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Five Cowboys players with the most to prove in 2018

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The time is now for these Cowboys players.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have done a good job revamping their team this offseason. Several draft picks should challenge for starting positions and some key free agent signings will add to the depth. For many players this creates opportunities, but for some others - it could mean it’s time to put up or shut up. Here are the five players who have the most to prove this upcoming season.

Dak Prescott

After a great rookie season, the team’s new franchise quarterback experienced a down year last season. His completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns all declined, while his interceptions more than tripled.

There are a handful of things that attributed to Prescott’s struggles, including the absence of Ezekiel Elliott, losing his star left tackle Tyron Smith, and the lack of success with his receivers. The Cowboys are hoping that all three of these issues are behind them. Zeke no longer has a looming suspension hanging over his head. Smith is healthy and the team acquired swing tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency. And the wide receiver group has been completely remodeled with five new additions - Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson, and Deonte Thompson.

Dak should have everything he needs so now he just needs to go out in make plays. While Prescott still has two more seasons left on his rookie contract, the Cowboys front office will need to eventually make a decision about where he fits in long-term. That could include a lucrative contract, but for that to happen - Prescott must demonstrate he’s worth the money.

David Irving

Three years ago, the Cowboys signed Irving off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. He played 199 snaps and recorded 13 tackles and a half a sack. His biggest play came when he blocked a field goal against the Seattle Seahawks. In 2016, Irving’s potential started to translate onto the field more as he played almost half of the defensive snaps (485) and recorded four sacks. He made big impacts in spurts against Green Bay and Tampa Bay. After serving a four-game suspension for PEDs last season, Irving sprinted out of the gate. He had seven sacks over eight games before suffering a concussion that kept him out the final four games.

The Cowboys are tapping the brakes on this rising star as they aren’t ready to go all-in just yet. The team took a chance and placed a second-round tender on him this offseason, opening the door for another team to scoop him up, but there weren’t any takers. He’ll play this upcoming season for the bargain price of $2.9 million, but he’ll be playing for a big pay day in 2019. Irving has had some off-field problems in the past, including being kicked out of Iowa State. He recently had the issue with his girlfriend hijacking his social media account and accusing him of domestic violence, but has since recanted that.

How the Cowboys proceed with Irving will have a lot to do with not only what he does on the field, but also how he conducts himself as a person. This will be a big season for Irving.

Rico Gathers

The Cowboys took a chance when they drafted a power forward to be their new tight end. Gathers is entering his third year in the league, but has yet to take a regular season snap. He spent his rookie year on the practice squad as he learned the nuances of football. Last season, he was sizzling in preseason, but then suffered a head injury that kept him out the entire year.

It’s strange to say, but even though Gathers hasn’t made his official NFL debut yet, he’s already coming to a crossroads of his career. Is he or isn’t he a player who can get on the field and play the tight end position? Can he handle his blocking assignments so he’s not a liability out there? While there are no superstars challenging for the #1 spot on the depth chart, there are a slew of intriguing candidates that will be pushing for snaps. Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz are all expected to make the team. The potential of Gathers is appealing, but potential and $1 will only get you a cup of coffee.

Terrance Williams

The Cowboys have had a different leading receiver in terms of yards in each of the last three seasons. It might come as a surprise to you that the most yards of these three belong to Terrance Williams in 2015. A third-round bonus pick (from the Travis Frederick trade) in 2013, Williams started things off with three solid years where he had over 16 yards per reception in each of those seasons. He established himself as the team’s big-play receiver.

Since Prescott has taken over as quarterback, Williams numbers have changed significantly. Over the last two seasons, his yards per reception has dropped from 16 to 11.2, but his catch percentage has increased from 57% to 70%.

After signing a team-friendly deal last offseason (four-year, $17 million), many fans were happy to have him under contract for a cheap price. But after failing to find the end zone last year and having the lowest yardage total of his career (568), he has fallen out of favor in Dallas. His 2018 salary is guaranteed so a $7.2 dead money hit should keep him on the roster this year, but the team has a potential out after the season ($2.5 dead money hit if cut next year) if they choose to move on. With so many new receivers joining the squad this year, Williams will have to prove his value if he expects to stick around in the future.

The offseason hasn’t been a good one for Williams. He’s still recovering from surgery to repair a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot. And with the recent news of his arrest for public intoxication, he’s certainly not helping his case to stay in the mix in Dallas.

Randy Gregory

Some of the players listed here are playing for a future pay day and some are playing to stay on the roster. For Randy Gregory, he could be playing for his football life. While it is still unclear what his future holds in terms of a possible reinstatement, if he does get another chance - he better make it count. Gregory has only played in 14 games over the last three years due to suspensions from violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He has the talent to be a formidable pass rusher, but his lack of availability has crushed those aspirations.

Not only would Gregory’s career be on life-support when it comes to keeping himself clean, he would also enter a Cowboys team that has plenty of options at the defensive end position. DeMarcus Lawrence is the future and veteran Tyrone Crawford is a playing on the edge now and is well-respected by the coaching staff. And the team has big hopes for youngsters Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. They even have Kony Ealy on the roster now to round out solid depth.

If Gregory is able to play again, he better flash some of that great talent that made him a star in Nebraska or his return could be a short one.

Which Cowboys player do you think has the most to prove in 2018?