The Dallas Cowboys' biggest weakness on the offensive side of the football is most obviously the tight end group. The wide receiver group is second, but it's a distant second to the uncertainty and inexperience at the tight end position currently.
Even before Jason Witten up and retired, the Cowboys weren't in great shape -- mostly because of age-related decline -- but they had a reliable starter who could give them 50-60 snaps a game and could contribute on third downs and in the red zone.
The future Hall of Famer is gone to the Monday Night Football booth on ESPN, leaving an Armageddon-sized crater behind. Gone are 87 targets, 63 catches, 560 yards, and most importantly five touchdown receptions from 2017.
Trying to be the next man up to fill the void are Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers. Combined, they have nine catches for 94 yards and zero touchdowns in the NFL (all from the Swaim Train).
As we try to project who might take the lead role among this tight end group, as opposed to looking for one guy to take 90% of the snaps at the position like Witten might, we should probably look at this as a rotational deployment.
Or a Tight End by Committee.
Let's look at how each guy could be deployed based on potential formations that the Dallas Cowboys like to use.
Geoff Swaim will be in the game when the Dallas Cowboys go with two and three tight end formations. He's got the most experience and Jason Garrett likes to use the guys he knows. Geoff Swaim will get the first shot at running with the first team as the veteran player of the group.
At the moment, Swaim is the most well-rounded of the bunch. A reliable tight end who has caught passes in meaningful games for the team, even if it isn't a lot of them. While experience isn't everything, it matters when looking at players who are going to get playing time.
Swaim might not have the highest upside in the group, but he's a trusted and reliable player.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Tight End Blake Jarwin to the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
The Cowboys front office was so high on him that they activated him from the practice squad toward the end of the 2017 season to make sure he wasn't signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He's a player who could fill a "move tight end" role on the team, using him in 11 and 12 personnel packages as a big slot receiver in certain matchups. Dak Prescott has gone on record about the team wanting to utilize more "run-pass options" (or RPOs) this season, and Jarwin's size and receiving ability immediately make him a threat.
I could see them using Swaim as the in-line tight end and then splitting Jarwin out wide to take advantage of linebacker matchups the team likes.
He can be a threat down the seam and in the middle of the field that Witten hasn't been in a couple of years because of the aforementioned age-related decline.
The Cowboys have always done a good job finding and developing undrafted free agents and when Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com was asked who could be the next great undrafted free agent, he had Jarwin on his mind.
"The way that the coaching staff was using Blake Jarwin tells me that they’re expecting big things from him. He has been splitting snaps with Geoff Swaim throughout these practices for the starting tight end spot, so he’s going to have a chance to grow."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Dalton Schultz is probably the most intriguing of the prospects. He was an impact player for the Stanford Cardinal and running back Bryce Love as they racked up more than 2,000 yards rushing in 2017.
His opportunities as a pass catcher were limited, but he flashed some tools that show he has the ability to be a solid receiving tight end in the NFL.
At the moment, he's probably the second tight end in the game when the team goes to two and three tight end formations.
Typically, tight ends struggle to adapt to the NFL in their rookie seasons because they aren't often asked to block as much. Schultz already comes with a bit of that pedigree.
The challenges for him will be learning the nuances of an NFL playbook as well as his responsibilities in the passing game.
The most hyped of all the tight ends for the Dallas Cowboys is Tight End Rico Gathers.
In the 2017 preseason, he flashed a ton of potential in the passing game, showing off his hands and athleticism as he caught a couple of touchdown passes. After he suffered a concussion, he was placed on IR for most of the season and really didn't get another shot. He comes into camp with a lot to prove, mostly that he can be a reliable option for the team on the 53-man roster.
He's still super raw and has more to learn in the blocking aspect of the game, and the team is taking a tough love approach to Rico in hopes that they can motivate him to earn a larger role than what he's looking at right now.
While we are all intrigued by the prospect of Gathers in the passing game, he's on the outside looking in at the moment for a team that may not be able to keep four tight ends.
Like Jarwin, as it stands now, Gathers' best role would be in passing situations in 11 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) or as a move tight end lined up in the slot to take advantage of linebacker or safety mismatches.
He has the athleticism to beat linebackers and the size to box out defensive backs, and as fans of the team, we should hope that he earns a role on this squad because they definitely could use his size and athleticism in the red zone. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it.
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According to reports, the tight ends that have been ahead of the pack in OTAs and minicamps have been Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim. Training camp is a whole different ball game, though, as the team will put pads on and the competition will heighten.
Over the next couple months we'll find out if one of these tight ends rises to the top, or if a committee approach is in store for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
And here is the ESPN list:
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Todd Gurley. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys, Elliott Should Keep Close Tabs on Le’Veon Bell’s Situation
The deadline for reaching an agreement with franchise tagged players came to an end last Monday, in what turned out to be a pretty uneventful day all around the league. No agreement was reached by any of the teams with their respective players, including the Dallas Cowboys and their promising "War Daddy," DeMarcus Lawrence.
But the Cowboys' front office have something to learn in this process that doesn't involve a player of their own. Something that both the front office and Ezekiel Elliott should be keeping a close eye on.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also failed to secure their franchise tagged player: Running Back Le'Veon Bell. Really, no one expected a deal to be reached among the two parties. The 26-year old football super star is asking for too much money, which has led to the Steelers tagging him twice in consecutive years.
Bell, conscious of his abilities on the field, is asking for a lot of money from his football team. In 2018, he's set to earn over $14.5M under the tag. That's more than twice the money that Devonta Freeman averages per year - 8.25 million - who's next on the list of highest paid running backs in the league and the highest paid on a long-term contract.
Just to clarify: Steelers' offer to Le'Veon Bell last year averaged $13.3 million per year. Steelers' offer to him this year averaged $15 million per year. But Bell does not believe he should be paid as a RB; he believes he should be paid as an elite offensive weapon.
Le'Veon, whose agent has said 2018 will likely be his last season playing as a Steeler, was reportedly offered $15M per year but that wasn't enough for him. Bell wants to get paid as an elite offensive weapon, which he is. But it turns out he's also... a running back.
It's a complicated situation and one that, if it turns out well for him in free agency next year, could revolutionize the entire running back market in the NFL. If it doesn't, he might end up regretting passing on the Steelers' offer for he won't easily find that kind of money with a team that seems to be a Super Bowl contender on a yearly basis.
The Dallas Cowboys' priorities will rely on other players during the next couple of years, but that shouldn't keep them from keeping close tabs on these events since they could be dealing with a similar scenario when Ezekiel Elliott's turn for a new deal comes around.
Fairly assuming that the fifth year option on Zeke's contract will be picked up after the 2018 season, locking him up through 2020, it's a problem that will be down the road for the Cowboys. But it will have to be dealt with at some point.
When his time is up, Elliott should undoubtedly be looking to become the highest-paid in the game, but the amount of money he gets will depend on the outcome of this whole Le'Veon-Steelers thing. David Johnson and Todd Gurley will also play an important role in determining the future of the running back market.
While Elliott hasn't been used as a receiving threat during his first two seasons in the league, he's still an elite offensive weapon for the Cowboys. The team's offense is based around Zeke and the running game, so it will make sense if his demands are somewhat similar from those by Bell.
Elliott might even be franchise tagged once or twice by the Cowboys if things get complicated in the future. Unlike DeMarco Murray in 2014, surely they won't be willing to let him walk in free agency once his contract comes to an end.
For now, it won't be just the Cowboys who will be keeping close tabs on this situation, but also Ezekiel Elliott and his agent. Hopefully, both parties will manage to handle things better than what we're seeing right now in Pittsburgh.
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