Midway through the preseason, we've learned tons about the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Some good, like the fact that Jaylon Smith is a very different player than last year's version of himself. And some bad, like the team's lack of depth at quite a few positions. However, there are questions that we haven't gotten an answer to.
There are two games left to be played, including the so-called "dress rehearsal" week 3 game which will take place in Arlington, Texas versus the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday night. Even thought Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and other injured players will not be on the field, there are still some important questions that we want answers to.
What does WR Cole Beasley's "new role" looks like?
All offseason we've been hearing about Cole Beasley emerging as the team's new #1 wide receiver. Even though Michael Gallup has stolen the show in the preseason, Dak's comments throughout the offseason point to Beasley. There are many ways to define a WR1 in the NFL, but comments about Cole Beasley taking a new role on this offense have been discussed a lot among fans and analysts.
We've heard about Beasley playing on the outside more than before and it's tough to imagine that. However, Cole is a versatile player and could prove all doubters wrong. Since he's been dealing with a groin injury, we haven't been able to watch him during the preseason but that could change since he's gotten back to practice this week.
I'm sure I am not the only waiting dying to see Beasley play in a way we haven't really seen before. Hopefully, this works out for the offense.
Who is the Cowboys' starting TE, if any?
Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim have been fighting for the starting position and even though Jarwin has seemingly getting ahead of Swaim, he really hasn't done enough to put a final period to the tight end position battle.
Forget about filling Jason Witten's shoes, the Cowboys do not have a clear-cut starter for week 1 yet. Will that change? If things keep going the way they are, I expect to see the same rotation we've seen in August continue all the way into the regular season.
We could see one of these guys earn the starting spot at some point over the next two weeks, though. But hey, at least we know it won't be Rico Gathers, right?
Will WR Terrance Williams make the cut?
There are wide receivers in Dallas that deserve to be on the roster, but will be cut because there won't be enough spots available. That's the truth. We're bound to be disappointed about one of our many "pet cats" in this position. Veteran Terrance Williams has experience and has had a good training camp performance so far.
But his roster spot isn't guaranteed. There is too much young talent on the team. Many in Cowboys Nation don't want T-Will to be one of the 53 guys on the roster, but the team seems higher on him than most fans, including myself. He's been getting snaps with the first-team offense and could very well be locking up a roster spot.
I'm not buying it, yet. Williams should be fighting for his job against the younger guys with higher upside, such as Lance Lenoir.
What's up with CB Jourdan Lewis?
One of the players Cowboys Nation has been most disappointed with is sophomore Jourdan Lewis. After an impressive rookie performance in 2017, the team has pushed him down to the back end of the depth chart and we've barely seen him in the preseason.
He's struggled a bit, but has it been enough for Anthony Brown to be getting more playing time than him? The entire Lewis situation seems odd. Could it be that the team tries him out at safety? Or simply give him more playing time? We might get an answer before the regular season comes around.
Is Randy Gregory ready for primary role in week 1?
We know about his talents. We know that Randy Gregory is a defensive end with double-digit sacks potential. But will he be ready for a primary role when the Cowboys travel to Carolina to play the Panthers? He definitely might. He looked fine versus the Bengals last Saturday and didn't seem to have any conditioning issues.
This might happen. It's even more likely if Tyrone Crawford is getting time at DT due to Maliek Collin's injury and David Irving's suspension. There could be even more rotation at RDE, giving Randy Gregory the perfect chance to earn a starting role.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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