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!
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, the Dallas Cowboys haven't received much production from their wide receiver group outside of the occasional big play from fellow wide outs Michael Gallup or Tavon Austin. Well, the Oakland Raiders apparently are willing to listen to offers for Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and, according to Michael Rapaport, are asking for a first round draft pick in return.
Raiders want a first round pick for Amari Cooper, per @RapSheet.
The Dallas Cowboys could use someone with Cooper's ability, even if he has been a drop machine through his first four seasons. In his first two seasons in the NFL, 2015 and 2016, Cooper averaged 77 receptions on 131 targets, for 1,111.5 yards, and 5.5 touchdowns. Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Cooper averaged 11 drops a season, including 18 in his rookie season.
Any time you start a discussion about whether you should trade for someone, the question always begins with "what are you paying?" What would you be willing to pay for Amari Cooper? After back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, he only went for 680 yards in 14 games (48.6 yards per game). Though the yardage wasn't great last year, he did catch seven touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders.
So far in 2018, Cooper is averaging 46.7 yards per game on 3.67 receptions per game and has only scored one touchdown.
I wouldn't send a top 60 pick for Amari Cooper. He's a good player, but is he better than what Michael Gallup could be? Because if you trade for Cooper he's going to likely eat into Gallup's snap count and we need to find out if Michal Gallup is a player that the Dallas Cowboys could rely on in the future. But, if the Cowboys coaching staff brought Cooper in to replace Allen Hurns, then I'd be very happy to talk about acquiring the former first round draft choice.
A starting wide receiver group of Cole Beasley, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup would be a very difficult group to cover and Quarterback Dak Prescott showed on Sunday that he has what it takes to get the ball down field to his receivers.
The Cowboys probably wouldn't make this trade, unless Jerry Jones got involved, because they value their draft picks too much, but if the Dallas Cowboys could get him for a third round pick I'd do it in a heart beat. For a second round pick, I'd have to get a fifth or sixth back from Oakland in that deal. Cooper's a good player, but hasn't shown to be one of the best at his position.
There are a couple other players from Oakland that I'm more interested in trading for.
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What do you think? Would you trade for Amari Cooper, and if so, what would you be willing to give?
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Win Big On the Ground, In Trenches With Rout of Jaguars
On paper, the Dallas Cowboys were going to struggle generating any offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The league's top defense matched up against a Cowboys team that came in ranked 30th in pass yards per game, with the defensive front to slow down Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys seemed destined for a 2-4 start through the end of six weeks.
Thankfully, NFL games are not played on paper, and the action on the field at AT&T Stadium would tell an entirely different -- albeit unforeseen -- story of the Cowboys dominance. With a season high 206 rushing yards, the Cowboys ran wild on the Jaguars, making this win look remarkably easy behind a defense up to the task of defending the lead from the opening drive.
The Cowboys improved their home record to 3-0 this season. Now coming off their most impressive effort of 2018, the team earned a shot at first place as they travel to the Washington Redskins in week seven - searching for their first road win of the season.
Here are my initial thoughts on the Cowboys drubbing of the Jaguars, a wonderfully unexpected result that keeps plenty of postseason dreams alive for Dallas.
- Jerry Jones caught a lot of heat this week for his comments on Head Coach Jason Garrett's job security, but certainly deserves a lot of credit for wanting to see more of Quarterback Dak Prescott as a runner.
Jones called Garrett the "real deal", a sentiment better reserved for Prescott when he's able to take matters into his own hands and run the football. With 82 yards on the ground, Dak was eight yards shy of doubling his previous career high, sprinting down the sideline for the Cowboys first touchdown of the game.
Prescott's rushing ability takes advantage of the Cowboys offensive line's ability to get out in space and block. A fearless runner that can keep defenses honest on his own before unleashing Elliott on the ground, Prescott's legs are the key to the Cowboys repeating a performance like this later in the season.
- Without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars are not built to play from behind, and the Cowboys defensive line made sure of this.
The "Hot Boyz" were at full strength with David Irving back on the field for the first time this season. Rushing with DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, and Randy Gregory on the Jaguars' third down attempt following Brett Maher's first FG, Irving was able to chase after Bortles and force an incomplete pass out of bounds as he recorded the QB hit.
With Jaylon Smith also blitzing on the play, this had to be an incredibly proud moment for Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and the Jones' upstairs, as their trust in both Irving and Gregory paid off to create a fearsome pass rush.
Knowing they had interior defenders that could get off blocks and finish plays, the Cowboys defensive ends in this game were aggressive rushing up the field and collapsing the pocket on Bortles.
- Michael Gallup is slowly emerging as this team's number one wide receiver, thanks to his ability to make plays on contested balls.
Look no further than Allen Hurns' stat line from this win to see why rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is going to be crucial to the Cowboys passing offense as this season progresses. Hurns was the only receiver targeted that failed to bring in a catch, as Prescott has struggled to find any rhythm with the big-bodied free agent signing.
On the other side of the field, Gallup has flashed similar 'above the rim' abilities to Hurns, while also being a more reliable route runner with big play potential after the catch. Cole Beasley was open all afternoon against the Jaguars secondary, but early in the game when Prescott needed a play he was able to fit some great passes into Gallup.
I include Gallup's touchdown catch that was called back, since it was a safe strike from Dak. Putting the ball where only Gallup could make the incredible catch, Gallup was inches away from scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Instead, with the Cowboys rotation at WR trimmed down due to injury, Gallup staked his claim for a larger share of the snaps in the Cowboys 40-point performance.
- This was another good game for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but I thought he had a chance to prevent the Calais Campbell sack that forced the Cowboys to settle for three points on their first possession.
As Prescott stepped up in the pocket, Campbell was able to change directions and cut across the face of Williams. With nobody else in front of him, it looked like Williams was in prime position to deliver a shot to Campbell, but was unable to get a hand on the Jaguars top pass rusher.
Reacting late to the whole play, Campbell finished the play for his only sack, a stat the Cowboys will certainly take when evaluating a fairly dominant day for their entire offensive line.
- The rate at which Linebackers Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch are making open field tackles is easily the best thing going for the Cowboys defense right now.
Whenever Jaylon Smith appears in the vicinity of an opposing receiver or running back, they better brace for impact. Where Smith has been the enforcer of the Cowboys defense at MIKE, Vander Esch is playing off him perfectly as the second starter with range and athleticism to cover from sideline to sideline.
The Cowboys have allowed an average of 16.67 points over their last three games without Sean Lee, a full point better than the three games Lee's played against the Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. This is exactly the reason why Dallas was so comfortable drafting Vander Esch.
Even still, having the Boise State product rising to the occasion so early in his Cowboys career alongside Smith gives the Cowboys a LB pairing they can trust for years to come. This is more than they ever signed up for when drafting both players to ideally play with Lee, something they'll still get the chance to do in the coming weeks.
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Alternating wins and losses through their first six games, the 2018 Cowboys remain an enigma that (again, on paper) have a lot to build on after defeating the Jaguars soundly. The ease at which the Cowboys moved the ball should at least partially be attributed to how difficult it was for the Cowboys to manage any offense in their three road losses.
With a defense that's shows up each week to keep Dallas in any game, the time is now for the offense to travel away from AT&T Stadium and earn the Cowboys first winning streak at Washington. In doing so, the Cowboys would claim first place in the NFC East.
Given the expectations set on this team before the year, this feels like the only surefire way for the Cowboys to put their tumultuous start behind them, serving as a reminder that the NFL is the ultimate week-to-week league.
Keeping that in mind, this team deserves a day to enjoy their decisive win from Sunday. Welcome back to Victory Monday, Cowboys Nation.
Dallas Cowboys Beat Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7: Who are the 3 Stars?
What a way to bounce back after a disappointing loss on the road in week five against the Houston Texans. As frustrating as that outcome was against the Texans, this victory was equally as sweet, as the Dallas Cowboys bounced back with a dominating 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That was a much needed win for a team that hopes to be contending for the NFC East title in 2018. And you better believe that at 3-3 on the season, they are still in the thick of that divisional race.
There were a few stand out performances in the blowout victory, but to make this a more difficult exercise for myself, I'm not including any honorable mentions. That's just cheating.
Make sure to let us know who your 3 Stars are in the comment section.
If there was ever a time and ever a moment in which Dak Prescott needed to have a career defining performance, this was the week that he needed to do that.
The virtual boo birds were out in full force this week following another poor performance for the Dallas Cowboys quarterback in the last 13 games. Prescott responded in a huge way with big time throws on third downs and looking extremely poised and confident.
The final passing line isn't all that extraordinary as he went 17/27 for 183 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a passer rating of 107.5, per NFL.com. Sure, if you just look at passing stats, you can argue it's not that impressive, but when you include his rushing numbers in the discussion, even the staunchest realist or Dak-hater has to admit that Dak Prescott had a great day on Sunday.
Dak Prescott set career highs in carries (11) and rushing yards (82) while adding a touchdown on the ground. It was his first rushing touchdown since week 15 of 2017. For a quarterback to end up only 18 yards shy of a hundred yards rushing is huge for your offense.
They weren't all designed runs either.
Dak Prescott in games past tried to force passes when running lanes were available to him on the outside. On Sunday against the Jaguars, he took his opportunities to run the ball when he was flushed from the pocket and the Jaguars paid dearly.
He looked like the Dak Prescott that took the NFL by storm his rookie season and for eight games in the 2017 season. He was poised in the pocket, confident in his arm and his receivers, and was seeing the field better than he had in the previous 13 games.
All against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys needed a big game from a wide receiver in a bad way and Cole Beasley stepped up. After a week of being asked questions about the play and production of the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group Beasley had answers all day on Sunday against a variety of coverages and players when Jacksonville went man-to-man.
After posting nine catches for 101 yards and both of Dak Prescott's two passing touchdowns, Beasley silenced the "wide receivers are the problem" critics with a performance reminiscent of his 2016 career year.
Cole Beasley was getting open at will against man coverage and finding soft spots in the zone matchups often. Beasley's been so vocal about his wish to be compensated as one of the best slot wide receivers in the NFL, and against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he looked like one of the best slot receivers in the NFL.
There are several players, as well as the offensive line, who could have been the third star from Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, but I think Randy Gregory deserves mention here.
We all know Gregory's story at this point.
Randy Gregory had a really good game. He was third on the team in tackles with three, had two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and his first sack since January 1st 2017. A total of 651 days. That was week 17 of the 2016 season. Only Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith had more tackles than Gregory did Sunday.
It's only his second career sack, but what a confidence boost for Gregory who has worked really hard on his sobriety to get himself in a position to play in the NFL.
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After a tremendous win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dallas Cowboys remain only a half game back in the NFC East divisional race. They'll have a chance to take the lead in the division next week as they travel to Washington to play the divisional leading Redskins next Sunday afternoon.
There's no better way to start a Monday than with a Dallas Cowboys victory Monday. Did I leave someone off this 3 Stars list who deserved to be there? Let us know.
Who were your 3 Stars of the Game?
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