The Cowboys and Vikings are two teams going in totally different directions.
In Dallas, excitement could not be higher as the Cowboys come into Thursdays Night's pivotal match up on a 10 game winning streak. In Minnesota, however, the opposite is true.
After a 5-0 start made the Vikings look like the top team in the NFC, their offense has sputtered, injuries have piled up, and they have fallen to just 6-5. Two of those five losses have come at the hands of the current leaders of the NFC North, the Detroit Lions, all but closing Minnesota's division title hopes.
They are still fighting, however, and have to be looking at this Cowboys defense as a chance to get back on track. Earlier this week rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell said that the Vikings will look to open up their passing game more on Thursday, and have been working on their downfield attack.
Watch out Dallas! Laquon Treadwell says "We're going to have a chance to make plays down the field. We've been testing the waters this week
Treadwell hasn't seen much action this year, and hasn't been impressive when he has had chances. But the Vikings do still possess two dangerous vertical threats in wide-out Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Even with all-world running back Adrian Peterson still watching from the sidelines, fill-in backs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon are still legit players which can make the Minnesota offense dangerous.
Still, their offense has been less-than-average, in large part due to a banged-up offensive line and, well, Sam Bradford. Bradford is 23rd in the league in Yards Per Attempt at just 6.43, while being sacked the 7th most times at 26. For comparison, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (a rookie!) is 3rd in YPA at 8.34 and 28th in sacks with only 15.
Regardless of these poor passing game numbers, the Vikings are still looking at the Cowboys defense as their chance to turn things around.
While the defense has been better than expected, the winning streak has certainly masked some serious issues.
Not the least of which is the weak, and I mean weak, pass rush. The Cowboys pass rush is so nonexistent that they don't have a single player in the top 60 of the NFL in sacks. So even though the Vikings offensive line is bad, they have to feel like they can finally give Bradford significant time to throw this week.
Of course, on the Dallas side of things, they have to be hoping this is the week that guys like DeMarcus Lawrence finally hit their stride, and feast on weaker competition. But if it didn't happen against the Eagles' Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and it didn't happen against Washington's backup tackle Ty Nsekhe, then I am not confident it will finally happen this week.
One of the main reasons the Cowboys defense has been able to overcome their lack of a pass rush, besides the offense's efficiency, is their prolific secondary. Morris Claiborne had emerged as the team's best corner, Brandon Carr has played his best football since joining the Cowboys, Byron Jones and Barry Church have been solid safeties, and Anthony Brown has impressed at every turn.
But then, injuries happened. And while JJ Wilcox has been better than expected, he has no been nowhere near the level of a Barry Church. And while Orlando Scandrick is improving week by week, he hasn't been as good as Morris Claiborne. Luckily, the Cowboys expect to get Church back for Thursday, but how good can we expect him to be in his first game back from injury?
Getting Church back will help, but this is still a defense which has given up passing yard totals of 449 and 408 in two of their last three games. What Dallas does have in their favor, however, is that Bradford is not as good a player as Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins are, and outside of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings don't possess the weapons which the Steelers and Redskins do.
All in all, I expect the Cowboys to win this game. They are the better team, despite any of the deficiencies discussed in this piece. That doesn't mean they won't have their hands full, however, even though the Vikings appear to be sliding down the NFC standings.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
Terrance Williams Contract Creates 2018 Job Security
There's been a lot of talk about what the Dallas Cowboys will do at the receiver position this offseason. While there's a great divide on what the team should do with Dez Bryant, there's a fairly unanimous opinion that Dallas should find an upgrade over Terrance Williams. No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, though, Williams' contract should keep him on the roster in 2018.
Last offseason, Terrance signed a four-year, $17 million deal to stay in Dallas. Because we are now just in the second year of that deal, it is cost prohibitive against the salary cap to release or trade him.
Williams is scheduled to count $4.75 million against the 2018 cap. If Dallas were to cut him, it would accelerate his remaining guaranteed money and create $7.25 million in dead money this year. He would cost more against the cap off the roster than on it.
Even the June-1st provision doesn't help. Williams' dead money in 2018 drops to $4.75 million, which is a net zero against his existing cap hit. It would also push $2.5 million of dead money to 2019. There's no benefit there, and you lose an experienced player who knows your system.
If the Cowboys do like their WR depth enough to want to move on from Terrance, one option is to try to trade him. A trade would lower the cap penalty to $3.75 million and save $1 million. If he's traded after June 1st, it would save $3.5 million against this year's cap.
Of course, it takes two to tango in this scenario. Williams hasn't scored a touchdown since 2016 and has never proven he can take on a significant role in an offense. He was serviceable when Dez Bryant and Jason Witten commanded more attention, but he's a low-end WR2 at best and many teams likely wouldn't want him in their top 2-3 receivers.
Perhaps something could happen during training camps or preseason, when injuries may make other teams desperate. Then again, something could happen in Dallas that makes them less willing to part with Terrance.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that Terrance Williams won't be a Cowboy in 2018. And really, that's not bad thing.
Even if he gets pushed down the depth chart, Terrance would be a good insurance policy against injuries or any other issues that could happen between now and September. $4.75 million is more than you'd like to pay your fourth WR but it's a one-year problem.
If the Cowboys do add more WR talent this offseason, there is a trickle-down effect that strengthens the entire club. Williams, with his experience, is an upgrade over Brice Butler as the fourth receiver.
Therefore, unless circumstances both here and elsewhere allow Dallas to find a trade partner, Terrance Williams should be back next year.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
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