Before the 2014 season started for the Dallas Cowboys there were questions galore, and arguably one of the biggest questions about this team was how the linebackers would perform.
That was the question before Sean Lee got hurt.
After he was injured and put on the shelf for the entire 2014 season, the linebackers on this team were dubbed as one of the weakest positions on the defense and would no doubt fail miserably during the 2014 season.
The team had a very inconsistent and yet talented Bruce Carter, an underrated Justin Durant, and an inexperienced Kyle Wilber; a rookie in Anthony Hitchens - who some thought was overvalued being selected in the 4th round of the 2014 draft - and of course, Rolando McClain, who the team acquired by bringing him out of retirement for the second time.
Fast-forward through the season and the playoffs, and the unit that was supposed to be one of the weakest positions on the team ended up one of the strongest.
The team got an unexpected boost from Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain showed flashes of why he was a top draft pick by the Raiders just a few years ago. Bruce Carter had his best season as a pro and led all linebackers in interceptions with five, finishing in the league's top ten.
The linebacker unit didn’t go through the season without its ups and downs or injuries. Rolando McClain played through injuries most of the season and missed some games as well. His injuries caused a steep decline in his production as the season wore on. Bruce Carter missed three games and still had a few that left fans scratching their heads. Justin Durant - who Rod Marinelli said was the league’s best kept secret - was hurt and lost for the season in week 6.
Of the linebackers mentioned, only Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Kyle Wilber remain under contract with any significant playing time. When you have a really good season like the Cowboys did in 2014, one of the main priorities is to try to resign some of the players whose contracts have run out.
Many factors must be considered before decisions are made about some of those players. Here are some things the Cowboys' front office could be considering:
- How will the new contract mesh with the salary cap
- Has he played well enough and consistently enough to earn a new contract
- Injury history
- Father time creeps up on us all, but it's a whole lot faster in the NFL
- Depth - Who’s playing behind them? Can player A be replaced by player B if player A is let go. Is player A stunting the growth of those behind him? (AKA Progress stopper)
Those are just some of the questions which could be brought up if the team is thinking about negotiating. And perhaps those will be especially relevant to the front office when they look at free agents Rolando McClain, Bruce Carter and Justin Durant.
Let's do our own evaluations with our Sign 'Em or Let 'Em Walk list.
He’s the most controversial of the three, so let’s start with him.
We know some of his past - that he’s retired twice already and that he’s had run ins with the law. We know he sat out the entire 2013 season. The one thing we didn’t know when he was brought to Dallas was which Rolando the Cowboys were going to get. The Rolando that showed greatness his first couple of years in the league, or the Rolando that kept everyone guessing what his next move would be?
McClain flashed his abilities during preseason. He was brought along slowly, but as each week passed you could see he was regaining that stud form he had while with the Raiders.
McClain became an instant leader on this defense, vocally and leading by his play. He was lining people up in their proper positions by week one, and by week two he brought the heat on his tackling. His tackling wasn’t just hard-hitting; it was precision technique violently executed. He ended the season with 81 combined tackles, which was good for second on the team.
When McClain was in the game, other teams struggled to get a consistent running game going. He also played well against the pass as he was able to pick off a couple of throws in 2014.
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One interception - in Tennessee - was one of the most athletic catches you might ever see by a man of his size.
And his other interception came when he sealed the deal in Seattle late in the 4th quarter.
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He isn’t but 25 years old, so he has room for improvement and coaches as well as other players have said he’s a student of the game.
Let Him Walk
He made it an entire season with no off-the-field problems, but he does have a past of it happening. Remember that he’s still young, so it isn’t out of the way to think there’s a chance something else could happen.
He stayed injured almost the entire season. He played through those injuries - for the most part - but those injuries gradually started slowing his level of play down.
What kind of contract is he going to demand? He’s a young, talented middle linebacker who could get the big bucks if he chose to. And if the 'Boys let him walk, I believe he gets the contract he wants.
Overall Feeling on Rolando McClain
I think the team wants him back, and I think that he wants to come back. McClain said in training camp that there wasn’t but two teams he was going to come out of retirement for, and one of them is the Dallas Cowboys.
He knows what people around the league think of him. So when owner Jerry Jones called him to ask if he would play, I believe that went a long way with him. I feel he will get resigned to a "team friendly" deal; something along the lines of what left tackle Tyron Smith signed prior to training camp. Maybe not the same numbers, but with a similar structure.
Bruce is possibly the most athletically gifted linebacker on the team. That’s never been an issue. The issue was, which Bruce Carter are you going to get?
I wrote that piece last off-season trying to pinpoint the cause of some of his troubles. One of his biggest issues was taking two seasons to get accustomed to a new defense. Another was, he played so many positions in college that I felt he never had a chance to hone in on his craft at any one position.
There could be something to the idea that he needs a couple of years in a defense before everything starts to click. Not everyone learns the same way and I believe people forget that when it comes to football players.
Bruce was finally the playmaker Jerry Jones & Company had envisioned when he was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011. He led all linebackers with five interceptions, which was also good enough for a top 10 spot in the league.
Bruce found a home at strong side linebacker in this defense and for the most part, it was the best he’s looked since he came into the league. He was 6th on the team with 68 combined tackles to go along with his team-high 5 interceptions in 13 games.
He’s a young, athletic linebacker that can do it all on defense and special teams, and he can be the total package when all goes right for him.
Let Him Walk
Bruce just so happens to have his best season during a contract season - not the first time a player has done it, but it can bring up questions about his character.
Bruce has been hurt each year he’s been in the league and has never played 16 games. So that has to be taken into consideration on a couple of different levels, and goes along with him learning two different defensive schemes in his first couple of seasons. Not being able to stay healthy can play a big part in learning and his ability to play.
What kind of contract is he going to want, and does he want to be in Dallas? He’s said on more than one occasion that he lost his love for the game in the past, and that was a big part of how he prepared and how he played.
Overall Feeling on Bruce Carter
I think the team would love to have Bruce Carter back. This linebacker unit could be on the verge of something special and the Cowboys would love for him to stay and be part of that. But, I think the price is going to be too high for their liking. Bruce will hit free agency and someone will pay him big money.
Before training camp started, there were some in the football world who weren't so sure Durant would even make this team. That all changed the second Sean Lee went down.
Before the team traded for Rolando McClain, Durant was going to be the starting middle linebacker and he was proving every day that he was very capable of doing that. When McClain came in, Durant showed he was man enough for the job and that it didn’t matter if McClain was here for that job or not. Durant is known as a serviceable player but nothing to get too excited about. Over the course of training camp, the preseason, and the first month of the season, he changed the minds of everyone outside the organization.
In 6 games played, Justin Durant totaled 49 tackles. At that pace he would have easily led the team in tackles by the end of the year. I felt Durant was on his way to a Pro Bowl bid; that’s how well he was playing. He was always around the ball and in on gang tackles. Durant had a motor that wouldn’t stop.
He became a veteran leader on this team, which was badly needed considering the Cowboys have one of the youngest teams in the National Football League.
Being the eldest linebacker, it is very possible the team would resign him to a "team friendly" deal, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One is his age, and two is his injury history.
Let Him Walk
Will resigning Durant stunt the growth of rising linebacker Anthony Hitchens? If Durant is back, and the team resigns McClain, who’s going to sit? Sean Lee? I don’t think so! Second year stud Anthony Hitchens? I highly doubt it, not with the way that rookie played last season.
Durant is 30, and for most players 30 seems to be the age where people expect a decline, and it doesn’t help when you’re 30 and haven’t been able to play a full season since signing with the club.
Overall Feeling on Justin Durant
I feel the team will re-sign Durant. His leadership and play on the field is something the team can’t afford to let go.
If Durant was a couple of years younger, I’m not so sure Jerry & Co. could afford it. But, I think his injury history and his age play in the Cowboys' favor.
So here are my predictions.
McClain and Durant will return to join fellow linebackers Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Kyle Wilber in 2015. I think Bruce Carter played his last down for the Cowboys in 2014.
3 Reasons Not to Hate Kellen Moore Becoming Offensive Coordinator
Days after firing Scott Linehan, the Dallas Cowboys continue their search for their next offensive coordinator. It all points toward the team making an in-house promotion, with QB coach Kellen Moore taking his mentor's place. According to Adam Schefter from ESPN, the former Boise State passer is the leading candidate for the offensive coordinator vacancy in Dallas.
Former NFL QB Jon Kitna, now offensive coordinator for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football, is expected to become the Cowboys' QB coach, per a league source. Dallas' current QB coach, Kellen Moore, is a leading candidate to become Cowboys' OC, per sources.
The main reason to believe this, is the fact that Jon Kitna is expected to be hired as the team's QB Coach. This could mean plenty of things for Kellen Moore, but it's more than fair to believe he'll get the promotion.
Naturally, a huge amount of fans will be infuriated if Kellen Moore does get the coaching gig. His time as a player in the league wasn't any good. He's been part of Scott Linehan's coaching tree and that should mean Moore isn't capable of being an offensive coordinator, right?
Well, not so fast. Here are three reasons why you shouldn't hate Kellen Moore's candidacy for offensive coordinator.
1. Bad Player Doesn't Mean Bad Coach
First of all, let's forget about the idea than a player's performance is any indication of what he can be as a coach. It has absolutely no correlation. A bad player can turn into a pretty good coach and a good player can be terrible at coaching.
When we're talking about Kellen Moore, we're talking about a pretty smart kid. Ever since he was coming out of Boise State, scouts and analysts talked about his excellent football IQ. Moore clearly didn't last in the league because of his talent. What helped him stick around was his intelligence and knowledge. Teams that had him as a backup signal caller basically had a second QB coach on the locker room.
I actually found it funny how the perception around Moore has changed. When he was a backup on the roster, we talked about how he was very smart and could become a great coach someday but he didn't have it as a player. Now that he is a coach, we're talking about how he can't coach because he didn't play well. How is that logical?
2. Working With Linehan Doesn't Mean He’s Linehan 2.0
Now, another big concern is the fact that he worked many years with recently fired Scott Linehan. This doesn't mean Kellen Moore has the exact same offensive philosophy than his mentor. Sure, he worked with Linehan's offense because it was his job. We don't actually know what he'd bring to the table when he's in charge of the offense. Not to mention, Linehan wasn't always awful. There's a reason why for some years his offense was pretty productive. Moore can take the positive lessons from Scott and throw in a little of his own to make the Cowboys' offense efficient.
Dallas could move the chains last season. It was in specific areas like the red zone, long down situations that the team struggled. Kellen Moore could very well have what it takes to change that. At the end of the day, we won't know until we actually see what Moore's philosophy looks like.
3. Jason Garrett Will Take Over the Offense
For some years, Linehan was in complete control of the offense. This time around, it feels like it will be Jason Garrett's unit. This might be the most important aspect of this whole thing. This is Garrett's plan. This could very well be a great staff working together. Moore can be eased into his job with Jason Garrett calling the plays on the sideline at the start of the season.
With TE Coach Doug Nussmeier's help, this group could get this offense going. If Garrett will remain at the wheel, let him have control over his offense. If he fails, at least you gave him the chance to structure his staff and get involved.
And @mortreport reports that HC Jason Garrett is in line to wind up calling the Cowboys' plays this season. https://t.co/EWri4mZAgH
I know this will not be a popular decision by the Cowboys, but I frankly believe it might work. Although the head coach is the same, this would be a very different staff in 2019. The hire is not yet official, but it all points toward this happening.
Personally, I would've preferred the team to hire an outsider to refresh the ideas in the building. However, I don't hate the idea of Kellen Moore stepping up to the position. And you shouldn't either. At least not until we actually see what he has in store for us.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue to update you with every news regarding the Dallas Cowboys.
What do you think of Kellen Moore being the leading candidate for OC?
Cowboys Roster Looking Pretty Good for 2019
It was hard to watch the 2018 Dallas Cowboys end their season in the Divisional Round versus the Los Angeles Rams. The widely recognized Cowboys’ defense couldn’t find a way to stop the Rams’ running backs. Even still, it was a successful season in many ways. Dak Prescott played well and clearly improved after the team got him a great #1 wide receiver in Amari Cooper. The defense had a breakout season, getting to be one of the best units in the league. Young talent on the team shined bright.
Yet, as every year, the season ends with questions. What was the reason the Cowboys couldn't hold their own against the Rams? What are the team's weak spots? What position should the Cowboys aim to upgrade in the offseason? What was the most relevant problem?
To answer that last question, I can't avoid thinking of the word "play-calling," which was a huge issue in Dallas both in 2018 and in 2017. But the Dallas Cowboys finally pulled the trigger and made a bigger change in the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has been released as the team looks to change its offense heading into 2019. Also, a change at defensive coordinator could also be next for Dallas considering Kris Richard’s success since his arrival.
But let's leave coaching aside for a moment. Let's talk about this team's roster. The Cowboys actually have a talented group of players on the team. Of course, there are needs that must be taken care of, but there aren't really that many positions in which the team requires desperate help. Now granted, the front office will be very busy dealing with in-house extensions trying to extend many players' stays in Dallas.
This will be no easy task, but Stephen Jones and company have done a very decent job handling the cap space over the last few years. With much space to work with, there's reason to believe they will get things done. When it comes to adding talent to the team, let's talk about the elephant in the room. The Cowboys lack a first round pick. After all, getting Amari Cooper on the Cowboys had a cost.
But hey, thanks to that trade, Dak Prescott's offense has a great set of wide receivers. Michael Gallup continued to grow as the season went on. The offensive line is not there yet, but I'm confident in Connor Williams being a way better player than he was as a rookie. As for the defense, the Cowboys' front seven is one of the most promising in the entire league. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are one of the best LB duos in football. This is a legit football roster.
The team needs a defensive tackle, an upgrade at safety and probably a more prepared tight end. They probably could use help at many other positions, but I don't mean to rank the biggest concerns on the roster heading into 2019. However, if the front office fails to considerably improve any of these positions, it'll be far from the worst thing to happen.
Whether you like him or not, Jeff Heath has been decent enough to be a starter on the team. He won't be great, but he can get the job done. Defensive tackle wasn't a very big issue with Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins stepping up all throughout the season. The tight ends consistently improved week after week, featuring Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin.
Obviously, we want improvements. We want a better player at each position. But once the NFL free agency and the Draft comes around, it'll be important to remember that the Cowboys have a good roster and could get wins with the guys they have now. Desperate moves shouldn't really be on their plans. This is a team with enough talent to win in 2019.
Assuming Kris Richard earns the defensive coordinator title next season, having two new heads among the staff should be refreshing enough to exploit that talent's potential. Talent should be added, and even big time free agents such as Earl Thomas deserve consideration. But this is not a roster that's desperate. In fact, it's a roster in very good shape. The Cowboys might not have a first round pick, but frankly, they are in a very good position to lack a first rounder.
Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator
The pipe dream has been going on since former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback-turned CBS Analyst Tony Romo hung up his cleats for the black blazer. Fans from all corners of Cowboys Nation have clamored for a return to the field or at worst the sideline as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.
Let me stop you right there. It's not happening.
First of all. He's never been a coach at any level of football, so to assume that he could leave the broadcast booth and step into coaching an NFL offense and doing so at a high level is a huge leap of faith in number 9. Sure, Jon Gruden left the Monday Night Football booth for his lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders, but he had won a Super Bowl and had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL for years before joining the broadcasting ranks.
Tony Romo has an excellent understanding of football. He displays it on a regular basis during the CBS broadcasts. But doing from the broadcast view, seeing what the defense is trying to do, and calling the plays to counter what the defense is trying to do are very different things.
Secondly, the coaching job would be a major time commitment that at the moment he doesn't have. Even if he's working a 40 hour work week in preparation for his three-hour time slot, the demands on NFL coaches are easily twice that with many coaches putting in 100 hour work weeks in preparation for Sundays. Tony Romo has a family that even he's talked about as part of the reason that he went into broadcasting instead of looking to hop on with another NFL team.
Finally, the job would mean a significant pay cut from what Romo is already making. It's estimated that the former Cowboys quarterback is making anywhere from $5-10 million dollars a year with CBS. Jason Garrett is making $6 million per year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, so even if the Jones family was willing to pay first-time NFL coach Tony Romo a ton of money to come out of the broadcast booth, there's zero chance they pay him what he's making as a broadcaster. To do so, would be to undercut the head coach. Jason Garrett is Jerry Jones' guy. The owner and general manager wants Garrett to be the guy that leads the Cowboys to Super Bowl success, so there's zero chance he'd pay a coordinator close to Garrett's money, which would lead to constant speculation about the head coach and his future with the organization.
I love Tony Romo. His jersey is one of only two Cowboys jerseys that I own -- along with Darren Woodson -- and I think he could make a good coach one day, but I'd be hard pressed to see him come out of the coaching booth to take a coordinator job and have immediate success. The guys that are offensive coordinators in the NFL have been grinding for years to earn their jobs. Most started as position coaches -- see Sean McVay as Redskins TE coach. The Dallas Cowboys will spend the next few days, and perhaps weeks, identifying their replacement for Scott Linehan, but let's put to bed the dream of Romo as offensive coordinator.
It's just not going to happen.
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