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Cowboys’ Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears 5

We're just a few more days away from the official start of the NFL free agency period. Many things could and likely will happen between now and March 9th: Brandon Carr's release, Morris Claiborne and Rolando McClain being re-signed, and contracts being restructured. The Cowboys' true spending power for next week's market is yet to be determined.

For today, let's take a snapshot of were things are and what the biggest needs will be if nothing changes before next Wdnesday. Here are the five biggest roster needs as of now:

1. Defensive End

Already a top concern before a few weeks ago, the need drastically increased with the news of Randy Gregory's four-game suspension. With Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey, and Jack Crawford all currently free agents, that leaves just DeMarcus Lawrence and Ryan Russell as signed players who could play in Week One.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears

Lawrence is the Cowboys' only reliable DE for Week One right now.

With seven sacks in his final eight games of 2015, Lawrence is sure to start no matter who's added. Russell was a fifth-round pick last year who was inactive in 11 of 12 games and then went on injured reserve. Clearly, the need for help is enormous.

Comments last week from Jason Garrett made it fairly clear that Hardy will not be re-signed. Dallas could look to bring back Mincey or Crawford, perhaps even both, on minor deals. However, they will certainly look to add a true starter to pair with Lawrence even after Gregory's suspension is over.

At this point, Gregory hasn't shown he can be more than a situational pass-rusher. As promising as he looked in last year's preseason, the injury and lack of performance afterwards are concerning. Now with the drug-related suspension, Dallas can't count on Gregory until he improves his track record.

Even if Gregory was reliable Dallas would still be in the market for defensive ends. Whether it's bringing back some of their own free agents or adding fresh faces, they should be active at this position over the next two months. With Gregory's issues, the fourth-overall pick in April's draft is also a possibility.

2. Cornerback/Safety

The position flexibility of Byron Jones makes it hard to separate the defensive backs. Stephen Jones recently said that they would like to play him at safety but that the decision is not final. Obviously, the next two months go will play a major part in where Byron is ultimately used.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears 1

Claiborne could be back, but with how much responsibility?

Stephen also said that Dallas hopes to bring back free agent Morris Claiborne. What Claiborne gets paid will be a strong indicator of the level of trust they have in him. I would expect a modest deal befitting a number-three corner or occasional starter. Anything beyond that would be, hopefully, out of Dallas' price range.

With Orlando Scandrick returning from a major knee injury and Carr likely to be cut in the next week or so, there's still significant need even if Claiborne returns. Dallas will need to add one player of consequence at either corner or safety depending on where they want to play Byron Jones.

They may need two secondary players if they look to completely overhaul the safety position. Barry Church could be released for $4.25 million in cap relief and J.J. Wilcox would save $1.65 million. With Jones ready to fill one spot they may look to add an upgrade beside him and let both of last year's starters go. But again, Jones playing safety increased need at cornerback.

Many are likely looking past free agency to the draft, hoping that Jalen Ramsey from Florida State will fall to the Cowboys. It's a dangerous scenario to let the top free agents and rely on the draft to fill needs. Perhaps Dallas sees Claiborne as their insurance policy and are okay with him starting next year.

I like danger in my movies. I occasionally eat stuff well past the expiration date. I've been known to drive with about half my windshield still covered in frost.

Living dangerously with your secondary, though? That's more than I can handle!

3. Backup Quarterback

Though some believe he can heal the sick and walk on water, Kellen Moore isn't good enough to be our primary backup quarterback. Sorry to any of my readers who are proud and faithful Kellenites, but there's just no getting around it.


Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears 2

Dallas needs more, not Moore, behind Romo.

Yes, Moore was better than Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel. But he also threw six interceptions in three games and lost them all. If Dallas gets back to being a contending team, as we all hope, then you want someone who knows how to manage a game and play within his own limitations.

I get why people like Moore. He's a small guy with some flash in his game. But between those flashes are the potential for game-killing mistakes. Until you trust a guy to do enough good that you can suffer the bad, such as Dallas' relationship with Tony Romo, then that guy isn't a great option for your primary backup.

I do not believe that Dallas will take a quarterback in the first round and will dive deeper into that topic in my next article. I would expect a third or fourth-round pick to be used on a developmental player who may even be good enough to challenge for the role now. That "maybe" factor means they will need someone else on staff in case the rookie needs some time.

Moore will likely be back to compete, but Dallas needs to look at some of the available free agent quarterbacks. Colt McCoy stands out as one with enough experience and proven ability to be a quality option and probably upgrade from Moore. To really confuse things, they could also look at Matt Moore to compete with Kellen.

4. Defensive Tackle

Though a season-long shoulder injury slowed him down, Tyrone Crawford's 2015 season was a disappointment after getting a big, new contract. Dallas will hope that he can get back to the player they thought they were paying for and will likely restructure his deal in the next few days to get more cap space.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears 3

Hayden is well-liked but ultimately not that effective.

The big question is what they do at the other defensive tackle spot. Nick Hayden is a free agent and is a polarizing figure. Coaches seem to love him but statistical analysis says otherwise.

In Hayden's three years as a starter the Cowboys have had been in the bottom-third of the league in run defense twice. He has zero sacks in three seasons. What impact can you say he's really having?

If Hayden walks that leaves Dallas with a motley assortment of options. Terrell McClain, who recently received the Perfect Attendance Award from the injury report, has a year left on his contract. David Irving was a bright spot last year before injury and should be back to compete.

Compounding the issue is the potential loss of defensive ends who had the size to play inside, such as Hardy, Mincey, and Jack Crawford. Even if one or two of them do return and help the numbers, Dallas should still be thinking about upgrading a spot that I feel they've neglected for too long by sticking with Hayden.

5. Linebacker

If Rolando McClain is re-signed, as Stephen Jones said they were hoping to do, then this becomes a lesser concern. Despite the mutual injury issues of McClain and Sean Lee, Dallas has some decent depth options in Anthony Hitchens, Andrew Gachkar, and Damien Wilson. They could survive next year without a major addition.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys' Top-Five Needs as Free Agency Nears 4

If McClain does not come back, linebacker becomes a critical need.

If McClain doesn't come back then things get much more critical. I think Dallas could live with a starting three of Lee, Hitchens, and one of Gachkar or Wilson. However, even if they re-sign free agent Kyle Wilber, there would still be a major concern about depth.

Dallas will be in a position to draft one of the top overall prospects in linebacker Myles Jack. They may be considering Jack even if McClain returns. However, as discussed before with cornerback, you're playing a dangerous game if you wait on the draft to fill needs.

With McClain back Dallas would be wise to still make a shrewd veteran signing similar to what they had with Justin Durant in 2013. Versatility would be a plus given the concerns with Lee and McClain's health problems.

Without McClain, Dallas would need to consider making much bigger signing next week. Even if you believed Sean Lee was never going to miss another game you'd still need one more impact player beside him. Given Lee's history, though, you simply have to guard yourself against losing all dynamic play-making from the middle of your defense.

 

 


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Cowboys’ Trysten Hill to Make Regular Season Debut vs Dolphins?

John Williams

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Can DT Trysten Hill Best Maliek Collins' Rookie Stats From 2016?

A lot has been made of the Dallas Cowboys' decision to make 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill inactive for the first two games of the regular season. With Taco Charlton also being inactive, people attempted to compare the two to make broad generalizations about Hill's present and future in the NFL. The problem is these two are vastly different players in different situations.

Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones talked about where Trysten Hill was in his development and ability. It sounds as if Hill is ready to make his regular-season debut for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Trysten Hill will make his NFL debut Sunday vs. Miami. Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "He's ready to go. It's time for him to go. Rod's fired up about what he can bring to the table here. He's had a really good week of practice.

With Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford likely out for this game, the Dallas Cowboys could use some help on the interior defensive line. Christian Covington and Maliek Collins are the only true defensive tackles set to be active for the Cowboys, which makes Hill's debut a foregone conclusion. With Crawford and Woods dealing with injuries Hill will have the opportunity to play a lot against a Miami Dolphins offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks in their first two games.

Crawford and Woods' absences means the Dallas Cowboys will have around 40-50 snaps to be distributed to the rest of the defensive line. Christian Covington will get the first shot to play the 1-technique defensive tackle. Kerry Hyder and Joe Jackson will get some of those Tyrone Crawford snaps since they can play both on the interior and on the edge like Crawford can.


There will be opportunities for Hill, especially if the Dallas Cowboys can get out to a big lead. If he's active, which all signs indicate he will be, then the Cowboys' coaching staff will use this game to get Hill as much experience as possible.

Trysten Hill is a player that Rod Marinelli and even Kris Richard are really excited about. They believe that he has what it takes to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL, he just needs to refine certain aspects of his game. Hill has elite quickness and get off on the snap. He's very good at getting penetration and causing disruption in the backfield. He needs to work on his technique and playing with better leverage when engaged with blockers, but the tools and the effort are there for Marinelli to turn him into the dominant 3-technique defensive tackle that they've been looking for.

Facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday will is an excellent opportunity for Trysten Hill to get some experience and earn opportunities to be on the gameday roster in the future.

Trysten Hill has the skills to be a force for the Dallas Cowboys. With the depth that the Cowboys have along the defensive line, it's not always possible to bring everyone you have to the gameday roster. With injuries and earned opportunities, the time has come for Trysten Hill to get an opportunity to show his skills in the regular season. That's a good thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Not so much for Josh Rosen and the Miami Dolphins.


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Report: Cowboys S Xavier Woods Could Only Miss One Game

Matthew Lenix

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Report: Cowboys S Xavier Woods Could Only Miss One Game

The Dallas Cowboys might not be without their rising star at free safety as long as they originally thought. According to DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus, Xavier Woods could only miss this Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.


BryanBroaddus on Twitter

They gave him a physical and didn't sign so that tells me a little something. Xavier Woods is not going to be out 4-6 weeks. Might miss one game... https://t.co/EFcpjlZnPH

Woods suffered a high ankle sprain this past Sunday against the Washington Redskins that was supposed to keep him out 4-6 weeks. If he is only out one game that would be amazing news for the Cowboys with the toughest part of their schedule coming up. Safety Darian Thompson is set to start this Sunday opposite Jeff Heath in place of Woods, with rookie Donovan Wilson and Kavon Frazier also their for insurance. Will Xavier Woods be back against the New Orleans Saints next week? Something to keep an eye on. More details to come.


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Devin Smith Has Opportunity to Shine in Michael Gallup’s Absence

John Williams

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Devin Smith Has Opportunity to Shine in Michael Gallup Absence

In the wake of today's news that Michael Gallup will miss the next 2-4 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to trim the meniscus in his left knee. Gallup was having another solid game for the Dallas Cowboys when he suffered the injury. It's an unfortunate setback for Gallup was emerging as a go-to player for Dak Prescott in the passing offense.

With Gallup's absence comes an opportunity for other wide receivers on the depth chart. The player most likely to benefit the most is former second-round pick and first-year Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Devin Smith.

Smith exploded on offense for the Cowboys in week two against the Washington Redskins. He had three receptions on three targets for 74 yards and a 51-yard touchdown reception that was the first score of the game for the Dallas Cowboys. After Gallup went down with the injury, Smith was the immediate beneficiary of snaps, catching his other two passes on the drive after Gallup's injury, including one that picked up the first down.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Devin Smith will take on a larger role with Michael Gallup out. This catch yesterday by Smith was his first TD since 2015. He has battled back from two significant knee injuries.

Devin Smith played 26% of the offensive snaps on Sunday and was dynamic and effective in the passing game. Afte the Gallup injury, any time the offense was in 11 personnel (3 wide receivers) Devin Smith was the next man up.

They used Smith on play-action twice and on an RPO signifying their belief in his ability to make plays in the passing game. The former second-round pick from Ohio State has excellent speed and showed out throughout the preseason and training camp to earn his spot on the 53-man roster out of training camp.

In fact, the team felt so good about Smith coming into the season that they were willing to subject both Cedrick Wilson and Jon'vea Johnson to waivers before placing them on the practice squad.


If Michael Gallup does have to sit out for four weeks, then Smith has an excellent opportunity to cement himself within the Dallas Cowboys receiving hierarchy and potentially audition for his next job in 2020, either with the Dallas Cowboys or someone else around the NFL. Smith had likely earned the opportunity to play ahead of Tavon Austin in the offense -- whenever Austin is back -- and how the next two to four weeks go could have a huge impact on the Dallas Cowboys and his own future.

With the emergence of Michael Gallup toward the end of 2018 and to start the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys offense has been much healthier and balanced. It hasn't had to rely on one player to carry the offense and the passing game in particular.

When the Dallas Cowboys have several receiving threats it makes life easier for everyone on offense and much more challenging for opposing defenses. With Devin Smith coming into the lineup, teams are going to have to respect his downfield speed, which could open things up in the short to intermediate areas for the rest of the offense. After his 51 yard touchdown on Sunday, opposing defenses will have to pay attention to Smith.

In week three against at tanking Miami Dolphins squad, Smith may have another big game. In week one, the Miami Dolphins allowed Baltimore Ravens rookie Wide Receiver Marquise Brown to go off for four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. The two touchdowns were on receptions of 47 and 83 yards.

The Dallas Cowboys need Devin Smith to be an effective player in order to keep the balance they've had in their target distribution. Teams will shade coverage toward Amari Cooper with Gallup out and Devin Smith will have to take advantage. Over the last few months, Smith has shown flashes of the ability that once made him a second-round pick. Now he's got a huge opportunity ahead of him and the Dallas Cowboys need him to take advantage of it to have the same level of success they've experienced in the first two weeks of the season.


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