As the Dallas Cowboys made the difficult decision to release Dez Bryant, it ushered in the beginning of the overhaul of the wide receiver group.
Much like they did in 2017 when they allowed Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, JJ Wilcox, and Barry Church to walk in free agency, and then proceeded to draft four defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys began the painstaking task of overhauling a position group that has seen very little change in the last five years.
Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have all been mainstays on the depth chart and had solidified roles with the team as the top three targets during the Tony Romo and now Dak Prescott eras.
What took place in the 2018 NFL Draft, however, was evidence that the team isn’t content with the status quo.
The first big move over draft weekend came on Friday, when the Dallas Cowboys were rumored to be targeting SMU Wide Receiver Courtland Sutton. Instead, they held their picks and selected Colorado State Wideout Michael Gallup with the 81st pick.
Many see Gallup as someone who will be a lead receiver, if not week one, then by the end of the season.
Then on Saturday, after team favorite Nyheim Hines went off the board, the Dallas Cowboys made a trade with the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Tavon Austin. In a draft that provided very little drama for the Cowboys, this was a shock.
There had been little indication they were interested in making a move for the dynamic wide receiver and kick returner, but they pulled the trigger adding a dynamic threat to a team that needed more explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
While many of us, this analyst included, were dreaming up the possibilities of what Tavon Austin could look like on the field with this current receiving core, the Dallas Cowboys got a call from the Oakland Raiders about one of their wide receivers. Another surprise took place.
After only one season with the team, the Dallas Cowboys traded second year wide receiver, Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for defensive tackle Jihad Ward. Many thought Switzer could replace Beasley’s role in 2019, when the 2016 receiving leader's contract expired.
Switzer didn’t get a lot of opportunities on offense in his one year with the team and mostly because of the log jam at the top of the depth chart. Where Switzer’s impact was felt, however, was as a kick returner.
It’s important to note that Dallas had Jihad Ward only ranked five spots below current Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, Maliek Collins in 2016. The Oakland Raiders made Ward their second round pick in 2016.
In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys had a first round grade on Tavon Austin.
The Dallas Cowboys came away with two players they really like for a fifth round pick and a player that wasn’t getting much run in Dallas.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
It could be argued that Switzer or another wide receiver was expendable with the addition of Tavon Austin. Austin is faster, more explosive, and has more experience playing the gadget role the team was hoping Ryan Switzer could play.
For the Los Angeles Rams, Austin took snaps lined up as a wide receiver and took snaps in the backfield. He was also the primary returner for the Rams. Austin immediately slots in as the team's kick and punt returner, jet-sweep guy, and deep threat, potentially making Deonte Thompson expendable.
While the Switzer move was a bit surprising, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t finished addressing the WR depth chart in the draft.
They selected Boise State wide receiver Cedric Wilson in the sixth round. Like Gallup, Wilson is a polished route runner who was very productive over his last couple of years at Boise State.
Who knows who will stick around after the 2018 season, but it’s obvious that the Cowboys want more consistent production from the wide receiver group and are trying to find guys who can get open quickly for quarterback Dak Prescott.
With Cole Beasley on a contract set to expire and approaching 30 years old next offseason, the team is expected to move on after the 2018 season.
Terrance Williams, though his contract would not allow for any team friendly management in 2018, gets a bit friendlier to the cap in 2019.
There are eight receivers on the roster who have a legitimate shot at being on the 53-man roster come week one. If you include a guy like Lance Lenoir who has made noise over the last two training camps, the wide receiver competition gets even more cloudy.
Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson, and Cedric Wilson all have a legitimate shot at making the roster. They may designate Austin as a RB and he could be listed on that depth chart, but what we know is they aren't going to take seven or eight players on the 53-man depth chart.
Training camp will provide more clarity as to the roles each could play in 2018 but one thing is clear, a shakeup is happening and more surprises could be on the horizon.
Starters Make Cowboys Serious Contenders, But Depth is a Concern
Playing in the National Football Conference, the Dallas Cowboys have a difficult task ahead of them if they are to be serious Super Bowl contenders. Even still, they've become a very underrated football team due to their 9-7 record last season. The Cowboys struggled in many areas and with the Philadelphia Eagles crowned as Super Bowl Champions, everyone has forgotten about America's Team.
2017 was an awful year for the Cowboys. It seemed like a roller coaster of success, putting up an impressive performance one week only to disappoint the next one. Let's be honest with ourselves here and talk about what really ended the Cowboys' last season.
As much as we talk about how there shouldn't be any excuses in football - the Eagles made a huge statement by winning it all with a backup QB and other key starters missing - we can't deny the impact of these injuries.
Anthony Hitchens, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott all missed some time last year, affecting the team's performance week in and week out. Had the starters been healthy, the truth is this team would've been in the playoffs.
Heading into 2018, the Cowboys will face a very similar situation. This year, starters make Dallas a serious contender. Even if they're playing in a conference that will feature a lot of quality teams, the Cowboys are a team that could beat any team in the league if healthy.
Even the dreaded wide receiver position - which has been famous this offseason for the lack of a #1 receiver - won't be as bad as we make it out to be starter-wise. A starting trio of Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley doesn't really sound bad.
Heck, not even Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods starting at safety is concerning. They have what it takes to be decent starters. Sure, Heath isn't a guy who will make the Pro Bowl, but his skills will show on the field once the season starts in September.
The Cowboys' starters will do just fine this season. If the team's fate is up to them, they are in a very good spot. The same can not be said about depth, though.
Except for the defensive line, every other position lacks depth. If Sean Lee goes down, the linebackers stop looking like a three-headed monster. Same goes for the cornerbacks. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis seem like a good group but as soon as one of them suffers an injury, the Cowboys will be in trouble.
We're in for an exciting season with a lot of young talent waiting to breakout. The Cowboys are underrated this year. They may not be among the NFC's favorites, but they truly have what it takes to replicate the success they had in 2016. However, it seems like circumstances have to be ideal for them to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy.
With a little bit of luck, they'll bounce back this season.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
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