2018 NFL Offseason: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys (Last Year: 9-7)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
FB Jamize Olawale, WR Allen Hurns, WR Deonte Thompson, OT Cameron Fleming, DE Kony Ealy, LB Joe Thomas.
Early Draft Picks:
LB Leighton Vander Esch, G/OT Connor Williams, WR Michael Gallup, DE Dorance Armstrong, TE Dalton Schultz. Cowboys Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Alfred Morris, FB Keith Smith, WR Dez Bryant, WR Brice Butler, TE Jason Witten, G Jonathan Cooper, OLB Anthony Hitchens, OLB Kyle Wilber, CB Orlando Scandrick.

2018 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten have been mainstays on the Cowboys this entire decade, but they are both gone. Bryant was released because of financial decisions, and Witten announced his retirement shortly afterward.

This is obviously not good news for Dak Prescott. Sure, Bryant had trouble separating, while Witten had just turned 36, but both were effective players for Prescott, who took a big step backward in his sophomore campaign. Prescott’s completion percentage and YPA dropped from 67.8 to 62.9, and 8.0 to 6.8, respectively. His touchdown-to-interception ratio also worsened from 23:4 to 22:13. Prescott had an amazing supporting cast in 2016, but he was exposed as a middling quarterback talent this past season when he didn’t have the proper pieces around him.

Thanks to financial constraints, the Cowboys weren’t really able to change that. They signed Allen Hurns, best known for his 1,000-yard season in 2015, but his stats that year were the byproduct of Blake Bortles’ garbage-time numbers at the end of blowout losses. Hurns hasn’t done anything substantial since – he hasn’t even eclipsed 500 yards in a year after 2015 – so the Cowboys will have to count on third-round rookie receiver Michael Gallup, a deep threat.

The Cowboys will be hoping that a rookie impresses at tight end as well. Dalton Schultz was chosen in the fourth round to replace Witten, but it’s unclear how effective he’ll be in his first year in the pros. Dallas also seems excited about Blake Jarwin, a 2017 undrafted free agent who has yet to catch a pass in the pros.

Dallas will at least have a strong rushing attack with Ezekiel Elliott, who won’t have to worry about any sort of suspension this year. Elliott, however, saw his yards-per-carry average plummet from 5.1 to 4.1 last year, and that was because of the regression of the offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith was banged up throughout the year, while the 2016 left guard, Ronald Leary, departed via free agency. The Cowboys used a second-round pick on Texas’ Connor Williams to replace Leary. This, however, seems like a mistake; numerous teams had fifth-round grades on Williams because his arms are too short to play tackle and he’s not strong enough to be a guard. He’ll certainly struggle as a rookie, though Pro Bowlers Travis Frederick and Zack Martin will pick up the slack in the interior.

Smith, meanwhile, will certainly be better in 2018. He says he feels great despite having that infamous bulging “disc” in his back. Smith should be outstanding, though right tackle is once again a question mark. La’el Collins struggled there last year and should probably be moved to left guard once the Cowboys realize that Williams is too weak to play there. Dallas did, however, sign former Patriot Cameron Fleming, who was solid in relief of the injured Marcus Cannon in 2017. It wouldn’t be surprising if Fleming eventually takes over as the starting right tackle.

2018 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
There has always been a big disparity when it comes to the Cowboys’ defense and whether or not Sean Lee is able to play or not. Dallas surrendered 20.8 points per game in 2017, yet that number ballooned to 29.8 in the five games Lee missed.

It was clear something had to be done about this, which would explain Dallas’ first-round selection, Leighton Vander Esch. The Boise State linebacker is very talented, but came with some injury concerns. One NFL team medically flunked him and removed him from their board. However, if Vander Esch is fine, he’ll be an effective player next to Lee. In fact, the Cowboys envision him as the next Brian Urlacher. That said, acquiring Vander Esch was a lateral move for at least this season, as he is unlikely to outperform Anthony Hitchens from a year ago. Hitchens signed with the Chiefs this offseason, leaving Jaylon Smith to start with Lee and Vander Esch. Smith is a big name as a former top-10 prospect, but he has yet to overcome his injury woes, as they seemingly have sapped him of his effectiveness; he was a mediocre player last year.

Speaking of players who disappointed this past season, 2017 first-rounder Taco Charlton barely did anything as a rookie despite the prolific DeMarcus Lawrence drawing attention away from him. If Charlton doesn’t improve, he may lose snaps to the newly acquired Kony Ealy, who had a decent 2017 campaign, as well as fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong, though Armstrong doesn’t seem like a good fit in the 4-3. Meanwhile, Tyrone Crawford will continue to serve as a jack-of-all-trades end who will apply some pressure on opposing passers and also clamp down on the run extremely well. It’ll be interesting to see if the newly reinstated Randy Gregory can contribute.

The Cowboys will have a stellar interior pass-rusher to round out the defensive line beginning in Week 5. David Irving recorded seven sacks in only eight games last year, but will miss the first four weeks of the season because of a suspension. Also, Dallas doesn’t have a viable starter next to him; Maliek Collins and Jihad Ward both struggled this past season.

Lawrence and Irving being able to pressure opposing quarterbacks consistently beginning in Week 5 will help a secondary that has some question marks. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are two talented cornerbacks entering their second seasons, but Awuzie wasn’t a full-time player last year. He performed well late in the season, but he’ll have to take on a larger role in 2018. Meanwhile, the Cowboys don’t have anyone to cover the slot. Anthony Brown, a 2016 sixth-round pick, struggled this past season.

The safety pair isn’t particularly exciting, though Xavier Woods wasn’t bad as a sixth-round rookie last year. Jeff Heath, meanwhile, wasn’t a liability in coverage, but he missed numerous tackles and probably had to be upgraded.

2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
Jerry Jones opened up his fancy new stadium with its giant video screen in 2009. It all looked great – until the players took the field. In the eight years at Cowboys Stadium, the host is just 39-36, compared to 42-32 on the road.

Undrafted rookie Dan Bailey came out of nowhere in 2011 to perform as one of the league’s top kickers. He had his worst season as a pro last year, however, going just 15-of-20. He missed two extra points. He was injured, so perhaps he’ll rebound in 2018.

Punter Chris Jones has been in the middle of the pack in net yardage most years. He was 13th in 2016, but improved to eighth last season.

Dallas was outgained on both punt and kickoff returns in 2016, but flipped the script this past season, beating opponents in both categories.

The Cowboys have a difficult schedule this year, as their first six road games are against the Panthers, Seahawks, Texans, Redskins, Eagles and Falcons. They have some easier contests at home, but the Saints, Titans and Jaguars will provide a challenge.

2018 Dallas Cowboys Rookies:
Go here for the Cowboys Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2018 Dallas Cowboys Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: The Cowboys might be the worst team in the division this year. Their middling quarterback has no one to throw to; the offensive line still isn’t completely repaired; David Irving will miss the first four games; and the rest of the defense still has some question marks, especially when Sean Lee suffers his annual injury. To top it off, the Cowboys are very poorly coached. With the Eagles remaining strong, and the Redskins and Giants bound to be better in 2018, the Cowboys could suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the NFC East.

Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC East)

2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 13-3.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Cowboys obviously need a receiver, but they don’t necessarily have to take one in the first round. They need to improve their back seven to be able to contain Carson Wentz and Philadelphia’s offense in an attempt to re-claim the NFC East crown.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Dallas certainly addressed the front seven with its first pick, taking Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall. Charlie Campbell was the first to report that teams had medical concerns with Vander Esch, and one NFC franchise even medically flunked him. The Cowboys had a different medical evaluation of him, as they weren’t concerned enough to pass on him in the first round. Vander Esch, if healthy, will be a tremendous upgrade in the linebacking corps, but he obviously carries some risk with him.

The Cowboys found help for their other big holes with two of their next four picks. Michael Gallup was a nice choice in the third round, as he could be one of Dallas’ starting receivers by Week 1. Dalton Schultz, chosen at the very bottom of Round 4, was a nice bargain as a replacement for the newly retired Jason Witten.

The other selections didn’t seem very good, however. Connor Williams was a major reach in Round 2, as it was a panic move when the preferred choices – Courtland Sutton, Dallas Goedert – were both taken. Williams drew fifth-round grades from some teams, as they deemed him not lengthy enough to play tackle and not strong enough to play guard. Elsewhere, defensive end Dorance Armstrong seems like a poor fit in the 4-3, while Mike White seems like a wasted pick, given that the Cowboys are already set with their No. 2 quarterback.

I wouldn’t say that this was a horrible draft for the Cowboys, by any means, but it definitely was a risky one. Vander Esch may not be healthy; Williams doesn’t have a fit up front (and didn’t even fill a need); and Armstrong’s transition to an NFL 4-3 is questionable. Dallas took some promising players, but there could end up being many busts in this class.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

19. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State B Grade
One NFC team medically flunked Leighton Vander Esch, but as Charlie and I explained on the podcast, this didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to fall out of the first round. Teams have different medical opinions of players, and Dallas obviously has no issues with Vander Esch’s neck. If Vander Esch remains healthy, he’ll be a terrific player in a Dallas defense that has historically struggled mightily whenever Sean Lee has been injured. Lee being hurt now won’t be as problematic moving forward, which is a good thing.

I’m giving this a “B” grade. I’d like the pick a lot more if there weren’t medical concerns about Vander Esch, but there’s a good chance his neck won’t be a problem, so I think this is a somewhat solid, albeit risky choice.

50. Connor Williams, OT/G, Texas D Grade
This is a pretty poor selection. The Cowboys, desperate after Courtland Sutton and Dallas Goedert were taken off the board, have reached for a mid-round tackle. Teams were shocked to see the media place Williams in the first or second round, as he doesn’t have a home in the NFL. His arms are way too short to play tackle, and he’s not nearly strong enough to play guard, which is why some teams considered him to be a fifth-round prospect. Even worse, Williams doesn’t fill any sort of need. This was pretty close to a Millen.

81. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State A- Grade
The Cowboys finally found their receiver. Michael Gallup has great speed and separation – something Dez Bryant lacked in his final days in Dallas. Gallup should be a nice, downfield threat for the Cowboys, and some could have argued that he could have been taken a bit earlier than this, so I like this selection.

116. Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas B- Grade
Once upon a time, Dorance Armstrong was considered a first-round pick. He didn’t play as well in 2017, but probably because he saw double teams on every play, being the only viable player on Kansas’ roster. Armstrong, however, seems more of a 3-4 player, so I don’t like this fit very much.

137. Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford B+ Grade
The Cowboys have made some stinker picks thus far, but this seems like a solid one. Dalton Schultz was someone we squarely saw as a fourth-round prospect, so he makes a lot of sense here, as Dallas absolutely had to find a replacement for the newly retired Jason Witten.

171. Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky C+ Grade
I don’t like this pick from a needs perspective. The Cowboys already had a solid backup in Cooper Rush. However, I don’t hate this selection either, as Mike White was the top quarterback on the board.

193. Chris Covington, LB, Indiana C- Grade
Chris Covington probably shouldn’t have been drafted, but I don’t think this is a poor pick. Covington is a former quarterback who has a history of knee injuries, so he’s still learning the position. He may not be anything more than a special-teamer.

208. Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State A- Grade
Cedrick Wilson could have gone a round earlier than this, so this is a solid choice by the Cowboys, who need as much receiving help as possible. Wilson is an average athlete, but a quality route-runner, so he should be able to contribute sooner rather than later.

236. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama A Grade
I cannot remember another instance in which Jerry Jones, a proud Arkansas alumnus, selected a player from the hated Alabama program. I guess he had to make an exception, and it was a good one. Bo Scarbrough was beaten out by a couple of running backs named Harris this past season, but he’s a physically gifted back who should’ve gone in the fourth round. This is a great pick.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Cowboys were widely considered one of the favorites in the NFC entering 2017. Regression at quarterback and the offensive line hurt, but the real killers were the suspension to Ezekiel Elliott and the injuries to Sean Lee and Tyron Smith at variance points of the season. The Cowboys are capable of bouncing back in 2018, but they’ll still be poorly coached.

Offseason Moves:
  • Cowboys cut WR Dez Bryant
  • Cowboys sign OT Cameron Fleming
  • Cowboys sign WR Allen Hurns
  • Cowboys sign WR Deonte Thompson
  • Cowboys sign LB Joe Thomas

    Team Needs:
    1. Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant has slowed down, and it’s become apparent that he’s no longer a No. 1 receiver. This is ironic because Dallas has needed a No. 2 wideout for a long time, and now it finally has one. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they now have to find a new top target for Dak Prescott. Signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson

    2. Safety: The Cowboys have some great elements in their defense, but they could stand to add some help in the back seven. Safety is an area that needs to be bolstered, as Dallas was beaten deep frequently in 2017.

    3. Linebacker: Sean Lee is one of the top linebackers in the NFL when healthy, but he’s difficult to count on. Anthony Hitchens is an impending free agent. Jaylon Smith struggled last year. This is an area Dallas will have to address this offseason. Signed Joe Thomas

    4. Right Tackle or Guard: The Cowboys have two holes on their offensive line that they must address: right tackle and guard. Addressing right tackle would kill two stones with one bird, as a Hall of Fame running back once said. Adding a new right tackle would allow La’el Collins to move to guard, where he would perform better. Signed Cameron Fleming

    5. Backup Left Tackle: The Cowboys are poorly coached, so they didn’t know what to do when Tyron Smith got hurt. Unless Jerry Jones wants to make an upgrade at coach, a better reserve left tackle will be needed.

    6. Defensive Line Depth: It wouldn’t hurt if Dallas found another exterior pass-rusher to join DeMarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton. Another interior defensive lineman wouldn’t hurt either. Lawrence, by the way, is an impending free agent, but he’s almost certain to be franchised at the very least.

    7. Fullback: The Cowboys like to use a fullback. Theirs will be entering free agency, and he’s not that good anyway.

    8. Backup Running Back: If Alfred Morris leaves via free agency, a new backup will be needed behind Ezekiel Elliott.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Jets. Age: 26.
      Signed with Cowboys

      The Patriots thoughtlessly discarded Kony Ealy last offseason, but one man’s trash proved to be another man’s treasure, as Ealy performed very well for the Jets, at least in the first half of the season. He slowed down toward the end, but it was a reminder that Ealy once dominated in the Super Bowl.

    2. Cameron Fleming, OT, Patriots. Age: 25.
      Signed with Cowboys

      The Patriots lost Marcus Cannon for the season, yet didn’t skip a beat because Cameron Fleming did a good job as a replacement. Just 26 in September, Fleming has a bright future ahead of him.

    3. Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys
    4. Deonte Thompson, WR, Bills. Age: 29. — Signed with Cowboys
    5. Joe Thomas (RFA), ILB, Packers. Age: 27. — Signed with Cowboys

    Dallas Cowboys Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Franchised by Cowboys

      DeMarcus Lawrence registered eight sacks in 2015, but didn’t play much in 2016. He was very limited because of a suspension and then a back injury, which required surgery. This obviously did not adversely affect his play because he was one of the most dominant defenders in the entire league this past year, registering 15 sacks. He also played the run very well. Lawrence, just 26 in April, has a very bright future ahead of him, and if he continues this level of play, he’ll be enshrined in Canton one day.

    2. David Irving (RFA), DT, Cowboys. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Cowboys (2nd round)

      David Irving was dominant down the stretch in 2016, and he proved that wasn’t a fluke this past season. He was limited to just eight games because of a concussion and a suspension, but he was terrific in those eight contests, registering seven sacks, which is a high number for a player at his position in a full 16-game slate. Irving, just 25 in August, should continue to improve his game.

    3. Orlando Scandrick, CB, Cowboys. Age: 31.
      Signed with Redskins (2 years)

      Orlando Scandrick was once one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, but injuries have derailed his career. He hasn’t played a full season since 2013. He’s now 31, so there’s a good chance he may never be the same again, which is a shame. That said, Scandrick could bounce back with one or two more strong years if he manages to stay healthy for a change, so he should be given a 1-year “prove it” deal.

    4. Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Signed with Chiefs

      Anthony Hitchens has done a great job of improving his game over the years. He was solid this past season, particularly in run support. He’s still young – 26 in June – so he could continue to upgrade his play.

    5. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys. Age: 29.
      Dez Bryant has been released because his absence will save the cap-strapped Cowboys $12 million in cap space if he’s designated as a June 1 cut. Bryant is a declining player approaching 30 (in November) who struggles to separate. He has not adjusted his game to compensate for this, and he’ll need to if he wants to keep playing beyond two more seasons. He’s no longer a No. 1 receiver, but perhaps Dallas cutting him will serve as motivation.

    6. Alfred Morris, RB, Cowboys. Age: 29.
      Alfred Morris proved he can still be an effective running back in this league this past season. Despite missing Tyron Smith for several of his starts, Morris rushed for 4.8 yards per carry.

    7. Jonathan Cooper, G, Cowboys. Age: 28.
      Signed with 49ers (1 year)

      Jonathan Cooper is one of many busts from the 2013 NFL Draft, but he’s at least still playing, which is more than many other first-rounders from that class can say right now. Cooper was decent as a run-blocker this past season, but struggled in pass protection.

    8. Brice Butler, WR, Cowboys. Age: 28. — Signed with Cardinals
    9. Kyle Wilber, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 29. — Signed with Raiders
    10. Keith Smith (RFA), FB, Cowboys. Age: 26. — Signed with Raiders
    11. Bene Benwikere, CB, Cowboys. Age: 26. — Signed with Cardinals
    12. Joe Looney, G, Cowboys. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Cowboys
    13. Byron Bell, OT, Cowboys. Age: 29.
    14. Richard Ash (RFA), DT, Cowboys. Age: 26.
    15. Justin March-Lillard (RFA), ILB, Cowboys. Age: 25.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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