent to replace Carr and, at the most, see Brown as the insurance against further decline from Scandrick.
If they don't retain Claiborne, the Cowboys could have two big holes at cornerback to solve in one offseason. That would be a major hindrance to their leverage and limit available resources for other needs.
CON: Inflated Value from Cowboys Weak CB History
Saying Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback in Dallas is great, but may be dangerous reasoning. It's like determining the most talented Kardashian or the best thing Stephen A. Smith ever said. You're working from a low bar.
I've always felt that Orlando Scandrick's value has been exaggerated for this same reason. Yes, he's a quality player and very good out of the slot. But even most of us in Cowboys Nation know he's not one of the the top corners in football. Still, he gets held on a bit of pedestal in internal discussions.
Claiborne's value could be similarly inflated. We haven't seen great cornerback play around here since the best days of Terence Newman.
Ironically, Newman went underrated as a Cowboy. I think this was due to the lingering shadow of Deion Sanders. Some especially bad years at the position in 2010-2011 caused us to finally lower the bar.
Now, we can easily mistake competence for brilliance. Claiborne can have a great year from our perspective but perhaps not one that should earn him a big payday by the league's standard.
~ ~ ~
It's hard to have a firm opinion on this as it involves information we don't know. How confident is the Cowboys medical staff in Morris Claiborne's long-term health? How is he grading out on the plays not captured by the TV camera?
How important is money to Claiborne over remaining a Dallas Cowboy?
The factors all make Morris Claiborne one of the most interesting figures of the 2016 season. Dallas has moved money around one some other veteran deals to create cap space. Working out a long-term deal with Claiborne may have been one of the moves they were anticipating.
Then again, maybe both parties want to wait the full season to see where they stand. Claiborne could easily want to have his free agency experience and get the kind of money he, his family, and his agent all imagined he would one day make.
For now, I'm glad we're at least able to have the discussion.
Michael Jackson Could Make Things Interesting at Nickel Corner
In a passing league, you can never have too many bodies in your secondary. By the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, the Dallas Cowboys had addressed both their offensive and defensive lines, as well as the backup running back position. It was time to add more depth at cornerback and with the 158th pick Michael Jackson was selected.
Currently Anthony Brown has the inside track to be the lead dog at that Nickel Cornerback, but his play has dropped off before in the past. Jourdan Lewis is right behind him still trying to find his place in the team's defensive system. Jackson is in the perfect position to make his move up the depth chart, and here are a few reasons why.
First, he has all the measurables needed to succeed in the Cowboys defensive scheme. At 6'1 210 pounds, with a 40.5-inch vertical, 32.5-inch arms and 4.4 speed he's definitely an early Christmas present for Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, and more specifically Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. Long and physical corners are what built the infamous "Legion of Boom" in Seattle under his watch.
His ability to be effective in press coverage is a huge tool in his bag. He does an excellent job jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. So much so, that quarterbacks only completed 5 out of 18 passes on go routes against Jackson last season at Miami. Good for a passer rating of 54.4 and a completion percentage of 27.7, with no touchdowns allowed.
Lastly, his versatility brings his skill set full circle. In addition to playing in the slot, he can also line up on the outside. This gives the Cowboys insurance if something catastrophic happens to the team's starters Byron Jones and Chido Awuzie. It doesn't stop there, however, as his stature gives him the added bonus of transferring to safety if need be. So many possibilities to work with.
The rookie hasn't wasted time impressing Kris Richard as the preparations for the upcoming season have kicked off.
"Very pleased with him. Intelligent. Picks up a lot of things quick. I think he's got corner and nickel combo ability for us. Obviously, the more you can do, the more value you present for yourself," Richard said.
As training camp approaches, Michael Jackson has his opportunity to compete. Every snap must be played like it's his last if he wants to be a big contributor in 2019. There's no lack of skill, only experience, and reps, which he'll get plenty of in late July until the season starts. The stage is set for him to possibly add his name next to starting Free Safety Xavier Woods as another late round steal for the Cowboys secondary.
Michael Gallup is Primed for Breakout Sophomore Season
Heading into the 2018 season the Dallas Cowboys had big questions at the wide receiver position with the departure of Dez Bryant. They elected not to go for the flashy names like Maryland's D.J. Moore or Alabama's Calvin Ridley, but instead took Colorado State Wide Receiver, Michael Gallup 81st overall.
Even without the hype of other bigger named receivers coming out of college, Gallup's resume was enough to impress Head Coach Jason Garrett. "There's a lot to like about him. He's big, he's athletic, he plays the game the right way. He's been a productive player for them, doing a lot of different kinds of things. We feel like he has real upside, too. A lot of qualities that you want in a young receiver, in a developmental receiver. But a lot of production, too. He had opportunities there and took advantage of them throughout his career," Garrett said.
Once the season started, however, it was apparent that it would take some time to build the chemistry and trust with Quarterback Dak Prescott. The lack of a true number one receiver wasn't doing the first talent any favors as he tried to figure out his role on the team. Gallup would be targeted just 15 times in the first 5 games, only registering 6 receptions. But fortunately for the newbie, help was on the way.
During the team's bye week in October, they acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and it worked wonders for Gallup and his development. Weeks 11 through 14 saw him targetted 27 times. This was significant considering the Cowboys were in the midst of a 5-game winning streak after a 3-5 start. Prescott's trust and belief in Gallup were starting to come together as the team made a run at the NFC East crown and a playoff berth.
He would finish with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. Once the postseason rolled around Gallup had firmly established himself as the team's second option behind Amari Cooper.
Gallup would make his first playoff start in the divisional round against the Rams in Los Angeles. Although the Cowboys season wouldn't survive this contest, one of the positives was the play of the first year pass catcher. He finished with 6 receptions for 119 yards, and a tidal wave of momentum heading into 2019.
There's a major change coming to the Cowboys offensive philosophy this season, thanks to newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. The new puppet master of the offense has made it clear he's open to listening to suggestions from the players and staff on what they feel will take the offense into another orbit. "At the end of the day, work together with everyone. I think that includes the coaching staff, obviously coach Garrett and the rest of his staff. I think you also got to get some input from the players. It doesn't mean you have to go down those roads all the time, but I think it's important that when a player believes in something and they're pretty convinced on it, usually they find a way to make it work," Kellen Moore said.
With a season already under his belt with Prescott, and an open-minded first-year offensive coordinator willing to abandon the prehistoric ways of the Scott Linehan era, Gallup's development will only improve with each snap.
Unlike the beginning of his rookie season, Michael Gallup knows exactly what his role with the Cowboys is going forward. Amari Cooper is the main option, and with him drawing double teams regularly, the opportunities for Gallup to have a major impact in year two are endless. Not to mention, the added addition of Randall Cobb to the Cowboys passing game just made life even easier for him. Now teams not only have to roll coverage to Cooper, but the threat of Cobb in the slot creates a lot of one-on-ones on the outside for Gallup.
The size, speed, and athleticism are all there for this young man. Now, with a more innovative offensive scheme coming into play, and growing trust between himself and Dak Prescott, the 2019 season is shaping up to make Michael Gallup a household name.
Is Amari Cooper the Most Important Contract for Cowboys to Finalize?
Most of the offseason contract chatter, once DeMarcus Lawrence's contract was signed, began to focus on the next group of stars due for big-time money, most notably Quarterback Dak Prescott. For good reason as the quarterback is generally regarded as the most important player on the team. While Prescott has been important to the team's success over the last three seasons, few players made as much of an impact on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys than Amari Cooper.
The Dallas Cowboys front office is working on deals for Prescott and Cooper. Both will get new contracts at some point before they're scheduled to hit free agency in March of 2020, but one could argue that getting Amari Cooper's deal done is more important than Dak Prescott's.
Prior to the arrival of Amari Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys offense struggled and was inconsistent. In the seven games prior to the trade that brought Cooper to Dallas, the Cowboys went 3-4 and scored more than 20 points only three times. In wins over the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and Jacksonville Jaguars they averaged 28.67 points per game, highlighted by a 40 point outburst against the Jaguars in week six. In their four losses on the season they averaged 13.5 points per game. Over the first seven games, they averaged 20 points per game.
In the nine games, the Dallas Cowboys played with Amari Cooper, the Cowboys averaged 22 points per game. They scored more than 20 points in all but three games; losses to the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts and a win over the New Orleans Saints.
If you remove the 40 point game against the Jaguars from the scoring average over the first seven games and the shutout loss to the Colts from the scoring average over the final nine games, the scoring average changes dramatically. Without the Jaguars game, the Cowboys only averaged 16.67 points per game in the other six contests, decreasing their scoring average by more than three points per game. Conversely, if you remove the shutout loss to the Colts from the scoring average over the last nine games, the Cowboys averaged 24.87 points per game. That's nearly a three-point difference.
Even if you remove the best (week 17 against the Giants) and worst (week 15 against the Colts) games of the final nine games from the scoring average, the Cowboys averaged 23.3 points per game. removing the best (week six against the Jaguars) and worst (week one against the Panthers) games from the first half of the season, the Dallas Cowboys averaged only 18.4 points per game in the other five games.
So Amari Cooper was worth between two and 4.9 points per game. That may not seem like a lot, but that's a huge difference in a league where so many games come down to a single score.
The impact offense as a whole is noticeable, but what about on Dak Prescott.
Dak Prescott only averaged 202 passing yards per game and had a passer rating of 87.4 with eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in the first seven games prior to Amari Cooper's arrival. Prescott only completed 62.14% of his passes in the first seven games of the season.
Over the final nine games of the season, Dak averaged 274 passing yards a game, threw for 14 touchdowns and only threw four interceptions. Prescott had a passer rating of 103 and completed 71% of his passes.
In the first half of the season, Prescott only had a passer rating over 100 two times, while he had a passer rating under 90 three times. Over the final nine games with Amari, Prescott had a passer rating over 100 six times and had only two games with a passer rating under 90.
Not only did Amari Cooper make a significant impact on the passing game, but the running game led by Ezekiel Elliott saw a dramatic increase in his production once Amari Cooper arrived.
In the first seven games of the season, Ezekiel Elliott averaged only 19 carries a game and 88.4 yards rushing per game. He was averaging 4.69 yards per carry. Through the air, Elliott caught 3.6 passes per game for only 25 yards with seven yards per reception.
After Cooper's arrival, Elliott got more opportunities and found more room to run as well. he averaged 21.5 carries per game, rushed for 101.9 yards per game. He more than doubled his receptions per game with 6.5 and averaged 49 yards receiving per game, nearly doubling his first half of the season totals.
It's no coincidence that the run and pass games saw increased production after bringing in one of the better young receivers in the NFL. The overall impact of Amari Cooper led to the Dallas Cowboys going on a 7-2 run to finish the season to win the NFC East. Prior to the trade, the team looked dead in the water. After the trade Dak Prescott looked like a completely different quarterback. The team was hitting big plays, converting on third downs, and scoring tons of points on the way to winning lots of games.
Dak Prescott is going to get his contract finalized, of that, I have no doubt. While I feel good about his upward trajectory as a player, I feel a lot better about it knowing that Amari Cooper is about to get a contract too.
Amari Cooper is an excellent talent. His route running precision makes opposing defensive backs look foolish and the separation he creates makes a quarterback's job that much easier. Cooper is like having Cole Beasley in Dez Bryant's body with sub-4.4 speed.
Just turning 25 years old, Amari Cooper is one of the bright young stars at the wide receiver position and is about to enter his prime. Unlike players like Dez Bryant, who rely on physicality and athleticism, Cooper is going to age much more gracefully as route running is one of those things that doesn't drop off near as quickly as athleticism. Just look at Jason Witten.
The Dallas Cowboys need to not mess around with Amari Cooper. Because having him for his prime and for the same timeframe that you are extending your franchise quarterback will make the next six years of their respective careers much more productive. The best way to take care of your franchise quarterback is to give him an offensive line to protect him. The second best way is to give him a wide receiver that can get open for him.
Amari Cooper is a quarterback's best friend and will be worth every penny he gets in a contract extension. In the Cowboys 2018 run to the playoffs, there were few players as important to that success as Amari Cooper. In this offseason of contract extensions and signings, few still, are as important to the Cowboys success as Amari Cooper.
Get him signed, so he can go play football.
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