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Will DT Stephen Paea Becomes This Year’s Cedric Thornton?

Sean Martin

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In early March, the Dallas Cowboys signed veteran defensive tackle Stephen Paea - seemingly replacing the starting 1T DT from 2016 in a finally healthy Terrell McClain. McClain's 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks with the Cowboys earned him a new contract with the rival Redskins, and also made last year's free agent signing of the Eagles' Cedric Thornton seemingly pointless.

Thornton had his flashes, but the converted 3-4 defensive lineman that is under contract through 2019 saw just 27.5% of the team's defensive snaps on the season over 13 games played.

The production from the interior of Rod Marinelli's defensive front still remained a strength for the Cowboys thanks to a rookie 3T in Maliek Collins, McClain, and the freak-of-nature David Irving. Now, the pressure is on this unit to produce with Thornton potentially having to assume a larger and unearned role - or with a 29-year-old Stephen Paea.

Stephen Paea Brings Tenacity, Run Defense to the Cowboys [Film Review]

As you'll see in my scouting report on Paea above, there are certainly things for Cowboys Nation to be excited about should he rightfully take Cedric Thornton off the field and play the majority of the snaps for Marinelli as a "space eater" alongside Maliek Collins. This was Stephen's role back in 2011 under Rod's Chicago Bears - coming up with a career high six sacks.

There are plenty of potential downsides to what Stephen Paea will ultimately become for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 though, as Cedric Thornton could further his adjustment into this new scheme and essentially mitigate the role of a similar player behind him, exactly as McClain did to Thornton this season.


Fellow Staff Writer Kevin Brady looked at the potential for Dallas' defensive line moving forward should Thornton regain his Philadelphia form right here, and it can be exciting when matching a statement like this to the memorable (albeit rare) plays Thornton made in 2016:

If he can re-gain his Philadelphia form, and fellow defensive lineman David Irving can become more consistent in his own play, this defensive line can become a strength on the defense.

On paper, it appears that the Cowboys have more questions than answers when it comes to their 2017 starter at the 1T DT position, despite signing a clear replacement to their previous starter here.

The intensity of training camp will make the sorting out of the Cowboys' depth chart a lot more clear - and fun - as Cedric Thornton should be pushed to cut into Stephen Paea's playing time by all means necessary. If this becomes a good problem for Jason Garrett to deal with, than we'll surely see a refreshed Paea playing on early running downs and being disruptive.

Will DT Stephen Paea Becomes This Year's Cedric Thornton?

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Cedric Thornton (92) celebrates in front of Minnesota Vikings center Nick Easton, right, after a sack during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

If not, I'll be keeping a very close eye on these two players through the summer. The 1T DT on the Cowboys may not be the piece that puts them over the top for a Super Bowl run this year, but it is a critically important component to a defensive line that needs all of the assured and consistent play making ability it can find.

Neither Paea nor Thornton have made enough plays consistent with where the Cowboys defense wants to be in 2017 to confidently project as a starter right now, but finding roles for either both players or just the right one is going to be something to sort out very soon.

Tell us what you think about "Will DT Stephen Paea Becomes This Year’s Cedric Thornton?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: El Reto VS Texans, Porque Bryant No Volverá

The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.

As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.

Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.

I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.

Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.

So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.

The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.

I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.

But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.


There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.

As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.

Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.

Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.

Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.

Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.

Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019,  but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.

While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.

Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.


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PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 18th Overall Quarterback

Kevin Brady

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Dak Prescott Clutch in 4th Quarter & OT in Win Over Eagles 3

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.

As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.

Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 18th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.

"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."

The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.


"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."

Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.

While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.

Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.


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Cowboys RB Tony Pollard Continues Excellent Training Camp

Matthew Lenix

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Cowboys RB Tony Pollard Continues Excellent Training Camp

Rookie Running Back Tony Pollard hasn't wasted any time making his mark on the Dallas Cowboys organization. The buzz around the fourth-round pick began to pick up steam back in May during OTAs when he broke a long touchdown run in practice. It was a sneak peek into the speed, change of direction and vision that the former Memphis Tiger possesses.

Rookie on the run 🌟 #EarnTheStar

46.2k Likes, 700 Comments - Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) on Instagram: "Rookie on the run 🌟 #EarnTheStar"

Dak Prescott has been impressed by the rookie since OTAs, confirming his pre-draft thoughts about Pollard. "He's somebody I watched before the draft that I was excited about. I looked up his highlights and they said receiver at first. I was like 'Dang, I thought we were getting a running back.' But then you see him playing running back and he's still having success. You look at Randall Cobb's highlights, it's the same thing he did in college. It's exciting," Prescott told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

Pollard has only added to the hype of what he can bring to the Cowboys offense since first stepping on the field in May. Even in a short sample size against the 49ers a little over a week ago he showed the patience needed to be an effective runner on the pro level. 16 yards on 4 carries won't blow you away but it's all about reps at this point for him and maximizing them before the season starts. Also, he silenced those who doubted he if could run between the tackles in the NFL.

Recently, he showed off a different dimension of his skill set in practice during some one-on-one battles with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, considering Pollard had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards and 9 touchdowns in college.

John Owning on Twitter

Tony Pollard ghosts LVE in 1v1s. Beautiful https://t.co/PEJMw8hmBP

John Owning on Twitter

Tony Pollard beats LVE deep down the sideline. Perfect throw by Dak. #Cowboys https://t.co/2dDp0mUSMs

In the first video above, in particular, Pollard does a great job of selling his route to the outside before gaining inside leverage to beat Vander Esch. This is the kind of savvy you want to see from a young running back transitioning to the NFL.

Pollard once again put on a show Saturday when the team played the Los Angeles Rams in Hawaii. The Cowboys went 97 yards on a twelve play drive to take an early 7-0 lead. He would gain 42 yards on 5 carries and add a catch for 9 yards as well, topping it all off with an impressive 14-yard touchdown run.


RJ Ochoa on Twitter

The NFL really let the Dallas Cowboys draft Tony Pollard in the fourth round. (via @nflnetwork) https://t.co/Hqkd6e4YuE

Three things stand out about this run in my eyes. First, the patience Pollard shows in letting the play develop. Running backs sometimes are too impatient and let potential big plays go to waste. Great job by him setting up his blocks and hitting the hole. Second, the balance he shows after taking a hit early in the run. What you always want to see is your running back(s) have the ability to not go down on the first contact they receive. Lastly, the awareness to cover the ball at the end of the run to avoid a turnover and cross the goal line.

So far in two preseason games, Pollard has 9 carries for 58 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per rush, putting him almost right at his 6.8 yards per rush average in college.

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones hasn't been quiet about his feelings on what he's seen from Pollard so far. After the first preseason game, Jones said he was confident Pollard could "carry the load" if All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott's holdout goes into the regular season. After Saturday's victory against the Rams, Jones had another raving review of the rookie, but with a slight twist to it.

"What's amazing for him is to come in here and he hadn't done that much," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "He knows exactly what to do and he knows how to do it. If he goes out there and he plays to that level he's going to be [at] for the next several weeks, he's going to be right in the middle of it early. That will really complement what we're doing with Zeke, not replace that, I mean that, not replace it. Nobody is getting cute here, certainly be a great compliment to have a great running game where I can picture those guys [having] success at the same time out there really giving the defense some fits."

The Cowboys have a one-two punch at running back with the potential to set the NFL on fire. As Elliott continues to work out a long-term deal with the front office, Pollard will keep getting the much-needed reps on order for him to be ready to go on September 8th against the New York Giants, regardless if he's the starter or not. Once Elliott and Pollard are providing their services simultaneously, we could be looking at the NFL's top overall backfield.


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