We’re now less than a week away from the annual NFL spending spree known as free agency, which opens March 13th. There’s been a lot of talk about how active the Dallas Cowboys are going to be this offseason, with them already linked to several high-profile free agents.
Jerry Jones’ recent comments would have you believe that the Cowboys will be aggressive in their attempt to improve a roster that went to the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
Other reports make it sound like the Dallas Cowboys will be business as usually in their pursuit of free agents starting next week. Namely, letting the top-tier players find their deals, while shopping for bargains after the first wave has passed.
Obviously, fans want their team to have a balance between smart spending and adding top-tier talent, but sometimes you have to compromise one of those. You can’t always get a top-tier talent unless you’re willing to spend freely. This is where the Dallas Cowboys find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
they've drafted well and managed their contracts well so that they have minimal dead money on their 2019 cap, but what good is that money unless they spend it.
As the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the first phase of roster building, let’s take a look at their top team needs heading into free agency.
1. Defensive Tackle
As it stands now, the Dallas Cowboys only have two defensive tackles on the roster for 2019. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods, who both started the playoff games and should be penciled in to start week one of the 2019 season are the only two defensive tackles in the roster.
David Irving, Datone Jones, Daniel Ross, and Caraun Reid are all set to be free agents and there’s been no indication that they plan to bring any of them back. Tyrone Crawford who spends sometime on the Cowboys interior may be forced to be at right defensive end full-time this season if Randy Gregory’s “indefinite suspension” bleeds over into the regular season.
That leaves at least two spots in the defensive tackle depth chart that the Cowboys need to fill to have their rotational tackle group.
Free agency provides some options, but it’s the draft that provides the best opportunity to get players to fill in behind Woods and Collins this year. In many mock drafts, draft analysts have the Dallas Cowboys taking a defensive tackle in the second or third round. With the depth of talent available in 2019, the Cowboys could double up at the position.
The free agent safety group looks to be one of the best positional groups to ever walk into free agency.
Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Landon Collins, Tyrann Matthieu, Tre Boston, Glover Quin, and several other interesting names are going to be looking for new teams this Spring.
The Dallas Cowboys have been linked to Earl Thomas for more than a year now, but the presence of this kind of free agent class could have the Cowboys looking in a younger or cheaper direction.
With Xavier Woods versatility to play either safety role, the Cowboys can approach the safety market with an open mind. Jeff Heath on the other hand left us with a bad taste in our mouths from the 2018 season. Heath’s a solid role player who contributes on special teams, but got over-exposed in 2018. Too many times he allowed ball carriers to pick up tons of extra yardage by trying to strip the ball out instead of just tackling. An upgrade is needed there.
While Earl Thomas is the top name that many in Cowboys Nation want, Landon Collins might be the player that makes the most sense. He’s only 25, been to three Pro Bowls and been selected to omen First-Team All-Pro Team.
Collins is a guy you can add to this young group and continue to build with, and allows Woods to stay in the more traditional free safety spot that he played last year. Woods played really well in 2018 and will be one of your full-time safeties when the 2019 season rolls around.
If a free agent safety isn’t your cup of tea, there will be options for the Dallas Cowboys at 58, such as Darnell Savage Jr. from Maryland.
3. Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams is gone, Allen Hurns is hurt, Cole Beasley looks to be on his way out, Noah Brown has some skill but is best served as your fourth or fifth wide receiver and Cedric Wilson isn’t really a known quantity. Outside of Amari Cooper, and to a lesser extent Michael Gallup, this wide receiver group has some needs.
This draft may be light at the top of the draft at wide receiver, but there are several guys that could be around in the second and third round when the Dallas Cowboys make their picks.
The Cowboys could go after a speed guy like Marquise Brown from the University of Oklahoma, a slot wide receiver like Andy Isabella or Deebo Samuel, or get a big target with a huge catch radius in Iowa State's Hakeem Butler.
4. Defensive End
What looked like a strength heading into the offense, with DeMarcus Lawrence set to get his big contract extension and Randy Gregory coming off of his first full season, now looks like an area of need.
DeMarcus Lawrence needs shoulder surgery. His contract situation looks like something that could drag on throughout the offseason and into training camp. Lawrence was tagged with the non-exclusive franchise tag, which means he could negotiate with teams, but the Cowboys would still have the opportunity to match any offer. This could be the Cowboys way of letting another team set his price. So long as it isn’t a team like the Colts or 49ers who have gone of cap space, Lawrence wouldn’t likely see an offer that the Cowboys couldn’t match.
When it’s all said and done, Lawrence will be suiting up week one for the Cowboys.
Randy Gregory however, may Ben a different story a season he’s been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Gregory, will forevermore be one step away from his NFL career being over, and this latest suspension is a reminder if that. Gregory’s a terrific football player, but nearly impossible to count on him always being available.
Thankfully, like it is for defensive tackles, the 2019 NFL Draft is full of potential defensive ends throughout the draft. Names like Charles Omenihu and Chase Winovich could be options for the Cowboys at 58.
There are several intriguiging options the Cowboys could pursue in free agency from big money names like Justin Houston and Trey Flowers to lower prices options like Dante Fowler or Shane Ray.
Though they have Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Tyrone Crawford in the mix at defensive end, it would benefit them to add another player at the position, especially if Crawford has to continue splitting snaps between end and tackle.
5. Running Back
It may be odd to look at a position group that features the NFL’s league leader in rushing two out of the last three seasons, and while the need at running back isn’t exactly about Ezekiel Elliott, it kind of is about Ezekiel Elliott.
The Dallas Cowboys are looking to extend their dynamic runner and if they do so, it would be wise for them to get someone who can share some of the running and passing game burden.
Whether they trade for Duke Johnson or sign a free agent like TJ Yeldon or Jalen Richard, the Cowboys hope ave some options to explore.
The NFL Draft is another place to find a guy who can give you 5-10 touches per game. In particular, the Dallas Cowboys could use a player to help in the passing game and be a “change of pace” back for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys appeared to make a concerted effort to throw the ball to Ezekiel Elliott last season, but it didn’t always turn out to be a good thing. Finding a player with more suddenness and burst as a receiver will help the offense when Quarterback Dak Prescott goes to check the ball down. Also, adding a receiving back has the added benefit if keeping Elliott fresher throughout the game and in the regular season.
If paying Ezekiel Elliott is a priority, then finding a player to compliment him and give the team quality snaps should be a priority too.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The beginning of the 2019 season may still be six months away, but preparation and roster construction begin soon on March 13th. Armed with $50 million in salary cap room, the Cowboys have the opportunity to be players in the early stages of free agency this year at positions of need.
How they end up using the cap space will be an interesting storyline to watch throughout March.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
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