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Which Cowboys Veterans are at Risk of Losing Their Starting Job?

Brian Martin

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Which Cowboys Veterans are at Risk of Losing Their Starting Job?

The Dallas Cowboys roster looks pretty set from the outside looking in, which means there's not very many starting positions up for grabs heading into the 2018 season. This of course should be good news, but that doesn't necessarily mean everyone's job is secure.

Every season we see veterans end up getting replaced by younger/cheaper players. It's just the nature of the business and something the Dallas Cowboys, and their players, are well aware of. Even though the majority of the roster can be written in ink, there are still a few names probably written in pencil.

With that in mind, I decided to share with you a few of the Dallas Cowboys veterans who could lose their starting job in 2018. Continue reading below to see which veteran players I believe should be looking over their shoulder the remainder of the offseason.

Defensive End, Tyrone Crawford

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford (Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

Don't look now, but the Dallas Cowboys suddenly have quite a bit of depth all along the defensive line and it could end up being a difference maker in 2018. Unfortunately, that also means some veteran players could lose their starting gig to some of these young up and coming prospects.

DeMarcus Lawrence isn't in jeopardy of losing his starting job, but the other Boise State Bronco, Tyrone Crawford, should probably be looking over his shoulder. He has never quite lived up to his contract, but he has been a valuable piece along the defensive line these past several years playing both defensive tackle and the defensive end.

Crawford was asked to drop weight, so it looks as if he will be playing DE this season. Unfortunately for him, there are some young guns anxiously awaiting for their shot as a starter. Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, rookie Dorance Armstrong, and possibly Randy Gregory (if reinstated) could prove to be a better option opposite Lawrence. By the way, this is a good problem to have.

Linebacker, Damien Wilson

Damien Wilson

Dallas Cowboys LB Damien Wilson

As things stand right now, it certainly looks as if Damien Wilson is on the outside looking in among the Dallas Cowboys linebackers. Sean Lee will without a doubt continue to be the starter on the weak side (WILL), but it's almost 100% guaranteed we will see new LBs playing in the middle (MLB) and the strong side (SAM).

The Cowboys drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first-round for a reason. Despite only really having one full season as a starter at Boise State, he is an ascending player who is expected to become the starting MLB as a rookie. That means Jaylon Smith is probably going to push Wilson out of his starting spot at SAM.

Of course, Smith may be used in a variety of different roles this season, even as a situational pass rusher. But, that still likely pushes Wilson down the depth chart. There could of course be some kind of rotation like we've seen Rod Marinelli do with the defensive line, but that's yet to be seen.

Safety, Jeff Heath

Jeff Heath

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath

Out of all of the positions on the Dallas Cowboys roster, the safety position is without a doubt the thinnest. This is especially true now that Byron Jones is finally moving back to his more natural position, cornerback. So, it's a little difficult to imagine much changing in 2018.

Without any new faces coming in at the safety position, except undrafted free agents, we can probably expect Jeff Heath to once again start the season. But, there could be a wrench thrown into the machinery because of the hiring of Kris Richard, the Cowboys new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator.

Richard is a new set of eyes who might decide he wants something entirely different in his safeties. It's very possible Jeff Heath gets demoted and we see someone like Kavon Frazier take over the Cam Chancellor role and Xavier Woods play the Earl Thomas role. This will be one of the more interesting position battles to watch the remainder of the offseason.

Tight End, Geoff Swaim

Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim

I know Geoff Swaim wasn't technically a starter last year, but he is the only tight end currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has any kind of significant playing time. With Jason Witten and James Hanna out of the picture, he's expected by many to step up and become the next starter.

Swaim may be sitting atop the TE depth chart right now, but I highly doubt his name is written ink. He only has nine receptions for 94 receiving yards in his three-year career with the Cowboys, which by no means justifies him a starting gig.

I think the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round draft pick out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz, has a good chance of outplaying Swaim and becoming the only TE to start for the Cowboys other than Jason Witten. He definitely has some big shoes to fill, but he will probably be given every chance to prove he's up to the task.

Which Dallas Cowboys veterans do you think might lose their starting job in 2018?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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8 Comments
  • Hammer33

    The author has been trying to get Heath to the bench for two seasons. It’s entirely possible that Richard LIKES Heath beyond what the press sees. In all honesty, the writer is purely speculating based on his own bias.

    • Brian Martin

      I’m actually a fan of Jeff Heath for your information. I do however think he could be in jeopardy of losing his starting job as I stated in the article. So, don’t try putting words in my mouth. Try reading more carefully next time because there was not one bad thing said about Heath.

      • Hammer33

        I’ve read your comments. Often. I wouldn’t put you in the Jeff Heath fan club. If woods can handle the FS spot he will be paired with Heath. Frazier struggles in coverage. If he can’t it will be Heath and Frazier.

        It’s a fact that the staff likes Heath a lot. Marinelli is a big Heath fan. Richard is the dB coach and passing game coordinator. He’s not the DC yet.

        It’s easy to speculate Heath will lose his starting spot. The reality is he just gets more playing time.

        I don’t have to put words in your mouth. They’re in black and white.

        • Brian Martin

          I don’t see Woods being paired with Heath. They are both free safeties, which is why Byron Jones played SS last season. And, I may not be the biggest Jeff Heath fan, but I do support him as a starter until an upgrade comes along. Also, we are going to see a lot of Richard’s influence on the defense this season. It’s already started.

          • Hammer33

            You may not see it. But the two starters as of right now are Heath and woods. According to the feedback I get.

            Byron was moved up because he struggles with route concepts in zone. They wanted him at FS and Heath at SS. It didn’t happen because Heath struggled at SS. Though in reality he did have issues at the beginning of the year.

            Also, Heath’s coaches grades came out pretty high. I think you along with all press need to understand how Heath is viewed in the organization. You assume he’s on the edge of the depth chart. That’s not the case.

            But I guess we’ll wait for the season to determine who’s right.

          • Hammer33

            And if you’re wondering where this comes from. I scout for his agent along with others. I do get some information I believe to be accurate since it’s based on current and future contracts.

            It’s not purely speculation.

  • winstar

    Agree with the first two depending on what we have with LVE, Covington and Lanning. Definitely Crawford…..send his ass back to Canada or Boise State. What has he ever showed to get the money he gets. Heath will stay even if it is only for ST. I think Heath has a little of Bill Bates in him. Swaim will have to compete but I think he is safe. Only TE on the roster with a catch……I think.

  • Will

    Agree on Craw. He should be cut already. Heath stays, Swaim could easily go, but Wilson is a decent ST guy, so he sticks I think

Star Blog

Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp next week, and for the first time in a long time there may be more excitement for their defense compared to a largely reshuffled offense. This hype for Rod Marinelli's defense, bolstered by the addition of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, was elevated earlier in the week when the Cowboys learned Defensive End Randy Gregory would be reinstated.

Gregory's presence as a potential starting right defensive end is an uplifting one for the Cowboys as they depart for Oxnard. Above all else, this is a rare turn of fortunes for a player the NFL can now tote as a success story.

Once Gregory's focus shifts towards taking hold of that starting DE position for good and giving the Cowboys a pass rush of him and DeMarcus Lawrence off the edge, his impact could change the entire complexion of this defense.

After watching Gregory's last game for Dallas, a week 16 win in Philadelphia back in 2016, here is what I saw from the Cowboys "Christmas in July" addition to their defensive line.

Gregory3

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This first clip is probably Gregory's most memorable play through three seasons with the Cowboys. Two teams going in opposite directions since this game, the Cowboys have cycled through their rotation of pass rushers to play the weak side -- with nobody coming close to the athleticism and bend Gregory displays here.

Already planning on attacking the offensive tackle to the outside with his long arm approach, Gregory regains his balance avoiding the low block to get even with Carson Wentz and finish the play. This type of relentlessness is a signature of the Cowboys defense under Marinelli, now fielding a deep group of defensive ends around Gregory and Lawrence.

Gregory1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Just how much Gregory comes off the field for the likes of Tyrone Crawford, rookie Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper, or Taco Charlton will be determined by his ability to hold up against the run. This was a strength for Gregory against the Eagles, as his cornering ability helped him chase down plays all over the field.

It's hard to understate just how important Gregory's speed and range from this RDE spot could mean to the Cowboys, especially given their changes at linebacker for the 2018 season.

This is a team that's also added plenty of range to the second level of their defense with rookie Leighton Vander Esch and another year of Jaylon Smith.

These linebacker's ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield will be aided by the depth Gregory is capable of gaining with ease against left tackles.

Gregory2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Gregory does have a tendency to play upright at times and offer a larger blocking area than needed. As you see above, this can help him as an all-around player, as chasing down the run to the outside comes easy for him.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength at defensive tackle to start the season, with David Irving suspended for the first four games again. Maliek Collins is also coming back from another broken foot, as him and Gregory will be important to watch progress through training camp.

The overall potential for a Cowboys defensive line featuring all three of these players, and the rotational pieces behind them, is incredibly high for a team just looking to get back to their roots this season.

For the Cowboys in 2018, this means running the ball effectively, limiting turnovers on offense, and protecting the lead on defense. Randy Gregory significantly helps the Cowboys do the latter here, improving an already fearsome pass rush in ways that few players are capable of.

This is ultimately why the first-round talent fell to the second round for the Cowboys, who took the risk on Gregory and are now on the long path back towards seeing this gamble pay off, something a very thankful Gregory must see through on the field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Star Blog

Why Patience Is Key In Evaluating Randy Gregory

Kevin Brady

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Cowboys were fully aware of the risks involved when they drafted prolific edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

They were also well aware of the potential rewards too.

Gregory has spent much of his NFL career away from the Dallas Cowboys, dealing with suspension after suspension and rarely playing actual football. Now, Randy Gregory has gained reinstatement into the league, and all signs point to positivity around his future.

As expected, both the Cowboys and their fan base are excited about the return of Gregory to the roster. And, of course, they should be. Gregory possesses all the traits necessary to be a top tier pass rusher in the NFL, even if we haven't seen it on full display thus far.

At his best Gregory is the prototypical RDE that Cowboys Nation has been yearning for. But it's probably unfair for him to reach that potential as early as this season. Pass rushers coming off suspensions, particularly lengthy suspensions, are rarely able to find their way quickly after returning.

And if you want proof of this, you only have to look across the way at DeMarcus Lawrence. After a strong 8 sack 2015 season, Lawrence was suspended the first four games of 2016. Once he returned, Lawrence battled injuries all season and only appeared in 9 games. Over those 9 games Lawrence tallied just 1 sack and made a minimal impact.

The next season, though? DeMarcus Lawrence was back to playing fully healthy and engaged, en route to a team leading 14.5 sacks and the best overall season of his career.

Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are different players, and this is obviously a different situation, but the need for patience remains the same. To expect Gregory to be a dominant pass rusher in 2018 is more-than-lofty, as he deserves time to work back into playing shape and perfect his craft off the edge.

Unlike Lawrence, Gregory will have a full offseason and 16 game slate ahead of him. Plus, we haven't heard of any lingering injuries affecting Gregory going forward.

So while we may need to temper expectations at least a little bit, I still expect Randy Gregory to become the RDE we all hoped he could be with time.



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Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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