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The Moment That Put the Dallas Cowboys in Limbo

Mauricio Rodriguez

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2014 is the closest the Cowboys have been to becoming Super Bowl champions once again. That season unfortunately crumbled to pieces in the divisional round when Dallas lost at Lambeau Field in a game full of drama. We moved on to 2015, which was going to be their year but then injuries, especially Tony Romo's, left the Cowboys in a season of defeat.

After that, 2016 was supposed to be it. That was going to be the season in which finally, America's Team would return to glory and hold the Lombardi Trophy up in the sky. With 36-year-old Tony Romo and veterans like Sean Lee, Jason Witten and more nearing their final years in the NFL, the window was closing.

#9's comeback was bound to be epic. Sadly, he never had the chance to prove it.

Romo would take the field for the first time in a long time in Seattle during the third week of the preseason. And less than two minutes into the game, on a second down, Cliff Avril would bring him to the ground and crush every Cowboys fan's heart.

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It didn't seem like much at first. Heck, there were even reports that he could've gone back into the field and it wasn't until the next day when the seriousness of his injury was announced. It was one of the most painful moments Cowboys Nation has had to endure in recent history.

Little did we know, that moment would change the Cowboys' path more than we imagined. Dak Prescott stole the starting job, led the team to the #1 seed in the NFC and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Little did we know, that moment put the Dallas Cowboys in limbo. 

When clubs are close to making a legit Super Bowl run, the offseason becomes primarily about adding key pieces that are missing in order to get the squad to the next level.

The Dallas Cowboys have had two great seasons in the last few years. One took place under the reigns of veterans Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray in 2014. The other, more recent one, happened when Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott played their NFL rookie seasons in 2016.

The two campaigns share some similar aspects, when you think about it. Both years, Dallas had one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the league. Both seasons, the Cowboys fell short of the much-desired NFC Championship Game and both years featured gut-wrenching defeats against the Green Bay Packers.

But truth be told, 2016 wasn't meant to be played under Dak Prescott.

Let's go back in time, when the Cowboys' beloved quarterback Tony Romo went down in Philadelphia while playing the second week of the 2015 regular season. The season that was meant to be a revenge tour around the NFL after the Cowboys' 2014 campaign, was dead before the second game of the year was even over.

And so, 2015 became a year to forget for Cowboys Nation. Dallas would end up netting only two more wins, landing the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Which brings us to one of the hottest debates in Cowboys Nation to the date. The Ezekiel Elliott pick. When Dallas was on the clock a couple of years ago, the pick was going to come down to two possibilities. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott or Cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

We know who they drafted. Fans will forever argue whether it was the correct call or not, but they usually forget what that pick was all about. The Cowboys weren't Dak Prescott's team yet. It was Tony's team.

Drafting a premium running back like Zeke was meant to replicate the team's offensive success in 2014. Think about it, when DeMarco Murray had his career-best year, we saw Romo's best performance. Taking Zeke with the 4th overall pick would provide an even stronger running game during his final years playing football.

With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten, the Cowboys were built for a Super Bowl run. Perfect running attack behind the finest offensive line in the league paired with the ever-underrated passer.

2016, with Romo being back and healthy, was supposed to be the year for Dallas.

But it wasn't. Once he was sidelined, Dak Prescott stepped in and never handed the job back. Now, don't get me wrong. When I say the moment in which Romo was injured put the Cowboys in limbo, I don't mean letting Prescott continue as a starter was the wrong decision.

Dak Prescott Embracing Further Criticism From Tony Romo Vs Chiefs

As much as I love Romo as a fan, playing Dak was the right call to make. But we can't deny that they're in a way, stuck between a "win-now mode" and a bit of a rebuilding mode. Not that the Cowboys are fully rebuilding, but they just let Dez Bryant go in their quest for a "Dak-friendly" offense.

Not to mention the veteran players who may not be playing next year or in two years. How long until Jason Witten and Sean Lee decide to hang up their cleats?

Heading into 2018, the Dallas Cowboys will try to "win now", but they do have a lot young talent in different positions and could become a powerful team for some years. However, this could be the season in which they climb out of the limbo. The coaching staff's jobs probably depend on it. Even Dak will have something to prove in his third season in the pros.

There's a lot at stake for this Cowboys team in 2018. Hopefully, this time around, it ends up actually being their year.

Tell me what you think about "The Moment That Put the Dallas Cowboys in Limbo" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



I love to write, I love football and I love the Dallas Cowboys. I've been rooting for America's team all the way from Mexico ever since I can remember. If you want to talk football, I'm in... You'll find me at @PepoR99.

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6 Comments
  • William Pep Hatcher

    We were in limbo for ten years with Romo. Romo didn’t even see the field in his first two years but people are talking about this is a make or break year for Dak. Idiots.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      I’m not sure my usage of “in limbo” in this post was understood. Thanks for reading.

    • kabob

      It was actually 3 years on the bench and he almost got cut from the team in favor of some guy named Clint Stoerner at the bottom of the depth chart.

  • tony

    Should have let Romo comeback and play in 2016 and let Prescott learn some more but what’s done is done no changing that.

  • Mr. Jaguar

    Imho, the Cowboys organization and coaching staff made right decision in the transition from Romo to Dak, in 2016. In regards to 2015, the Cowboys was rolling the dice on Romo, which came up snake eyes. 2015 brought to light the seriousness of Romo body failing him, two collarbone injuries, in addition, to the back issues, that it wouldn’t be long before Romo career would end.
    Yet the Cowboys organization continued to roll the dice on Romo, fortunately, the Cowboys had Prescott in 2016, instead of what Cowboys nation suffered through the play of the quarterbacks the Cowboys put on the football field with below average results, during Romo’s absence in 2015.
    Prescott was GOD send , as quite as it’s kept. Just my two cents worth.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      I agree with you, and I say this as a fan whose second favorite Cowboy ever is Tony Romo

Star Blog

Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp next week, and for the first time in a long time there may be more excitement for their defense compared to a largely reshuffled offense. This hype for Rod Marinelli's defense, bolstered by the addition of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, was elevated earlier in the week when the Cowboys learned Defensive End Randy Gregory would be reinstated.

Gregory's presence as a potential starting right defensive end is an uplifting one for the Cowboys as they depart for Oxnard. Above all else, this is a rare turn of fortunes for a player the NFL can now tote as a success story.

Once Gregory's focus shifts towards taking hold of that starting DE position for good and giving the Cowboys a pass rush of him and DeMarcus Lawrence off the edge, his impact could change the entire complexion of this defense.

After watching Gregory's last game for Dallas, a week 16 win in Philadelphia back in 2016, here is what I saw from the Cowboys "Christmas in July" addition to their defensive line.

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This first clip is probably Gregory's most memorable play through three seasons with the Cowboys. Two teams going in opposite directions since this game, the Cowboys have cycled through their rotation of pass rushers to play the weak side -- with nobody coming close to the athleticism and bend Gregory displays here.

Already planning on attacking the offensive tackle to the outside with his long arm approach, Gregory regains his balance avoiding the low block to get even with Carson Wentz and finish the play. This type of relentlessness is a signature of the Cowboys defense under Marinelli, now fielding a deep group of defensive ends around Gregory and Lawrence.

Gregory1

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Just how much Gregory comes off the field for the likes of Tyrone Crawford, rookie Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper, or Taco Charlton will be determined by his ability to hold up against the run. This was a strength for Gregory against the Eagles, as his cornering ability helped him chase down plays all over the field.

It's hard to understate just how important Gregory's speed and range from this RDE spot could mean to the Cowboys, especially given their changes at linebacker for the 2018 season.

This is a team that's also added plenty of range to the second level of their defense with rookie Leighton Vander Esch and another year of Jaylon Smith.

These linebacker's ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield will be aided by the depth Gregory is capable of gaining with ease against left tackles.

Gregory2

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Gregory does have a tendency to play upright at times and offer a larger blocking area than needed. As you see above, this can help him as an all-around player, as chasing down the run to the outside comes easy for him.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength at defensive tackle to start the season, with David Irving suspended for the first four games again. Maliek Collins is also coming back from another broken foot, as him and Gregory will be important to watch progress through training camp.

The overall potential for a Cowboys defensive line featuring all three of these players, and the rotational pieces behind them, is incredibly high for a team just looking to get back to their roots this season.

For the Cowboys in 2018, this means running the ball effectively, limiting turnovers on offense, and protecting the lead on defense. Randy Gregory significantly helps the Cowboys do the latter here, improving an already fearsome pass rush in ways that few players are capable of.

This is ultimately why the first-round talent fell to the second round for the Cowboys, who took the risk on Gregory and are now on the long path back towards seeing this gamble pay off, something a very thankful Gregory must see through on the field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Star Blog

Why Patience Is Key In Evaluating Randy Gregory

Kevin Brady

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Cowboys were fully aware of the risks involved when they drafted prolific edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

They were also well aware of the potential rewards too.

Gregory has spent much of his NFL career away from the Dallas Cowboys, dealing with suspension after suspension and rarely playing actual football. Now, Randy Gregory has gained reinstatement into the league, and all signs point to positivity around his future.

As expected, both the Cowboys and their fan base are excited about the return of Gregory to the roster. And, of course, they should be. Gregory possesses all the traits necessary to be a top tier pass rusher in the NFL, even if we haven't seen it on full display thus far.

At his best Gregory is the prototypical RDE that Cowboys Nation has been yearning for. But it's probably unfair for him to reach that potential as early as this season. Pass rushers coming off suspensions, particularly lengthy suspensions, are rarely able to find their way quickly after returning.

And if you want proof of this, you only have to look across the way at DeMarcus Lawrence. After a strong 8 sack 2015 season, Lawrence was suspended the first four games of 2016. Once he returned, Lawrence battled injuries all season and only appeared in 9 games. Over those 9 games Lawrence tallied just 1 sack and made a minimal impact.

The next season, though? DeMarcus Lawrence was back to playing fully healthy and engaged, en route to a team leading 14.5 sacks and the best overall season of his career.

Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are different players, and this is obviously a different situation, but the need for patience remains the same. To expect Gregory to be a dominant pass rusher in 2018 is more-than-lofty, as he deserves time to work back into playing shape and perfect his craft off the edge.

Unlike Lawrence, Gregory will have a full offseason and 16 game slate ahead of him. Plus, we haven't heard of any lingering injuries affecting Gregory going forward.

So while we may need to temper expectations at least a little bit, I still expect Randy Gregory to become the RDE we all hoped he could be with time.



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Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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