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?
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season
I know we are all still little disappointed with the way the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season ended, but if we are completely honest with ourselves it ended a lot better than we initially thought it would. With the season officially over, it's time to start the evaluation process to see what went wrong and what right this past year.
I don't know about you, but I started the evaluation process a lot earlier this year than I have in years past. That is why today I want to share with you five of the Dallas Cowboys players who I believe had a fantastic 2018 season and five that unfortunately didn't quite live up to expectations.
Before we get started, I want to let you know that I tried to stray from pointing out the obvious, especially in the stud category. Instead I went with players who kind of came out of nowhere to have a really good season. I thought that would make it a little more enjoyable instead of pointing out the obvious. I hope you enjoy.
✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Studs ✭
CB, Byron Jones
Byron Jones completely turned around his career this season with the Dallas Cowboys after being moved from safety to cornerback, his more natural position. Many had him pegged as a first-round bust, but he definitely quieted his critics by making his first Pro Bowl and becoming a Second-team All-Pro. I would say that qualifies as stud status.
The Predator and Wolf Hunter
You can't really mention one and leave out the other, which is why you're getting a two-for-one special here with Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. This dynamic duo arguably played like the best LBs in the league, although it's Vander Esch who has received the majority of the attention and got the Pro Bowl not as a replacement. Both definitely had Pro Bowl caliber seasons and that alone speaks volumes to how they played in 2018.
C, Joe Looney
No one could've possibly predicted the kind of season Dallas Cowboys backup Guard/Center Joe Looney would have in 2018 after replacing Travis Frederick in the starting lineup. He became somewhat of an afterthought this past season, which is pretty impressive in itself considering he was replacing one of the best centers in the league. What's even more impressive is the fact he played every single snap on offense. No other Cowboys player accomplished that feat on either side of the ball.
DE, Randy Gregory
You may disagree with me here, but the way Randy Gregory played in the second half of the 2018 season earned him stud status in my opinion. If he would've played that way for the entire year he would've joined DeMarcus Lawrence with double digit quarterback sacks. His ability to turn his speed into power gave opposing left tackles fits. He ended up being among the best at pressuring the QB in the latter part of the season.
DT, Antwaun Woods
Antwaun Woods was viewed as nothing more than a camp body when the Dallas Cowboys picked him up in the offseason after being released by the Tennessee Titans, but it's not always where you start it's where you finish. He went on to earn the starting gig at the 1-tech or nose tackle this past season and was largely responsible for the success Dallas had at shutting down opposing offenses rushing attacks. Unfortunately, as well as he played all season it will probably be forgotten after the way the LA Rams completely dominated Woods and the rest of the Cowboys DL in the playoffs.
✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Duds ✭
LB, Sean Lee
The Dallas Cowboys wisely drafted Leighton Vander Esch as insurance if Sean Lee couldn't remain healthy in 2018, and thank the heavens they did. Vander Esch was supposed to be Lee's backup this season, but it ended up being the other way around after #50 once again missed quite a bit of the year with injuries. It looks like the torch has already been passed, making Sean Lee's future in Dallas a mystery moving forward.
DT, David Irving
Remember last offseason when the Dallas Cowboys decided to place just a second-round tender on David Irving and we were worried some other team would snatch him up? Yeah, well it looks as if the Cowboys are the ones who paid too much to keep him around because did basically nothing in 2018 despite all the high expectations we all had for him. After he sustained a high ankle sprain he pretty much went M.I.A. and no one really knows what the heck is going on or what his future holds.
WR, Allen Hurns
The Dallas Cowboys signed Allen Hurns this past offseason to help replace some of the lost production in the passing game after they decided to release Dez Bryant. Unfortunately, he never found his footing in Dallas and finished the year with an unimpressive stat line of 20 receptions for 295 receiving yards and two touchdowns. To add insult to injury (pun intended), his gruesome leg injury might be the only thing we remember about his 2018 season.
S, Jeff Heath
I'm actually a fan of Jeff Heath's, but he didn't particularly play very well this season. He ended up grading out as one of the worst tackling safeties in the NFL this past season. I don't know if it was some kind of fluke or what, but the Dallas Cowboys will surely be looking to upgrade the safety position this offseason either through free agency or the draft, perhaps both. Regardless, his days in the starting lineup may be all but over.
RB/WR, Tavon Austin
There were a lot of high expectations for Tavon Austin when the Dallas Cowboys added him via trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Austin was supposed to provide a different dynamic to the Cowboys offense and help improve their return game as well. Unfortunately a groin injury pretty much wiped out the majority of his season, but even when he was on the field he wasn't as impactful as we'd all hoped. He did show a few flashes of his talent, but for me it wasn't enough.
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