1. Is it worth debating which injury is bigger — Morris Claiborne and Barry Church? Both will be out for some time — Church with a broken arm and Claiborne with a strained groin (and rumors that it might be a sports hernia). Both injuries will impact, but in different ways. Claiborne emerged this season as Dallas’ best cover corner, which makes the injury all the more disappointing for him. He was finally playing like a first-round pick. Church, meanwhile, was playing a safety role that better suited him, thanks in part to the move of Byron Jones to free safety. Jones’ coverage ability and versatility has freed Church to be a more consistent run stopper. I’ve always felt Church is a bit of a liability in pass coverage, but Jones’ presence de-emphasizes it a bit.
You have to look at the depth to measure the impact, and fortunately the Cowboys’ secondary has some of the best depth on this team. Orlando Scandrick, who is hopefully fully past his hamstring injuries, moves into Claiborne’s outside corner role and that should be seamless. Sixth-round pick Anthony Brown moves to corner when Scandrick shifts to the slot corner role in nickel and dime packages, we believe, and Brown played well in that role in Scandrick’s absence. Now at safety, I think that’s where you’ll feel more of the impact of this double-whammy. J.J. Wilcox moves into Church’s role and, while Wilcox can emulate Church’s ability to support stopping the run, I believe he’s a far higher liability than Church in pass coverage.
So if you’re seeking an area where the Cowboys might struggle without Claiborne and Church, watch those down-the-middle seam routes where the safeties have to make plays. Wilcox’s future in Dallas may depend on his ability to defend those routes the next few weeks. Wilcox, like Church, is a free agent in 2017.
2. I’m intrigued by the whole Terrelle Pryor thing in Cleveland. I really never felt Pryor was a good fit as an NFL quarterback. He wasn’t efficient enough and I didn’t feel his passes were accurate enough downfield. He had the arm; he just didn’t have the ability to hit receivers on the money consistently. For that, and many other reasons, it didn’t work out in Oakland. Think of Tim Tebow. It was clear he didn’t have the chops to be an NFL quarterback at the highest level (accuracy was his issue, too). But he seemed too proud to move to another position, or at least that’s how it appeared to me.
Pryor was not. He actually made a conscious decision to change positions to try and extend his career. Pryor has benefited because he now has a clear role as a wide receiver with real upside because of his speed, athleticism, coachability and versatility. Cleveland benefits because it has a weapon with which it can use to confuse opponents, as Pryor can catch passes, run the football and even throw the occasional gadget play. He can even be your third QB on gameday and, in essence, allow you an extra player on your gameday roster.
It made me wonder if the Cowboys had a player of that ilk on their roster or their practice squad and it made me think of Jameill Showers, the former UTEP QB on the practice squad. He’s played some special teams in the preseason and there has been talk of him moving to safety, but neither he nor the Cowboys have really made an effort to do see if he can do more. This might be the time. Dak Prescott’s emergence, to me, means the line of succession for the future is set. That makes Showers’ days numbered on this Cowboys’ roster. But Showers would appear to be a player with similar tools to Pryor’s — if he’s given a chance to show it.
Anyway, Pryor vs. the Dallas DBs ... that might tell the tale of Dallas at Cleveland, Sunday's noon start.
3. Let’s talk about a Tony Romo trade. No, I’m not getting ahead of myself or declaring that Romo’s days in Dallas are numbered. But hearing New England QB Tom Brady tell the media earlier this week that “absolutely” he could get traded one day got me thinking about the expendability of NFL players once a shinier new model comes along. And that’s the situation we have in Dallas right now.
I still believe Romo will play this year and I still believe he’ll have an impact on this season. I’m just less confident about the WHEN. But once the clock starts on the offseason the Cowboys may want to explore their options with Romo to see what they can get. I believe a first-round pick is certainly possible, if not probable, for Romo, and the Cowboys would love to get the salary flexibility that moving Romo would afford them.
Now, Romo won’t want to play for just any old team, and that’s part of the problem with any trade scenario. NFL players don’t typically have no-trade clauses. But if Romo and the Cowboys did decide to part ways, I tend to think that Romo and his agent would be heavily involved in the process and would want a deal that moves Tony to a team with a chance to contend. I think, deep down, Jerry Jones would do whatever he could, within reason, to make that happen. The problem is that most of the true contenders are locked in at starting quarterback, which means you may be looking for a team on the cusp of being great, but is missing that piece at quarterback.
So if this is the road the Cowboys go down with Romo, here are three teams I think would make good landing spots for him if wants to contend in the next couple of years:
Denver: Well it worked for Peyton Manning, right? The Broncos’ future lies in Paxton Lynch, but right now the starter is Trevor Siemian and he’s not scaring people. The Broncos are built like the Cowboys on offense and have a better defense. I think head coach Gary Kubiak would find a way to work with Romo’s relative lack of mobility, thanks to his experience with Manning.
Miami: Owner Stephen Ross likes to make a splash and trading for Romo would certainly do it. This team is better than it looks. Miami has a good back in Jay Ajayi, good receivers and a solid defense. Romo would be a clear upgrade over Ryan Tannehill. But it would also give Miami two high-priced QBs on their roster. Romo would make them more competitive in the AFC East.
Minnesota: Sam Bradford’s numbers are already tailing off and no one is certain about Teddy Bridgewater’s future after his gruesome injury. The Vikings have a great defense, talented skill players and a former Cowboys assistant coach in charge in Mike Zimmer.
These are reasonable landing spots, and as you can see there aren’t many.
That’s why the talk of trading Romo, to me, is just that — talk. If the Cowboys want to keep him, they’ll keep him. If the Cowboys want to move on, they’ll release him. I think Romo will still be a Cowboy in 2017, and this little expedition into trade scenarios convinces me even more. ... but we're going to need this to play out in its own way.
4. I spent some time on Wednesday with Wess Moore of FoxSportsArkansas.com.
We talked about the big plays and moments of the Cowboys’ win over Philadelphia. We also MIGHT have talked about the quarterbacks.
5. No trades for the Cowboys at the deadline. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told the media this week that the team didn’t want to “overpay” to add any additional players. So what does “overpay” mean? Well, let’s assume the Cowboys were probably interested in a high-end pass rusher, or at least one with a track record. Miami’s Mario Williams was certainly a player some in the media connected to the Cowboys. That might have cost the Cowboys a Day 2 pick, either a second- or a third-rounder. So that’s a potential starter with a controlled cost for four seasons. That is important to any NFL team in the salary cap age. That may have been “overpaying” in Jones’ eyes.
As I’ve written before, NFL trades are a lot different than baseball trades because pro football doesn’t have the expansive farm systems that baseball does, a system that allows MLB teams to leverage the future to bolster the present. An NFL team’s future is the draft, and those picks are precious as a result. With the Cowboys having already given up a couple of late-round picks in 2017, they probably weren’t comfortable with giving up anything in the first two days, even for a player that might have been a difference-maker.
Plus, it’s also a bit easier to stand pat when you’re 6-1.
6. Getting ready for Sunday’s game with Cleveland? Let me help. Here are links to all of our stories leading up to the Browns game:
7. My three keys to victory for Dallas on Sunday?
First, don’t look ahead. Players say they aren’t looking ahead all the time. Coaches say they aren’t looking ahead all the time. But it happens, and this is the perfect formula for it to happen to Dallas. The Cowboys are coming off an emotional win and playing an 0-8 team that, on paper, they should dominate. This is all about approach and attitude. It should be like any other week of preparation for this team.
Second, bring the run early and often. The Browns have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. That should set up nicely for what the Cowboys want to do with Ezekiel Elliott and that offensive line. Feed Elliott and his backup, Alfred Morris, early and let that run game wear down that Cleveland front seven.
Third, avoid turnovers. That’s always a good mantra, but it’s especially true when you go on the road to face a team perceived to be inferior. The best way to give a team like that a little hope is to turn the ball over, especially in the first half. The run game and good decision-making in the pass game should help.
8. It’s our Tweet of the Week:
And he did.
9. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “Dallas Cowboys gift for Arkansas police prompts complaint” from ky3.com
See? This is why Arkansas can’t have nice things.
10. My prediction: Cowboys 31, Browns 21
I actually forgot my prediction last week (and thanks to no one out there for pointing that out, by the way). This week the Cowboys are set up for what should be a victory over Cleveland, but I’ve seen too many good teams go on the road and struggle against inferior teams for me to believe this will be a blowout. I think the Cowboys will lead from the start, but the Browns will stay in striking distance until the fourth quarter.