1. CowboysHQ.com is your best source for all things Cowboys this offseason. Led by our man inside The Star, Mike Fisher, we’ll keep you ahead of the curve on where this offseason could lead and what players could be staying or going.
As part of that, over the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on some of the players and storylines that could have an impact on next season. Some of those stories will come outside the 1st and 10 umbrella. Some will appear here. Today I look at the five players who must come up big for the Cowboys in 2017:
LB Jaylon Smith: After a year off to rehab his knee injury and get that nerve firing again, the Cowboys expect Smith to be a part of their plans for 2017. His development is critical, given that if he plays close to how he played in college it will be like getting an extra first-round pick, something the Cowboys could use right now.
QB Dak Prescott: This seems obvious. But the Cowboys are his team now. NFL players make their biggest improvement from the end of their first year to the end of their second year. It’s critical for Prescott to refine his ability to read coverages, improve his deep-ball chemistry with Dez Bryant and maintain his heady level of play so the Cowboys can expand their playbook next season.
Of course, there is another order of QB business in Dallas. Goodbyes and trade talk regarding Tony Romo, here.
DE David Irving: Irving came on in the final six weeks of the regular season. He has uncommon height for a defensive end and underrated quickness coming off the ball. He needs to spend this offseason adding more options to his pass-rush repertoire and growing into the kind of end who could approach double digits in sacks.
DE Benson Mayowa: Staying on the defensive end tip, Mayowa is in a similar position as Irving. He showed me more than I expected last season. Now it’s time to build on it and become more than just a rotation guy.
OG La’el Collins: Ron Leary isn’t coming back. Left guard is now Collins’ job to lose. And he needs to emerge as the dominant blocker the Cowboys were hoping to get when they lucked into signing him for practically nothing two years ago.
2. I’m kind of tired of hearing the talk about “the spike.” Yes, I get that Aaron Rodgers is a dangerous man. I mean, there are wanted posters and everything.
But the Cowboys had an opportunity to win the game in the final two minutes and Dak Prescott’s spike of the ball on first down with roughly 45 seconds left is getting analyzed to death. Look, when you have the football time is precious. The Cowboys had one time out and they needed to hang onto that in case they needed the field goal to tie. I agreed with Jason Garrett’s assessment of the situation in the post-mortem — it likely would have taken 10-15 seconds to run a play and that is the best-case scenario. That doesn’t account for the unexpected. Perhaps the communication system in Prescott’s helmet goes out. Perhaps the wrong players go on the field on the play (remember the substitution penalty in the first quarter?). There were too many variables in that situation for me to believe spiking the ball was the wrong call. You’re trying to score a touchdown there. You’re trying to take the lead and you need all the time you can get.
Imagine this scenario. Let’s say the Cowboys ran a play on that first down but they didn’t get enough yardage to move the chains. Well, now the Cowboys have burned the clock down to less than 30 seconds, they’re facing second down and they have to spike the football to save time. By the time the Cowboys get everyone to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball they’ve burn another 10 seconds. Now the Cowboys are looking at roughly 15-20 seconds remaining and you’re complaining that Garrett mismanaged the clock. When your team is trying to score time is the most valuable commodity.
The only thing the Cowboys did wrong on that drive was not score the touchdown. If you think that spike cost the Cowboys the game, you’re wrong. The Cowboys lost that game because they fell behind 21-3, because they didn’t use Ezekiel Elliott enough, because their defense played like it didn’t know what was going on for the first three drives of the game and because Rodgers is a supremely talented quarterback. That spike cost the Cowboys nothing.
3. Wess Moore of Fox Sports Radio in Arkansas and I talked Cowboys-Packers earlier this week. We talked about that spike (Wess disagreed with me), we talked about Tony Romo and we talked about offseason priorities. You can listen to the appearance below.
Now that we’re in the offseason I’ll be speaking to Wess less frequently, but you can always find my appearances here when I make them.
4. Dear NFL, if THIS is a huddle then my next date is with Anna Kendrick.
That’s just ridiculous. And that needs to be a 5-yard penalty moving forward, not 15. You’re charging a team the same yardage for an illegal substitution as you do a personal foul? C’mon.
But Butler shouldn’t complain too much. After all, as you recall, he let a touchdown pass go right through his hands in a game ultimately decided by three points.
5. Championship playoff predictions? Well, I’m 6-2 on the postseason. I called both Saturday games correctly, but I lost the Cowboys and the Chiefs (That’s the Super Bowl matchup I was hoping for). But my predictions for the NFC and AFC Championship games are below.
Green Bay over Atlanta: As much as I would love to see a new team win its first Super Bowl, I just can’t bet against Rodgers and Green Bay at this point. They’ll find a way to win. Just a note — that Atlanta defense is pretty darned good.
New England over Pittsburgh: Tom Brady is on a mission. And you know how that goes.
6. Sean Lee is now a Pro Bowler. Lee was named an injury replacement for Luke Kuechly this week. Now my advice to Lee would be to fake pulling a hammy and avoid playing in that game. He doesn’t need to tempt fate.
7. San Francisco appears to be poised to hire Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. That is significant only in that it means all of the head-coaching jobs will be filled and means that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is virtually safe from poaching. Jerry Jones won’t let him make a lateral move to another team. Now, position coaches are another story. That is still worth monitoring. ... but we have a secure feeling on all of this, a good thing.
8. It’s our Tweet of the Week:
Because, at this point, you need something to feel good about.
9. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “Watch: Friendly bet puts Green Bay Packers smoke alarm in Dallas fire chief's office” from dallasnews.com
So, if the Dallas Fire Chief’s office burns down anytime soon you know why.
10. And one more thing...
The Senior Bowl is next week. The Cowboys will be there in full force, something I imagine they were hoping they wouldn’t be just a weekend ago. The 2017 offseason is underway. Here we go.