With NFL training camps opening this week, the Dallas Cowboys like all 32 teams are looking to build off of last seasons performance. However in order to improve on last seasons 11-7 record and Divisional Playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams they must sort out some issues. None more important than the first one on the list.
- Will Jerry Jones and Co. break out the checkbook?
The Cowboys are in a really tough spot as quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are all up for new contracts. Jones has said on numerous occasions that he is willing to pay Prescott handsomely but what about the other two? News broke Monday that Elliott has privately said he’ll sit out training camp if he doesn’t get a new deal. Not good news as Cowboys fans knows what a difference-maker he is. The big question is who will be the odd man out? It’s looking like it might be Cooper. Despite giving the receiving corps a much-needed boost last season his history of being inconsistent paired with injury concerns doesn’t bode well for a massive payday. However, all of this could be settled if we learn one thing.
2. How much is Prescott worth?
The million, I mean millions of dollars question that everybody wants to know. One can imagine that he will ask for Aaron Rodgers money. That is mighty steep for a quarterback with little postseason success and development questions. In three years he still makes the same mistakes that plagued him his first two years ball security, decision making, and pocket awareness. Is that worth $33 million a year? Not to mention, unlike Rodgers we’ve seen how Prescott is without Elliott in the backfield. If you ask me no. However, it’s Jones opinion that counts.
3. How effective will Jason Witten be?
It’s good to see 82 back on the field as it felt weird not seeing him out there last season. However one must ask how much on the field production can the Cowboys expect from him? Without a doubt, he will be a great influence in the locker room and example for fellow tight ends Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers and Dalton Schultz. The last time he played in 2016 he finished with 63 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns. Better then I remembered. One must also consider that we’re talking about a 37-year-old well removed from his prime. Seeing his preseason performances will be a big indicator of what to expect.
4. Is Kellen Moore the answer at offensive coordinator?
I think the better question is can he be any worse than Scott Linehan? No. Linehan was arguably one of the blandest play-callers in the league last year and the hope is that Moore will open the offensive up a bit and take more downfield chances much to the joy of fans. Moore is also said to have a good relationship with Prescott which hopefully will lead to “Moore” touchdowns than field goals.
5. The growth of Connor Williams
It’s no secret that the 6’5 310-pound guard out of Texas struggled mightily at times staying on the field and performing when on it. Several times last season he was pushed back by a single rusher. There were times he missed blocks completely or required help from center Joe Looney. For a supposed “plug and play” guard he was a disappointment. With a year of experience and in the weight room his play should be improved. He had a tough task of not only starting on one of the best lines in football but made the switch from tackle to guard in the process. He is another Cowboy to keep an eye on during the preseason.
6. What will Sean Lee’s role be?
The heart and soul of the Cowboys defense for many years, Lee has essentially been relegated to the bench thanks to the emergence of last years first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch. On top of that Jaylon Smith is coming to his own as well. Don’t get me wrong I still believe Lee will be instrumental in a leadership role but as far as his on the field role, I’m not sure. I would like to think that Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard will find a way to get him on the field if healthy. Another player to keep an eye on.
7. Who emerges at receiver three?
Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown and Allen Hurns all got plenty of opportunities last year and only Gallup impressed. The addition of Randall Cobb, one of the more underrated moves of the offseason, helps replace the sure-handed Cole Beasley and is the clear number two behind Cooper. However, it’s the third spot that is interesting. Both Austin and Hurns are coming off of disappointing seasons. Brown has yet to get past being just a redzone specialist and Gallup has to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. How this unit does in the preseason is critical to the teams’ success.
8. Offensive line depth
It’s no secret the Cowboys were thin last year. Looney and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo filled in admirably when injuries hit and both are set to return. With center Travis Fredericks expected back Looney should return to the bench while Su’a-Filo will compete with Williams for one of the guard spots. It’s the players behind them that is the biggest question. Tackle Jake Campos from Iowa State has bounced around the practice squad and active roster the past two seasons and needs to take a step forward. Larry Allen Jr. the son of former Cowboy Larry Allen signed as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard and hopefully will be another find for the Cowboys. Finally, there is rookie second-round draft pick Connor McGovern from Penn State who comes in with the ability to play multiple positions. Hopefully, he fairs better than the most recent second-round guard named Connor. How the second-stringers play in the preseason will go a long way.