The Cowboys drafted two linebackers this year to go along with their two established starters at the position, and they signed safety-turned-linebacker Keanu Neal in free agency. There’s only so many snaps to go around, so who’s going to get them?
Rob Phillips: We’ve talked about logjams at certain positions over the years, and the truth is injuries usually dictate starts and snap counts over the course of a season, at least on some level. Hopefully that’s not the case here. At full strength, not everybody’s going to play as much as they probably want. I’d guess Leighton Vander Esch is a starter, possibly on the weak side, with Keanu Neal rotating in. I’d assume Jaylon Smith is a starter, too, but is that at middle linebacker or perhaps the strong side? The way offenses spread things out now, often you only see two linebackers on the field. Micah Parsons is the X-factor here. He’s not a full-time edge rusher, but the Cowboys believe he’s versatile enough to help them with the pass rush, and perhaps moving him around is one way to get snaps for everybody.
Nick Eatman: Let’s hope this is a good problem to have. People like to say that when you’re talking about depth and in this case, if there is a surplus of linebackers that need to play, then it will be a good problem for Dan Quinn and his new defense. But I’m a little hesitant to say that all of it will just work out. Like, LVE suddenly is healthy-free and he’s back to his All-Pro self. And Jaylon Smith is also back to Pro Bowl form again. And Micah Parsons is everything the Cowboys hope he’ll be and becomes a star from Day 1. Keanu Neal makes the linebacker transition with ease and is a playmaker again and even Jabril Cox, proves all of his doubters wrong and is a fourth-round steal. All of that could happen. It’s unlikely it all will. So therefore, I’m doubting that it’ll be a problem at all. I see Vander Esch playing in the middle and the Cowboys coming up with outside linebacker roles for Parsons and Smith that will rush the passer more than we’re used to seeing. But they need to find out about Cox this year if they have to make tough decisions on Smith and LVE next year.
NFL Coach: DAL Should Give Zeke Elliott ‘Some of Dak’s Money’; ‘He Scares You Most’ - Mike Chiari, Bleacher Report
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are often the first two names that come to mind when talking Cowboys, and naturally they’re two of the highest paid Cowboys as well. But one anonymous NFL coach thinks one is clearly superior to the other.
In a survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players conducted by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Elliott was ranked as the No. 7 running back in the NFL. An AFC defensive coach said of Elliott: “They need to give Zeke some of Dak’s money. He scares you the most on that offense.”
Last season was largely a struggle for Elliott and the Cowboys offense as a whole, however. In 15 games, he rushed for a career-low 979 yards and six touchdowns. He also averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and 65.3 rushing yards per game.
Elliott’s receiving numbers were down as well with 52 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns after 77 grabs for 567 yards and three scores in 2018 and 54 receptions for 420 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott had easily the worst year of his career in 2020, both a testament to how bad his season was and how great he’s been the rest of his career. Even with that dip in production, Elliott is highly thought of around the league.
Just a year ago, Elliott was considered to be a top-five player at his position. However, his performance in 2020 changed that as he had the first down season of his career. While some look at his performance as the beginning of the end, Elliott is still respected at a high level by executives, coaches, and players league-wide as he came in at No. 7 on ESPN’s top 10 list for running backs.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Elliott’s ranking:
“Why Elliott fell in this year’s rankings is easy to answer: lack of juice. He has seven rushes of 20-plus yards since 2019 and zero runs of more than 40. That’s the worst explosive-play production on this list. Some personnel people believe Elliott appears less explosive on film since signing his $75 million extension before the 2019 season.”
Execs, coaches and players rank NFL QBs: Where did Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray land? - Dallas Morning News Staff
Quarterback rankings are all the rage this week, for some reason, and the conversation around Dak Prescott and where he ranks - and why - will likely always be a point of contention.
Here’s a look at ESPN’s write-up on Prescott (Highest rank: 7; lowest rank: 14):
“Prescott surpassed Lamar Jackson in a close race that prompted an isolated matchup with new voters for good measure. For some, the reasoning was simple. ‘Lamar is a better all-around football player, Dak is the better QB,’ one AFC exec said. Prescott’s ankle injury didn’t hurt his standing. In fact, it might have helped, placing a focus on his stellar production in the five games before the injury. Prescott threw for 1,856 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions before falling to the turf in Week 5. The Cowboys were first in passing yards per game with Prescott (381.4) and 28th without him (204.9).
‘He, individually, was pretty impressive,’ said a veteran NFL quarterback. ‘Couldn’t do better than that. It was high-level play.’ Prescott, however, has not always been great against high-level teams. In 2019, Dallas was 1-6 against opponents that made the playoffs, with Prescott throwing for eight touchdowns to eight interceptions in those matchups. Against non-playoff teams, Prescott cleaned up, with 22 touchdowns to three interceptions and a 7-2 record. For his career, Prescott is 9-17 against eventual playoff teams. Of course, the Cowboys’ defense has been a major issue the past few seasons too. That record will change with better a Dallas defense around him, some voters say. ‘He can throw it deep into the playoffs because of his ability to be accurate from the pocket at all levels and also extend plays with his legs,’ a veteran NFL quarterback said.”
What should be expected of the Cowboys’ 2021 free-agency class? History says ‘not much’ - Bob Sturm, The Athletic
The Cowboys once again went bargain hunting in free agency this year and came away with only a handful of players who are likely to make the final roster. But can these signees have an actual impact once the season starts?
I suspect most Cowboys fans intuitively know this, but the team’s shift in how it does business has largely affected the types of signings it is willing to do every year when free agency opens. The Cowboys are certainly thought of as a team that wants to be the New York Yankees or Real Madrid and money-whip to the top, but that is not how the NFL works. They simply cannot sign those homegrown players to their big deals and then turn around and get into a bidding war in March with teams that have all the cap room because their rosters are bare. You cannot compete with Jacksonville’s roster sheet from a few months ago, because the Jaguars barely had a roster at all. New England moved out its entire core to accommodate its surprising free agency in 2021, too. Dallas had to move things around just to stay compliant.
That means the Cowboys’ entire free-agent philosophy — especially in March, when prices are competitively high — has shifted since Carr’s signing nine years ago to two simple rules:
1. The free-agency cost must be very low — near the league minimum in money for a minimum number of years.
2. The objective is to take players who will ease the desperation on draft night to fill holes that require attention.
At his peak, Dez Bryant enjoyed a thoroughly dominant career in the NFL. Yet he is probably best known by now for the catch that wasn’t, but actually was. Coincidentally coming against the current head coach of the Cowboys, Bryant reminded everyone on Tuesday that he absolutely did catch that ball.
I stumbled across these cleats and got a little emotional because these are the cleats I wore against Green Bay... it was a catch and forever will be a catch!!!— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) July 11, 2021
A.J. Green to the Cardinals? Matt Ryan’s altered Falcons deal? The worst offseason moves for all 32 NFL teams - The Athletic NFL Staff
The Cowboys have received generally positive reviews for their offseason thus far, largely because their injured stars are getting healthy and they heavily invested in a defense that desperately needed it. But what was their worst move?
The team has done quite a few under-the-radar movements this offseason that will be largely supplemented by the simple return of so many valuable players who were lost last season to injury; QB, LT, RT, RG, and TE are probably the most important five positions to be filled internally.
But, at the moment, the biggest offseason mistake is a race between not really doing much of anything at backup QB behind Dak Prescott — whose serious ankle injury last season should at least give pause to any depending upon him — and the somewhat half-measure addressing of the safety position — mixing one-year deals for veterans with allowing the kids to continue to work it out internally. They had opportunities to have any safety in the draft they wanted with a little aggressiveness on draft night (and the surplus of picks) and instead stayed put. Safety was not really addressed properly, again. — Bob Sturm
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