With all the talks of contract extensions around the Dallas Cowboys, many thought the first to be signed would be either bell cow running back Ezekiel Elliott or darling quarterback Dak Prescott. Next in line may have been newcomer wide receiver Amari Cooper, or lockdown cornerback Byron Jones. However, Jerry Jones had different plans when he made the big-hitting inside linebacker Jaylon Smith an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Before we breakdown the contract, let’s look back at Jaylon’s interesting story as an NFL player. He finished junior season at Notre Dame by winning the Butkus Award (college football’s top linebacker) just before tearing his ACL & MCL with significant nerve damage in the Fiesta Bowl. A probable overall top 5 NFL draft choice, turned into a question mark of if he will ever be able to play the sport he grew up loving, ever again. Smith declared for the 2016 NFL Draft with scouts projecting him to go anywhere from the 2nd round to the 6th round with teams unsure how quick he could recover, if at all. The Dallas Cowboys selected him 34th overall. It was a gamble, but one that Jerry did not want to miss out on like he did with Randy Moss 18 years prior.
Once Jaylon became a Cowboy, he did everything he could to make it back on the football field. When he did, in 2017, he did not disappoint, recording 81 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. He only started 6 games, but played in all 16, a milestone in and of itself. The next season was a breakout year for both him and the Cowboys 1st round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch. They finished the season as one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL, all the while working as if they were given nothing and had to earn everything.
The overall numbers: $5 million signing bonus, $35.5 million guaranteed, for a total of $64 million over 6 years.
This seems to be a cap-friendly deal, Every. Single. Year. With the NFL salary cap steadily increasing $10 million a year since 2013, the $12-13 million cap hits from 2022-2025 will be a bargain for a quality starting linebacker and team leader, that wants to be a Dallas Cowboy for life.
Jaylon Smith’s goal was to allow his mom to retire, and he has definitely accomplished that. All the while, still giving the owner and team that took a chance on him 3 years ago, the ability to build a Super Bowl contending team around him.
Zeke and Dak did Jaylon a huge favor this preseason, by holding out and asking for a ridiculous $40 million/year deal, respectively. Zeke angered one of, if not the only person, that had his back through every personal issue on and off the field. Jerry Jones will treat a player he loves like family; but, turn on him, and he will do the same in return. It looks as if both agents will have to go back to the drawing board with the Cowboy’s front office, while Jaylon Smith slowly inches his way up the fan-favorite list in Cowboy Nation. Look to see a lot more #54 jerseys in the stands this year as Jaylon Smith just signed a contract to be in the Silver & Blue for at least 10 years.
Just one year removed from retirement, Jason Witten has decided to leave Monday Night Football to do what he was born to do, compete on the gridiron. The future Hall of Famer, second only to Tony Gonzalez in TE receptions and reception yards, will dust off his cleats for at least one more year with America’s Team.
The Dallas Cowboys have released the following statement from Witten, ” The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong. This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt”.
Witten will be 37 when the regular season starts for his 16th season. In 2017, Witten was a Pro Bowl selection with 63 catches for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns, starting all 16 games. His retirement after the season left the Cowboys with a question mark at the tight end position for the first time in 15 years.
The response was a tight end by committee with 4 tight ends, only one of which even had an NFL stat sheet prior to the 2018 season, in Geoff Swaim. All four tight ends (Gathers, Jarwin, Schultz, and Swaim) started at least 4 games in 2018, and combined had only 5 more receptions than Witten in 2017, and one less touchdown. With Geoff Swaim being an unrestricted free agent, and the other 3 salaries combined being less than $2 million for the 2019 season, it seems unlikely to see Swaim back in a Cowboys uniform.
The contract details for Witten have not been released yet, but he qualifies for a very cap friendly figure with veteran minimum benefits. The 2019 veteran minimum salary for players with 10 or more years of service is $1.03 million, with only about $650k of that counting against the cap. It is not known if this is the route that Witten and the Cowboys will go, or if he will be getting paid a salary closer to his $7.4 million salary for 2017. Seeing as he appears to be coming back more for a championship run rather than for money to pay off debts, the former seems much more likely.
Assuming that #82 is healthy and ready for another grueling NFL season, this will make the Cowboys offseason that much easier by being able to focus on other positions in free agency and also with the several looming contract extensions of Lawrence, Jones, Zeke, and Dak. This may also convince Sean Lee to make his 2019 salary more cap friendly for a team desperate for its first Super Bowl in 24 years.
Welcome back 82!
The New Orleans Saints, fresh off a win against the formerly undefeated Los Angeles Rams, sign free agent WR Dez Bryant to a one-year deal. The terms of the deal have not yet been released, but the Saints have been looking for a reliable receiver ever since Ted Ginn, Jr. went down with a knee injury in October. The New Orleans Saints second and third leading receivers are RB Alvin Kamara and 37 year old TE Benjamin Watson. Dez should give Drew Brees a more than reliable second option at WR, although Bryant has not played since week 17 of last season.
Circle your calendars on Thursday, November 29 when the New Orleans Saints play the Cowboys in Dallas. It will definitely be an interesting homecoming for Dez after calling out many coaches, players and management after being released. He has since deleted many of those tweets and said that there is no bitterness or anger towards the Dallas Cowboys. However, look for an emotional game from Dez, and if he scores a touchdown, rest assured he will have a celebration ready.
Dez Bryant is the 5th among active player in receiving touchdowns with 73. Drew Brees is 1st in passing touchdowns of active QBs and 3rd in NFL history with 506, only 2 behind Brett Favre with 508. Dez Bryant has played all of his 8 years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. He has 531 receptions for 7,459 yards with 14 yards per reception.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been considered one of the best in the NFL for the past few years. Most of this is due to the outstanding play of Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The problem is not that their play is declining or their talent is diminishing, but that their health may not be able to keep up.
Zack Martin left the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. The good news is that there is no ligament damage; he was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone. However, knee problems and offensive lineman have never been a good mix. Martin will not play in the last two preseason games, and aims to be back for week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
Travis Frederick had been dealing with a ‘stinger’ since August 15th. He missed the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals and has had several doctor’s appointments since then. A week later, on August 22nd he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves. The Mayo Clinic says that for most people with GBS, the condition worsens for 2 weeks after the first signs and symptoms and plateaus within a month. Recovery usually lasts 6-12 months, but could take as long as three years. Jerry Jones was optimistic that Frederick would play week 1 before the diagnosis, but now Frederick says there is no timetable for his return.
The third and best of this trio, is Tyron Smith. He has looked like his future gold jacket wearing self in the first two preseason games, and says that he is “feeling great now” and is “in the best shape I’ve been in a while”. Unfortunately, that is coming from a 6’5″ 320 pound man who had bulging disk problems in 2016, and missed several games due to back, hip, groin and knee problems in 2017. If you had to think of injuries not to have as an NFL left tackle, at least 3 of those would be in the top 5. Dak Prescott would be the first to tell you Smith’s importance to the Dallas offense, considering Dak was sacked 8 times in the first game Tyron missed due to injury last year. It should be noted that 6 of those sacks were by Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end that Smith would have been responsible for blocking.
With Cameron Fleming added through free agency there is seemingly better depth at tackle than last year. He is a swing tackle that can fill in better than Chaz Green did in 2017. Second round draft pick Connor Williams will most likely be starting at left guard opposite Zack Martin (if healthy). Joe Looney started at center in the absence of Frederick against the Bengals, and looked as if he could benefit from a few more reps in the final two preseason games. La’el Collins is holding his own at the right tackle position, and seems to be feeling more comfortable with each snap.
All in all, the Cowboys offensive line is a force to be reckoned with…if healthy. But if injuries become an issue, especially with the three All-Pro lineman, Zeke will not be saying “feed me” as much and Dak will be running for his life. Jason Garrett better be praying for a healthy offensive line in 2018, or he may be finding himself getting his resume together in January.
UPDATE: La’el Collins limping with heavily taped ankle on 8/23/18. Yup, the only healthy Cowboys offensive lineman in rookie, Connor Williams.
One of the big issues on the NFL’s Competition Committee’s agenda this offseason was better defining what a catch is.
Kevin Seifert from ESPN’s NFL Nation tweeted the following this afternoon:
“The NFL competition committee appears to have unanimous agreement that controversial catch rulings involving Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson should have been ruled complete, according to Giants owner John Mara. So the committee is working on changing the rule to relax the “going to the ground” requirement.”
Pittsburgh Steelers TE, Jesse James, was not mentioned in this tweet, but one can only imagine that the AFC may have played out differently had Pittsburgh beat New England in week 15.
This does very little to soothe the pain Cowboy Nation still feels from the overturned catch in the 2014 NFC Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers. Tony Romo and the Cowboys could have been in position for their first NFC Championship appearance since the 1995-1996 season.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but ‘too little, too late’ rings more true with this ruling.
It seems this saga has finally come to an end as Ezekiel Elliott’s brief 1 game injunction of his suspension is now over, and Zeke will begin his 6 game suspension this week. The Cowboys go to Atlanta to play the 4-4 Falcons. If all goes as planned, Zeke should be ready to join his teammates at AT&T Stadium for the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve.
The Dallas Cowboys will have to play without Zeke for 3 away games against the Falcons, Giants, and Raiders. They will miss him at home against the Eagles, Chargers, and Redskins.
While the Cowboys running game got weakened for the next 6 weeks with the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott to be enforced starting week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Philadelphia Eagles have traded away a future 4th round pick to the Miami Dolphins in return for Pro Bowl running back, Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi is in his 3rd year out of Boise State, and experienced a breakout season in 2016 with over 1,200 yards rushing. This was noted by three 200+ yard games, two of which were back to back. Ajayi, 13th leading rusher in the NFL, will most likely split carries with current starter LaGarrette Blount, who is 11th. This will definitely help an Eagles running attack, which is 5th in the league in rushing yards per game, who lost All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters for the season.
Ajayi will make the Cowboys life even tougher on November 19, when they host the Eagles at AT&T Stadium. The defense gives up 4.5 yards per attempt, which is 24th in the NFL.
The first quarter of the 2017 NFL season is over; and while it’s still a very young season, there is much to be learned. These are my three largest concerns heading into week 5 of the season.
Federal Judge Amos Mazzant has ruled in favor of Ezekiel Elliott with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) for a preliminary injunction against the NFL. This means that Ezekiel Elliott will likely play for the entirety of the 2017 NFL season.
This timeline will be similar to Tom Brady’s ‘Deflategate’ case, in that it will likely not be decided on until after the season. Tom Brady did still serve his full 4 game suspension, mostly because of the way the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is written. Fighting and winning this injunction will be tough, but for now the Dallas Cowboys can focus solely on football.
NFL-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the league’s entire 6 game suspension of Elliott on Tuesday evening after denying his appeal, but in a strange twist of events, league officials confirmed that Elliott will be allowed to play Week 1 versus the Giants.
After Henderson’s ruling, an NFL spokesman told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that Elliott’s eligibility for Week 1 “was a question asked by the judge in court before a ruling came down. In deference, and as to not rush the judge, league attorneys agreed to permit him to play.”
Although Elliott currently remains suspended for Weeks 2 through 7, the star running back still has hope via the U.S. District Court in Sherman, Texas, where the NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit on his behalf, requesting the court vacate the suspension on grounds that the NFL’s process was unfair. At a temporary hearing today, the NFLPA requested Judge Amos Mazzant to allow a temporary restraining order (TRO) of the league’s ruling that would prevent enforcement of the suspension until the conclusion of the lawsuit.
Judge Mazzant said he will make his decision on Elliott’s temporary restraining order by Friday at 6 p.m. ET.
As of Tuesday, September 5th at 6:30pm CST, there has not yet been a ruling for Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal case against the NFL. **ARTICLE UPDATE: SEE BELOW
However, regardless of the NFL’s decision, the reigning rushing king will play week 1 when the New York Giants come to AT&T Stadium.
Mike Fisher from 105.3 The Fan tweeted earlier:
The game will start at 7:30 local time, and will air on NBC.
**ARTICLE UPDATE BELOW
The Hall of Fame game is played every year a week before the preseason starts, and is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. The antics going on before, during and after are more of a spectacle than game itself, and pretty much anything taken from the game should be taken with a grain of salt. Since there hasn’t been any football to watch in the past six months, let’s go ahead and do exactly that.
Rico Gathers showed off his athleticism and hands with 3 catches for 59 yards, including a 26 yard touchdown. Gathers was not playing against a top notch defense, but this is a big stride for him since he could barely get on the field at all last preseason. While he may not have the football acumen of the average young player (due to not playing organized football for almost a decade), his athleticism will be able to bridge some of those gaps. It may be a stretch to say he will be seeing the field a lot during the regular season, but a good preseason could earn him a spot on the 53 man roster this year. Being on that roster could do wonders for him by being able to soak up as much knowledge as possible, from Canton-bound TE Jason Witten.
The Cowboys’ first round draft pick this year was met with many questioning faces, not because it was a bad pick, but rather it was a surprising one. Many thought the Cowboys would go after a defensive back, but they instead took an inconsistent talent with a high upside. Taco might as well have not even showed up for this game. During the 16 snaps he was in, Taco was very rarely involved in the play, and when he was he almost always seemed to be caught out of position. I’m not going to be too quick to judge on this kid, but this pick definitely continues to be “big risk, big reward”. Let’s hope we come out on the right side of that reward.
With both Ronnie Hillman and Darren McFadden looking awful (add that grain of salt considering the line they were playing behind), Rod Smith may be able to secure a roster spot for himself at fullback or running back. Smith got more snaps, rushes, and receptions than any other Cowboy running back for the night and looked like a competent NFL player. With Zeke’s status for the beginning of the season still in doubt due to his conduct off the field, the Cowboys will need to have a threat in the backfield with Dak. A good preseason could push Smith to as high as #2 on the depth chart, behind Zeke.
Chidobe has been impressive during training camp, and continued that during the HOF game. He had a pass deflection that was inches away from being an interception he likely would have taken back for a touchdown. Add two tackles and always being in position to make a play, and Chidobe had a decent showing for his first game.
Another blown challenge in this game for Jason Garrett. While it may have be a good time for a challenge, considering it would’ve stopped the Cardinals from putting points on the board; it was obvious that the runner was down before he fumbled, both live and on the replay. I will, however, give Garrett the benefit of the doubt since the Cardinals were rushing to the line to snap the ball. Since starting his career off 12-19 on challenges, Garrett is 8-18 on challenges in the last four seasons. Let’s hope that Garrett’s Princeton education will intervene more on his challenge decisions in 2017.