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Cowboys News: How The Cowboys Can Fix The Defense In One Offseason

Latest Cowboys headlines: Cowboys need more than a 'caretaker' defense; DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford undergo surgeries; what's next for Tony Romo?

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Best bet to fix Dallas Cowboys defense is via draft - Todd Archer, ESPN
The Cowboys have been reluctant to spend big on free agents from other teams, so if they want premier talent, they'll have to find it via the draft.

That's the smart way to do it. They will make some free-agent signings, but I would bet they would be more in the Cedric Thornton range (four years, $17 million) than the megabuck range. That's just not their philosophy.

I don't know how often I have to mention that, but every time Stephen Jones talks about free agency he says the bang doesn't match up with the buck. But you mentioned trading, and that is an interesting idea. The Cowboys aren't averse to trading, but the last significant deal they made was picking up Roy Williams (the receiver) in 2008. That didn't work out so well. In order to get something of consequence you have to give up something of consequence. I don't know what the Cowboys could give up to land a big piece short of their first two picks. I'm not sure I'd go that route considering their need to balance their cap obligations.

So I'll say it again: draft and draft well. Over the past few seasons with Will McClay in charge, we've seen the Cowboys do a better job of identifying players in every round.

Jaylon Smith's development could cause big change in Dallas Cowboys' D - Todd Archer, ESPN
Archer gives an update on Jaylon Smith's recovery and adds a little outlook for 2017.

Feeling is starting to return to the leg, which is a sign the nerve is regenerating, but he continues to wear a brace to help lift his foot. The Cowboys and Smith do not doubt he will be on the field in 2017, even with the brace. By the end of the season he said his speed was returning and he was moving well laterally as well.

The pairing of Lee and Smith could give the Cowboys one of the best linebacker duos in the league. With the continued development of Hitchens, who is entering the final year of his contract, and Wilson, the Cowboys would have their best linebacker group since early in the Wade Phillips era.

What the stats say about the Cowboys defense - Bob Sturm, SportsDay
Sturm offers as clear and succinct a summary of the 2016 defensive performance as I've read anywhere:

The numbers are actually quite solid, but the talent level is just not where it needs to be [emphasis added].

Several years of investing all big assets into the offense has worked well, but has left the defense with the scraps. Atlanta was able to fix its talent issues in two drafts and found six starters who are now leading its defense with youthful athleticism that actually seems to be pretty decent at causing problems here in the playoffs for Seattle and Green Bay.

Marinelli is great, but I do wonder if the Cowboys need a more aggressive defense to complement their offense moving forward. Attacking rather than "keeping things in front of them" would be my adjustment in 2017. Let's see what they decide this spring.

Cowboys need more than a 'caretaker' defense - SportsDay Staff
Tim Cowlishaw answered questions in a recent chat, and here's his take on how the Cowboys can improve their defense.

You've covered Cowboys Super Bowl champions. What, besides defense obviously, do current Cowboys need to do to take the next step?

Tim Cowlishaw: I don't think there's a single missing thing so much as a need to build a more solid defense, not just a caretaker defense that does its job when the offense provides 14-point leads. That's what happened here in 1992. [...] The defense was OK in 1991 but the team added Charles Haley, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson and Robert Jones in 1992. That's quite a haul. We won't see anything like that here, but an even smaller upgrade could go a long way if the offense keeps going along at 30 points a game.


NFL players who could be gone from 2016 playoff teams - Bill Barnwell, ESPN
In the salary cap era, teams can't keep everybody on their roster happy forever, Barnwell explains, and looks at the big personnel decisions looming for the playoff teams. In Dallas, no decision is bigger than what to do with Tony Romo, and Barnwell offers a clear take on how that situation will play out.

Despite suggestions that the Cowboys will look to trade Tony Romo or hold onto him until the summer before finding a new destination for their former franchise quarterback, those moves don't really make financial sense. The Cowboys would incur a $19.6 million dead money charge on this year's cap by trading Romo, who is likely to attract a limited market thanks to his injury history. If they designate Romo as a post-June 1 release, they can eat $12.7 million of the dead money this year and save $6.9 million for 2018, which would be a more palatable financial situation in terms of allowing the Cowboys to rebuild their secondary next season.

What will the Cowboys do with Tony Romo? Our experts predict his fate - SportsDay Staff
The Dallas Morning News line up its writers and asked each for a prediction of what will happen with Tony Romo, and most of them think Romo will be released with a June 1 designation.

Release, June 1 designation (Cowlishaw, George, Gosselin, Moore, Sherrington)
Release (Hairopoulos)
Trade (Machota)

Kate Hairopoulos even thinks it will be a straight release, in which the Cowboys swallow Romo's entire $19.6 million cap hit in one year.

This split isn't easy on anyone. As is often the case in arduous situations, it's best to just get it over with all at once. By releasing Romo, the Cowboys will actually save $5.1 million that they will have available for free agency, money that won't be available to them if they designate Romo a June 1 cut. Yes, they'll have to take the $19.6 million hit to the salary cap this season, but financial gymnastics will make it work. Best of all, they can move into 2018 free and clear of Romo's contract. Romo will also get to choose where he goes for his last hurrah. Contenders like Denver and Houston seem to be the most obvious situations where the potential rewards of Romo outweigh the clear concerns about his durability. There. Done. Everyone's happy-ish.


Odds Favor Cowboys 2017 NFL Rushing Leader - Daniel Cypra,
The Cowboys are favored to do something they haven't done in 20 years:

Rookie Ezekiel Elliott scampered for 1,631 yards, 300 more than fellow rookie Jordan Howard of the Bears (1,313). And he did it in just 15 games.

The Cowboys are now favored to have the NFL rushing leader during the 2017 regular season.

The Cowboys last had the back-to-back rushing leader in 1993, when the legendary Emmitt Smith led the league for the third of three straight years. Smith had 1,563 yards in 1991, another 1,713 in 1992, and 1,486 in 1993, all league bests.


DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford undergo surgeries, no timetable for return - SportsDay Staff
Both Crawford (shoulder) and Lawrence (back) had surgeries last offseason, and they both went back under the knife for similar surgeries this year.

On Friday, coach Jason Garrett shared updated on DeMarcus Lawrence's back surgery and the procedure on Tyrone Crawford's shoulder. He said both surgeries went will, but there is no timetable for the players to return.

Anthony Hitchens earns raise of more than $1 million - Todd Archer, ESPN
By qualifying for the NFL's "proven performance escalator," Hitchens raised his base salary from $690,000 to $1.84 million in 2017.

Because he played in at least 35 percent of the snaps in two of his first three seasons, Hitchens qualified for the "proven performance escalator," in his contract that takes his base salary from $690,000 to $1.84 million in 2017. The escalator was added to the rookie wage scale as part of the collective bargaining agreement in 2011 for players drafted in Rounds 3-7.

Last year, Terrance Williams and J.J. Wilcox qualified for the "proven performance escalator."


Seven Senior Bowl Standouts Who Make Sense For The Cowboys - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
Helman provides a quick profile of seven players he thinks stood out at the Senior Bowl this week, including one name that's frequently been linked to the Cowboys recently, cornerback Rasul Douglas.

This is cliché, but I’m a sucker for a big cornerback. Douglas is huge, measuring out at 6-2, 204 pounds on Tuesday. Despite that, he showed some serious athleticism in practices. On Thursday, he caught up to East Carolina receiver Zay Jones on a deep route and launched himself for a leaping pass breakup on a play where he looked beaten. It was reminiscent of Mo Claiborne’s leaping breakup of A.J. Green in Week 5 against Cincinnati. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this dude finished his final college season with 70 tackles and a fantastic eight interceptions. It’s early, but this is an absurdly deep cornerback class, and it doesn’t sound crazy to think Douglas could be there in the second or third round.

Seattle’s Cliff Avril regrets hit on Tony Romo; impressed by Prescott - Clarence Hill, The Star-Telegram
It was Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril who set the wheels in motion for a season of surprising change and success in Dallas with his hit on Romo, but he doesn't want "credit" for injuring Romo.

"I don't ever want to injury somebody and put somebody else in there," Avril said. "But Dak took full advantage of the opportunity. He has been killing it ever since."

Avril, who earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after recording a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2016, has spent the week getting to know Prescott and has come away very impressed. He said Prescott compares very favorably to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in his passion for the game and work ethic.

"Just talking to him the last couple of days you can see why he has been so successful," Avril said. "He's a lot more mature than you expect him to be. His passion for winning is crazy. It's cool to see. It's cool to be around him. It's cool to hear how he thinks. He is like Russell as you can see the passion they both have for winning and that's going to continue to get better. I can see him doing great things in this league."

NFLPA hoping for "less punitive" approach to recreational marijuana - Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk
The NFLPA is preparing a proposal that would amend the league's drug policy to take a less punitive approach to marijuana use. The NFL is open to the idea, but they'll want something in return for relaxing the rules.

In a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the union is preparing a proposal to make the substance-abuse policy "less punitive" when it comes to recreational marijuana use.

It all seems reasonable, fair, and appropriate, but the threshold problem is this: If the union wants to change the policy, the union needs to be ready to make a concession. That’s how collective bargaining works; it’s a quid pro quo, a tit-for-tat. Mutual backscratching.

So if the NFLPA wants to soften the policy, the NFLPA needs to be ready to give the NFL something it wants.

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