In this week’s addition of The Less Than Stellar Side of Sunday, I discredited to a degree the Cowboys wins so far this year. My prevailing point was based on the fact that the oppositions' collective win / loss ratio thus far amounts to 3 wins and 8 losses. Given the mediocre returns the Cowboys have had over the last 3 years, we should somewhat expect the Cowboys to beat teams with losing records.
Granted, many of the national and local media personalities have indicated their expectations were much worse, citing the Cowboys' lack of ability to address the defense with talent due to cap restraints and being beaten to the punch on draft day, the defensive coordinator switch, and the loss of Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware to free agency and Sean Lee to injury over the off-season.
Be that as it may, while the defense has not been dominant by any stretch of the imagination, they have been opportunistic with the way they are attacking the ball and they have managed to slow opposing offenses down when stops have been critical.
Transversely, the offense has dominated every aspect of the game, both in the trenches, on the ground and in the air, maintaining extended drives, which has allowed the defense to continuously play at their best even if their best is considered average. It hasn’t all been pretty; Romo did have a slow start that had me questioning whether or not Father Time had finally caught up to him.
All in all, though, the Cowboys faithful do have several reasons to be hopeful a fourth of the way into the season, even if I still contend we should do so cautiously.
Ground and Pound
Garrett and Linehan continuously preached it throughout this past off-season – they were going to be more balanced and so far they have delivered. The issue early on for many fans is this speech was nothing new. Garrett has said something similar every year and every year until this season that balance never seemed to materialize. Opposing defenses were able to dictate the offense by simply stacking the box, which forced Romo into his familiar refrain: “Kill, kill, kill,” only to see that same defense drop back in coverage.
This season, be it due to Garrett having more confidence in the offensive line or Scott Linehan’s magical touch calling plays, the 'Boys are force-feeding the run even when teams are stacking 9 in the box to stop it. As the season has progressed, we have seen Romo resist the temptation to attack defenses early, leaving the play action kill shots for critical moments, as opposed to becoming predictable with his sight adjustments pre-snap.
There are questions still floating around this team, for certain, but the offensive line is not one of them. Not only are they using their combination of physicality and athleticism to impose their wills on defenses, but they are doing so with excellent technique and timing on their pulls. Given the average age of 25 – offset quite a bit by Doug Free at 30 – the Cowboys are looking set up front for the next 5 years.
Finally, there is DeMarco Murray; presently leading the league in rushing yards with 534, a difference of 156 yards from the running back 2nd on the list. Say what you will about his durability, considering his injury history, there is no denying his ability. He is a violent runner, who also can be elusive when the situation demands – a very rare quality to have in a running back with his size and strength.
Against the Rams and Saints, there were only two plays that come to mind that reminded me of the Romo of old; in the two weeks prior against the Titans and 49ers it looked as though that act had made its final disappearance. Whether the decline in Romdini appearances is due to the lack of necessity given the offensive line or his lack of ability owing to his back issues, it is still nice to see every now and then.
But the true beauty and reason for hope for this season is the fact that Romo doesn’t necessarily have to be the same Romo for this team to have success; the onus is no longer on him to will this team to victory. In years previous, Romo dropped back with the understanding that he only had an average of 2 to 3 seconds to release the ball or create time with his signature spin move. Thus far, Romo has not needed to force the issue hoping his receivers can make the play; he has been granted the ability to sit back and pick his spots.
DeMarco Murray and the tight ends deserve praise, as well. The blitz pick up is clearly an underrated attribute to their game and they have done so with surprising effectiveness thus far this season. The most important undertaking for this team is keeping Romo healthy and yet, unfortunately, it is the most thankless of jobs in the NFL. But if Romo is still standing after week 17, playoffs or not, a big thank you from the Cowboys fandom needs to be expressed to the big uglies - running backs and tight ends - for their contribution to that objective.
The most celebrated of any football team are the skill players on the offensive side of the ball. Yet another unquestionable strength of this team is obviously the trio of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray. For many defensive coordinators, that list of names alone would yield sleepless nights. Slowly and quietly, Terrance Williams is proving he is not a receiver that can be consistently covered by one man. He runs crisp routes and he catches the ball through adversity. He is not the fastest guy on the field and he is not a threat to score from anywhere he touches the ball, but he will go get that football, which is all Romo needs to make defenses pay for trying to shut down Dez/Witten/Murray.
Cole Beasley has not had as many touches as I would have guessed, but, nevertheless, his reputation precedes him. A receivers reputation is a significant attribute to how an offense installs their game plan. Because he excels with slants and out routes, Beasley is now serving as a clear-out tool to open up passing lanes. Because Beasley is a mismatch for linebackers you will often see a safety climb up into the flats or into the box to try to break on Beasley’s route. Doing so places the outside receivers in one-on-one coverage. Should Romo get his deep ball back, as the season progresses, this attribute alone could be a significant reason the Cowboys are able to put teams away in the later stages of games.
Strength in Numbers
The Cowboys defensive line is devoid of household names. Not one player in particular has stood out through four games, and yet the results have been undeniable. This defense is doing just enough in every category a defense is measured by to ensure success. The key for Marinelli has been to ensure the defensive line stays fresh and strong throughout the game and has done so by continuously rotating players in and out of the lineup. The advantage in having no-names and simply a group of players that are willing to go to work every down is that opposing offensive coordinators cannot key on any one player to focus on as they did with the likes of DeMarcus Ware throughout his career and Jason Hatcher to a limited extent in 2013.
If you were to ask Marinelli one improvement he would like to see in the stat sheet going forward, it would be an increase of sacks. In this regard, the Cowboys have struggled ranking 23rd in the league with 5 on the year as a team. They are not exactly stingy with yards allowed either ranking 25th with an average of 379.8 yards per game. Truth be told, of all stats that can be misleading, sacks and yards allowed top the list.
The two stats that are critical to a defense are turnovers (ranked 16th in turnover differential) and points allowed (10th allowing an average of 21.5 per game). With the offense presently ranked 4th in the league in average points per game (28.8), the two aforementioned stats have been the key to the Cowboys defensive success. If they can continue to be at least average in points allowed and remain positive in turnover differential and the offense continues their current trend, these Cowboys will be in the playoffs, regardless of their ability to get to the QB and offensive yards surrendered.
Where fandom can derive some hope for the remainder of the season is the fact that help is on the way. Anthony Spencer returned to the field this past Sunday in limited fashion and his impact should gradually increase as he gets his football legs back. DeMarcus Lawrence – the Cowboys highly regarded 2nd round pick this year – will be returning in the 2nd half of the season, though given his time away from practice and the missed training camp, we can expect some growing pains. Amobi Okoye and Josh Brent are also potential mid-season additions and could add valuable time to the defensive line rotation.
The Great Wall
The single most contributing factor to all of the above is the offensive line; every aspect of the Cowboys play that has been improved starts up front with the big uglies playing strong and smart on a consistent basis. Why has the run game been so ridiculously successful? It starts up front. Why has the pass steadily improved over four games? It starts up front. Why has the defense been able to play with intensity for four quarters? It starts up front. And that is why the Cowboys started four years ago focusing on fixing the offensive line. With the addition of Zach Martin, the Cowboys are finally seeing that commitment yield spectacular results and also why the Cowboys fandom can have hope not just for this season but for many seasons to come.
Could Loaded FA Safety Market Drive Down Earl Thomas’ Value?
It's no secret the Dallas Cowboys and Earl Thomas share a mutual interest in one another. Thomas has publicly stated his desire to join America's Team and the Cowboys did their darndest to make that happen last offseason. Nothing ever materialized a year ago, but it's looking as if the stars have finally aligned and a union between the two could merely be just weeks away.
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys may have dodged a bullet last year when the Seattle Seahawks refused to part ways with their All-Pro safety. Not only would they have had to surrender a high draft pick, but they would've also had to extend Thomas' contract. Fortunately, timing is everything and now the Cowboys might just have to do the latter.
A potential contract between the Cowboys and Thomas is of course what I want to dive in today. I'm not going to get into numbers right now, because it's nearly impossible to project any kind of contract for any safety this offseason, especially for the former Seahawk, Earl Thomas.
Right now, it's a little difficult to know who might have the advantage in contract negotiations, Earl Thomas or the Dallas Cowboys. A lot of times the one that has the leverage, however slight, is the one that gets the better of the deal. As surprising as it may be, the Cowboys might just have the advantage here and I'll tell you why.
First off, this year's market for free agent safeties is pretty stacked with starting caliber players. See below:
- Earl Thomas
- Landon Collins
- Lamarcus Joyner
- Tyrann Mathieu
- Adrian Amos
- Clayton Geathers
- Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
- Glover Quinn
- Tre Boston
- Kenny Vaccaro
- George Iloka
- Jimmie Ward
- Adrian Phillips
Earl Thomas is obviously the headliner here amongst the free agent safeties, but having so many starting caliber players available could drive down Thomas' market value just a bit. This is especially true when you take into consideration the market for FA safeties just a year ago. It was almost a complete standstill last year, with only Kurt Coleman signing a three-year $16.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Not even the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu could get more than a one-year deal.
With all of these safeties available in free agency, we could be looking at another stingy market. This of course could be good or bad news for the Dallas Cowboys, especially as it pertains to Earl Thomas. Since he is the top FA safety available, everything could once again be at a standstill until he is signed.
Of course, we all know this will ultimately come down to determining Earl Thomas' market value. There is no denying he is still arguably the best free safety in the game today, but there are concerns about his age (30) and the two lower leg injuries he's sustained in the past three years.
Even with the loaded free agent market of starting caliber safeties and Thomas' age and recent injury history, he's still likely to receive a contract that earns him $10 million annually, give or take. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets another four-year deal worth $40 million, $25.7 million guaranteed, with a $9.5 million signing bonus like he signed with the Seahawks back in 2014.
The Cowboys of course would probably find a four-year $40 million deal for Earl Thomas acceptable. They would more than likely frontload the contract with a lot of protection in the details. They have the cap space to make this happen and still be able to sign their own, so money shouldn't be a problem.
Now, whether or not Thomas' market value may dip a little due to all of the above mentioned reasons will be something we will have to wait and find out. Regardless, I'd be a little shocked if Earl Thomas doesn't finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Do you think Earl Thomas' market value will take a little hit this offseason?
Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors
What a difference a receiver makes, right? As Dallas fans, we know the impact of a player who can shake coverage, get open, and catch the ball. How was the season going before the Cowboys pulled the trigger for Amari Cooper in the deal with the Raiders? Cooper proved to be the lightning rod and a turning point in a season that was growing increasingly dismal. Dak Prescott and Cooper went together like peanut butter and jelly, while the Cowboys stormed to a division title and a postseason berth.
Now, imagine all of that times two… maybe even two and a half if Antonio Brown could be had from the Steelers. Scary right? We understand there’s only one ball to go around but that didn’t stop Kevin Durant from joining the Warriors, did it?
As of this writing, the best online sportsbooks like Intertops, are dealing Dallas as the seventh of 16 choices to win the NFC championship at odds of 12-1. Imagine how those odds would shrink if Brown wore a Cowboys uniform next season, giving Prescott the luxury of not one upper echelon wideout but that plus an elite receiver. Hut, hut, hut and a few clouds of smoke later the Cowboys would be moving the chains or celebrating in the endzone.
Brown and Cooper would be a devastating combination with Ezekiel Elliott coming out of the backfield. Brown was made for Dallas, it gives him an even grander stage than the one he shared with Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh.
Despite the fact that the 'Boys haven’t won a Super Bowl since Barry Switzer was roaming the sidelines in the mid-90s, America’s Team still resides in Dallas. But we need a game-changer and Brown is just such an athlete. But what do we give in return and will that cost be worth whatever productive years Brown has left after this one? Let’s not forget that the mercurial Miami native will be 31 when the season begins and men who make a living with their legs don’t get better at that age. But Brown is so good and so unique that, even if he drops half a click, he's still amongst the best in the game.
That level of talent is hard to replicate and it could be the missing piece which allows Dallas to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender next season and the year after.
However, up to this point, we’ve been very good at dreaming of a Brown to Dallas trade but haven’t quite worked out the details. It takes two to tango and if we expect to get the Steelers’ attention we need to give them something valuable in return. Dallas surrendered their first-round pick (27th) this season when they traded for Cooper so that’s no longer an asset.
Pittsburgh would be vying for a first-round pick (and likely more) for Brown's services but some have speculated Dallas would consider dealing rookie-standout Leighton Vander Esch.
Wait... what? We know, you’re clutching your pearls, and the words are stuck in your gasp. We get it. The kid was a home run this past season, leading the Dallas defense in tackles and earning a Pro Bowl invitation in his inaugural NFL season. But this would be a Faustian deal.
The Cowboys give up a player who is poised to be a stud for years to come for a playmaker in Brown that could render a Super Bowl in the immediate future. Brown's expiration date will surely turn his milk sour sooner rather than later, but in the here and now, Antonio Brown could be the bell cow who leads the Cowboys to the promised land before he’s put out to pasture.
Just something to think about...
2018 In Review: CB Anthony Brown Bounces Back
To say it's been an up-and-down start to the career of young cornerback Anthony Brown would be an understatement.
As a sixth round pick in 2016, everything Brown contributed during his rookie season was a plus. Due to injury he was asked to step into a greater role as the season went on, and he performed well enough to make the front office comfortable allowing multiple veterans to walk for nothing in free agency the following Spring. Brown looked like a legitimate starting cornerback in the league, and when Dallas brought in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during the next draft, the young secondary seemed set.
Then 2017 happened. And Anthony Brown struggled. Really struggled.
These struggles, coupled with the emergence of both Lewis and Awuzie during their own rookie seasons, made Brown's status heading into 2018 rather uncertain. Some wondered if they would trade him for a day three pick, others thought Brown could even end up being cut. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were slated to compete for the nickel cornerback job in training camp, and as it turned out, all Brown needed was that one extra chance to compete.
Brown won the job outright during the preseason, and began 2018 as the starting nickel. A fan favorite, most thought Lewis would reclaim his rightful spot on the depth chart sooner or later, but Anthony Brown's play (and Kris Richard's preferences) kept Lewis on the bench for much of the season.
Simply put, Anthony Brown balled in 2018, and was the Cowboys' second best corner for most of the year. By the end of the season Chidobe Awuzie had regained form, but Brown and Byron Jones were the most consistently reliable corners on the roster all of 2018.
Brown tallied 44 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception in 2018, and finished third on the team in pass breakups with 8. As the slot corner Brown had an excellent season, especially for a former sixth round pick.
Now he enters a contract year, and with the Cowboys having so many guys to pay over the next two offseasons, he could find himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. And if he can keep up his play from last year moving forward, he could be in for a nice payday that Spring.
Player News2 weeks ago
A Lot Had to Happen for Amari Cooper to Join the Cowboys
Star Blog1 day ago
Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Dallas Cowboys Offense
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
2019 Player Watch: Cowboys Should Keep an eye on Kyle Rudolph’s Situation
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Will Cowboys S Jeff Heath Be a 2019 Salary Cap Casualty?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Will Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Be a 2019 Salary Cap Casualty?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
How Does LB Joe Thomas Fit Into Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 Plans?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
3 Uncertainties Surrounding The Cowboys Offseason