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Top Free Agent Defensive End Options for the Dallas Cowboys

John Williams

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Top Free Agent Defensive End Options for the Dallas Cowboys

In light of the recent news of the indefinite suspension of Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Randy Gregory, the Cowboys are now sitting with another need along their defense to go with safety and defensive tackle. While we are talking about the "what's next" part of the Randy Gregory suspension, we still feel for the player and wish him the best and hope he's able to make it back.

At this point in Gregory's career, any snaps or production can't be counted on. So, as we approach the start of free agency on March 13th and the NFL Draft at the end of April, we have to look forward into the roster building aspect of the offseason with defensive end in mind.

There are some really good edge rushers in this years crop of free agents and the Dallas Cowboys should be able to bring in some reinforcements. There are a few players that are going to be able to demand some big time money this offseason and there are some interesting buy-low options as well for the Cowboys.

As I perused the market for free agent edge rushers, I kept in mind that this team doesn't like to pay age. Therefore, I kept my search to players who are going to be 25 or 26 and looking at their second contract in the NFL. These players would next hit free agency at age 30 or 31. These type of players are the norm for the Dallas Cowboys.

High-Priced Edge Rushers

These high-priced guys are unlikely based on what we know about the Dallas Cowboys free agency spending habits over the last several years, but we're going to talk about them anyway, because you never know what might happen with Jerry Jones.

Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks

If you watched the two games the Dallas Cowboys played against the Seattle Seahawks in 2018, you noticed Frank Clark. In fact, for several years now, Clark has given the Dallas Cowboys fits as an edge rusher.

It's not often you see Tyron Smith get beat cleanly, but that was what Frank Clark was able to do a a couple of occasions to the Dallas Cowboys All-Pro left tackle.

Clark finished the 2018 season with 13 sacks, which was tied for seventh among edge rushers with names like Bradley Chubb, Khalil Mack, and TJ Watt, per Pro Football Focus. Clark's 64 total pressures were tied for 10th in the NFL.

Now, Clark could be a franchise tag candidate from the Seattle Seahawks, but if he's able to get to free agency, he'd be a highly sought after player. Spotrac.com projects his contract could be worth about $15.7 million per year over the next five years. I think it's more likely that he approaches $20 million a year with his production.

Over the last three seasons he's averaged 10.67 sacks per season with a high of 13 and a low of nine in that span. Remember when Olivier Vernon signed his record-breaking deal for a 4-3 defensive end, he had only one season with eight or more sacks. Clark has three.

It would mean allocating big money to the pass rush, but in a passing league, that is one of the more important areas to allocate big chunks of your cap too. He isn't the player in the running game that DeMarcus Lawrence is, but he's a force rushing the passer and would immediately improve your team at right defensive end.

Trey Flowers, New England Patriots

If there was a player that was as good in the run and pass game as DeMarcus Lawrence was in 2018, it was New England Patriots Defensive End Trey Flowers. Pro Football Focus graded him as their third best edge player.

While he only had 7.5 sacks for the Patriots, he's recorded more than 6.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons. He was 10th in total pressures in 2018 and ninth in Pro Football Focus' "stops." They consider a stop as a play that is a loss for the defense.

Flowers, like Clark, could be a franchise tag option, but it doesn't seem like the "Patriot Way" to spend big money on high-priced free agents that aren't their quarterback or tight end. Flowers could just as easily be out the door and on the market for the Dallas Cowboys to consider when free agency opens.

Spotrac.com has Flowers projected at $17.3 million per year in a new contract and that seems about right. He doesn't have the career pass rush production of Frank Clark, but he's a complete defensive end in the mold of Lawrence.

Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

Coming off of back-to-back nine sack seasons, Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans could be another highly sought after free agent option this March. Like the two guys mentioned before, he's also a likely franchise tag option for the Texans.

With the Texans having more than $77 million in cap space for 2019, they'd have little difficulty getting under the projected franchise tag number.

Clowney, like DeMarcus Lawrence, and Trey Flowers, is a complete edge player who can rush the passer and play the run with equally great effectiveness. He was 18th in total pressures according to Pro Football Focus and tied for 22nd in sacks. He recorded 38 stops in 2018, which ranked seventh in the NFL, just six behind Lawrence who finished fourth in the league.

Having just turned 26, Clowney is entering his prime and should have several really good seasons ahead of him. He would slot in as the starting right defensive end immediately. Spotrac.com is projecting a contract for Clowney to start at $16.6 million a year. The former first round pick is in for a pay-day, and if the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to pursue him, they should do so.

Top Free Agent Defensive End Options for the Dallas Cowboys 1

Jan 12, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) attempts to run the ball while Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler (56) moves to defend during the first half in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Buy-Low Options

Dante Fowler Jr., Los Angeles Rams

This player is a curious case. Dante Fowler Jr. was once the third overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a player that was part of their defensive corp.

After a four sack rookie campaign, he took the next step and doubled his production in year two. Fowler was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in the middle of the 2018 season after recording just two sacks in seven games. In eight regular season games and three playoff games with the Rams he only recorded 3.5 sacks.

Fowler is still a very young player in the NFL. He won't turn 25 until August of this year. His size projects as a weak side defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, someone who could come in and play pass rushing downs.

In the 11 games Fowler played with the Rams, including the playoffs, he led ll edge rushers with 30 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Only Aaron Donald had more total pressures than Fowler in that same time frame.

Shane Ray, Denver Broncos

Shane Ray, the first round pick of the Denver Broncos is coming off the worst statistical season of his career after he posted just one sack and 10 pressure over 11 games. He's two years removed from an eight sack season in 2016, but hasn't been able to find the pass rush mojo since.

In 2018, the Denver Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb, inserted him into the lineup and never looked back. Ray will be cheap on the free agent market, but still has some upside as a rusher if given the opportunity.

Aaron Lynch, Chicago Bears

Aaron Lynch became a bit of a forgotten man for the Chicago Bears after they made the deal to acquire Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders just before the season started. Prior to signing with the Bears, Lynch flamed out with the San Francisco 49ers after posting six sack seasons in each of his first two years.

He's about to turn 26 this year and in a reserve role for the Bears had his highest sack total since his second year in the league.

He's not an exciting name for the Cowboys, but he does have a bit of a track record and could be solid depth along the defensive line. At 6-6, 270, he has the size to play both sides of the defensive line and be a solid run player.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys look to be just a few players away from being serious Super Bowl contenders in 2019. While they need to figure out safety and defensive tackle, figuring out what they're going to do at defensive end jumps to the top of the list. They can get functional snaps out of Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton, but they'd be better served at trying to bring in someone with more of a history as a pass rusher.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Impact of Free Agency Moves & Rumors

Jess Haynie

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Randall Cobb

With most of the marquee NFL free agents already off the market, many are already turning their eyes to the 2019 Draft. Whether a glaring need went unaddressed or the needs have simply changed, the draft offers the next big opportunity for teams like the Dallas Cowboys to stock talent for next season.

While they've been conservative so far this offseason, Dallas has been active in the last few days in covering bases and giving itself more flexibility for the draft. They don't want to have to reach on a talent because of a need, nor do they want to tip their hand too much to the rest of the league.

As of now there are still some significant acquisitions that could happen. Dallas has visited with veteran Safety Eric Berry and Defensive Lineman Malik McDowell, plus are reportedly in trade talks with Miami for Defend End Robert Quinn. Any of these moves could have a big impact on their need levels for the draft.

We've already seen some changes thanks to offseason activity. With Tuesday's signing of Randall Cobb, plus moves to retain Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns, Dallas may not be looking at a receiver as early as we might've thought. The same can be said for Jason Witten's return and the tight end position.

If the draft were today, without accounting for any of the players that the Cowboys have had talks with but remain unsigned, here's how I would rank the team's 2019 draft needs:

  1. Safety
  2. Defensive End
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Tight End
  5. Running Back
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. Offensive Tackle
  8. Cornerback
  9. Linebacker
  10. Kicker
  11. Center
  12. Guard
  13. Quarterback (Mike White is their drafted backup project for at least another year.)
  14. Punter (Could add someone to compete with Chris Jones and save some cap dollars.)
  15. Fullback (They re-signed Jamize Olawale, who they barely use anyway. Zero need here.)

I put safety on top because it's the spot that could most use an immediate upgrade and has some pressing future need. Dallas didn't make the big move for Earl Thomas that many hoped for and Jeff Heath's contract expires after this season. Hopefully, a second-round talent could compete for a starting job now and at least replace Heath in 2020.

Even with the Kerry Hyder signing defensive end has some major red flags. DeMarcus Lawrence has sworn he would holdout without a long-term deal. Randy Gregory is suspended again, and now Tyrone Crawford is now facing potential league action from an incident with police last week. Unless the Cowboys think Taco Charlton is going to make a big push in his third year, they could be hurting for a pass rush in 2019.

I expect things with Lawrence will get resolved, and I doubt Crawford will get suspended for more than a game or two if at all. But Dallas could still use another solid DE if they don't get this deal for Robert Quinn done.

Remember, the 2019 Cowboys aren't working with a first-round pick. Barring a trade, they'll be waiting until the 58th pick to make their first selection. That limits the impact potential of their picks and makes what they do with the Day 2 picks all the more critical.

REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

Safety Eric Berry, currently a free agent. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

So what if the Cowboys pull off these three potential moves, adding Berry, McDowell, and Quinn? Each player would help to address the top three needs on my list.

Eric Berry hopefully solves the immediate upgrade need at safety, though it may not do much for the future. He turns 31 this year and was released by Kansas City because of multiple injury issues. Dallas could still consider taking a rookie prospect, perhaps even releasing Jeff Heath for cap savings if needed.

Malik McDowell was considered a first-round talent in 2017 but has never played after a major ATV accident prior to his first training camp with Seattle. If he's finally recovered enough to return to football and play at his original potential, he could give Dallas a talent infusion that none of their draft capital could provide.

Robert Quinn has been around a while but will be just 29 in May, and is still putting up sacks at a solid rate. He's averaged 7.5 sacks the last two years with two different teams. He would go a long way to stabilizing things at defensive end and allowing Dallas look at guys like Gregory and Hyder as icing on the cake.

If Dallas lands all three players then I would adjust the list as follows:

  1. Tight End
  2. Safety
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Running Back
  5. Defensive End
  6. Wide Receiver
  7. etc.

If you think about it, the safety and tight end positions would be kind of similar in this scenario. You'd have Eric Berry and Jason Witten as the veteran stopgaps, Xavier Woods and Blake Jarwin as intriguing young guys with starting potential, and Kavon Frazier and Dalton Schultz as other young depth.

However, at every step, safety would be deeper and have more upside. Berry should have more to often than Witten, Woods is more proven than Jarwin, and Frazier is more experienced than Schultz.

Plus, we didn't even mention that you'd have Jeff Heath for experience and versatility at safety. Meanwhile, TE Rico Gathers probably won't be on next year's team.

So yes, I'd vault tight end to the top of the need list. Dallas may like Blake Jarwin but they could find a far more polished and talented player with the 58th pick.

Christian Covington

Defensive Lineman Christian Covington (Maria Lysaker - Cal Sport Media)

Even with McDowell and Christian Covington added to the mix, Dallas would still be wise to address the defensive tackle position. They have several contract issues coming up at once in 2020.

Covington and Maliek Collins will be unrestricted free agents next year. The Cowboys will also likely want to finally shed Tyrone Crawford's contract, with $8 million in cap relief possible. That would leave them pretty bare at defensive tackle.

Dallas could make a move now to solidify their rotation and prepare for the future. They'd have a little more stability at defensive end with assumed multi-year deals for Lawrence and Quinn, making tackle the more immediate concern.

The backup running back spot can't be ignored, with only Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn currently signed behind Ezekiel Elliott. If Dallas doesn't bring back Rod Smith between now and the draft, they may want to spend a high pick for Zeke's relief man and an additional offensive weapon.

Elliott's own contract will be up for discussion as soon. Having a talented player with a four-year rookie deal behind him could give the Cowboys much-needed leverage in any future talks with their franchise back.

~ ~ ~

We'll see if Dallas lands any of the players we've hypothesized about. Any of them would help lessen the need at their positions, but those would still remain important areas for the Cowboys to look at in the upcoming draft.



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Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke

John Williams

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New York Giants are 2-1 Against Cowboys With Ezekiel Elliott

It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?

This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

if you can only pay one it should be

The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?

On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.

To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.

Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.

Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.

As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.

Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.

In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.

Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.

Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.

Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.

Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.

Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.



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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T

The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.

During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.

After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.

This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.

Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!



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