After a good 2016, the stars of the Dallas Cowboys suffered what is long regarded as a second-year syndrome in 2017. I don’t need to write anything else about Elliott – if you’re here then you know all about it! Dak Prescott seemed to have had a very mediocre season in comparison to his rookie year. And the defence still isn’t amazing.
The thing with Dallas is that they think big. Everything’s big in Texas, right? But are they close to being a big thing or is it all just show? The Cowboys will have around $21m in cap space heading in to the offseason (not including any increase to the cap that the league dictates) so there’s not a tonne of money to play with. They should focus on finding impact players in the draft once more and continue to build around the core that they have developed, paying the players they’ve got rather than bringing in expensive free agents.
What’s next for the Dallas Cowboys?
The Dallas defence flatters to deceive. They’re middle of the pack when it comes to number of sacks they got in 2017 (38 in total putting them 18th in the league) and were 14th in the league with number of yards given up (5,311 in total). So what’s the problem? It’s just that there’s no real star power there. Demarcus Lawrence had a breakout season with 14.5 sacks but that’s the most he or any other pass rusher has had in a long long time in Dallas.
As it is, Lawrence is also coming to the end of his contract and as such I expect the Cowboys to franchise tag him but they need to add more fire power to this defence. They have a running back that can control the clock, they just need the other half of that equation.
In my first mock draft I gave them Da’Ron Payne from Alabama the defensive tackle and that’s certainly an area that can use help. Having Payne alongside Lawrence will give them a legitimate pass rush but one other area they need to look at is linebacker. I’m a huge fan of Sean Lee but just when he’s back fit, he gets injured and this is where they can use help. If they do use their first-round pick on a defensive tackle then an inside linebacker should be given serious consideration for their second round pick.
The star ILBs are going to be long gone by the time Dallas pick but there’s still some talent left when Dallas comes round to pick again. Malik Jefferson from Texas could be a good fit, he has great size at 6-3 and 238lbs, is a tremendous athlete and had solid production in terms of tackles at Texas.
If linebacker isn’t the area they strengthen then cornerback has to be. This draft class is deep at cornerback and there’s going to be quality players available throughout the second and most of the third round. Both Carlton Davis from Auburn and Donte Jackson from LSU will provide quality at the position. Davis has the size that many teams are looking for now at cornerback standing 6-1 and 195lbs. He is questionable in coverage though so could see him drop slightly to Dallas’ advantage. Jackson maybe just under 6 foot but is likely to show blazing speed at the combine, if he gets his hands on the ball you’re not catching him. He does however have some character issues, but then that’s not something Dallas are usually scared about.
The Dak/Dez connection
Dez Bryant is due to receive $18m in 2018. That’s a lot of money for a receiver that is struggling to generate rapport with his young quarterback. 2014 was Bryant’s last 1000+ yard season so it’s likely that the Cowboys will put pressure on the star receiver to either restructure his contract to lessen the salary or, at an extreme, look to move him on either via a trade or by cutting him. Dallas were ranked 27th in passing yardage in 2017 so figuring out the connection between their young QB and star receiver has to be a must.
If he stays, then one way or another he and Dak need to figure out how to be productive with one another. Bryant should be a young quarterbacks dream, he should be able to toss the ball up and let Dez go up and get it but that’s just not happening. If they’re serious about making it work, then I’d love to see them get together in the off season and figure it out but I just don’t see Dez wanting to make that happen.
If that’s not going to happen then the coaching staff need to spend some time with the two of them and develop a game plan that involves getting Bryant the ball more and increasing Dak’s confidence of lobbing the ball up to let Dez get the ball. When Steve Young first joined the 49ers he had trouble getting the ball to the great Jerry Rice. It wasn’t that either wasn’t a great player it was just that Young wasn’t used to throwing the ball to where Rice wasn’t and being confident enough that Rice would get there in time to make the reception. Once he figured that out, the Hall of Famers went on to create probably one of the greatest QB-Receiver partnerships in all time. No pressure then Dak!
As I said above, the passing yards in 2017 for Dallas wasn’t great. As well as being close to the bottom of total yards they’re also close to the bottom in terms of average yards per pass – 26th overall at 10.8 yards per attempt. Jason Witten is great, but old so is hardly going to get up field. The difficulty with Dez is well documented but part of that could also be that opponents aren’t scared at all with the other options – Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley. Both have had their moments, but neither are exactly standout players that demand attention from opposing defensive coordinators. There’s been a lot of investment in the offensive line which allows Zeke to run over defences but having some other play making receivers that can make yards is a must of this team. They need players who can take the top off a defence. They need speed.
$21m isn’t a lot of cap space so Dallas aren’t going to sign a marquis free agent receiver, however that doesn’t mean that there’s no cheap talent available that could help. Taylor Gabriel had a fantastic season for Atlanta in 2016 but went off the boil in 2017 with a coordinator who didn’t know how to use him. With his pace he’s likely to be a real deep threat due to his ability to get past defenders. With Zeke running so hard he could be set to make a lot of yards off of play action passes.
This is not a great draft class for top end receiver talent but that doesn’t mean there’s not potential in the later rounds. If Antonio Callaway did have so many off the field issues he might be perfect for Dallas. During the combine he ran a 4.41s 40-yard dash but with all the off-field trouble on his record he didn’t even play a game for the Gators in 2017. The next best time went to that of Robert Foster out of Alabama – another 4.41s time but isn’t rated highly due to the run first power system that Alabama run. He’s ranked in the 7th round or at worst as a free agent so maybe it’s worth a punt for the Cowboys to take him and see what he can do when he has an NFL calibre QB throwing to him.
Jason Witten is a legend in Dallas and probably has the stats to grant him a Hall of Fame pass at some point in the future. But that future isn’t that long away and so getting better at tight end is another option for Dallas. Mike Gesicki from Penn State has just wowed the NFL with a 4.54s 40-yard time but he has the size and stature to be a proper mismatch at tight end. 6-5 and 247lbs with hands measuring 10 1/8” prove he could be an incredible weapon down field for Dak. Before the combine he was graded as a round three or four guy but I can only see his stock increasing following his showing in Indianapolis.
So, what next?
The Cowboys have some stars in some key places but surrounding them is a lot of mediocrity. They need to make the most out of Dak and Zeke whilst they’re on cheap rookie contracts – much like Seattle did with Russel Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. If they don’t this could become a very expensive team. If they have strong draft in 2018 they could once again rise to the top and be serious contenders in 2018