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Cowboys news: Lots of free agency stuff, more kudos for the Wolf Hunter, and a mock draft!

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
He good.
Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN rankes Demarcus Lawrence top free agent of 2019 - Jared Wingate, Cowboys Wire
How much of a priority should re-signing UFA DE Demarcus Lawrence be for the Cowboys? (High. Very, very high.)

Kevin Seifert of ESPN appreciates Lawrence’s ability as he ranks the edge rusher as the top available free agent in 2019 (ESPN+ subscription required).

The fact Lawrence is in his prime, has a history of elite performance, and is a model citizen in the community help boost his ranking all the way to the top.

“A year on the franchise tag appears to have paid off for Lawrence, who followed up his 14.5-sack performance last season with 10.5 in 2018. It’s possible that the Cowboys could tag him again, but Lawrence would otherwise be among the rarest of commodities: an available elite pass-rusher.”

Cowboys Offense FA Predictions: Bye to Beasley, hello to speed - Mike Fisher, 247 Sports
Demarcus Lawrence is the most obvious decision for the Cowboys concerning their own free agents. The hardest may be Cole Beasley.

RECEIVERS - This is where the largest decisions will be made. The acquisition of Cooper changed the room in many ways. But so did a Cowboys action taken back in August at training camp, when they initiated a visit with veteran slot receiver and North Texas native Cole Beasley. My impression is that Beasley came away unimpressed with Dallas' offer -- which very well may have been a "status quo'' type of thing, around $3 mil a year.

In October, Beasley tweeted, "I think I should be paid with the best slot receivers in the league.'' That could mean around $7 mil, twice what I think Dallas as prepared to play. He finished second on the team with 65 catches ... and I think he's prepared to take his talents elsewhere.

Cowboys' free-agent decisions start with DeMarcus Lawrence - Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys Blog- ESPN
Here's another receiving option for the Cowboys to consider re-signing.

WR Tavon Austin -- He didn’t cost much in a trade with the Rams, but a groin injury prevented the coaches from using him the way they truly wanted. He had some juice in the return game. Prediction: Returns only if the price is right.

Top 5 Offseason Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys ✭ John Williams, Inside the Star
You know what the first one is. (If you are not sure, see the first article linked above.) So let's look at the choice for second.

2. Making Big Adjustments to the Offense

There was a lot of consternation yesterday at the comments Jason Garrett made to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth about Scott Linehan's future with the team. It's obviously a possibility that he returns in 2019, but as Stephen Jones mentioned later in the day, it's too early to begin discussing those things as they haven't really began to review the season.

Scott Linehan has been good as an offensive coordinator and he's been a part of Dak Prescott's progression, but there are certain areas of this offense that need to be reworked or shaken up. Whether the Cowboys decide to move on from Linehan or they decide to make adjustments to the scheme, something needs to change. In particular, the team's insistence on using jumbo packages on every short yardage situation has made them predictable.

On 4th and 1 on Saturday, the team went to the Ezekiel Elliott in jumbo formations one too many times. In an era when most of the NFL is attempting to spread things out with 11 and 10 personnel, the Cowboys continue to force two and three tight end formations.

This offseason is just getting started and the Cowboys have a lot of decisions to make about their offense, but none is bigger than figuring out who the play caller is going to be. While the team may be publicly supporting Scott Linehan at the moment, it would be highly unlikely for the team to bring him back for another year.

Leighton Vander Esch Added To Pro Bowl Roster | 105.3 The Fan staff
ICYMI.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl roster, the team announced Tuesday.

Vander Esch will replace Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly because of an injury.

Extra Points: LVE Just the 11th Rookie Pro Bowler - Nick Eatman, DallasCowboys.com
He made it as a first alternate, but the accolades keep piling up for the Cowboys' first round pick from last year.

When Leighton Vander Esch got added to the Pro Bowl earlier this week, it got us thinking just how many defensive rookies have made it for the Cowboys. The answer is just three now, with LVE becoming the first rookie linebacker as he joins only Mel Renfro (1964) and Everson Walls (1981).

But what about overall rookies? In the 59 seasons of Cowboys football, only 10 rookies had ever made it to the Pro Bowl, including three in the past four years. Both Dak and Zeke made it in 2016 and Zack Martin was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, and has been ever since.

Mayfield 2018 Rookie of the Year; All-Rookie Team | PFWA
Another accolade for LVE as he is on this team.

3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018 ✭ Kevin Brady, Inside the Star
The points are kinda obvious, but also positive,like the first one.

Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit

The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.

When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.

Well, after their first full season together, it’s easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.

Signature Stat Spotlight: Linebackers | NFL Analysis | Austin Gayle, Pro Football Focus
Maybe you think of Pro Bowl nods and such as more popularity contests than anything. So let's add this nugget about the Wolf Hunter.

Measuring performance across run and pass downs, PFF charts which defender makes first contact with the ball carrier on every play. This gives us an idea as to which players are always around the ball and often the first to it regardless of whether they secure the tackle or not.

Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch owned this stat in 2018, as he was the first to make contact with the opposing ball carrier on 15.1% of his defensive snaps. No other off-ball linebacker with at least 400 defensive snaps played finished above 12.6%.

Biggest offseason question for every NFL team | NFL Analysis | Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus
Mmm-hmm.

Is “run first” a viable strategy in 2019?

The Cowboys continue to pound the ball at one of the highest rates in the NFL. It’s led to an offense that ranked 19th in points per drive this past year.

Dallas Cowboys: Film room: 6-round Cowboys mock draft, including a Cole Beasley replacement and pair of Texas A&M Aggies | John Owning, SportsDay
It's mock draft season! (For good or bad.) DISCLAIMER: I am an Aggie. This is still my draft crush. (Also, that Trayveon Williams idea for the fifth round pleases me greatly.)

Round 4: Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M

While Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin looked promising toward the end of the season, Rico Gathers failed to make much of an impact and Geoff Swaim is scheduled to become a free agent this year, meaning Dallas could be in the market to select a tight end in the 2019 draft.

Luckily for Dallas, tight end is one of the deepest positions in this class, and Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger appears to be one of the better mid-round options.

After spending two seasons with Kansas, Sternberger went the JUCO route before transferring to Texas A&M, where he put up 48 catches for 832 yards (17.3 yards per reception) and 10 touchdowns in his only season. Listed at 6-4, 250, Sternberger has the size to hold up as a blocker and athleticism to be a credible threat as a receiver.

As a receiver, Sternberger relies mostly on his size and athleticism to get open or create separation, as his route-running ability needs works. He possesses reliable hands in contested and uncontested situations.

The Marinelli Report, 2018 finale: Humbled and confused, Cowboys defense goes quietly into offseason – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
There is no attempt to put any lipstick on this pig.

Everything was put into total and complete failure as the Rams held an offensive clinic that could be made into a series of DVDs and lectures for coaches of modern offense to behold. For it wasn’t a series of spectacular plays and singular athletic marvels that was featured here. No, this game was about the full-out execution of a scheme that has been run for two full years with no opponent effectively deciphering its secrets.

The jokes about Sean McVay and the coaches he is getting hired are everywhere. His contemporaries might make him the subject of ridicule if he doesn’t win Super Bowls soon, but as someone who simply appreciates advances in offense — and especially those who can win with simplicity rather than a 10,000-page playbook — I think he is amazing.

He is amazing because at no point do you feel like you are watching a new idea, but dozens of ideas molded together in a way that looks similar each time but generates multiple, decidedly different option. Defending their 11 players feels impossible because their directions and speeds are all designed to put you in conflicts that do not contain good options. You will be forced to choose and the choice will always be wrong.

Where Raiders will pick and what they'll target in NFL draft - Jason Owens, Yahoo Sports
As you may be aware, the trades the Oakland Raiders made in parting with Khalil Mack and the Cowboys' new WR1 Amari Cooper didn't work out quit as they planned, with those two only netting them the 24th and 27th overall selections. You may snicker or guffaw as you see fit.

Not the value they anticipated

While having three picks anywhere in the first round is an envious draft position, this can’t be what the Raiders envisioned when they jettisoned their most talented players. Neither the Bears nor the Cowboys looked like playoff locks when the deals were done.

But the addition of the former Raiders made each team significantly better and, as a result, the value of those draft picks became that much worse.

KC Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward overcame hard childhood | Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star
The Cowboys do a lot of good things with their personnel moves. But trading away Charvarius Ward was probably not one of the.

Ward went undrafted but fielded interest from a handful of teams. The Chiefs weren’t one of them. Ward chose the Dallas Cowboys because they were the closest to home — closest to Tanya. He had a good training camp, but the Cowboys had depth at defensive back and a need for offensive line help. That matched perfectly with the Chiefs, who sent Parker Ehinger to Dallas in a trade on the day of the last preseason game.

Ward impressed immediately. The Chiefs chose Tremon Smith in the sixth round, and special teams coach Dave Toub called him the team’s second-fastest player. But Ward passed him on the cornerback depth chart quickly and was in line for more playing time in early December before a bad week of practice.

The Chiefs lost to the L.A. Chargers on a two-point conversion as time expired, when veteran corner Orlando Scandrick missed a switch that left the receiver wide open. That Tuesday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid called Ward into his office. Ward would start that week at Seattle, on Sunday night.

“We believe in you,” Ward remembered Reid saying. “This is why we traded for you.”


Awwww!