Every year a number of players will enter a contract year looking to put together a good 16 game season to boost their resume ahead of free agency. For many of the players on the Dallas Cowboys, they will be seeing their first opportunity to hit free agency.
The premise of a contract year comes with some negative connotations. Players are often dinged for performance that occurs in a contract year but hasn't occurred at any other time in their career. However, in a what have you done for me lately league like the NFL, recent performance can change the perspective on a player.
Let's look at five Dallas Cowboys who will make themselves very marketable with a good year in 2019.
Note: For the purpose of this piece, we're assuming that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper get long-term deals this offseason. Ezekiel Elliott is under contract for the 2020 offseason, so he doesn't apply.
La'el Collins, Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line continues to be a strength for the team as they head into the 2019 season and a big reason for that is the play they've gotten from Right Tackle La'el Collins. He hasn't been as good as his left tackle counterpart Tyron Smith, but Collins has been good. His ability to hold up against some of the better pass rushers in the league has been a pleasant surprise.
Collins, going into his fifth year in the league, has started 46 games, including 32 straight at right tackle for the Cowboys. Collins will only turn 26 this year and has a lot of years of good football left in him. Given that offensive lineman are at a premium in the NFL, Collins should expect a market for his services when he comes free after the 2019 season.
In 2019, Collins played the third most snaps at right tackle in the NFL. Pro Football Focus credited him with 46 pressures allowed and eight sacks, tied for fifth most at the tackle position.
Collins has a ton of experience, but could use a really good 2019 to solidify himself as one of the top free agents in 2020.
Anthony Brown, Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys found a gem of a player in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Next to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, Anthony Brown was the best pick of that draft. Based on value for draft capital spent, only Prescott would be seen as more valuable.
Brown has been an excellent corner for the Cowboys. Primarily playing in the slot, but flexing to the outside when injuries arose. He's played with an edge for the secondary and has been equally good against the run as he's been in coverage.
Brown will likely remain the starter in nickel situations, but will see some competition from Jourdan Lewis and rookie Michael Jackson.
If Anthony Brown is able to put together another solid to good year, he should be able to find a team willing to give him a multi-year contract in the 2020 offseason, the Dallas Cowboys included. With Byron Jones coming during the 2020 offseason, it's possible that they could opt to keep Brown over Jones as Byron would likely demand a larger contract.
Maliek Collins, Defensive Tackle
Just like Anthony Brown, Maliek Collins was a nice find in the 2016 NFL draft.
Selected in the third round that season, Collins finished with 27 total pressures and five sacks. Though the pressure numbers have stayed similar -- 30 in 2017 and 27 in 2018 -- the sack numbers have dropped off considerably -- two in 2017 and three in 2018.
Collins has been a valuable member of the Cowboys interior defensive line and has played some solid 3-tech defensive tackle for the team. He's had to slide over and play some 1-tech defensive tackle at times, like he did in 2017 when David Irving was the primary 3-tech.
Now, Collins has some competition in the form of rookie Trysten Hill. Hill was the highest interior defensive line selection since they took Marcus Spears to play 3-4 defensive end in the 2005 draft. Prior to Hill, the Cowboys hadn't spent a pick higher than a third on an interior defensive lineman.
This only increases the competition and the pressure for Collins heading into his contract year. He'll need a good training camp to keep up his role. Some luck with health would help, as injuries have prevented him from having a full offseason since being in the league.
If Collins can put together a similar season to his rookie year, he'll find himself with a market heading into free agency.
Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys brought in Randall Cobb to be the team's heir apparent at slot receiver after Cole Beasley signed in Buffalo. Coming in on a one-year deal, Cobb has a lot to prove as he enters the later stages of his career.
After being a mainstay in the Green Bay Packers offense, Cobb was allowed to walk in free agency as injuries had caught up with the soon to be 29-year-old receiver.
Cobb has to prove he can stay healthy for a full season as he's only played 16 games once in his career. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a weapon for Dak Prescott and the offense. In five of his eight seasons, he's caught more than 60 passes and three times caught more than 79 passes. In two of those seasons where he didn't catch at least 60 passes, he played fewer than 10 games. The other one was his rookie season. He played 15 games that year, but only saw 31 targets in 2011.
Wide receivers have shown that they can maintain production through the latter part of their careers, but for Cobb to continue to get opportunities, he'll need to continue to have good health. In this offense where Dak Prescott loves to target the slot receiver, Cobb should have plenty of opportunities to prove he's still a valuable commodity in the NFL.
Byron Jones, Cornerback
Amidst all the contract talk surrounding Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, it seems that Byron Jones might be the forgotten man in the Cowboys pay-day hierarchy. There hasn't been much talk of getting Jones an extension lately.
How the Cowboys handle Byron Jones could be similar to how they handled DeMarcus Lawrence. If you'll remember, after Lawrence had his break out year in 2017, the Dallas Cowboys opted to use the franchise tag on their elite edge rusher to make sure what he accomplished was repeatable.
Byron Jones finally experienced the breakout after finding a home at cornerback in Kris Richard's defense. The problem is, it only took him four years to find excellence. Most of that can be attributed to not having a home his first season and then playing out of position the following two when the Cowboys attempted to play him at safety.
Despite a lack of interceptions, Jones was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2018, but the Cowboys could be hedging their bets to see if he can do it again.
Jones is an incredible athlete with excellent coverage skills and if there's a weakness to his game, it's that he doesn't take the ball away. In Rod Marinelli's and Kris Richard's defenses, taking the ball away is of the utmost importance.
With a potentially big contract looming, Byron Jones may be forced to earn it in 2019 before getting paid in the 2020 offseason.
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The Cowboys have a lot of contracts coming up at the end of this year that need to be taken care of, but these five are the most important contract years that will have the biggest impact on the success of the Dallas Cowboys.
Which Dallas Cowboys contract year player needs to have the best contract year?
Loss to Minnesota Could be the Final Nail in Jason Garrett’s Coffin
The 2019 NFL season kind of seemed like a do or die situation for the Dallas Cowboys current Head Coach Jason Garrett. He is currently in the last year of his contract and his future with the Cowboys organization could be hanging in the balance, especially after the devastating loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
If Jason Garrett isn't extended beyond this season, this loss to Minnesota could possibly be where his career with the Dallas Cowboys started to circle the drain. There are still several games left on the Cowboys schedule this season, but this one loss could be the one that ends up knocking them out of the playoffs. If that's true, it's hard to believe JG will be retained.
Jerry Jones, and son Stephen, have both fully supported Jason Garrett since he became the Cowboys full-time head coach back in 2011 after serving as the interim HC for Wade Phillips in 2010. That's nearly a decade of the Jones' sticking by JG through all of the thick and thin over years. That unwavering support however could be coming to an end though.
The proof is in the pudding as they say. As a head coach Jason Garrett is slightly above average according to his all-time win/loss record. His regular-season record as the HC with the Cowboys is 82-62 (.569) and he's 2-3 (.400) in the postseason. Add all of that up and he's 84-65 (.564) in his career… slightly above average.
If I know anything about the Jones', I know getting the Dallas Cowboys back to the promised land as one of the best teams in the NFL is at the top of their list. That's why we've seen them over the years take chances on players other teams wouldn't in order to put together the most competitive roster they possibly could. Now that attention might need to be shifted from the players to the head coach.
Much like the Jones', I've supported and stood by Jason Garrett over the years. That support is dwindling though after each and every loss this season, at least on my part. Personally, I'm ready to find some new blood and move on. What the Jones' end up doing though is completely up in the air.
I want to believe the Dallas Cowboys are ready to move on from JG, but I'm not completely convinced. The fact that his current contract is about to expire after the season suggests they're at least considering parting ways, but that's all it does. I think how the rest of season turns out after the devastating loss to the Vikings will end up determining his fate.
If JG somehow sneaks the Cowboys into the playoffs it could save his job. That unfortunately is no easy thing to do with the teams they have left to play this season. Because of that, the Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings could end up being the final nail in Jason Garrett's coffin.
What do you think? Is it time to part ways with Jason Garrett?
Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s Status Still Unknown for Cowboys Game
The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Detroit this Sunday for a Week 11 meeting with the Lions. As Dallas tries to get back to winning games, they may get a boost from the absence of Lions' Quarterback Matthew Stafford. After missing last week's game with a back injury, Stafford's status for this week remains unclear.
Stafford was a limited participant in practices all of Week 10 for Detroit and went into their game with the Chicago Bears as a game-time decision. He was ultimately ruled out due to fractures in his back; the first start Stafford's missed for the Lions since the 2010 season.
Jeff Driskel got the start as the Lions fell in Chicago. He is 1-5 as an NFL starter overall, going 1-4 in games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.
The Lions are now 3-5-1 on the year and at the bottom of the NFC North. They are also far behind in the Wild Card race, which leads to speculation that they could shut Stafford down for the season to preserve his long-term health. Based on Matthew's contract, the earliest Detroit can easily get out from his contract is after the 2020 season.
For his part, Matthew Stafford has said he has no plans on staying out this season as long he's medically cleared to play. He certainly would love to be active this Sunday against the Cowboys, the team of his youth, after playing his high school football in Dallas.
Even if Stafford plays, Dallas has done solidly overall against opposing quarterbacks in 2019. They are sixth in passing yards allowed per game and 14th in opponent passer rating.
Detroit is fourth in passing offense right now in the NFL but that was based on eight games with Stafford at QB. Jeff Driskel will not perform at that same level, and the Lions' rushing attack has been very weak since Kerryon Johnson went on injured reserve.
We'll see in the coming days if Matthew Stafford is at practice for Detroit and to what extent. But even if he does practice some, as he did last week, it could once again be a last-minute decision for the Lions if Stafford actually plays on Sunday.
With the Cowboys desperate for a win, they'll take all the help they can get.
The Time has Come to See More of Tight End Blake Jarwin
When Jason Witten made his triumphant return from the Monday Night Football booth to the Dallas Cowboys' locker room, the addition was met with a bit of reserved optimism. On the one hand, it was awesome to get one of the best players in the history of the franchise back on the field and in the locker room. On the other hand, it meant that he would eat into the snap counts of Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, or any rookie they potentially drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Though, upon arrival, the Cowboys and Witten stated the future Hall of Famer would only play roughly 25 snaps a game, it didn't take long to figure out that Witten was the starting and full-time player at tight end. In training camp, Witten got a majority of the first-team snaps. In the first nine games of the 2019 season, Witten's played nearly twice as many snaps as Blake Jarwin.
It's an unfortunate turn from the narrative we were being fed in the offseason as Blake Jarwin provides a receiving dynamic that no other tight end for the Dallas Cowboys can. He's quicker, more agile, and has much more athleticism than Jason Witten.
On a per snap basis, Blake Jarwin is offering more in yards per snap and in yards per route run. Jarwin has accrued 0.811 yards per snap to Jason Witten's 0.711. Basically, if you prorate Jarwin's yards per snap total of 0.811 to Jason Witten's snap count of 475, Jarwin would theoretically have nearly 50 more receiving yards than Witten while providing another downfield threat to the passing game.
If we look at yards per route run, Jarwin's outpacing Witten 1.97 to 1.37 per Pro Football Focus. If you were to give Jason Witten's number of routes run to Blake Jarwin and prorated based on Jarwin's production in 2019, he would have roughly 484 receiving yards or 150 more receiving yards than Jason Witten.
Obviously, Jarwin's still got some development that needs to happen as a run blocker to be able to get on the field more. The Cowboys coaching staff, however, has still elected to roll with Jason Witten over Blake Jarwin even in pass-heavy situations as we saw on Sunday Night Football. This is the first game of the year where the Cowboys needed to be in heavy passing mode, but they continue to keep one of their more athletic weapons on the sideline when they need to get chunk plays.
Jarwin's ability to attack up the seam can help open everything up for everyone else in the offense. Just having another vertical threat on the field can create space for Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb underneath.
Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff isn't going to flip their snap counts anytime soon, but the time has come for Blake Jarwin to get more of the situational passing work. When the Cowboys get into obvious passing situations -- 3rd and longs or in two-minute situations -- Blake Jarwin needs to be the tight end on the field.
We've seen each of the last two weeks what Jarwin can do once he gets the ball in his hands. Against the New York Giants, he ripped off a game-changing 42-yard touchdown run and catch. On Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Jarwin had a big 26-yard reception that helped get the Cowboys going offensively.
Jason Witten will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. It's time he and the coaching staff recognizes that the Dallas Cowboys could be an even more dynamic offensive team by getting the more athletic Blake Jarwin on the field more.
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