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?
Snap Judgments: Cowboys’ Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win
The Dallas Cowboys evened their record at 1-1 with their 20-13 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night. The Cowboys linebackers had a huge impact on the outcome of the game and it wasn't just the guys at the top of the depth chart either. America's Team got contributions from guys at the bottom of the depth chart.
What a difference a year makes.
The Dallas Cowboys worked hard this offseason to fix the linebacker depth that failed them in the 2017 season. When Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens -- or both -- were sidelined with injuries, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and the rest of the linebacker group struggled to keep up with opposing offenses. Specifically, in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers the major depth inadequacy was revealed.
One year later, the Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker corp that allows them to go five deep with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson all making considerable contributions for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday nights victory.
Here are the final snap counts for the five linebackers that played a defensive snap against the Giants.
- Jaylon Smith - 57 (84%)
- Sean Lee - 41 (60)
- Leighton Vander Esch - 28 (48%)
- Damien Wilson - 17 (25%)
- Joe Thomas - 14 (21%)
Jaylon Smith led the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night with 10 tackles (seven solo) and played really well roaming sideline to sideline and making plays. He was tasked with the difficult assignment of containing New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley and allowed four catches for 41 yards in his coverage area. Smith was credited with three stops or plays that result in a "loss" for the offense (per Pro Football Focus). Smith led the team in snaps for the second straight week.
Sean Lee had a better game on Sunday night than he did in week one. PFF credited him with four stops, four tackles and an assist. Lee allowed two catches for 24 yards on two targets to Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram. Lee pulled his hamstring at the end of the game and was held out the rest of the way for precautionary reasons. He'll be an interesting name to watch on this week's injury report. Age catches up with everyone, but hopefully Sean Lee can stave it off for at least another season.
Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch saw a big bump in his snap count from week one (17) to week two (28). The rookie played well too. As many players seemed to struggle with tackling Saquon Barkley, Vander Esch was able to bring down the number two overall pick on several occasions. Vander Esch had seven solo tackles in his second career game.
Damien Wilson was the surprise player of the night. He had three tackles on the night, including one on special teams, a sack, and a forced fumble. Though his time on the field might have been short, his impact was certainly felt. His forced fumble led to a field goal that gave the Dallas Cowboys a 13-0 nothing lead. Wilson was also credited with two stops on the night.
Joe Thomas has been a good player for the team off the bench as well. Though he only had one tackle, it was good enough to be credited with a stop. He's a player that can play both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. As the fourth or fifth linebacker on the depth chart, Thomas is a great role player.
Other Snap Count Notes
- Taco Charlton may not have started, but he played 84% of the team's defensive snaps. That number is up from 73% in week one. Charlton had a sack, a hit, and a hurry as well as three stops on the night.
- Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns led the wide receiver group in snap percentage from week one to week two. The big difference at wide receiver was seeing Michael Gallup take the third most snaps on offense instead of Deonte Thompson. Thompson still had the bigger impact with four catches for 33 yards on five targets including two for first downs.
- Geoff Swaim was the far and away leader at tight end in snaps with a 94% snap count. Only the offensive line and Dak Prescott had more snaps on the night than Swaim. He's the TE1 for the team, though he didn't have an impact in the passing game.
- Rico Gathers only played five snaps, but there was concerted effort to get him the ball as he had two targets in his five snaps. He may not have come away with a catch, but it's a start.
- Jourdan Lewis continues to be the odd man out on defense. He only played one snap.
- Dorance Armstrong saw a snap jump from week one to week two going from 28% of the defensive snaps to 40% of the snaps. He had two hurries and an assisted tackle.
Why Cowboys Need Tavon Austin More Involved Offensively
Two games into the 2018 season and I'm still not quite sure what to make of the Dallas Cowboys offense. To me, there is a void of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. With the exception of Ezekiel Elliott and maybe Cole Beasley, there is a lack of consistency that is really hurting this offensive unit. Changes need to be made or someone needs to step up in a hurry.
Enter Wide Receiver/Running Back Tavon Austin.
Just looking at Tavon Austin you would probably put him in the category with Cole Beasley, a small/diminutive WR who should strictly be playing out of the slot. That's typically where the smaller WRs get placed in the NFL because teams would like you to believe that due to their diminutive stature, they can't succeed on the outside.
Well, guess what? The passing game is changing around the league and we're starting to see more of these smaller/quicker WRs earn more prominent roles. The reasoning is these types of receivers are generally known to be better route runners, who are more capable of creating separation on their own.
The Dallas Cowboys must be buying into this philosophy because during the offseason they pretty much revamped the entire wide receiver position with that thought at least in the back of their minds. They didn't bring in a lot of "undersized" WRs, but they did focus on adding pass catchers who can run better routes and create separation on their own.
Wide Receiver Tavon Austin is one of those pass catchers Dallas brought in to improve their passing game. Austin really hasn't been utilized as much as I thought he would in the first two games, but he is starting to look like a dynamic weapon the Cowboys can't ignore much longer.
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Last Sunday night against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys finally decided to utilize Tavon Austin's speed in the passing game. The result, a 64 yard touchdown pass from Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Austin's speed to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally is something the Dallas Cowboys need to incorporate more of into their offensive game plan. Forcing opposing defenses to have to cover more of the field should create more opportunities for big plays in both the running and passing game.
Stretching the field vertically with Austin's speed will open up things up underneath in the passing game. It takes at least one, possibly two defenders out of the play, leaving nine to defend against 10 Cowboys offensive players. That benefits Ezekiel Elliott in the running game and the other WRs running those underneath routes.
Stretching the field horizontally mostly helps the running game, which is great news when you have a dynamic running back like Zeke. Utilizing Austin's speed on jet sweeps or reverses forces the edge defenders from crashing down on inside runs. It also forces the linebackers to hesitate more because they have to respect the threat of both an inside or outside run.
Against the Giants, Tavon Austin turned three touches into 94 total yards, two receptions for 79 receiving yards and one rushing attempt for 15 yards. Imagine if the Cowboys were to give him about 10 touches a game. It seems like such a simple thing, but I think it could have a huge impact (for the better) for the entire offense.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to get Tavon Austin more involved?
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
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