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:
Help me with some potential writing material here Cowboys Nation. How many new starters do you expect on the Cowboys offense in 2017?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap
It's been just a week since NFL free agents could begin negotiating with other teams, but it feels like a lifetime for anxious Cowboys fans. Dallas' seemingly passive approach to 2019 free agency has left many disappointed. Still, there are some moves to recap.
As has become their strategy in recent years, the Cowboys have focused on filling up their depth chart and trying to avoid any glaring holes prior to next month's draft. They've re-signed several backups and added at least one likely rotation player.
It's still far too early to judge Dallas' activity. Comparing the 2019 roster to last year will depend heavily on the draft, growth from current players, and other factors. But with the "second wave" of free agency upon us, it's a good time to look at who's come, gone, and stuck around so far.
- TE Jason Witten (unretired)
- TE Codey McElroy (Rams)
- DT Christian Covington (Texans)
The biggest addition so far this offseason wasn't even a free agent, at least not in the purest sense of the term. Jason Witten's surprising return from retirement helped shore up one of Dallas' biggest needs, though it may not preclude them from drafting a tight end high in April.
Also at tight end, Dallas signed developmental project Codey McElroy. His experience is in baseball and basketball, having played just one year of college football. But at 6'6'" and 255 lbs., and having spent last year working with the Rams, the Cowboys must see something they're intrigued by.
Last week Dallas signed Christian Covington, who had 3.5 sacks for Houston in 2018 playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He should move to DT in the Cowboys' scheme and should be a solid addition to their rotation.
- WR Cole Beasley (Bills)
- TE Geoff Swaim (Jaguars)
- DL David Irving (shenanigans)
- LB Damien Wilson (Chiefs)
Beasley is heading to Buffalo on a four-year, $29 million deal. It appeared the relationship soured between Cole and Dallas over his playing time last year, and clearly the Cowboys didn't fight hard to keep him.
Damien Wilson followed Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City to help round out their linebacker corps. Once it was announced that Dallas was hanging on to Sean Lee in 2019, it was fairly certain that Wilson wouldn't be back.
Also not expected back was TE Geoff Swaim, who signed with Jacksonville. Even before Witten came back, Dallas appeared likely to stick with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz for returning talent and then add an upgrade via free agency or the draft.
While still a free agent, nobody expects David Irving back in Dallas or even the NFL after recent activities. Irving appears focused on a Hollywood career and advocating for medical marijuana use at this point.
- FB Jamize Olawale
- WR Tavon Austin
- WR Allen Hurns (team option)
- OT Cam Fleming
- G/C Joe Looney (team option)
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence (franchise tag)
- DT Daniel Ross (ERFA)
- LB Justin March-Lillard
- S Darian Thompson
While Dallas put the franchise tag on prized pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, his return in 2019 is far from settled. Lawrence has previously sworn he wouldn't play under a second franchise tag this year, and last we heard the two sides are far apart on a long-term deal. Could a holdout be on the horizon?
The Cowboys doubled-down on WR depth by re-signing Tavon Austin and exercising their team option on Allen Hurns' contract. Both are able to play out of the slot, meaning we could see more of a rotation approach to replacing Cole Beasley next year.
Dallas also re-signed fullback Jamize Olawale, which was a surprise given his low usage rate last year. Perhaps the change to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator was behind this one, hoping to take better advantage of Olawale's receiving skills going forward.
Joe Looney and Cam Fleming will also be back as valuable backups on the offensive line. Looney started 16 games last year at center and also helps at guard, while Fleming will be the swing tackle once again for his second season in Dallas.
On defense, Dallas kept Daniel Ross in their DT rotation after solid performance in 2018. Justin March-Lillard return at linebacker, particularly for his value on special teams. And Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick by the Giants, is back as an ongoing developmental player.
~ ~ ~
If this is any indication, next week's recap may have a lot more to discuss.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Clayton Geathers Today
The Cowboys appear to be waking up in 2019 free agency. After a report earlier that they're meeting with WR Randall Cobb, now they're also visiting with Safety Clayton Geathers. He's spent the last four years with the Indianapolis Colts and was a starter and team captain in 2018.
Geathers missed four games last season with a neck injury but still had 89 tackles on the year. He has yet to get an interception since entering the league in 2015, but hasn't been a full-time starter for much of that time.
Free agent S Clayton Geathers is visiting the Cowboys today, per source. He was a team captain for the Colts last season, starting 12 games and recording 89 tackles.
At 6'2" and 220 lbs., Geathers is every bit of a strong safety. He is likely being considered to compete with Jeff Heath for the starting role and otherwise provide depth.
Clayton's rookie contract expired this year, making him available as a free agent. He turns 27 in June and was a fourth-round pick in 2015.
This is still just a visit and a signing is hardly guaranteed. But at the least, the Cowboys seem to be becoming far more active in this second wave of free agency.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent WR Randall Cobb Today
The Dallas Cowboys are hosting free agent Receiver Randall Cobb today at The Star, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Cobb has spent all eight of his NFL season thus far with the Green Bay Packers.
After losing Cole Beasley to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, and with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup entrenched as starters, Dallas must be considering Cobb to help them at slot receiver.
The Cowboys are hosting free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb at The Star today, according to a source. With the departure of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys are looking for help at slot receiver and Cobb can also play on the outside. In eight years in Green Bay, he had 470 catches...
This move is a bit surprising after Dallas chose to keep both Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns from last year. Both veterans are capable of playing out of the slot, as is Amari Cooper.
Cobb, however, may bring more upside. He's struggled injuries lately but was a key part of the Packers' offense for several years. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2014 with nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Turning 29 in August, Randall's contract expired in Green Bay and he remains a free agent. The Cowboys are likely hoping to replace Cole Beasley's skill set at a discounted price.
It's been a slow free agency period for Dallas thus far, and Randall Cobb wouldn't be a glamorous addition. However, any activity would make anxious Cowboys fans happy at this point.
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