As the Dallas Cowboys start training camp this week, a lot of the position questions we've had over the last several months will be answered. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys secondary, Xavier Woods and his ability to play down in the box and in the slot will be huge for the Cowboys this season.
If you've read much of Inside The Star, you've seen us talk a lot about Earl Thomas and what he could bring if added to the secondary. But adding the Seattle Seahawks All-Pro safety doesn't change the importance of Xavier Woods and his role in the secondary.
Xavier Woods in College
While at Louisiana Tech, Xavier Woods totaled 14 interceptions over his last three seasons, averaging a little more than one interception every three games. In those final three seasons, he also had 16 passes defended.
Going into his second year, Woods could best be described as a ball-hawking safety. He made plays on the ball whether lined up as the deep safety or playing man-to-man in the slot.
In Woods' rookie season, he had one interception and three passes defensed while starting four games and playing in all 16.
Xavier Woods in the NFL
Woods played a little more than 52% of the defensive snaps in 2017. Over the final eight weeks of the season he only played less than 50% of the snaps three times. In those games the Dallas Cowboys were 1-2. In the other five games of the season in which Woods' snap count never dropped below 76%, the team was 4-1.
In the two games in the first half of the season in which Woods played more than 50% of the defensive snaps, the Dallas Cowboys were 2-0. They were 3-2 in the games he played less than 50% of the snaps.
So on the season, when Xavier Woods played more than 50% of the snaps on defense, the Dallas Cowboys were 6-1.
Not sure if we can draw a conclusion from that, but it's an interesting trend to follow in 2018.
Adding Earl Thomas to the secondary shouldn't change your excitement for Xavier Woods, unless it gets you more excited about what Woods can bring to the table.
Think about it.
Woods has already shown a penchant for getting to the football and making plays on it in the air. Creating turnovers is as much about instinct and a natural ability to play the ball as it is about being in the right spot to make a play on the ball.
Woods has that natural ability.
Bringing in Earl Thomas enhances what you can do with Woods.
First, as I mentioned before, adding Thomas would allow you to drop Woods into the box to help with the run or to cover the tight end in what was Byron Jones' role.
Additionally, when the opposition comes onto the field in 11-personnel (3 WR and 1 RB), the Dallas Cowboys can stay in their base 4-3. Now you might be asking yourself, "why would they want to stay in their base 4-3 against a passing formation?" The answer is that teams will run out of 11 personnel on early downs or in obvious running downs. Woods' ability to cover from the slot allows you to stay in a defensive package that can help you defend the run better.
With the NFL playing 11-personnel more than 70% of the time, having the flexibility to stay in base packages is a huge advantage on early downs. Offenses win when they can dictate what personnel groupings you can play, and the Cowboys defense could have an advantage against the run if they can leave three linebackers on the field on first and second down.
We love the potential that Xavier Woods has to offer, and for good reason. So, we should be excited about the opportunity to put Earl Thomas next to Woods in the secondary. Xavier Woods and Earl Thomas in the back-end of an ascending secondary would make life miserable for opposing offenses trying to attack the middle of the field.
That sounds like a super recipe for success.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Defensive End
If quarterback is the most important position in football, then the guys who hunt them down might be second. As such, the Dallas Cowboys face a major offseason decision in 2019 when it comes to the free agency of Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence.
This will be Lawrence's second year as an unrestricted free agent, with Dallas retaining him last season using the franchise tag. Even though he accepted it in 2018, DeMarcus swore all the way back in that summer that he wouldn't play for the Cowboys in 2019 if franchised again.
Despite his sack numbers dropping a bit last season, "Tank" remains one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. He is a total package of pass-rushing and run stopping, and he's now given Dallas two-straight Pro Bowl seasons.
If the Cowboys have any plans to contend for a championship next season then they can't risk losing a player like Lawrence. We've seen what this defense looks like without a premiere pass rusher and it isn't pretty.
Of course, Dallas could try to replace DeMarcus with a different free agent signing. If Jadeveon Clowney or Frank Clark avoid being tagged by their own teams, perhaps the Cowboys can lure one of them over. But don't expect any big difference in compensation between these three players.
Whether it's Lawrence or one of the other premiere pass rushers in free agency, you can expect the Cowboys to make one of them their top offseason priority. The greater mystery is if Dallas will make any other moves to upgrade the DE position, or stick with what they've got.
Dallas finally enjoyed some real production out of Randy Gregory in 2018, whose personal issues nearly derailed the talented pass rusher's career. Gregory posted six sacks last season and was starting to look like the Robin to Lawrence's Batman.
Also in the mix is 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton, who took a backwards step last year and seemed to be in the coaches' doghouse by season's end. Motivation and attitude seem to be an issue for him, and he'll need to step it up this summer if he doesn't want to wind up at the back of the depth chart again.
One of last year's fourth-round picks Dorance Armstrong also returns. He will hopefully be ready to take on a larger role in his second season and provide another pass rushing threat, plus insurance in case Gregory suffers any return of past problems.
If Dallas doesn't make Tyrone Crawford a salary cap casualty, or chooses to re-sign David Irving, those are two other guys who can play some defensive end for you.
Despite these options, the Cowboys could still look at adding another mid-grade free agent for depth and insurance. They could hope for a bargain on veterans like Ezekiel Ansah, Vinny Curry, or Chris Long. They might hope that Rod Marinelli could work his magic on first-round flop Dante Fowler.
Another guy that Dallas might look at is Benson Mayowa, who was with them from 2016-2017 and is a solid player. He spent the last season in Arizona on a one-year deal and is still just 27 years old.
Don't expect much from the draft, barring a major steal presenting itself. The Cowboys have bigger needs with their limited number of 2019 picks, and they also still need to see how recent selections like Charlton and Armstrong play out.
This offseason is all about DeMarcus Lawrence, or at least one of the other marquee free agents at defensive end. Some supplemental moves are possible, but arguably the biggest move Dallas makes the next few months is either retaining or replacing their top pass rusher.
Offense or Defense, Which Should be the Cowboys Main Offseason Focus?
The Dallas Cowboys offseason should be approached like a puzzle. You have to know what the picture looks like beforehand before you start grabbing random pieces to try to fit them together. Keeping that in mind, I thought it be a good idea if we take a look at the Cowboys offense and defense to try to determine which one needs the most attention.
It may be somewhat surprising, but the Dallas Cowboys pretty much have the entire puzzle almost put together. There is just a few missing pieces they need to add, but for the most part the team that will take the field when the 2019 season kicks off is already in place.
There isn't going to be much roster turnover this offseason. Nearly all of the starters will return for the upcoming season on both sides of the ball, meaning the Cowboys are in good shape as far as having the teams nucleolus in place. In fact, there might be just one or two starting positions up for grabs on offense and defense.
Let's take a look…
Dallas Cowboys Offense
As things stand right now before any moves are made in free agency or through the draft, the Dallas Cowboys offense may have just two starting spots up for grabs. But, even that's just a guesstimate because we still don't really know what the future holds for Center Travis Frederick, even though all signs point to him making a triumphant return to the starting lineup.
The way I see it though, the Cowboys will need to find someone to replace Cole Beasley in the passing game and also add a starting caliber tight end. That's it really as far as the starters are concerned. There is however need for more depth at several positions such as backup running back and offensive tackle, but those aren't necessarily "needs". I'd say they're in pretty good shape offensively compared to years past.
Dallas Cowboys Defense
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs.
The Cowboys will have to find someone to replace Damien Wilson as the starting strong side linebacker and potentially a new starting strong safety. That's really the only starting positions I believe are up for grabs on defense. But like the offense, they could stand to add more depth and competition throughout the defense, especially along the defensive line. But again, there really isn't a glaring "need" they absolutely have to address.
Verdict: Cowboys Offense
Even though the Dallas Cowboys offense and defense seems to be pretty evenly matched as to how many starting positions are up for grabs, the offense looks to be the one that needs just a little bit more help. The defense proved in 2018 they are someone to be reckoned with and with the loss of just Damien Wilson, that shouldn't change. The same can't be said about the offense though.
If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Of course, this is just my opinion and you are more than welcome to agree or disagree with it. But, when the free agency and NFL draft ball finally starts rolling, I expect most of the Cowboys offseason moves to be on the offensive side of the ball. Improving things around Quarterback Dak Prescott would seem like the wise thing to do after all, especially since he's about to be paid quite handsomely.
Which side of the ball do you think needs more help this offseason?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Quarterback
The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of work to do to restock and refine their roster in the hope of improving of last year's playoff run. We'll be looking at all of the 2019 needs for this offseason in the coming days, and we're going to start with paramount position of quarterback.
Unlike most spots on the team, the quarterbacks don't have anyone with an expiring contract this year. Both Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush will be in the final year of their deals, while Mike White still has three years left on his rookie contract.
Despite this, Prescott's contract is still one the hottest issues the Cowboys face this offseason. They must decide if they want to go ahead and lock him up now to a long-term extension, or wait and see how Dak performs in his fourth season.
It's a real dilemma for Dallas. One the one hand, Prescott already has two Pro Bowls, two division titles, and all winning seasons on his three-year resume. However, he's also had ongoing accuracy issues and problems with consistent productivity in an increasingly pass-focused league.
Given what he's already accomplished, Dak can command a pretty sizable contract in current negotiations. Just within the week he's already commented on not planning to give the Cowboys a discount in his next deal.
If Dallas waits another year then they risk that price tag going up. They could be competing with the open market, or what if Prescott leads the team to the NFC Championship or beyond in 2019?
If Dak's camp is already going to be aggressive in contract negotiations this year, then there's a case to be made for just waiting. Let him play on his bargain $2.14 million cap hit and use the savings to load up on talent for a championship run. The team will still have resources to re-sign Prescott in 2020, or even franchise tag him, if that's their choice.
However that situation goes, we know that Dak is the starter in 2019. But even though Cooper Rush and Mike White are both due to return next season, should the Cowboys be satisfied with that QB depth chart?
As I wrote about earlier this week, Dallas has good reason to look at adding a veteran passer to the mix this offseason. If Rush and White beat him out, that's great. But if not, it adds an experienced voice to help Dak Prescott in this critical upcoming year.
You can go a few different ways. Some of the projected free agents can match Prescott's mobile style, such as Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, or Robert Griffin III. Others give you the experience edge such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, or Matt Schaub.
It doesn't seem likely that the Cowboys would draft another QB after just taking Mike White last year with a fifth-round pick. Unless they are moving to a completely different philosophy, Dallas will likely give White at least another year or two to develop as a mid-round selection.
Ideally, at least one of White or Cooper Rush will show some growth this year and inspire confidence as the immediate backup. But adding a veteran for competition certainly couldn't hurt, and Dallas has the cap space to do it.
Thankfully, everything that Dallas might have to do this offseason at quarterback is optional. They can choose whether or not to redo Prescott's contract, or whether or not to pursue upgrades behind him. There is no gaping hole being created by a potential free agent departure.
The Cowboys have the power now, but that can quickly change next season once Dak's a free agent. That's why they still have a big decision to make in 2019.
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