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Cowboys news: Draft targets, free agents and what to do with them, and more

Plus a strong rebuke to one Charles Haley.

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Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles
Don’t forget his impact in 2018, either.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Large Humans of Relevance: Cowboys Edition – Jeff Cavanaugh, The Athletic
This lays out the case for why Vita Vae in the first or Da'Ron Payne in the second would be great picks for Dallas - but first it explains why those 1 tech DTs may not be in the cards.

A quick note in case you aren't familiar: The Cowboys have two different defensive tackle spots. The '3-technique' lines up over an offensive guard. That's the spot where you'd like to place explosive/quick guys who can penetrate and be a disruptive force in the offensive backfield. The Cowboys do value that spot. It's why they drafted Maliek Collins, and paid Tyrone Crawford.

The other defensive tackle is the '1-technique,' or nose tackle. The space eater. The refrigerator. He lines up between the opposing center and the other guard and his job is to get in fights every snap with multiple large humans. This is the spot the Cowboys have historically tried to fill with very little money and marginal draft capital in recent history. That's why Nick Hayden, Cedric Thornton, and Stephen Paea have wound up filling that role recently. It's why you can look up the Cowboys' draft history and not see a nose tackle taken before the seventh round under this regime.

Sorting through roster first step in Dallas Cowboys' offseason story - Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys Blog- ESPN
Archer is usually very good with his stuff, but he is another writer who is on the "dump Dez" bandwagon. It is rather mystifying.

Prediction: The Cowboys will part ways with Bryant but not designate him a post-June 1 cut, which means they will take on the full prorated portion of his signing bonus against the 2018 salary cap. If they do this, finding a receiver in free agency or in the draft becomes Dallas' top need.

NFL free agency 2018: 1 potential cap casualty for each team - Adam Stites,
Add yet another article about how Dallas could part ways with Dez Bryant - despite how easy it would be for the team to use a restructure of his contract to gain cap space without cutting him or his pay.

Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, WR

This would be a surprising release, but it’s not out of the question. Bryant and Dak Prescott have never really been on the same page, and the receiver hasn’t topped 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns since 2014. With a $16.5 million cap hits in 2018 and 2019, the Cowboys can save $8.5 million this season and clear $12.5 million in space for 2019 by releasing Bryant.

Ezekiel Elliott could deliver NFL MVP caliber season in 2018 - Patrik Walker, 247 Sports
Last year was really a mess for Ezekiel Elliott. This year should be much better, and that is nothing but good news for the Cowboys.

Speaking of football, which is why we're all really here, Elliott missing six games obviously had an impact on his numbers because you can't run a football if you're not allowed on the field. That obvious tidbit notwithstanding, the All-Pro still delivered a very strong season when given the chance. He fell just short of 1,000 yards -- rushing for 983 in only 10 games (98.3 average per game) -- in a season that put five games over 100 yards on display, including a 147-yard and 150-yard effort. And despite the aforementioned missed time, Elliott was still only 155 yards away from being top four in the league in rushing and two TDs shy of being top three. Given the pace he set when playing, he would've delivered 1,572 yards on the ground with 12 TDs. That's good enough to retain his NFL rushing title from 2016, falling just 59 yards and three TDs shy of his stellar rookie season.

NFL players who need a change of scenery on all 32 teams - ESPN beat writers
This takes a look at the other side of releasing players, trying to identify those who would benefit from hitting the market.

Running back Alfred Morris

It might be easy to say Dez Bryant, who has had three straight down seasons that have not been entirely his fault, but Morris showed he still has something left to give as an every-down running back in Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension. Morris does not fit as a backup because he is not a third-down back and is a better runner the more carries he gets. With Elliott around for a full season in 2018, having Morris around won't be necessary, especially with Rod Smith ready as a third-down alternative. -- Todd Archer

Shaquem Griffin is more than just an inspirational story – Kevin Turner, The Athletic
One of the most interesting stories in the draft is linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who is attracting attention because he is seeking to become the first one-handed player in the NFL. That misses the point. He is in many ways a superior linebacker. And if he does make it into the last day of the draft, when Dallas currently has seven picks, Cowboys fans might want to listen for his name at some point.

You might be wondering how the heck he's supposed to play NFL-caliber football with only one hand, and it’s a fair question. Shaquem is not a flawless player by any means, but he welcomes cynics. He’s been doubted his entire life, and I promise you there will be many NFL teams who will doubt him as well. That would be a mistake. He’s going to be an effective NFL player.

I’m here to end the skepticism of Shaquem Griffin. Shaquem Griffin is a good player and deserves to be drafted higher than he’s being projected. I’m not some guy who’s a sucker for heartwarming stories, I’m just forming my own evaluations of players, and my evaluation of this player says he should be drafted on day two of this year’s draft.

Cowboys Potential FA Target: Former Patriots RB Rex Burkhead ✭ Brian Martin, Inside the Star
The Cowboys like second or third tier free agents, especially more affordable ones. With Alfred Morris likely to leave, they may be interested in a FA running back for depth, rather than drafting one. This is one they might want to consider.

I’m a fan of Rex Burkhead if you couldn’t tell. I think he would be an excellent complement to Ezekiel Elliott and would provide competition with Rod Smith to become the Cowboys RB2.

Rex Burkhead is a do it all RB who can contribute in several different ways. He was buried on the depth chart when he is with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he was able to prove just how valuable he can be with the New England Patriots this past season.

Burkhead is equally effective running the ball as he is catching it out of the backfield. He has the strength to run between the tackles and pick up the tough yards, but also has the speed to get around the corner. He’s also effective out of the slot as a receiver, which means the Cowboys could use him in a variety of different and creative ways.

Chiefs to let LB Derrick Johnson hit free agency, should Cowboys call? | K.D. Drummond, Cowboys Wire
With Anthony Hitchens possibly departing in free agency, the Cowboys could be in market for a veteran LB as insurance. Here's one possibility.

The Cowboys are set at the linebacker spot, sort of. Sean Lee, save for the games he missed, proved he is still one of the three-best linebackers in America. Jaylon Smith was thrown into the fire early because of Anthony Hitchens’ preseason injury, but he got some experience and is now saying his drop foot condition is rapidly vacating the premises. Those two will lineup at Will and Mike backer for the Cowboys for the next couple seasons as starters.

The Cowboys will still need to get a player capable of logging major minutes at the position should injury derail either or both. What they’ll also look to do is grab a veteran linebacker in free agency who can also come in and add a viable presence to the position group. That player may be Derrick Johnson, whom Kansas City just announced will not be brought back.

Dallas Cowboys: Why Cowboys coach Jason Garrett should tell Charles Haley to take a hike | David Moore, SportsDay

Charles Haley stirred up things with his criticisms of the Cowboys and negative comparison of how the team operates under Jason Garrett as compared to Jimmy Johnson's regime. This is a surprisingly spirited critique of what Haley said.

The problem is Haley's comments prove he doesn't take his function seriously. He chose to demean players and coaches rather than offer constructive criticism. He abdicated his teaching role for an explosive sound bite.

Fans can embrace what Haley has to say.

Garrett can't, especially in a season where he stands to lose his job if the Cowboys don't show tangible postseason progress.

The best way for Garrett to show he understands what it takes to win in 2018 is to revoke Haley's privileges with this team. That's what Jimmy Johnson would have done.

The 2018 NFL Franchise Rankings – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
One of the many benefits the Athletic got when they signed Sturm (if a bit minor compared to some of his other excellent work) is his annual franchise ranking, covering the Super Bowl era. Despite the two decades plus of relative futility since the last championship for them, the Cowboys still rank as one of the most significant franchises. Which we all knew in our hearts.

2. Dallas Cowboys

Total: 110 points

Dallas was much happier about this study when I did it the first time. The Cowboys had a sizable margin on the competition and felt great about their accomplishments. Unfortunately, they have one of the longest current droughts in the industry when it comes to simply reaching an NFC championship game. Who would have thought this group would manage only two playoff wins in over 20 years since the Triplets were young? As a credit to the eras of Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, they still hold a lead over everyone but Pittsburgh — including those incredibly hard-charging Patriots. But the lead has never been smaller.

And it looks like the coaching staff hires are just about complete.

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