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?
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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