Mike Fanelli | July 27th, 2019
The Dallas Cowboys’ 2018 was a journey of two halves. In the first half of the season, they went 3-4 and the offense was struggling, scoring more than 20 points in just two of those games. Then, Jerry Jones pulled a Cowboys’ like move and acquired former Oakland Raiders’ wide receiver Amari Cooper for a 2019 first-round pick. After trading for Cooper, the Cowboys went on to win seven of their last nine games to make the playoffs and win the NFC East title.
Entering the postseason for the second time in three years, the Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks 24-22 in the wild card round but was eliminated a week later, 30-22 by the Los Angeles Rams. The season didn’t end the way the team wanted it to but with some many talented young players on the roster, the future is bright in Dallas.
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The biggest change this offseason was the firing of Scott Linehan and promoting Kellen Moore to take over as offensive coordinator. With the promotion, the Cowboys filled Moore‘s quarterback coach spot with former Cowboy quarterback Jon Kitna. The team is hopeful that the change at offensive coordinator will help Dak Prescott take the next step forward in his development as well as improve the play calling. Defensively the Cowboys made one big move that went semi-unnoticed. Star pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence re-signed with a brand new contract worth $105 million dollars over five years. Lawrence has been one of the best pass rushers in the league over the last few seasons and deserved to be paid.
In addition to the two big moves, the Cowboys beefed up their depth on both sides of the ball through the draft and free agency. They drafted former Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern in the third round of the draft and signed former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb in free agency. Defensively, they spent a second-round pick on former UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill and traded for former Miami Dolphins’ pass rusher Robert Quinn. The most surprising move was when former Cowboy and ESPN broadcaster Jason Witten surprised everyone and came out of retirement after spending a year away from the game.
Recently the Cowboys released wide receiver Allen Hurns after he refused to take a pay cut. Since his release, Hurns has joined the Dolphins on a one-year deal. Cole Beasley left as a free agent in March to sign with the Buffalo Bills but his slot role will be taken over by Cobb. Ezekiel Elliott is the focal point of this offense and while he is currently holding out and not at training camp, I believe he will be back before the season starts, with or without a new contract.
Whether Prescott gets a new contract or not before the season starts is irrelevant. He needs to have a career year in order to get paid or to show he’s worth the money he got. Starting center Travis Frederick, who missed all of last season with an injury, is taking part in training camp and is expected to be 100% healthy and ready to go for week one. The offensive line must stay healthy this year if the Cowboys hope to make noise in the NFC. While Zeke may be the most talented player on offense, the team will only go as far as Prescott takes them.
The majority of the defense returns from last year with the addition of several key rotational players. With Randy Gregory still suspended by the league, Quinn will have to lead a trio of young pass rushers in Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and rookie Joe Jackson at the defensive end spot opposite of Lawrence. While he was the Cowboys’ first draft pick, Hill will have to earn snaps at defensive tackle behind projected starters Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods. With the trade for Quinn and the drafting of Hill and Jackson, the Cowboys have one the deepest and most talented defensive fronts in the league.
If opposing offenses are worried about the Cowboys’ front four, they have more to worry about in the second level. There might not be a better trio of linebackers in the league than Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and the old man Sean Lee. This trio combined for 291 total tackles last season, lead by Vander Esch with 140; third-most in the league. While Cowboy fans didn’t see their team sign Texan native Earl Thomas in free agency, the Cowboys have several really good defensive backs, led by Byron Jones at cornerback. Fans should expect the defense to be as good if not better than it was in 2018.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
The 2019 season is a critical one for Prescott but no matter what happens he won’t be challenged by Rush, who is viewed as a developmental backup. 2018 fifth-round pick Mike White will likely be on the cutting block as the team should be able to sneak him onto the practice squad.
Zeke is the unquestioned starter regardless of how much training camp he misses. Jackson has just six rushing attempts in his entire career and will be pushed by the two rookies (Pollard and Weber) for carries when Elliott needs a breather. Pollard should have a role in the passing game and should get some snaps in the slot as well. Olawale is the fullback and should make the roster if healthy.
The trio of Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb are expected to be the three starting receivers. Brown is one of the most underrated blocking receivers in the league and a key player on special teams. Austin can play in the slot, on special teams and even some running back if needed. Wilson, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2018, missed last season with an injury and will have to fight to make the roster.
This is the simplest group to figure out. Witten is the old man starter with Jarwin stealing some snaps as he was the starter for a good chunk of last season. Schultz was a fourth-round pick last year and should get another year to show his talents. Fan favorite Rico Gathers finally gets cut but could end up on the practice squad.
What might be the best offensive line in the league, Smith, Williams, Frederick, Martin, and Collins are all locked in as starters, Fleming, Looney, and Su’a-Filo are all veteran reserves with positional versatility. Rookie third-round pick McGovern would likely be given the first crack at starting, should they lose a starter in the preseason.
Second-round pick Hill joins an underrated but solid bunch upfront. Given all the attention the edge rushers get, the interior defensive linemen will see plenty of one-on-one matchups all season long. This is where Hill could really shine.
Smith and Vander Esch might be the best duo in the league and both will see the majority of snaps this season assuming they stay healthy. Lee, Thomas, and Covington will fight for the other starting spot. While Lee and Vander Esch both play their best at the WILL spot, Lee probably will get the majority of his snaps at the Sam spot.
Lawrence and Quinn are the projected starters with young bucks Charlton, Jackson, and Armstrong fighting for the leftover snaps. Gregory will likely begin the season on the suspension list and won’t count towards the 53 man roster. However, if he is reinstated, Armstrong’s roster spot is at serious risk.
This group is almost set in stone aside from an injury or a great preseason from someone. Jones is one of the best cornerbacks in the league while Awuzie, Brown, and Lewis are all very good and will have to fight for snaps. Jackson was a fifth-round pick and will likely struggle to get snaps unless an injury happens.
Despite plenty of speculation about signing big name free agent safeties this offseason, the Cowboys signed Iloka instead. While no one has a starting spot guaranteed, Woods and Heath are the likely starters. Teams usually carry only four safeties so sixth-round pick Wilson needs to impress in training camp to guarantee a roster spot.
Currently, the Cowboys have just one punter (Jones) and one kicker (Maher) on their roster, suggesting that the team is happy with both and no competition is needed. Meanwhile, Ladouceur has been with the team since 2005 so his roster spot is almost certainly safe.
The 2018 season didn’t end the way Cowboy fans wanted it to. However, the Cowboys spent the offseason building up their depth and re-signing arguably their best player. With big contracts looming for Dak, Cooper, Zeke, Jones, and a few others, the Cowboys’ window is now. The team should have Super Bowl expectations but in reality, they aren’t. The team will go as far as Prescott takes them and I’m not sure he can get them to Miami on February 2nd, 2020.
Realistically, the Cowboys could win the NFC East again and make a push for the NFC championship game. If they can reach that game, the season should be considered a success. I believe there are at least three teams better than the Cowboys in the NFC. However, all it takes is one call or injury to go your way to make a Super Bowl run.
Season Prediction: 10-6, wild card spot at worst, NFC East title at best and make the second round of the playoffs.
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