The second half of the 2017 season has left much of Cowboys Nation questioning just how good this roster actually is. Fans are now wondering very loudly if Dak Prescott really is the quarterback of the future, if Scott Linehan deserves to still be employed, and if there is enough talent in the receiving corps to threaten opposing defenses.
And, for the most part, rightfully so.
The Cowboys faltered weekly offensively during Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, and things didn't get better when he did return against Seattle. While I still sit firmly on the Dak Prescott bandwagon, 2018 remains a "prove-it" year for much of the offensive personnel and coaching staff.
But for the first time in a long time, we enter a new season with hope on the other side of the ball. For years, it has been the defense which has "failed" great Cowboys offenses. During the 8-8 years we often saw heroics from Tony Romo and the offense, only for the opposing team to have one last possession to win the game.
For far too long the Cowboys secondary has been average at best, their linebackers have been inconsistent (besides Sean Lee), and their pass rush has been nearly nonexistent. But while the offense faltered at the end of 2017, the defense shined.
And this defense, with the right development and decisions, is very close to being at the top of the league.
Of course there is the pass rush. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence the Cowboys defensive line was able to cause disruption all throughout the 2017 season, and with David Irving returning healthy and available things should be the same this season. Taco Charlton has another year of work under his belt as well, and if Randy Gregory can get reinstated this defensive line is suddenly a scary unit for opposing offenses.
In the back end the Cowboys have completely revamped their roster, and now look to begin to take their final form. By hiring former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys are beginning to fit their players to their coaches to create a long and athletic secondary group.
Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones could play the roles of 2013 Seattle cornerbacks in a movie about their Super Bowl run, and hopefully they can emulate their play style on the actual field as well. Jourdan Lewis possesses the versatility to play in the slot and on the outside, Xavier Woods has a chance to be this team's future free safety, and both Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier made strides in 2017.
While the Cowboys were shoring up the two most important position groups on a defense over the past few years, they've also made an attempt to turnover their linebacker group as well. Sean Lee remains the glue that holds the unit together, but the Cowboys have made an effort to improve their linebackers this offseason.
Of course, they drafted Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 draft, but Jaylon Smith's development will be vital to their success as well. Both of these players are fast, athletic, and rangy when at their best, giving the Cowboys some flexibility in their front seven.
The Cowboys made smart, cost-efficient moves to improve their offense this offseason, and I am certainly hopeful in the development of quarterback Dak Prescott.
But for the first time in a long time, when Cowboys fans look for a reason to be excited about the upcoming season, they may want to look at their defense first. Because the front office is in the middle of building a monster unit.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Graduating From Notre Dame
The 2019 season is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys, with OTA's and training camp getting ready to kickoff in the coming weeks/months.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith made the most of his offseason, going back to Notre Dame to finish out his college degree. Smith is set to graduate from Notre Dame this Saturday, and will walk to earn his degree in Film & Television.
Smith talked to DallasCowboys.com's David Helman about why it was so important for him to graduate and finish what he started at Notre Dame.
“When I left after my junior year, I promised my mom that I would go back and finish...Finishing my third year with the Cowboys, it was time.” - Jaylon Smith
2,025 @NotreDame undergraduates will receive degrees during Commencement Weekend. That contingent includes @thejaylonsmith Yes, the current @dallascowboys & former @NDFootball All-American linebacker, who took 21 credits this spring #4for40 #GraduatingChampions #CEV
Smith continues his leadership on and off the field, and we all send our congratulations to the Cowboys starting MIKE linebacker!
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