Dallas Cowboys Nation is a site dedicated to the fans. We care what you think and we want to you to have a platform to voice what you have to say. This installment of "Voice of the Nation" asks who fans view as the top-5 current Dallas Cowboys.
Here are their responses:
Todd Cory (Twitter: @TDC331)
5. Tyron Smith
Left tackle Tyron Smith provides a pro-bowl caliber, blind side protective anchor for the quarterback. He also possesses a tremendous amount of upside to go along with youth. His athleticism and increasing experience are valuable assets.
4. Jason Witten
One of the best tight ends to ever play in the NFL. Reliable, consistent and as tough as they come. His influence and work ethic both on and off the field helps this team immensely.
3. Tony Romo
The Dallas Cowboys always have the chance to win any game with Tony Romo leading the charge at quarterback. The team is never counted out with him in the lineup. An extremely exciting player to watch every single down as he will always try to capitalize on the team's opportunities with big plays.
2. Demarcus Ware
Quite possibly the best pass rusher in the game. Demarcus Ware is a constant, major threat to opposing offenses. A high character player/fan favorite, who piles up sacks and forced fumbles. An absolute iconic force for the Dallas Cowboys.
1. Sean Lee
With Sean Lee in the lineup, the defense is awarded with a tremendous presence of swagger. A linebacker who is at the peak of his career. Sean Lee plays with a magical instinct for the football and greatly lifts the Cowboys defense.
Dan Flannigan (Twitter: @Dan_Flannigan)
The Penn State second round pick is the leader of the defense and is a tackle machine. He is also injury prone and needs to stay on the field a whole season. Lee is the future at MLB in the NFL and there should be no transition period for the move to the 4-3 since the guy is an absolute genius. If Lee never got hurt this past season the Cowboys win the division in my opinion, he is that important. He can cover TEs and RBs and is obviously a force in the run game. Health will always be his question mark but once he gets rid of the bug he will only get better.
4) Jason Witten
To me Witten is the best all-around TE in the league with his route running, hands and blocking. He will set the Cowboys record for most receptions in team history and he is the only one who could catch Tony Gonzalez for most all time for a TE at the moment. Witten is a great leader on and off the field and always seems to be there when Romo cannot find anyone open down field. The window is closing on his prime years which is why Dallas went with a TE in back to back drafts even though none block like Witten. He will have a few more good seasons before passing the torch down to the young guys but there is no one better to learn from, save Gonzalez, than Witten for Hanna and Escobar.
3) Dez Bryant
"The Big 88"- Hot Hands Hannon for all you Little Giants 90's kids out there. Dez has finally grown up and is making all those teams that passed on him in the draft regret it with every catch he makes. There is a reason Jerry gave him the number made famous by the likes of Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin and if Dez keeps up his pace he will be right up there with them as one of the best Cowboy wide outs ever. That 2,000 yard, 20 TD goal he said he could get most likely will not happen and not because of skill but because Romo has too many mouths to feed and with the additions of Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar to add to it. Dez will warrant some attention from DBs but they cannot focus too much on him with Miles "String Cheese Hamy" Austin, Williams, Witten, and the backups Hanna and Escobar on the field. I expect another big year but not the record breaker the media will talk about all season.
2) DeMarcus Ware
Beast. I really do not have to say any more about Ware but for the instructions given for this post....I will. Ware has the most sacks since coming into the league in 2005 out of Troy with 111 and was the second fastest to 100 behind only the late great Reggie White. Ware's health and numbers have declined over the years but like Romo he is out there doing it by himself. He was and still is the only threat Dallas has in the pass rush and that will take its toll on anyone. The move to the Tampa 2 4-3 will allow Ware to be in more one on one match ups where he can once again dominate left and right tackles while returning to the position he played in college. If this team is going to make noise this year Ware needs to get at least return to the range of 16-18 sacks which should be achieved.
1) Tony Romo
Ladies and gentlemen I do not want to hear the man is not clutch or the man cannot win. Tony Romo can play quarterback and play it pretty well considering what he has to put up with every Sunday. The man puts up serious numbers folks and puts this team into position to win games. Now, yes I am aware he tries too hard sometimes but give him a break he is running for his life for most of the game. In his career he has a 177 to 91 touchdown too interception ratio....Eli has a 211 to 144 and played two more seasons than Romo. If Jerry would give this man an offensive line the Lombardi would be in Dallas period. He is the captain and leader of this team and will be here at least three more years pending when the contract can be voided so if you do not support him find another team to root for, but I suggest you stay put if an o-line is created.
Eric Hoenig (Twitter: @DFWSportsFan)
Whether it’s because of the poor quality of the offensive line as a unit the past two seasons, the fact that the Cowboys passed on JJ Watt in the 2011 draft in favor of Tyron Smith, or that we just don’t hear that much from Smith, he is often overlooked. Smith has performed quite well starting 31 games for America’s Team in his first two seasons in the league, and he is still only 22 years old. 22 years old. Let that sink in for a minute. Smith has the size and athleticism to excel at one of the most important positions in football for the next decade. Smith has already become the Cowboy’s best o-lineman (I know that’s not saying much), and his best football is still ahead of him.
4. Sean Lee
Lee is the heart and soul of the defense, and his athleticism and instincts make him one of the best inside linebackers in all of football. Lee has demonstrated a knack for causing turnovers which is something that the Cowboys have been lacking in recent years. He is a difference maker in the middle, and he will thrive in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense where he will patrol the middle. The only thing keeping Lee from being rated even higher on this list is his inability to stay healthy. For the Cowboys to reach their full potential in 2013, they’re going to need Mr. Lee to stay healthy.
3. DeMarcus Ware
The Cowboys have one of the game’s best defenders on their roster with Ware, and D-Ware’s ability to get to the QB has been second to none over the course of his career. Opposing coaches and QBs have to scheme around him and know where he is at all times, and Ware can take over a game. He is one of the classiest guys in the NFL, but I do have some concerns about his age finally catching up to him and the injuries that slowed him down last season.
2. Tony Romo
Say what you want about Tony Romo, but he is a darn good QB. This team can only go as far as he will take them. Unfortunately for Cowboy fans, he has fallen short in crunch time throughout his career, and he has yet to play his best football at the end of the season. However, Romo is an immensely talented player, and he has shown that he is definitely capable of playing the most important position in the game at a very high level. To be able to play as well as he has behind such a poor offensive line has actually been quite remarkable. I was very happy to see the Cowboys take a “Romo –Friendly” approach in the draft and get him some much needed help. If this list was about who is most important to the Cowboys, Romo would come in at number one, and without him, the Cowboys have no shot at making the playoffs.
1. Dez Bryant
Dez is the most talented player on this roster. Period. Other than Calvin Johnson, there isn’t anybody else in the NFL that I would rather have at wide receiver for the Cowboys. Dez finally put it all together in 2012 as his knowledge of the game has improved drastically. He has the size, speed and hands to dominate the game, but his most important characteristic is his heart and passion. Dez brings a much needed attitude and fire to this team, and if he continues learning more about the game of football, he will become an unstoppable force on the field.
It’s impossible to make a list of the top 5 Cowboys without mentioning Ware’s name. It’s probably incredibly stupid for me to have him this low, and I admit that. It’s just that I’m an offensive kind of guy (get it, ha…nevermind). Ware is the best pass-rusher and easily the pass-rusher on the team when he was on the field last year. People say that Anthony Spencer is more important to this team, and I laugh in their faces. I’ve heard it mentioned too many times that Ware lacks heart, or Ware isn’t mean enough. All I say to that is Saints 2009. From what I’ve heard Ware always battles through injuries, so it’s tough that he missed so much time last year, but I fully expect him to have 2 or 3 more good-great seasons before he starts regressing. This guy is amazing, and besides: I just like shouting “Beware of D-Ware!”
4. Dez Bryant
I hate to keep going offense here, but what’s not to like about Dez Bryant… ok I’ll admit that there were some things in the past, but everything I hear from the guy on the radio or that he tweets sounds like he’s really matured and accepts that he’s a role model. Dez Bryant is a guy that can do it all: he’s strong, he’s quick, and he’s got great hands. He’s got the playbook down and fights for every yard on every play. I get that some of you out there hate that, but I love it. This kid bleeds Football. His string of 7 games with TD receptions is amazing and with Terrence Williams and Gavin Escobar to stretch the field, he has a shot at being something special this year. It was criminal that he didn’t make the pro bowl last year. Although, let’s forget his disappearance at the end of the season.
3. Jason Witten
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Senator. Drafted in the third round out of Tennessee (The other UT) in 2003, he has been a stalwart for the Cowboys ever since. I’ll admit I wasn’t around for a lot of Witten’s biggest plays, mainly because I wasn’t watching at the time. But anyone whose helmet gets ripped off and keeps running head-first into traffic is a legend in my opinion. If the Cowboys never win a Super Bowl with Romo and Witten at the helm, it’s Witten I’ll feel the most sorry for. This guy gives his heart and soul for this team, playing through a spleen laceration and being criticized for losing a step because of it. He’s a blocker and a pass-catcher, a rarity in Today’s NFL. Plus, I swear he and Romo have a telepathic connection going on.
2. Tony Romo
Like it or not, Tony Romo is the Dallas Cowboys. Look no further than the 2013 NFL draft. If that isn’t a Romo-friendly draft I don’t know what is. It is my personal opinion that Romo has done more with less than any other current big-time quarterback in the NFL right now. Certainly there are better quarterbacks; I don’t think anyone would deny that. However his career touchdown-to-interception ratio is 2:1; the NY/A of the Dallas Cowboys passing offense with him at the helm has averaged 7.19. Compare that to a league leading 7.4 by the Denver Broncos offense last year. His running game and offensive line take turns being in shambles. He’s the national media’s number one piñata. And he’s just a really likeable guy; I can’t help but want him to succeed. Roll out right, Tony!
1. Sean Lee
2010 was my first NFL draft. I’m not a really young fan (I’d be old enough to remember the 1996 Super Bowl if I actually cared about Football at the time). It’s just that I wasn’t that big into sports until the 2009 season. Anyway the 2010 draft sticks out in my memory for two reasons: general anger at picking Dez Bryant, and drafting the injured Sean Lee out of Penn State. The anger at pick-up of an injury-prone linebacker (who we didn’t need: I’m noticing a trend here) was palpable everywhere I looked: “There goes Jerry again.” However, I truly believed he would be great. When it was announced in 2011 that he would be taking 1/3 of the snaps from Brookings and James, it wasn’t long before rumors came out he would take the majority of the snaps. What more is there to say? He picked off Peyton Manning in his first year. He played with a club over his hand for half a season in 2011. Finally, he’s the best MLB you’ve never heard of. And he’s only going to get better.
A special thanks to everyone who contributed to this installment of "Voice of the Nation". Please be sure to check these guys out on Twitter and let them know what you think!
History Suggests a Contract Extension for Ezekiel Elliott is a Crapshoot
If rumors are true, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon could be following in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell by threatening to hold out not only training camp, but the 2019 season if they're not rewarded with contract extensions from their respective teams. It's a bold strategy, especially considering the history of long-term extensions previously given to running backs.
Contract extensions for running backs is always a controversial topic. It's not only one of the easier positions to replace, but the shelf life for a NFL RB is a short one due to the physical nature of the position. Players bodies break down quicker, meaning their lifespan in the league on average is between just 3 to 5 years.
For the most part, the market value for running backs around the league would suggest the position isn't one teams like to invest a lot of resources in. Although, there was an uptick in the market last year when Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $14.375 million a year and then David Johnson signed for three years worth $13 million a season. Those two contracts could be the starting point for Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott's camp knows all of this and so do the Dallas Cowboys. But, handing out upwards of $14 million to a position that has such a short shelf life in the league is a crapshoot at best, even to a player as talented as Zeke. History hasn't been kind to running backs who receive a long-term extension. In fact, it's really hard to put a finger on one single RB who has lived up to their contract extension.
Take Todd Gurley and David Johnson for instance. Gurley already has long-term concerns about his health, and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to an injury. Both players are currently the top paid at the position right now, but they're not the only examples of why the Cowboys should be cautious offering Zeke a contract extension.
The RB tier below Todd Gurley and David Johnson are making around $8 million a year after receiving a contract extension. Unfortunately, the results are about the same. Devonta Freeman ($8.25 M) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 M) missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to injuries after being rewarded with long-term deals. Only LeSean McCoy ($8.01 M) has come close to living up to his deal, but even he has struggled off-and-on with injuries.
Need more convincing?
Let's take this back a little bit further. Chris Johnson, Johnathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice… I can go on and on. Even players such as Arian Foster who remained productive after receiving an extension struggled with injuries. If you haven't yet, you may start to see a trend here.
Now, I'm not saying the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't extend Ezekiel Elliott. Personally I'm on the fence about it and would be fine with them going either direction. But, they absolutely have to be cautious with the way they handled this. History is a good indicator they may not get the same kind of production from Zeke as they have previously.
Do you think the Cowboys should give Ezekiel Elliott a contract extension?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker
The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.
Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.
Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.
This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.
Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:
- Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
- Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
- Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall
There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.
Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.
Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.
Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.
One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.
It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.
Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?
But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?
~ ~ ~
OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”
There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.
Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?
It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.
"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."
Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW
Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.
Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.
While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.
In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.
They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.
Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.
There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.
If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.
And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.
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