It's a little over five weeks until the first night of the 2017 NFL Draft. You may be wondering what else to expect from the Cowboys between now and then. Is Dallas done in free agency for now? If not, will any other contracts need to be restructured?
And of course, will something ever happen with Tony Romo?
Today we'll do a general overview of where the Cowboys are right now in putting together a roster for 2017 and what they have left to accomplish. To begin, here's a quick recap of free agents from our 2016 roster who've been re-signed:
- QB Kellen Moore (READ MORE)
- RB Darren McFadden (READ MORE)
- WR Terrance Williams (READ MORE)
- WR Brice Butler (READ MORE)
- G Jonathan Cooper (READ MORE)
- DL David Irving (READ MORE)
With these moves, Dallas has kept to their new tradition of covering roster holes before they get to the draft. They now have a backup quarterback and full depth charts at running back and receiver. This allows the Cowboys to focus on defense in the draft and only take offensive skill players if a truly great opportunity presents itself.
While they've re-signed these six players, the Cowboys had 21 free agents to start this offseason. Several of those have signed with new teams, but Dallas has also brought in some fresh faces to replace them. The following table shows our roster comings and goings, and I've lined up our new players with the guy they're replacing.
|CB Brandon Carr||CB Nolan Carroll|
|DT Terrell McClain||DT Stephen Paea|
|DE Ryan Davis||DE Damontre Moore|
|CB Morris Claiborne||n/a|
|S Barry Church||n/a|
|S JJ Wilcox||n/a|
|G Ronald Leary||n/a|
|OT Doug Free (retired)||n/a|
|DL Jack Crawford||n/a|
|QB Mark Sanchez||n/a|
|RB Lance Dunbar||n/a|
|TE Gavin Escobar||n/a|
|LB Justin Durant||n/a|
|LB Andrew Gachkar||n/a|
|LB Rolando McClain||n/a|
|CB Josh Thomas||n/a|
|DT Richard Ash||n/a|
At first glance, that long list of unmatched players may be a little scary. It's especially bad from Claiborne down to Crawford; all starters or key roleplayers from last year's team who are now gone. However, things aren't nearly as dire as you might think.
For example, at left guard, Ronald Leary's replacement is already on the roster. La'el Collins was the starter before getting injured early last season. With Collins coming back and Jonathan Cooper re-signed as a backup, Dallas will preserve the same basic dynamic of a quality starter and veteran reserve. Leary's talent will be missed, but there's no hole on the roster.
The secondary is another area where young guys are expected to step up. While cornerback Morris Claiborne had a great start to 2016, he missed nine games and cemented his unreliability. Sixth-round rookie Anthony Brown played remarkably well in Claiborne's place and is expected to step into a much greater role this season.
At safety, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are both headed to Florida after signing with the Jaguars and Bucs. Right now, Dallas appears content to allow Jeff Heath to move into the starting role and use Kavon Frazier as a backup and special teams player. Given that Frazier barely played last season, it's almost like adding a new body to the depth chart.
The downside to this strategy is the chance that these players won't be able to handle greater responsibility. However, how do you really know until you they get the opportunity? Signing a slew of veterans to replace the ones you've lost is like throwing a big "progress stopper" blanket over your entire team. You can't have homegrown talent if you don't let it grow.
Free Agent Market Still Open
That being said, there is no reason to assume is Dallas is done courting free agents. Just yesterday they visited with veteran safety Robert Blanton and we can expect more action to come in the next few weeks.
During the 2016 offseason, from March 18th through the start of the draft, Dallas brought in Benson Mayowa, Alfred Morris, and Joe Looney while also re-signing Lance Dunbar and Jack Crawford. Clearly, there is still plenty that can happen in free agency this year.
Like any salary cap-strapped team should, the Cowboys are looking for bargains. That generally means waiting for the early waves of free agency to end and for unsigned talent to start getting desperate. That veteran pass rusher you want may still be coming.
The guy that I can't take my eyes off of is Jacquies Smith (pictured above) from the Bucs. He's still just 27-years-old and has proven pass-rush skills. Smith is a restricted free agent but was given the lowest tender amount, meaning the Bucs only have the ability to match a contract offer and won't get any draft pick compensation if Smith leaves.
After missing all of last year with a knee injury, Jacquies Smith is going to be fighting for snaps with the emerging Noah Spence and veteran Robert Ayers. Dallas could offer him a modest deal of about $2-$3 million per year and perhaps still put him outside of what the Bucs want to match. With no draft pick on the line, why not?
This Whole Tony Romo Thing
Before we go, we have to address the ongoing question of Tony Romo's future. For a while it seemed that the Romo stalemate was keeping the entire quarterback market frozen, but we've seen some movement in the last few days as Dallas re-signed Kellen Moore and Josh McCown signed with the Jets.
The Denver Broncos and Houston Texans remain the teams to watch. Houston is especially interesting after they dumped Brock Osweiler onto the Cleveland Browns. They claim to be content with Tom Savage for next year, but is that really how you want to try to build on last year's playoff appearance?
Personally, I have no issue with the way the Cowboys are handling this. If there was only one clear place for Romo to land then maybe you go ahead and let him go. But with at least two teams in play, that is an opportunity to get something back on Tony's departure.
These three teams are basically playing Chicken with each other. The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl quarterback for 2017, so why should they back down?
This isn't about being unappreciative of Tony Romo's time in Dallas. He'll get a spot on the Ring of Honor one day for that. This is about the business of winning and getting back to the Super Bowl. You can't cry about the Cowboys lack of postseason success and then fault them for not trying to maximize their assets and leverage when they have it.
~ ~ ~
Whether it's with Tony Romo or most other situations, the Cowboys are operating with a much more conservative approach to team management. They are focusing on developing existing talent and using the draft to obtain more, rather than spending big in free agency.
It may not make for offseason excitement. but these tenants have resulted in a lot of Super Bowl wins over the last 20 years. After these decades of futility, how can we not be encouraged by a change of direction?
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
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As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
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