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Where Will the Dallas Cowboys See the Most Change in 2017?

Sean Martin

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Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Sure it hurts to say (and type) right now, but the Dallas Cowboys are officially in the off season – which is ultimately a time to better this team for 2017 and the future. While the absence of Cowboys football will leave a void in our hearts for some time, the thought of this young team that just rattled off 13 wins in 2016 getting even better will immediately fill it back up with a newfound passion for America’s Team every day of the year.

So, now’s the time to ask the question, how will the 2017 Cowboys compare to this 2016 team? 

To do some initial crowd-sourcing on this topic, I took to Twitter to gather votes from Cowboys Nation on the following questions:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Help me with some potential writing material here Cowboys Nation. How many new starters do you expect on the Cowboys offense in 2017?

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Defense?

It appears that most fans are expecting the majority of this team’s changes to come on the defensive side of the ball, which would coincide with the recent comments from Stephen Jones that the Cowboys will indeed be focused on improving defensively for 2017.

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It may be far too early to really break down the specifics of which new faces will appear on Rod Marinelli’s defense next season, but based on the poll results, most fans are expecting up to four new starters.

Jaylon Smith

The one obvious player that is currently on the Cowboys roster is MIKE linebacker Jaylon Smith. If he is able to get himself ready for 2017 – the realistic goal for his Dallas debut when the Cowboys drafted him 34th overall in 2016 – Smith will instantly become this team’s best option at middle linebacker, and a welcome star to play next to Sean Lee.

So, where else will we see new starters on defense in 2017 for the Dallas Cowboys?

The obvious answer here is to stick with the front-seven and address a defensive line that once again allowed Aaron Rodgers to beat them in the playoffs, and while I certainly expect some new life to be pumped into the Cowboys’ pass rush, I think the position that could see the biggest overhaul defensively (if not team wide) is cornerback.

Morris Claiborne is once again set to enter free agency, as his one year “prove it” deal for 2016 will expire with Claiborne appearing in just eight games. Across from him, Brandon Carr is not only also a free agent, but a veteran 30-year old corner that is reportedly considering retirement.

This leaves Anthony Brown – another rookie sensation brought in with a sixth round pick – and Orlando Scandrick as set-to-return starters. The foundation to improve is certainly in place for a secondary that ranked 26th in passing yards allowed per game, but the depth and experience is lacking – leading me to believe (and ultimately hope) that the defensive help this team finds will be in the secondary.

Assuming again that Smith is standing in the middle of the field to lead the Cowboys defense on the first snap of 2017, a new body at corner along with two or more in the defensive line rotation would make these early poll results pretty accurate – and none of this seems too far-fetched.
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Offense

The core of the Cowboys’ world-beating offense is going nowhere fast, but what adjustments could be made on this side of the ball heading into 2017?

Most of you only expect two or three new starters on this Dallas Cowboys offense in 2017, and in discussing this topic on Twitter with Cowboys Nation we did run into a bit of a technicality when it comes to the left guard position.

Ron Leary went from a highly criticized player in the summer leading up to this season to the experienced starter Dallas needed at left guard when La’el Collins went down. Stepping up to do his job once again, Leary is now a free agent – one I don’t expect to see back in the silver and blue. The Cowboys have added depth at guard with Jonathan Cooper and Joe Looney, making Leary expendable while he looks for a big payday elsewhere, sliding Collins (who the Cowboys see as strictly a guard) back into the starting job between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.

Since it doesn’t seem that there will be any real competition for Collins in regaining his starter status, I won’t consider him a “newcomer” to the Cowboys offense in 2017. Instead, sticking with the Space Cowboys, I could see changes further down the line at right tackle.

Doug Free‘s status is still being speed rushed by opposing defensive ends uncertain at this position, as he would be entering his 12th year with the team in 2017. The elder-statesman when it comes to the assets the Cowboys have invested in this offensive front, Free certainly has faced the tough task of standing out amongst young first round talents the past few seasons.

While I personally defended Doug Free through most of this, his declining play – highlighted by critical penalties – is alarming, as is the overall depth Dallas currently has at offensive tackle.

If the Cowboys do indeed have a new starter at right tackle in 2017, the chances are relatively high it will be a new addition. Chaz Green is the current roster’s option to fill this role, but his frequent health issues will force Dallas to consider all methods of improvement – one of which could also involve Emmett Cleary.

Of course, there should be little to no concern over the status of the Cowboys’ offensive line as a whole, and their dominance will continue in 2017 with whoever lines up to protect Dak Prescott and pave paths for Ezekiel Elliott.

Terrance Williams

Scott Boehm via AP

When it comes to Dak Prescott though, some of his targets could certainly be unfamiliar. Both free agents, either Terrance Williams or Brice Butler will return to this team most likely, but it is hard to envision both WRs with the Cowboys in 2017 – perhaps even easier to picture both moving on in free agency.

This would automatically give the Cowboys at least one fresh face at wide receiver to play with Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley, likely a young play maker acquired in the draft.

Lastly, at the tight end position, Jason Witten indeed looks set to return for 2017 despite some noise about his retirement, and behind him the Cowboys must keep a close eye on the health of Geoff Swaim and James Hanna. Gavin Escobar likely leaves in free agency, but a core of Witten, Swaim, Hanna, and perhaps even Rico Gathers would quickly become one the most versatile TE groups in the NFL.

O.J. Howard, T.J. Green

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Still, there are plenty of fans calling for a high draft pick to be used by this team at TE, with first round talents like O.J. Howard available to take this offense to the next level.

Concern certainly isn’t the right word when it comes to evaluating the Cowboys offense for 2017, but more so intrigue. So long as this offensive line is intact, the Dallas Cowboys’ best strength will be running the football, and there’s no denying who their bell-cow runner will be next season.

Some of the other pieces will have to fall into place offensively though, with plenty of positional competition sure to decide key roles – just how Jason Garrett will want it.


All of these topics will be addressed in much greater detail as we continue through the off season and march towards the 2017 NFL Draft, free agency, and eventually the start of football with mini camp and OTAs.

For now, it is certainly fun to – for better or worse – lay out what this team could look like next season just days removed from the end of 2016. Such is life in the NFL, and this article will either serve as fodder for another collection of cold Cowboys’ takes or as a blueprint towards Super Bowl LII.

Either way, I appreciate everyone that participated in these polls on Twitter!

Tell us what you think about “Where Will the Dallas Cowboys See the Most Change in 2017?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we’re not how you think we are. Host of “Upon Further Review” on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

DAL 20, OAK 17: Cowboys and Playoff Hopes Survive Wild Game

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Dak Prescott

On a night when almost everything seemed to bounce the Raiders’ way, the final crucial play went in Dallas’ favor. That proved to be all the difference, allowing the Cowboys to improve to 8-6 and keep their playoff hopes alive in a pivotal road game in Oakland.

After a 55-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis moved Oakland 15 yards from the endzone, Oakland had a few shots at a game-winning touchdown before they’d attempt a tying field goal. On 3rd-and-3, Derek Carr scrambled and went for the score. He dived along the sideline and stretched the ball out toward the pylon, only to lose control. The ball left his hands, crossed the goal line, and went out the side of the endzone.

Cowboys ball. Cowboys wins.

That fumble was Oakland’s fourth of the night. Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on two of his kick returns but both times the ball rolled out of bounds. Michael Crabtree also fumbled after a catch, but Dallas failed to recover it before the receiver could get back on top of the ball.

Both teams were playing for their playoff lives. When the game was tied 10-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dallas faked a punt from their own 24-yard-line as Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards. The very next play, the Cowboys attempted a flea-flicker to Terrance Williams that was incomplete. It was perhaps the most aggressive series of calls we’ve seen from Dallas all year.

It was a tough, ugly game. There were 21 total penalties, 14 of which surprisingly belonged to the Raiders. Oakland’s offense executed more consistently while the Cowboys still made crucial stops when needed.

In the end, Dallas survived and advanced in their efforts to sneak back into the NFC playoffs.

Other Notes

  • Dak Prescott had a rough night with two interceptions and no passing touchdowns. One of those picks was due to contact on the throw, but he also missed some opportunities with errant throws and bad reads. He did run one in, though, and had 32 rushing yards total for the game.
  • Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for a woeful 74 yards on 23 carries. After a few weeks of big production, this was a good reminder of why we’re so happy to have Ezekiel Elliott returning next week.
  • While Dallas was unable to sack Derek Carr tonight, they applied a lot of pressure and forced several bad throws. Carr only completed 55% of his passes thanks to consistent heat from DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and even Taco Charlton on a few plays.
  • It was another solid night from the Cowboys’ young cornerbacks. Despite the big penalty on Oakland’s final drive, Lewis had a solid night all around along with Chidobe Awuzie. Anthony Brown also showed up, having a few nice deflections in crunch time.
  • The Cowboys will head back to Dallas to reunite to with Ezekiel Elliott and prepare a welcoming party for the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Seattle was humiliated at home today, losing 42-7 to the visiting Rams. With the Cowboys and Seahawks now tied at 8-6, Dallas can bury them next week with a victory.

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Game Notes

Cowboys and Raiders Offer Many Parallels

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Derek Carr

For only the 12th time since their first meeting in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders will face off tonight in what will likely be a season-ending game for the loser. Two of the NFL’s premiere franchises, the Cowboys and Raiders have lived almost entirely separate lives throughout their history. Despite that, the two organizations in many ways seem like mirror images of each other.

The Raiders are up by one game, 6-5, in the previous 11 games between Dallas and Oakland. The Cowboys have won the last two matchups, both of which were in Dallas. This will be the first they’ve played in the Raiders’ stadium since 2005.

Oakland is one of only a few NFL franchises the Cowboys have a losing record against. Dallas is .500 or better against 26 the 31 other teams in the league. The only other franchises with winning records against the Cowboys are the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), Cleveland Browns (17-14). Denver Broncos (8-5), and the Green Bay Packers (19-17).

Throughout NFL history, perhaps now two owners have challenged the establishment more than the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis of the Raiders. Davis sued the NFL in 1980 when his efforts to most the team to Los Angeles were blocked. This year, Jerry Jones threatened litigation against the league for how the commissioner’s contract negotiations were being handled.

in 2017, the Cowboys and Raiders were both Super Bowl contenders who have had disappointing the seasons. They go into this week at 7-6 and 6-7 respectively, nearly even, and with similarly slim hopes of still making the playoffs. Both may be still be able to sneak in if they keep winning, but help from other teams is also needed.

Even their quarterbacks can be compared. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are two of the top young stars at QB in the game but have had adversity this year.  Carr has been trying to bounce back from a major leg injury last year that cut short his breakout season. Prescott, a rookie sensation in 2016, has had to fight the sophomore slump while also dealing with the loss of offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott.

If that wasn’t enough, both their first names start with a “D” and end with a “K.” Mind-blowing stuff, huh?

All kidding aside, both Dallas and Oakland entered 2017 with championship goals and have had tough blows along the way. Both will be without key players tonight; Dallas still missing Elliott while the Raiders won’t have franchise receiver Amari Cooper. These personnel issues have plagued their seasons and left both on the brink of playoff elimination.

Who stays alive tonight? For two teams that only see each other every four years, this reunion is of incredible importance to both their immediate futures.

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Game Notes

Cowboys, Raiders Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders features two teams still hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Both will have to try to keep their seasons alive without some key players, according the final injury report for Week 15.

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Brice Butler (foot) – OUT
  • TE James Hanna (knee) – Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (back) – Questionable
  • OT La’el Collins (back) – Questionable
  • DL David Irving (concussion) – OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (foot) – Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring/back) – Questionable
  • LB Justin Durant (concussion) – OUT
  • CB Orlando Scandrick (back) – OUT

Don’t be worried by any of the key “questionable” players. They’re all dealing with nagging injuries and will likely be on the injury report the rest of the year. There is no indication that Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, or either of the starting offensive tackles will miss the game.

Brice Butler will miss his return game against his former team, which is more sad for him than any real issue for the Cowboys. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown could see some more usage on offensive as a result.

Missing David Irving will hurt as Dallas needs to get pressure on Derek Carr. Coupled with Orlando Scandrick’s absence, the Raiders could be dangerous with their passing game. Thankfully, some of this is offset by their star receiving also missing the game.

Oakland Raiders

  • WR Amari Cooper (ankle) – OUT
  • TE Clive Walford (concussion/neck) – OUT
  • C/G Jon Feliciano (concussion) – Questionable
  • DL Mario Edwards Jr (ankle) – OUT
  • DL Denico Autry (hand/ankle) – Questionable
  • CB David Amerson (foot) – Questionable
  • S Ofi Melifonwu (hip) – OUT
  • DB Keith McGill (knee) – Questionable

The big news here is obviously Cooper being out. Michael Crabtree can still ball but Cooper is one of the top receivers in the game. Dallas’ young corners can breathe easier now.

The big injury on defense is Edwards, the son of the former Cowboys cornerback. He’s started all 13 games this year for Oakland. They also could be without starting corner David Amerson due to a foot injury. That could help Dak Prescott to keep the momentum going from his statistical breakthrough last week.

The rest of the players on the Raiders’ report are all backups.

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