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  • 2020 is in many ways a defining season for Leighton Vander Esch
    by RJ Ochoa on July 8, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images Howl about that? When we all look back at the last time the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East, the 2018 season, we attribute a majority of that year’s success to the midseason trade of Amari Cooper. That makes sense. There is no denying the impact that Amari had on the 2018 Cowboys as in many senses he carried the team’s offense; however, he was hardly the only strong force pushing the team forward. Heck, he was hardly the only new guy doing so. Dallas was made significantly better in 2018 by the addition of two players. Amari Cooper is obviously one of them, but the other is then-rookie Leighton Vander Esch. LVE’s strong arrival on the scene made the Cowboys defense one of serious legitimacy and he was sorely missed during his sophomore campaign while he was hurt. There is hope that he will bounce back this season, though. Leighton Vander Esch can still be a really good football player It’s hard to really say that Leighton can “bounce back” in 2020 because his play, when he was playing at least, didn’t exactly drop off last season. He simply dealt with injuries, although that is obviously not a simple thing. Or is that true? So much of what the Cowboys are going to be able to do defensively this season under new coordinator Mike Nolan is going to rest on the shoulders of their wolf hunter. With Byron Jones now a member of the Miami Dolphins and Robert Quinn as one of the Chicago Bears, defensively the Cowboys are DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and a little bit of this and that everywhere else. The math is pretty simple in that regard... if Leighton is back to his rookie self, the Cowboys will be fine. The Draft Network recently profiled LVE and notes how important this season is going to be in terms of defining the Cowboys’ first-round pick of two years ago. You might say that Vander Esch’s film was roughly the same from 2019 to 2018, but his impact wasn’t. Compound that with Vander Esch’s depreciating health—he’s now had three separate injuries in his NFL career, and has injured his neck twice in his football career—and there’s a chance that we never see Vander Esch make the same impact that he did in 2018. He’ll never be the same fresh, unbridled athlete that he was then—and he may have gotten just a bit lucky, playing with his hair on fire with not too many consequences. Chalk Vander Esch’s 2019 regression up to a few things we understand and several things we don’t. We can point at it, shrug, and say “Well, he probably wasn’t going to be a top-three linebacker in the NFL again anyway.” And that’s a pretty fair assessment. What matters more now is 2020. If Vander Esch has a more consistent season with impact plays under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (who has an off-ball linebacker coaching background) then 2019 will remain that: an injury-riddled sophomore slump. But if Vander Esch continues to struggle with availability (likely) and doesn’t translate well to reading and reacting to two-gap defensive linemen in Nolan’s scheme (likely, if Nolan runs that defensive philosophy heavily), then 2020 could continue along the downward skid that began in 2019. We are all hoping that Vander Esch does not struggle with availability and that 2019 was indeed an outlier of sorts. Leighton will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason and therefore serious questions about his future will be asked by many then, and injuries are obviously a big factor in that. It is hard to draw a hard conclusion about who Leighton is because the sample size is too small. We know that he is capable of being an incredible linebacker in the NFL, but it is fair to wonder if his game is not necessarily sustainable. That’s an unfortunate consequence of football. The Cowboys are depending on Leighton Vander Esch in a variety of ways in 2020. Hopefully he is the star that we know he is capable of being, and hopefully the defense follows suit.

  • CeeDee Lamb is literally one of the greatest wide receivers in college football history
    by RJ Ochoa on July 8, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images extreme Chris Traeger voice The Dallas Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb. It literally never gets old. Yes it’s true that Dak Prescott will have CeeDee Lamb in addition to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup to the team’s offense (whether he is doing so on a long-term contract or the franchise tag remains to be seen) and that is a very exciting thing. We all obviously want to see the Cowboys do well. In case you were unaware, CeeDee has often been referred to as a “YAC gawd” and if you are still unaware, that means that he is insanely good after the catch. That was sort of his calling card while at the University of Oklahoma. The Cowboys seem to have added a player that knows a thing or two about what to do once the football gets into his hands. He is literally one of the best to have done so at the collegiate level. CeeDee Lamb stacks up against some of the best receivers in college football history So we all know that CeeDee was good in college, he was the best wide receiver in the draft for goodness sake. But how good was he comparatively to players of different times? People have looked at CeeDee’s production and compared it to different players before, but one analysis of it seemed to catch CeeDee’s eye specifically so much so that he felt inclined to share it on Twitter. He is one of the greatest to ever do it from a yards per reception standpoint. https://t.co/BJRC8BmPdF— CeeDee Lamb (@_CeeDeeThree) July 7, 2020 You can see that Randy Moss is on this list and while there are still Cowboys fans upset that the team did not draft him most have considered the drafting of CeeDee something of a makeup for that error. There are some notable players in team history featured here, though. Michael Irvin is the greatest wide receiver to have ever played for the Cowboys and while he’s near the top of this list with an average of 16.9, he doesn’t come close to CeeDee’s 19.0. The franchise’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns is here in Dez Bryant, a reunion definitely isn’t happening, and both he and Irvin experienced great careers with the organization. One can only hope that CeeDee is as successful of a football player in the silver and blue number 88 as the two Cowboys receivers before him on this list (Keyshawn Johnson is also here if we’re stretching parameters a bit wider) or as the only person he did not beat in Marvin Harrison (who also wore the double ocho). The Dallas Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb. Seriously. It never gets old.

  • Why the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott deadline hasn’t changed
    by Tom Ryle on July 8, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images The record-setting deal for Patrick Mahomes is not the incentive to push harder that many assume. The first impression when Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to the first half-a-billion dollar contract in sports history was that the pressure just ramped up for the Dallas Cowboys to get a new deal done with Dak Prescott. The staggering numbers for Mahomes were assumed to drive Prescott’s price tag up, and the team still has to wonder just how big a deal Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans could make. Meanwhile, there is still no word of new negotiations as the Cowboys seem content at the moment to face the 2020 season with Prescott playing on the franchise tag, or at least to let the July 15 deadline draw closer. That really is the sensible thing to do. You can unclutch those pearls. There are some good reasons why the mega-deal doesn’t really change the situation for the Cowboys. The first five years of Mahomes’ deal are kinda what the Cowboys want While the total is ginormous and unprecedented, his contract is backloaded, with the biggest money landing in the final years. Here, from Over the Cap, are the next five years: Note that the prorated bonus shown here is all that the Chiefs currently have to account for, and it is currently zero from year six on. If you look at the totals, here is what they come up to for those first five seasons: $144M, or just a bit under $29M a year. Yes, Mahomes will make considerably more in the last seven years of this twelve year contract than that, but the key thing here is that all reports are that the one sticking point for Prescott and the Cowboys is contract length, with the player and his agent holding out for keeping it at four, while the team wants five. The reason for the disagreement is how long before Prescott gets to negotiate a third and presumably even more lucrative deal. At that point, those remaining years for Mahomes become apples to apples, but right now, they aren’t. The reports are also that the numbers for a new Prescott contract would be around $35M to $37M a year. That is a good bit more than Mahomes would make over the same time frame, which would put Prescott ahead of him in yearly earnings. That is always a factor that enters into these kinds of discussions. The absolute guarantees for Mahomes, excluding much greater injury provisions, are also quite reasonable, and the Cowboys likely would have no problem with a higher figure for Prescott. So this is hardly something that pushes the price tag much higher for the Cowboys as long as they can keep the focus on the length of the contract. And since Prescott’s main desire is to be able to get that next big payday after this one, he and his team should agree to that. The size of Mahomes’ paychecks in those remaining years will be a factor - but given the way contracts progress, there will certainly be others that are bigger by then. That leads to the counter-intuitive idea that the Mahomes deal may actually have put Dallas in a stronger position with their negotiations. The deadline is still the deadline While time is rapidly running out, July 15 is still the operative date. Prescott has absolutely no reason to rush things, and the team really doesn’t, either. Both sides are waiting for the other to blink first, and given recent history, the team is more likely to do so. They could also decide to sweeten a five-year offer just before the clock goes to zero. That has not really changed. Much blame has been assigned to the team for not getting things done, but the reality is that Prescott’s side has probably been the one that didn’t want to engage in more talks. The Mahomes deal is one reason, but as shown, it may not really have been something that significantly changes the stakes for either side. If the general belief about the state of things is correct, Prescott’s agent has put a deal on the table that he is willing to sign, and waiting is still very much his best play. The uncertainty of the season While the NFL is still full speed ahead on their plans to play the season on schedule, that is far from certain. Other pro sports are already starting to have major issues with coronavirus cases, and many FBS colleges are still not certain they can play this year. Some smaller schools have already cancelled their seasons. We may all want it to not happen, but there is a possibility the NFL could not play before the fall of 2021. If that happens, there are huge issues about contracts and pay. It is possible that the deadline is negated and teams will suddenly have until next year to work out deals. That is certainly unwanted, but it is seems like a logical conclusion if there is no NFL this year. The income would presumably just go away for the teams, which means they have a huge issue about what happens with the pay of the players. In any case, it seems that contracts would toll, or simply be pushed back a year for everyone, so at the start of the 2021 season the players would be making the money they should have made this year. It is hard to predict what will really happen, but it has to change almost everything. With that to consider, the Cowboys also have no incentive to push things. There are just too many unknowns. Specifically with Prescott, a lost season would probably mean that he would be under the same tag at the same price when things restart. The Cowboys may get a last-minute deal done with Prescott, or he could wind up playing his next year under the tag, whenever that actually is. That is where things stood before the Mahomes announcement. They haven’t changed as much as the first reactions had it.

  • Kris Richard wasn’t the only Cowboys coach to favor Anthony Brown over Jourdan Lewis
    by DannyPhantom on July 8, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports The debate rages on, but the Cowboys former defensive backs coach shouldn’t get all the blame for benching Jourdan Lewis. When the Dallas Cowboys report to training camp later in the month, we’ll finally start to get some idea how the 2020 version of this team might look. There isn’t an abundance of starting positions up for grabs as many of these spots are already slated with very capable bodies; however, one of those battles should include the slot corner position between Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. The idea of who should be the team’s starting slot corner has been heavily debated, and if you want to get a good feel for what both these players have to offer, then I highly recommend checking out John Owning’s latest write-up where he reveals who he gives the nod to. No matter who you think is the superior player, one thing that I’ve learned through this process is that the two are much closer than the other side’s fans will lead you to believe. Interestingly enough, I came into this exercise thinking that Brown would be the victor. However, after watching every single snap from the past two seasons, I think Lewis is the better overall player — by the slimmest margins. Lewis has higher highs and lower lows while Brown is more consistent in maintaining his level of play. They both possess intriguing position-flex, as Brown can play slot or outside while Lewis can play in the slot or in the box as a dime linebacker who matches running backs out of the backfield. For the Cowboys coaching staff, the winner of that battle has been Brown. Many believe this was a Kris Richard thing as it’s been well documented that he prefers bigger corners. And after Lewis’ playing time dwindled significantly upon Richard’s arrival, that narrative seems to fit. How could a corner who had logged the second most snaps at his position in 2017 suddenly be relegated to the bench? Clearly, this was just an effect of Richard’s affinity for lanky corners, right? Not quite. Richard wasn’t the only coach to favor Brown over Lewis. Before Richard joined the staff in 2018 as the team’s new defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator, the defense was coached by Matt Eberflus (linebackers coach/passing game coordinator) and Joe Baker (secondary). And looking at the snap counts for the cornerback group in 2017, it was Brown, and not Lewis that saw the most action that season (percentage of snaps for just the CB group is highlighted in blue). Try not to pay much attention to the fact that the Cowboys wasted over three million for a Nolan Carroll rental that equated to just two pitiful games. Even with Awuzie unavailable early on, the team had plenty of depth to release Carroll. Free safety Byron Jones was known to play a little corner. They also got good contribution from rookie safety Xavier Woods, who played a variety of positions early on. When you sift through these snap counts, there are some important takeaways. Not only did Brown have the most snaps of any corner that season, but Orlando Scandrick was logging the second-most corner snaps when he was healthy. In fact, even Chidobe Awuzie started jumping Lewis in snap counts down the stretch when he finally healed up from a hamstring injury. One has to wonder what the playing time distribution would’ve looked like if everyone was healthy. Lewis’ heavy playing time may have had more to do with need than ability as injuries to both Awuzie and Scandrick kept Lewis on the field. It’s very easy to believe that this group of coaches, just like Richard’s group - would’ve pushed Lewis to the bench if everyone was available. Of course, all of that is in the past. Lewis is said to have a clean slate as another group of new defensive coaches have shown up. Maurice Linquist and Al Harris now run the defensive backs. Does that mean Lewis will finally get his shot? Maybe, but only time will tell.

  • Cowboys news: Terry McLaurin more valuable than Amari Cooper? So says one analysis
    by Dave Halprin on July 8, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports Cowboys news is the thing. Terry McLaurin, not Amari Cooper, was PFF’s most valuable WR in the NFC East last season - Ethan Cadeaux, Yahoo Sports PFF tries to explain why Terry McLaurin was the most valuable NFC East receiver over Amari Cooper. “Terry McLaurin was the most valuable wide receiver in the NFC East last season, and there’s a reason,” PFF’s George Chahrouri said on the PFF Forecast. “This guy can go downfield. He can catch and run with it. He was the highest-graded rookie last year, better than [Tennessee Titans WR] A.J. Brown.” —- To be fair, Cooper did post better numbers than McLaurin in almost every major receiving category. However, the Cowboys pass-catcher was gifted more targets and additionally had the benefit of playing with quarterback Dak Prescott, who was one of the league’s best passers in 2019. As a rookie in Washington, McLaurin was forced into the No. 1 wideout role immediately. He answered the bell and excelled right away, totaling five-plus receptions and a TD in each of his first three NFL games. This was all despite having a constant revolving door at quarterback, playing with three different passers under center in 2019. In just 14 games, the third-round pick finished with 58 catches for 919 yards, just eight yards shy of breaking the franchise’s rookie receiving record. McLaurin’s seven receiving touchdowns accounted for almost half of Washington’s scores via the passing game, too. Position Breakdown: Defensive Tackles - Staff, DallasCowboys.com The big boys in the middle will hopefully make a difference this year. The signings of Gearld McCoy and Dontari Poe definitely allow a bigger physical presence at the front of the defense with a combined 640 pounds split within the two of them (40 pounds heavier than last year’s starting duo). Both veterans have had multiple Pro Bowl appearances and have been at the top of the list of game wreckers throughout the past decade. However, 2019 didn’t really pan out as planned for the duo in Carolina, as the Panthers were 29th against the run as a defense and was the next-to-worst run graded defense according to PFF. So why is that? How can these two have such a lack of success in stopping the run with the Panthers but bring so much excitement for doing so in Dallas? First, Poe missed every game after Week 12 due to injury and the Carolina run defense took a massive nosedive because of it. Prior to his absence, the Panthers averaged a PFF grade of 67.1 which would have been good enough trajectory for around 22nd in the NFL. Not too bad compared to the 45.3 grade that was the average over the final six games which was the worst mark in the league by almost an entire ten points. The injury was obviously a huge setback for the Panthers’ interior defensive line a year ago and displayed just how much impact Poe’s ability to take up multiple gaps has on run-stopping. Secondly, the scheme makes a massive difference in how effective they can be inside. In Carolina, a three-man front tried to utilize their multi-gap ability to allow some less effective outside linebackers to rush off the edge. This system really limited what both McCoy and Poe could do as offenses could effectively neutralize their pass-rush with a quick double team and trust their offensive tackles to hold off the linebackers. However, Mike Nolan’s multiple look system should allow more pressure off the edge with the defensive ends instead of the linebackers. This hopefully would free up the interior defenders to face a single assignment and allow linebackers like Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith to make quicker decisions either in coverage or the run defense. 5 Questions As The Dak Deal Deadline Nears - Staff, DallasCowboys.com Time is running out for Dak and the Cowboys. What are the sticking points? First, let’s be clear: publicly, Prescott and the Cowboys have never commented about the details of these negotiations since they began over a year ago. All information to this point has been reports-based. According to multiple reports, the Cowboys have made offers that would place Prescott in the top tier of quarterback average-per-year salaries, but Prescott would prefer a shorter deal (perhaps four years) that would allow him to reach free agent status again sooner when, presumably, the market value for quarterbacks will be even greater than it is now. Until Monday, Seattle’s Russell Wilson was the league’s highest-paid starter at an average of $35 million per season, followed by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger ($34 million), LA’s Jared Goff ($33.5 million) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers ($33.5 million). But the Chiefs’ Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes just set a U.S. sports record with a 10-year extension that could top out at just over $500 million. It remains to be seen how Mahomes’ deal impacts future quarterback contracts across the league. It’s really in its own stratosphere in terms of salary and length. 10 franchise-changing plays for the Cowboys: From Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary to Dez Bryant’s no-catch - Tim Cowlishaw, DMN We recently went through all the great plays in Cowboys history, but we didn’t talk about the Cowboys 5-0 playoff win. Yes, you read that right, 5-0. Dec. 26, 1970: The club’s final playoff game in the Cotton Bowl is overlooked — probably because it was a 5-0 win over Detroit — but it was a turning point for the team busting through that door. A first-round exit would have made five straight playoff trips without a Super Bowl trip. In a game that was all about the defense on both sides (Craig Morton was a ghastly 4-for-18 for 38 yards with a pick), Mel Renfro intercepted Bill Munson inside the Cowboys’ 15-yard line as the Lions were driving for the potential winning touchdown. “This was the greatest win we’ve had for the Dallas Cowboys, I don’t think there’s any question about it,‘’ Coach Tom Landry said afterward. NFL, NFLPA reach agreement on team travel protocol for training camp and preseason - Mike Florio, PFT Some of the new rules for the 2020 season. The NFL and NFL Players Association have reached an agreement regarding team travel protocols for 2020 training camp and preseason. The document implies strongly that there will be a preseason; however, it does not expressly state that preseason games will be played. (Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the length of the preseason is still being discussed.) The sections of the detailed protocols focus on the rules for traveling by plane and bus, PPE use, disinfection of hotel rooms, airlines, buses, equipment, and luggage, rules for hotel employees and bus drivers, food service standards, and physical distancing requirements. The protocols also allow for discipline to be imposed in the event that club employees knowingly and materially fail to follow the protocols. Highlights include mandatory masks for all members of the traveling party, limitations on the size of the traveling party (no more than 110 non-players), and no buffets. Cowboys Have Several DBs Looking To Perform Big Entering Contract Seasons - Mathew Lennix, Inside the Star The Cowboys have three defensive backs in contract years, and Xavier Woods can continue his rise for a big payday. In the sixth-round, in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Woods in an attempt to sure up the safety position. After a productive collegiate career at Louisiana Tech that saw him collect 14 interceptions in his final three years, Woods has been a solid pro. As a rookie, he finished with 42 tackles, three pass breakups, an interception, and a fumble recovery after appearing in all 16 games with four starts. In 2018, as one of the leaders of a top ten defensive unit, Woods elevated his game to 56 tackles, nine pass breakups, two interceptions, and a forced fumble in 14 games (missed two with a hamstring issue). Even with the Cowboys 8-8 struggles as a team last season Woods was one of the few bright spots. Having his best season as a pro, Woods racked up 77 tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 15 games (missed one with an ankle injury). With a substantial pay increase well within his reach, Woods simply has to continue on the incline he’s been on in terms of production since he entered the league. He hasn’t put his name in the conversation with guys like Jamal Adams, Tyrann Mathieu, or Earl Thomas but Woods is a very solid free safety. However, in order to get the kind of money he’ll no doubt be seeking, he’ll have to raise his game to an even higher level this season. BTB Podcast What other sports teams do the Dallas Cowboys remind you of? We discuss. Make sure that you never miss an episode from Blogging The Boys by subscribing to the Blogging The Boys podcast feed! Also make sure to subscribe to the official YouTube Channel from Blogging The Boys. We’ve got big plans coming there throughout the offseason and you don’t want to miss a thing!


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