Listen to an audio version of this article on Bumpers!
When the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants officially begin play this Sunday Night on Sunday Night Football, a few things need to be considered:
- With a victory the Cowboys will secure the 2016 NFC East Championship.
- If this victory is compounded with a loss by Detroit or Seattle, the Cowboys will secure a First-Round Bye as well.
- If this victory is compounded with a loss by Detroit and Seattle, the Cowboys will secure Home-Field Advantage through the NFC Playoffs.
There is one more thing that will be true on Sunday Night that you need to be aware of... January 14th, 2017 will be 34 days away.
Why Is January 14th, 2017 Important?
What's going on 14 days into the New Year, you ask? Well that likely-cloudy day is the Saturday that the 2016 Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs begins (two games are played Saturday, the other two the next-day Sunday).
Why is this important, RJ? I'm focused on RIGHT NOW. Giants on Sunday Night, it's Christmas season, life is good... what does the Divisional Round have to do with NOW?
If the Dallas Cowboys do in fact clinch everything that a team can in regards to the playoffs this Sunday Night, that means that they will be playing consequence-free football for 34 days. This stretch includes games against Tampa Bay, those very Lions, in Philadelphia, and a week of rest during the Wild Card Round. Do we really want to go that long? 34 days?!
Could The Cowboys Keep Up "Momentum" For 34 Days With Nothing On The Line?
This is why sports are awesome... because we get to talk about things like this.
It would no doubt be a tall order for the impending Coach of the Year in Jason Garrett to keep his Dallas Cowboys locked in for over a month. It would be a tall order for any coach. It certainly would help the cause that Dallas would be playing Tampa Bay and Detroit - both of whom are playoff teams through Week 13 - and that one of the two could come trotting through AT&T Stadium when it really matters in January, but would that be enough to keep everyone focused?
There is zero, and I mean absolutely zero, reason to doubt Jason Garrett at this point as far as our Cowboys are concerned. He has made it abundantly clear that he knows what he's doing and is capable of winning a ton of football games (like 11 in a row, ya know?).
How Do Teams In A Situation Like The "34 Days Conundrum" Typically Fare?
After combing through teams in similar sets of circumstances that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys currently find themselves in, I kept coming back to one team who has seemingly lived this life before - The 2009 Indianapolis Colts.
What's pretty neat is that those Colts scored 27 points in Week 2, 31 points in Week 3, and 35 points in Week 10... these Cowboys did just that this season. I know that's weird and random, but I liked it - and I'm driving this ship at the moment so, Huzzah.
Anyway, the truly interesting common denominator is that the Colts clinched Home-Field Advantage in the AFC after a Week 14 victory over the Denver Broncos. That game took place on December 13th, 2009 and the Colts' next consequence-carrying game wasn't until January 16th, 2010... 34 days later.
What Can We Do To Avoid The "34 Days Conundrum"?
At the end of the day, you want to win every game you play. That's common sense.
If the Lions and Seahawks both happen to lose and the Cowboys clinch... well, alright. Jason Garrett has shown that he can guide this team through multiple levels of adversity at various points across the season.
What we may want to consider though as Cowboys fans, is rooting for Detroit and/or Seattle this coming Sunday. Should one/both of them win then the Cowboys won't be playing "consequence-free" football for at least one week as any win between then and the end of the regular season would net Home-Field Advantage. What's ironic is that the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions who we're contemplating rooting for, Jim Caldwell, knows all about the "34 Days Conundrum" as he was also the Head Coach of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts that we referenced.
A "27 Day Conundrum" - which could be the case if this all gets postponed a week by Detroit and/or Seattle - isn't ideal either, but it at least numerically isn't as as daunting as 34. It would be silly though to "lose on purpose" simply to try and thread a ridiculous needle to go one way because we're scared of something. You play to win and you deal with what happens afterwards.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Star Blog2 weeks ago
4 Decisions That Could Shape Cowboys 2018 Season
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Ex-Giants Coach Ben McAdoo Talks Trash About Cowboys
Star Blog1 week ago
Would Trading La’el Collins for Earl Thomas Make Sense?
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
Star Blog7 days ago
True or False: Sifting Through the Cowboys Trade Rumors
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Kris Richard Allows Cowboys to be Patient on Earl Thomas
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
What’s Left for Cowboys to Offer in Deal for Earl Thomas?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Who Replaces Dez Bryant as Cowboys Red Zone Threat?