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.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion
The Dallas Cowboys know what they're doing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Not to be outdone by Philadelphia, the Cowboys brought the 2018 Draft to AT&T Stadium, marking the first time the event's been held in an NFL stadium. This made Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch the first player to be drafted on the field he now calls home. Returning home this week after two straight interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons, Vander Esch is far from the controversial pick that drew jeers inside AT&T Stadium on draft night and every bit the star the Cowboys projected him to be.
The ascension of Leighton "Wolf Hunter" Vander Esch as one of the best young linebackers in the game has happened rapidly. LVE played eight man football in high school, tasked to do everything on both sides of the ball before settling into defense as a walk onto the blue turf.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have more than just a plan to play defense without Sean Lee. Thanks to their 19th overall pick they're thriving as one of the best units in the league, making Lee an afterthought.
Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have changed the entire makeup of the Cowboys defense, two young and athletic linebackers that should be roaming the middle of the field for a long time in Dallas.
This is exactly what LVE was able to do on his interceptions of both Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Vander Esch defending well against the pass is probably the least surprising part of his development, as his coverage skills always overshadowed his strength against the run in college.
It just so happens that Vander Esch tallied 63 tackles in eight games before recording his first career interception, establishing himself as an all-around linebacker with no true weakness. Vander Esch has played with the power and block shedding ability that matches his sideline to sideline range and instincts, as opposing offenses have done little to slow the Cowboys new leader on defense.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
This is Vander Esch's first interception, which set up a Cowboys field goal against the Eagles. Watch as Leighton reads the eyes of Wentz through the play, first angling towards his check down throw and then gaining depth to intercept the pass.
The subtle yet effective movements from Vander Esch to undercut Wentz's throw is a fine example of how quickly LVE has picked up on Kris Richard's defense, as well as the next level game speed.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Sunday's interception from Vander Esch was the type of game breaking play the Cowboys needed to separate from the Falcons in hostile territory. Although the Falcons would rally to tie the game after this point, the Cowboys defense became the first to hold Atlanta under 20 points at home this season, thanks in large part to LVE as always.
The smoothness from Vander Esch on this play is exceptional, stepping up into coverage against the running back before sprinting back in position for the turnover. Calvin Ridley, drafted seven picks after Vander Esch, helps Leighton by letting Ryan's pass go through his hands.
Give Vander Esch credit for being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Every week, the rookie finds a way to do something memorable, and in helping the Cowboys earn their first two road wins of 2018 he finally flashed in pass coverage.
The next challenge for the Cowboys defense comes on a short week, against the division leading Washington Redskins. Though they lost starting Quarterback Alex Smith for the season on Sunday, expected to start Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving, it was Running Back Adrian Peterson that gashed the Cowboys for 4.13 yards a carry and 99 total yards in the Redskins week six win over Dallas.
Given what not only Leighton Vander Esch but the rest of the Cowboys defense has shown against the run in recent weeks, all without David Irving and most recently without either Antwaun Woods or Daniel Ross, the Cowboys should certainly be prepared to play for first place in the NFC East on Thursday.
Star Blog6 days ago
Should Cowboys Stick With Xavier Su’a-Filo at Left Guard?
Star Blog6 days ago
How Cowboys Could Regain a 2019 1st-Round Draft Pick
Player News1 week ago
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Next Day Rant: Dak Prescott Shows Big Flaws in Big Win
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Is Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones to be Trusted?
Player News5 days ago
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
Star Blog1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time