By Zach Walker
Two preseason games in books, two still to go, and it’s an all local affair from now until the roster is finalized. It’s been a pretty run of the mill, cliché filling end to the summer for the Cowboys. But on the horizon are storm clouds that are forming, and that storm will absolutely ruin the plans for the future of the franchise. There are rays of sunshine that pierce through the clouds but things could go sideways if the dominoes fall where they could. Vague… Tantalizing. I’ll get to it.
The Dak Dilemma
This really is both not really a problem, and a very large problem. The small potatoes part of the situation is pretty simple, the NFL economy is about finding a quarterback, determining that he’s the one to carry the team forward, and help back in the armored car into his driveway. It is just what happens. You pay the quarterback, so in that, it’s not a problem, it’s inevitable. Dak Prescott is the complication. On the one hand, he’s got that black-and-white, really old way of looking at things stat of wins and losses, and over his career in the NFL, Dak Prescott is trailing only Tom Brady in the wins column. So clearly, the team responds to Dak Prescott being on the field, and performs at their best. And with Dak, I truly do believe that he has the intangibles that all of those scouts talk about, those “IT” factors and leadership skills that it takes to really stick to a franchise.
However, in this changing sports-cape of Patrick Mahomes and spread offenses’ like the Rams, Packers, and Bears, the Dak Prescott modern day stats like completion percentage, QBR, and yards per attempt really DO NOT favor the quarterback himself. Which is a win for the salary cap for the Cowboys, and keeping Dak closer to the 28 to 32 million per year versus his want of being closer to the ludicrous number of 40 million per. There has been a shake-up in the chain of command for the offense. Out goes Scott Linehan and stepping up will be Kellen Moore, and if one were to take a spin at Moore’s football history and his abilities, it isn’t difficult in the slightest to believe that Moore’s offense will be quarterback friendly, so it’s a safe bet to assume an upswing in stats for Dak Prescott. What to do? If Dak takes to Moore’s offense, and flourishes, it’ll mean that 40 per scenario, and that 35 million a serious shoulda-coulda. But, remember, Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl before he got paid, then the team wasn’t the same after. Oh, P.S. F*** the Eagles. The Prescott deal will eventually get done, it’s just the numbers that are the interesting.
What About Zeke?
The Ezekiel Elliott situation is just the worst. This season was always going to be that tug-of-war of Dak Prescott’s representation versus the Cowboys’ front office, now throw a gigantic wrench into the spokes. Does Zeke have a point? He’s actually got a solid point, his usage is outstanding. His value to the team is way beyond his salary price point. He’s got two major issues to face. First, he’s not helping himself at ANY turn. That BS out in Las Vegas is a serious fart in the elevator, and that car-wreck thing in Frisco from what seems like a decade ago is just another blemish on the list of Elliott indiscretions. As soon as the traveling circus of the NFL stops going from town to town, it just seems like Elliott rubs his hands together and starts flicking matches in random directions. The second thing is, the Cowboys have him on contract. And they have the luxury of the franchise tag for two seasons beyond the contract, to keep the money pretty team friendly. It’d be a super ballsy move, but the Cowboys could trade him, that is an option, a distant one, but when the Texans are dangling Jadeveon Clowney around, one could picture what Clowney, Rod Marinelli, and the ‘Hotboyz’ would look like together. Are things going to get solved? Yeah, but at the cost of what? Pushing Amari Cooper out? Screwing over the extension that’s coming to Jaylon Smith? I wouldn’t like the former, and I’ll legitimately take Jaylon Smith over Ezekiel Elliott, and I’m weeks alcohol-free saying that. (I wrote this line, and the next day, Jaylon Smith got his new contract)
Dak Prescott has looked good in his limited preseason action, minus his unbelievable ability to just not throw the ball away and accept sacks upon him. But, he’s going to be it going forward. Behind him is Cooper Rush and Mike White. Rush has looked capable, nothing that changes the color of your hair, but a quarterback that can hold some kicks, warm up some receivers on the sideline, and really not do much beyond that. Mike White has been really unimpressive in his extended action, not Christian Hackenberg-inept but about two notches above that. It’s a pretty fair assumption that the Cowboys will carry Dak and Rush only. Don’t be one of the people out there that believe a veteran quarterback is needed. If the starter goes down, the season’s over. Accept it. I’d rather lose like a falling elevator, than go down like a broken escalator, still stairs that go down, but you’re working now. That draft capital is too valuable, and the cap that’s not wasted on a veteran quarterback spreads nicely over contributing players.
Like I stated, let’s all see where this lands with Zeke. Tony Pollard has been thrust into the spotlight like a nervous kid during a talent show, but he looks a hell of a lot more composed. His ability to get low and maintain balance and strength is a really strong display if when it comes to it and he has to start the season, it shouldn’t be too bad. (Squints into distance, truly believing what he just put down). They brought back Alfred Morris, so that’s solid depth. (Mentally stubs toe). Darius Jackson and Mike Weber have looked eager also… Okay, so we haven’t seen much football played recently without Zeke Elliott in the backfield, and without him, the defense won’t have that same fear that comes along with 21 being on the field. This needs to happen quickly, time’s getting short.
They still have those?!? I thought that went the way of the kick return wedge and cigarette advertisements in stadiums. Mean Green Jamize Olawale is still holding it down, and that’s good. It’s the fullback position, unless Lorenzo Neal is reppin’ out on a Pro-bowl skills competition, there’s not much to write home about.
Amari Cooper must be sitting back, watching sports’ scrolls about Dak’s salary requests and the Zeke holdout and must feel like a comment from him will go over fantastically. Cooper seems content to just sit back, show up to work, and allow the chips to fail where they fall. Michael Gallup looks like he’s ready for a pretty excellent sophomore season, and Randall Cobb adds veteran savvy to the shifty slot receiver position. That’s the top three, then there’s Tavon Austin, who might be a cap casualty to be replaced by the combination of Cedrick Wilson and Devin Smith, who have each had shiny moments in the preseason so far. Jon’Vea Johnson, Jalen Guyton, and Reggie Davis haven’t had too many positives through two games, but there’s time to make a push, but I believe it’ll be: Cooper, Cobb, Gallup, Wilson, and Smith.
It’s Jason Witten. How much more information is needed? Pair him with the much improved since their last time on the field together, Blake Jarwin, and the tandem actually should make teams take notice. Do I like Dalton Schultz? I don’t know, I swear I’ve never seen him. I like Codey McElroy, his journey explained during the game the other day was fascinating, and he really looks the part, and has been there on the field, so that’s been a plus, but I know Schultz was fourth round pick, and that’ll help his team status.
Everyone out there must really love the depth along this offensive line. Not “On-paper” depth either, guys with starts along THIS offensive line. Tyron Smith, Conner Williams, Travis Frederick (The most welcomed sight), Zack Martin, La’el Collins. Just sounds right, don’t it? The depth though. Joe Looney, sixteen starts last season. Xavier Su’a-Filo, eight starts last season. Cameron Fleming, played in fourteen games last season, with three starts. Then a third round draft pick on Connor McGovern, who may be placed on IR to start the season. Looney and Su’a-Filo each have strong position flex, and given how flexible both La’el Collins and Conner Williams are, the Cowboys will likely be looking through the rest of the preseason at a depth tackle, with easy bet being on struggling rookie Mitch Hyatt getting a good long look. But, the outlook is so good from the offensive line.
The Defensive Line
The top four of the “HotBoyz” are set, and are going to be the main heat breathing down the necks of opposing quarterbacks. They just haven’t been on the field together this offseason. Demarcus Lawrence is recovering, as is Tyrone Crawford, however they JUST got activated from PUP, which is GOOD. Robert Quinn broke his hand, then had that hand slammed by the rule book from the NFL with a two game suspension. I know, that sucks, but he was going to try and be ready for the opener, now he can get a few extra weeks to heal up. Maliek Collins is the second of the defensive tackles in the starting lineup, and I believe he’s the Cowboy to watch out for this season, he’s keen for the true breakthrough season. I happen to REALLY like the second unit, the unit that’s been getting some really long work in the preseason. Four rookies: Joe Jackson, Trysten Hill, Ricky Walker, Jalen Jelks. That group has a really nice tune to their rush, and has a lot of potential, and I believe that all four rookies will make the squad and be in the Marinelli bullpen. They also have Christian Covington, a big defensive tackle who was with the Texans, Dorance Armstrong the second year end who does look improved from his rookie season a year ago, and then there is a divisive player who is nearing the edge of the roster. Taco Charlton hasn’t done enough to garner any strong leeway when the roster considerations, he’s only got four sacks through 27 games, but only eight quarterback hits, and that just isn’t going to cut it. Taco is going to be a Cowboy for the start of the season, because of the injury to Robert Quinn, but he’s going to need to show up in those games to stick around.
The Dynamic Duo are set to lead this defense. Leighton Vander Esch and the newly minted Jaylon Smith. The “Wolfman” and the “Headache-Maker” were an absolute force last season, so impactful that some might lose perspective and forget that Leighton Vander Esch was a rookie last season. LVE was so impactful that it has relegated Sean Lee to a supporting role. He’ll be the third linebacker on the field in standard formation packages, with Lee likely be the linebacker coming off in various formations. That’s a show of strength, for sure. It was a bummer for sure about Luke Gifford, who really made strong waves in the early portion of camp and in his first preseason game, who left that action with an ankle sprain which ended his preseason efforts to make the roster. Three “J’s” are pushing to make this team as well: Justin March-Lillard, Justin Phillips, and Joe Thomas. Kyle Queiro is now linebacking after converting from safety, and will likely see strong game action through the rest of the preseason. Chris Covington should be on the roster when cuts get made, he can be a cog in the special teams.
The Defensive Backs
Kris Richard has blown through here and completely transformed the old way of Cowboys’ defensive backend play, into an area that the Cowboys can view as a strength. Byron Jones is going to try and ball out so enrich his value heading into his free agency. Chidobe Awuzie should have an uptick in his third season, but that isn’t to say his first two seasons were bad, it’s that corners become more seasoned with every game, and Chido should be almost at a Pro-bowl level this season. Jourdan Lewis is the spectacular slot corner and should be even better. If Anthony Brown is your fourth corner, you’ve got good things going. Donovan Olumba might have punched his ticket as the fifth corner on the roster with his Rams’ game showcase. Mike Jackson will likely be a practice squad player. The safeties have been absolutely torn apart this offseason, with a TON of talking heads pointing to the position as the thing that is likely to sink this entire team. It is all the same names as before. Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier. George Iloka was brought in to compete, as was Darian Thompson, and the team drafted Donovan Wilson to throw into the mix. I don’t think ANYTHING is nailed down, and the best player will prevail.
Chris Jones and the timeless treasure L.P. Ladouceur are staples, though Kasey Redfern the preseason punter has been very good in the exhibition season and likely kicked himself to the top of the pile of free agent punters. Okay, let’s talk about a serious issue. This kicking game needs to get settled. I wear my Dan Bailey shirt jersey with pride and miss my extra point piss breaks and when they rolled out big five for a kick and it was just that little more time that one gets to grab something from the ‘fridge. That isn’t the case for when Brett Maher goes out to try and add three to the board. Yes, he made a long kick last season, but that’s going to allow for potential misses in regular season games? I’m not cool with that, and for there not to be any form of kicking competition is just irresponsible. Flatly, a bad move.
Overall, I wouldn’t expect to see the starters for much longer before the opener against the Giants, maybe twenty minutes in the third preseason game on Saturday night versus the Texans, then the roster will start to take shape when the second teamers take their licks.
This is a big year for this franchise, maybe the biggest since last season, and there are a few hurdles in the way that need to get overcome: Zeke holdout, Amari’s injury, potential Tyrone Crawford suspension for the bar fight, any other suspensions the NFL feels is necessary that the Cowboys should endure. But, as the poster reads “I Want To Believe” and I do, I believe that this season feels like it’s going to be memorable.