Well, it’s officially the offseason and we’re in roster reconstruction mode. After a few weeks to process that blunt ending to the Cowboys season in LA, a commonality of every NFL teams’ offseason is free agency. The club is again in a familiar situation where they now must assess what went wrong and how to fix it. Granted, Dallas does deserve a ton of credit for being in the divisional round after a 3-5 start to the season. Capturing a Wildcard victory and advancing to the Divisional Round was a salute not only to the team’s resilience and fight, but also to its talented, youthful core.
What comes annually with youthful talent is the decisions of who stays and who goes as contracts expire. As the free agent frenzy fast approaches, there are a vast number of Cowboys with expiring deals on both offense and defense who are set to hit the open market. Though not all of them might be worth writing a new cheque for. Still, some are nevertheless.
For the six defense and special teams’ players, and seven offensive players, I’ll be releasing this column in two segments. With that being said, here’s an in depth look at all six defense and special teams Cowboys who are free to walk, and a sentencing regarding if they should be kept around or not:
DEMARCUS “TANK” LAWRENCE – DE
Reaching a contract extension with Lawrence has been clearly documented as Jerry and Stephen Jones’ top priority this offseason. And it should be. Tank Lawrence is vital to this team’s winning formula.
A homegrown talent, the anchor of the Hot Boyz on now arguably the team’s most important and best unit in the defensive line, a top tier talent at his position, a sack master and sneakily dominant against the run. What’s not to love here? Aside from all those facts, Lawrence has even put to bed any concerns over his availability, playing in every game over the last two seasons. After racking up a career high 14.5 sacks in 2017, he reached 10.5 in 2018 despite playing through a torn labrum. Tank is now a staple for the Cowboys elite pass rush and stout run defense.
There’s really no argument to be made about letting Lawrence walk. And if someone tries to tell you differently, I’ll show you a liar. Slapping him with another franchise tag would be the ultimate diss to a homegrown talent and would almost guarantee a holdout.
Pay the man, Jerry.
DAMIEN WILSON – LB
Those of you that think letting Wilson walk is an easy one based on the emergence of the young Cowboys linebacker core, hold up a second.
Wilson has a strong upside, starting seven games in 2018, and was available for all 16 of them. His lackluster production was overshadowed by Jaylon Smith’s breakout campaign and rookie Pro-Bowler Leighton Vander Esch’s incredible season. With the two of them demanding a ton of playing time together, it made it unrealistic to have three linebackers on the field at once. Furthermore Sean Lee received plenty of reps when he was healthy and it was tough sledding for Wilson to get on the field.
While it is still unclear whether Dallas will try to bring back Lee in a backup role in 2019, the names on the depth chart after Wilson are not real contenders for playing time at this point. Damien Wilson the next best SAM linebacker after the two young studs, and he’s real familiar with the system already. Letting Wilson go would make the depth look uncomfortably slim.
DAVID IRVING – DL
No one else seems to want to say it, so I will: the David Irving experiment needs to end in Dallas.
Where it once looked promising and flashed signs of glorious potential in the middle for the defensive line, it’s simply not worth it anymore. If you were patiently waiting for Irving’s return after he injured his ankle during the bye week, you need to pay closer attention.
Irving proceeded to be a no-show for the remaining 11 weeks of the season and the playoffs. Consider him being suspended eight games over the last two seasons, in combination with the reports that he’s facing an even stiffer penalty for missing mandatory drug tests, and it’s time to cut ties here.
Oh, and it also wasn’t the best look to be doing a Ben Abbott commercial mid-season on that busted ankle and while dealing with those personal issues. Some will make the Randy Gregory argument to keep giving him a chance. But the difference here is Randy wants to be here.
DATONE JONES – DL
Reliable glue guys like Jones are what’s required on a roster to win games at this level.
Jones was set for an encouraging role on the Dallas D-line in 2018 after a nice finish to his 2017 campaign. However, a knee injury in September sent him to the IR and he failed to play another snap all season. With the emergence of depth on the Cowboys d-line, especially in the middle with a now dependable Daniel Ross, young Dorance Armstrong, and the organization’s loyalty to the seemingly slow development of 2017 first-round selection Taco Charlton, and Jones’ services just aren’t needed in Dallas at the time. Maybe they’ll give him a call at some point in 2019 (if Jones were to be without a contract), but for now this just isn’t a match.
I’m still a firm believer that Jones’ can be a useful player wherever he ends up. That’s simply the tough part of not being a big-name talent in this industry. You end up being replaceable.
CARAUN REID – DL
Similarly to the above case, Reid is another one of those depth/glue guys on the D-line. But he’s the one out of those two that I have more incentive for wanting to keep around.
Reid played in 10 games for Dallas in 2018-19 and was available for all 18 of them. But he only registered .5 sacks, 10 total tackles, and a forced fumble. The numbers don’t jump off the screen at you but taking a close look at some of his film, Reid had moments where he would come oh so close to making a big play. Sure, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades but it goes even deeper than that with Reid. He turned into a nice piece of the defensive interior’s rotation against the run. Coming into camp at 6-2, 305 pounds, he nicely closes lanes for a top-5 run defense unit in the league.
This contract may not seem imminent, but considering all the injuries that are suffered in the trenches over a season, Reid should be kept around for that reason alone.
L.P. LADOUCEUR – LS
Not a lot of people know who Ladouceur is or exactly what he does and has done for America’s team over his 14 seasons (and counting).
There is a reason for this.
Never hearing Ladouceur’s name in a game is a great thing. It means he’s doing his job as a long-snapper, which is important! We’re never going to hear “what a long snap!” from the booth, but if Ladouceur were to botch one, you’d all know his name by now. Ladouceur is one of the best at one of the most under-appreciated jobs in the sport.
For some context, Ladouceur has had about as perfect a career in football as one could have. He legitimately has not snapped a bad long snap in 14 seasons for the Cowboys. It’s truly remarkable when you think about it for the Pro-Bowler. Remember the bogus “snap infraction” flag on Ladouceur in Week 7 at Washington? That was the NFL’s best attempt at a taint on his resume. Making up a penalty.
The Cowboys convinced the 37-year-old Canadian to stick around for another kick at the can on a one-year deal in 2018. They’ll have to do the same again this offseason. And hopefully again next year.
CRUCIAL penalty SCREWS over Cowboys 🔩 LP Ladouceur called for snap infraction backin up da FG 🤦🏾♂️ n Brett Maher MISSES #DALvsWAS pic.twitter.com/iSXtIQJrAf
— BLACK SPORTSCENTER (@VersaceBoyEnt) October 21, 2018
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