Without further ado, here’s an in-depth look at all six offensive and special teams Cowboys who are free to walk, and a sentencing regarding if they should be kept around or not:
CAMERON FLEMING – OL
Took some time to really ponder this one, but came to the verdict that Fleming should be kept around. Signed last off season for depth purposes on the O-line with intentions that he’d take over the ‘swing’ tackle role from Chaz Green (yikes). But we knew when the front office brought him in that he had potential to start at one of the tackle positions. Heck, he started multiple times on the GOAT’s offensive line in New England during Super Bowl runs.
A rough start in 2018 had us doubting, but Fleming rounded into form as the season progressed, finally resulting in the inevitable release of Green. With the perpetual uncertainty of once All-World LT Tyron Smith’s health status, and his seemingly progressive decline in performance even when deemed healthy, a reliable backup with experience like Fleming’s is needed.
ROD SMITH – RB
Before you all jump on me for sentencing one half of the Smith brotherhood on the Cowboys to walk in free agency, hear me out first, as this was a tough one where I’m not completely sold on either side yet.
Like the others, 2018 was a contract year for Smith as well. Smith ran the ball 44 times for a total of 127 yards, 1 TD and a clip of 2.9 YPC. He also added 9 receptions for 60 yards. Not great numbers, but I’m not expecting big numbers from the guy who backs up the best running back in football. That’s unrealistic regardless of who’s in that spot. To his credit though, Smith entered camp with much competition for the second-string RB role and proceeded to take it over the likes of talented sixth-rounder Darius Jackson, and 2018 selection Bo Scarborough out of Bama. As the two of them embarked on a carousel of being released and brought back by Dallas, Smith remained calm, cool and collected in his role:
Rod Smith punches it in — #DallasCowboys lead!
However, I believe that there are others out there with more upside from the backup RB position for the Cowboys, and for cheaper than Smith will demand after proving to be reliable over the last few seasons. Whether that be in the plethora of names in the draft, or even Darius Jackson given the opportunity, I just feel as if it’s time for a change at this spot. It could be seen as a gamble, but the willingness to take chances on new players and make changes when needed is how to win in this league. Smith’s production can be duplicated, and there are different running backs with different skill sets out there.
Loyalty is important. But at the end of the day, the Dallas Cowboys are still a business with a main priority of winning football games in a respectable manner. Having a problem with being too loyal too often, to too many people is a recipe to not win enough football games at this level, in this business (see Garrett’s loyalty to Linehan). There are always going to be tough decisions as such in sports. It’s who has the will to pull the trigger on them which often separates the contenders from the pretenders.
With all that being said though, I’d absolutely still welcome the idea of the Cowboys bringing back Smith on a pretty team-friendly contract. He’s shown the two most important abilities being dependability and availability over his four seasons in Dallas. Can’t ask for more than that from a backup running back. I’m just not sold that it’s a no-brainer to bring him back like everyone else seems to think. Especially considering the depth at the position and the unknown upsides of many prospects.
JAMIZE OLAWALE – FB
Looking at Olawale’s metrics, combine results and film, you’d be led to believe that he can be a useful offensive weapon on most teams. That just wasn’t the case in Dallas after one of their one-year experiments. Though he was very underutilized in a Scott Linehan led offense (sigh), when given limited opportunity in 2018 Olawale still wasn’t able to do much. Only starting 4 games, but playing in 16, he had career lows in virtually every category. No TDs, no rush attempts and just two receptions for 13 yards. And one dreadful, possibly momentum shifting walk-in TD drop during the shutout at Indianapolis.
Dallas has always had a fascination with wanting to roster a fullback at all times and I, like many, have always wondered why. Maybe it was Linehan, but either way the offense is already behind in time. One of the steps to catching back up with the league is sentencing the fullback position to exile.
GEOFF SWAIM – TE
The tight end position remains a bit of a wildcard for the Cowboys. Blake Jarwin’s December emergence, the still-ongoing (somehow) uncertainty of Rico Gathers and the jury still being out on rookie Dalton Schultz paints a picture of a vast amount of possibilities at the position right now, right?
But the safe floor of four-year vet Swaim is exactly why Dallas should keep him around. Viewing Swaim in comparison to the other names just mentioned, though it may not seem like a whole lot, he gives the team the safest amount of stability at the position with the most experience. The once seventh-round pick got to play three seasons behind Jason Witten where he could breathe in the knowledge to assist him into becoming a reliable starter. Where 2018 finally offered Swaim the opportunity to be the Cowboys TE1, a knee and wrist injury ended his season in November.
Despite his 2018 season ending prematurely, prior to the injuries Swaim led all Cowboys TEs with 66% of their receiving yards and their only TD to date. Slowly but surely he developed a chemistry with QB Dak Prescott, but people now ignore that after Blake Jarwin’s 7 reception, 117 yard and 3 TD performance at the Giants.
Regardless of all options, and even if Dallas was to draft another TE in 2019, there’s no solid ground for the Cowboys to justify waiving Swaim. Either way though, I’d look to get Swaim locked up on a cheap two-year deal heading into 2020, and finally axe the Gathers experiment.
MARCUS MARTIN – OL
Like Fleming, Martin was brought in for depth purposes on the O-line.
He was anything but that in Dallas in 2018. Coming in at 6’3”, 321 pounds, Martin looked like he could warrant a backup interior O-line position, but he went down during the preseason with a torn ligament in his big toe, requiring surgery that ended his season before it could even start. Martin has 24 career starts, but zero over his last two seasons. While he couldn’t assist the Cowboys in offensive line depth, they managed respectively without him. Yeah, it may not seem like he got a fair crack at the 52-man roster, but at the end of the day this is still a business.
As Xavier Su’a-Filo emerged as a borderline starter midway through the season at LG, and with young Connor Williams developing, there’s no need to keep Martin on the payroll.
TAVON AUSTIN – WR
This sentence is on one condition: Austin is brought back on the veteran minimum.
Where some will file this under the “failed experiment” category for the Cowboys, I’d personally file it under the “experiment still in progress” category.
Austin was brought in via trade with the Rams for a sixth-round pick in April to subsequently fill the role of young Ryan Switzer, who was traded to Oakland not long before. I didn’t like the moving of Switzer to begin with, as he’d had an encouraging season as a returner. The minute Austin was brought in I knew he could be a useful player if utilized correctly, but I could already sense the fans would be frustrated with him throughout the upcoming season if he were to get hurt with the knowledge of his injury history in mind.
Right on cue, Austin suffered a severe groin injury during Week 7 which held him out the lineup until Week 16. In those six weeks prior to injury, we saw the good flashes from Austin with the highlight being the 64-yard TD in week 2 against the Giants. We also saw the dark flashes where he did his best disappearing act in the offense for games. When finally back from injury, Austin wasn’t phased into Linehan’s offense much, but made his presence felt with two 50+ yard kick returns in the Wild Card game against the Seahawks (one of which was brought back on a phantom holding call). Then all of a sudden, Austin was even phased out of punt return duties in the divisional round against the Rams as the staff elected to go with CB Jourdan Lewis and an injured Cole Beasley instead for reasons that are still unclear.
With all of this considered, there’s still enough here for me to want to give Austin another shot in Dallas. He’s a loved by his teammates as a locker room guy, and I’m interested to see what Kellen Moore can do with him in the new offense. There’s just no reason to go over the veteran minimum for a contract here. There won’t be teams lining up for Austin’s services after more of the same from him in 2018, and he knows his player type is replaceable via the draft. Just, for the love of God, take the leash off him on special teams and let the speed kill.
No matter how many they call back, I’m gonna keep doing this. Crazy because honestly I was about 60% on this. Once I’m healthy and I get the opportunity to contribute and produce consistently, y’all gonna see this is not a gimmick! pic.twitter.com/o44rVOjJzX
— Tavon Austin (@Tayaustin01) February 6, 2019
Then again, maybe he’s the next Cowboys second string running back after all:
COLE BEASLEY – WR
SENTENCE: STAY (please)
Wishing for Beasley to stay is a no-brainer. It’s the convincing him to do so that’s going to be the tough part (hence the “please” above). The question of the hour regarding Beasley’s status as a Cowboy still remains: will the axing of Linehan be enough to convince him?
Beasley has expressed his displeasure of his utilization in Scott Linehan’s offense throughout the 2018-19 season and following its conclusion:
Linehan’s issue was that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t if you want to go there) find ways to consistently use the reliable slot receiver in the offense. This aggravated Beasley on multiple occasions, and rightfully so. Linehan continuously, without explanation, found ways to erase Beasleyfrom the game plan over the last two years. Before Linehan was let go, there was no reason at all for Beasley to stick around and none of us could blame him for wanting to hop on the first flight out of town. Jerry and Co. offered him an extension based on his 2017 dip in production prior to the 2018 season. All this follows Beasley’s career 2016 where he led the team and set career highs with 75 receptions, 888 receiving yards, and five TDs. Rightfully so, Beasley turned down the offer with hopes of a better 2018 campaign before signing for the future.
Despite battling a high-ankle sprain in December and the playoffs, Beasley did reach second-most in career highs with 672 yards and three TDs in 2018. He also didn’t miss a game (availability!) and helped propel the Cowboys to 10 wins on the regular season with a jaw dropping TD grab on fourth-and-15 at the Giants in week 17.
Cole Beasley. WOW.
Then, you guessed it! Beasley was targeted just a combined six times in the two playoff games to follow. Linny going to Linny right?
At 29-years-old and likely readying to sign his final NFL contract, even with Linehan now gone it’s going to be a tough sell to get Beasley to stay. The Cowboys will likely low-ball him again, which he’ll stiff-arm again and finally be able to look elsewhere. At the end of the day Beasley remains one of the better sure-handed slot receivers in the league, which is why this hole the Cowboys dug themselves in with him is so frustrating. To make matters worse, they already dumped his possible heir in Switzer.
Losing Beasley could be a pretty big loss to an offense already with question marks heading into the 2019 season.
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