Our 2019 NFL Preview takes us to Arlington, Texas, where the Dallas Cowboys look to follow up their NFC Title as the first repeat winner in the division since 2004. As always, there is plenty to talk about with the Cowboys, who have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming months, particularly when it comes to finances, as a number of their crown jewels (I.E. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott) are due to come off of their Rookie Contracts soon. That’s going to be theme for Dallas in the coming years, who have quietly amassed a bevvy of home-grown talent, with Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett reaping the rewards. However, as we’ve seen recently, contract negotiations can have a way of disrupting even the most promising of campaigns, particularly when a team is constantly in the media like this one is. So with that said, let’s pull back the curtain and see what 2019 has in store for the Cowboys…
Dak Against the Wall
For just about every team in the NFL, the foundation of their franchise can be found at Quarterback, and the Cowboys are no different. After all, America’s Team needs a face, and they find themselves in a predicament as Dak Prescott (67.7%, 3,885 YDS, 6.08 NY/A, 22 TD, 8 INT, ) enters the final year of his Rookie Contract. Surely, negotiations have been in the works between the Quarterback’s reps and Jerry Jones for quite some time, but the question to be answered is what’s the hold up? Well, the problem lies with whether or not Jones is sold on Prescott being a Franchise Quarterback, and for all intents and purposes, that makes for a valid discussion. In his three years as the Starting Quarterback, he hasn’t missed a game, has gone a stellar 32-16 as the Starter, has thrown for Sixty-Seven Touchdowns in comparison to Twenty-Five Interceptions, and has engineered Fourteen Game-Winning Drives. Furthermore, he’s proven to be very adept at making plays with his feet, rushing for another 944 Yards and Eighteen Touchdowns to boot. So again, why the hesitation in keeping him in Dallas for the foreseeable future? The question is whether or not Prescott is simply a product of the Supporting Cast around him. With the Offensive Line beset by injuries last season, he was sacked a career-high Fifty-Six times, and his passing statistics were rather pedestrian before the club landed Amari Cooper (53 REC, 725 YDS, 13.7 Y/R, 6 TD) via midseason trade; in Seven Games before Cooper’s arrival, Prescott completed just 62.1% of his Attempts for an average of 202.4 Yards on 6.22 Net Yards per Attempt, Eight Touchdowns and Four Interceptions, while taking Twenty-Three Sacks, but in the Nine Games following the trade completed 71.3% of his Passes for 274.2 Yards per Game on 7.05 Net Yards per Attempt, with Fourteen Touchdowns and Four Interceptions, while sacked Thirty-Three times. Committing such a high percentage of the Salary Cap to a Quarterback makes it increasingly difficult to surround him with quality parts, so once again, it begs the question: is Prescott worth Franchise Quarterback Money? That will be the theme of the season as Jones & Co. try to figure out how to best invest in their roster.
Show him the Money
No, we’re not talking about Rod Tidwell, we’re talking about Ezekiel Elliott (304 CAR, 1,434 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 6 TD), the Cowboys’ All-Pro Tailback, whom also is up for an extension. Being a First Round Pick, Elliott’s Rookie Contract doesn’t run out until 2021, and for all intents and purposes, he’s certainly outplayed his current salary. However, the question for Jones & Co. is whether or not investing long term in the 24-Year old will be more trouble than it’s worth. Elliott’s production is undeniable, for he’s led the league in rushing on two occasions, including last season in which he racked up a whopping 1,434 Yards on 304 Carries, while also flourishing more as a threat out of the Backfield, hauling in Seventy-Seven Catches for 564 more Yards. The argument can also be made for him being their most indispensable player; when Elliott’s on the field, Dallas is 28-12 over the past three seasons opposed to 4-4 without him. The downside though is that he’s oftentimes garnered the wrong kind of attention away from the gridiron, evidenced by the Six-Game Suspension that he served back in 2017 for a domestic violence dispute occurring in the previous year, and is currently under review for an altercation with a Security Guard back in the Spring. With his fate from that incident yet to be decided, Elliott himself is threatening to hold out for an extension, with some theorizing that he could follow in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, who infamously sat out the entirety of the 2018 Campaign due to being unhappy with his deal. Granted, we doubt that it will come to that, for Bell was continuously Franchised, while Elliott is still under contract, eliminating that option altogether. We also highly doubt an owner such as Jones allowing one of his crown jewels to enter such a scenario.
For all the criticism that Jerry Jones (along with his son, Stephen) and Jason Garrett have drawn over the years, it cannot be overstated how well they’ve done of late in terms of drafting and developing players. Since 2013, they’ve drafted seven different Pro Bowlers, three of which have also earned All-Pro honors. Prescott and Elliott are the most prominent figures, but Zack Martin and Travis Frederick have become fixtures along the most decorated Offensive Line in the league, while the Defense, which was a huge component to their success in 2018, has become one of the league’s nastiest units. Demarcus Lawrence (64 TKL, 15 TFL, 23 QBH, 10.5 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 TD) was resigned to a 5-Year, $105 Million Contract after accumulating 24.5 Sacks over the past Two Seasons, while Jaylon Smith (121 TKL, 6 TFL, 6 QBH, 4.0 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR, 4 PD) and Leighton Vander Esch (140 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 QBH, 2 INT, 7 PD) have emerged as arguably the league’s most imposing tandem of Linebackers. Cornerbacks Byron Jones (67 TKL, 2TFl, 14 PD) and Chidobe Awuzie (71 TKL, 1 FF, 1INT, 11 PD) are rock solid on the boundaries, with Jourdan Lewis (12 TKL, 2 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD) reliable in the Nickel. The common thread among them? They’re all under the age of Thirty, meaning as long as Jones & Co. are able to divide the money among them, they’ll be together for the foreseeable future. With the NFL Draft being a goldmine for Dallas over the years, who from this year’s class will make an immediate impact? Will it be Defensive Tackle, Trysten Hill, their Second Round Pick out of Central Florida? Or how about Connor McGovern, an Interior Offensive Lineman they picked out of Penn State in the Third Round? Only time will tell…
2019 Forecast: 10-6
After their second NFC East Title in Three Years, expectations have never been higher for the Cowboys, who are among the favorites to emerge from the NFC to compete in Super Bowl LIV. Few teams in the league are stockpiled with more young talent than Dallas, who must now make the difficult decisions as to who to pay. We’ll be altogether baffled if Jones doesn’t find a way to pay both Prescott and Elliott, but then again, stranger things have happened. With that said, the Defense, which ranked Sixth in Points Allowed (20.3 P/G) and Seventh in Total Yards Allowed (329.3 Y/G) last season only figures to improve as their young nucleus gains more experience. The schedule is tolerable, and if Prescott and the Offense can stay on the trajectory they were on after adding the aforementioned Cooper, then there’s a solid chance that the Cowboys can advance past the NFC Division Round for the first time since 1995, which was coincidentally when they won their last Super Bowl.