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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Offseason | NFL: Offseason

Young Cowboys have hope, but divisional-round block remains

Sun Jan 13 8:14pm ET
By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Pro Football Writer

Players: Aaron Rodgers, Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Geoff Swaim, Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, left, scores past Los Angeles Rams strong safety John Johnson during the first half in an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff passes under pressure from Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith during the first half in an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott leaves the field after their loss to the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Dallas Cowboys running back Rod Smith sits on the bench during their loss against the Los Angeles Rams in an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott pushes off Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton during the first half in an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


FRISCO, Texas (AP) Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have their first playoff win and the same divisional-round block the Dallas Cowboys haven't been able to solve for nearly 25 years.

The star quarterback and running back figure to be leading the Dallas offense for years to come with new No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper, acquired midseason for the Cowboys' first-round pick in this year's draft.

Combined with a promising young defense that was humbled in a 30-22 divisional loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Prescott and crew have hope they can get the Cowboys within a win of the Super Bowl for the first time since the franchise's fifth championship following the 1995 season.

But Dallas has been here before: six divisional losses since Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin last led the Cowboys to more than one win in the same postseason.

Two of the losses have been with Prescott and Elliott, the other to Green Bay as the NFC's top seed when they were rookies two years ago.

''We have a lot of guys that have the right makeup to make sure that we get back here, and to hopefully get past this round,'' Prescott said. ''You're going to lose guys and guys are going to be gone, sometimes coaches. And, that's the unfortunate part about it.

''So, right now it's just about enjoying this time, with these guys and with this team. Then it's moving forward, and getting back to this point and getting past this point.''

After losing on some last-second magic by Aaron Rodgers at home to end the 2016 season, the Cowboys missed the playoffs last season when Elliott was suspended six games halfway through the season on domestic violence allegations.

Dallas recovered from a 3-5 start to win the NFC East with a 7-1 finish, then beat Seattle 24-22 in the wild-card round. The new part of the experience was a divisional game on the road. For one of the few times this season, the defense had the big letdown for Dallas, allowing a Dallas playoff-record 273 yards rushing.

''We'll treat this season just like those past seasons,'' safety Jeff Heath said in a nearly deserted locker room Sunday, about 16 hours after the loss to the Rams.

''It's a tough lesson to learn last night of just how switched on you have to be in a game like that and how the margin for error's so small when you're on the road in the playoffs.''

The biggest question on contracts for the core of the Dallas offense is whether Prescott gets an extension before the final year of the fourth-round pick's four-year rookie deal.

The Cowboys are all but certain to exercise the fifth-year option on Elliott, which would take him through 2020, and the Raiders had already done that with Cooper for next season before the trade.

Cole Beasley is an unrestricted free agent after proving to be an effective slot receiver on the four-year contract he just finished. Tavon Austin, acquired in a trade during last year's draft, offers similar skills with more speed.

With 15-year tight end Jason Witten's retirement before this season, re-signing 2015 seventh-round pick Geoff Swaim could be a priority. Swaim, however, has been plagued by injuries, including a broken wrist that limited him to nine games this season.

The more significant questions in free agency are with their pass rushers, starting with DeMarcus Lawrence.

A year after finishing tied for second with 14+ sacks, Lawrence hit double digits again with 10+ sacks playing on a $17.1 million franchise tag. The sides weren't close in negotiations last offseason, raising the possibility of another franchise tag.

Defensive lineman David Irving has shown plenty of promise but played just two games after a four-game substance-abuse suspension, an ankle injury and other off-field issues. He's an unrestricted free agent whose future appears to be elsewhere.

Randy Gregory, who missed 30 of 32 games over the previous two seasons because of multiple suspensions, made it through the season unscathed, getting career highs with 14 games and six sacks. He's an exclusive rights free agent.

With the emergence of young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee's future is in question going into the final year of his contract. He was relegated to a backup role once he recovered from hamstring injuries.

Lee potentially becoming expendable is on the better illustrations of how the Cowboys have evolved into one of the youngest teams in the NFL. When the season ended, every Dallas starter on offense and defense was younger than 30.

''A lot of different experiences this year that we'll grow from, we'll develop from,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''The early season inconsistency that we had that we grew out of and played significantly better over the last half of the season.

''Having the playoff win last week is something that we'll benefit from and having the disappointment today is something that we're going to benefit from. You have to remember these feelings, when you stand in these locker rooms.''

Player Notes
Patrick Peterson Feb 15 9:03am ET

Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson will return to shadowing the top opposing wide receivers in 2019, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

Mike Gillislee Feb 15 9:03am ET

Free-agent RB Mike Gillislee (Saints) worked out for the Detroit Lions Thursday, Feb. 14.

Danny Amendola Feb 14 11:23pm ET

Miami Dolphins WR Danny Amendola could fill the slot receiver role for the Detroit Lions in 2019 because of his connection to head coach Matt Patricia, in the opinion of Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.

Emmanuel Sanders Feb 14 10:43pm ET

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') said he is no longer wearing a walking boot but still has a 'slight limp' when walking around.

Fantasy Spin: After suffering an Achilles' injury late in the year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanders miss time in 2019. He showed last year that he can be a WR2 as the top option in Denver's passing attack, but fantasy owners will need to be patient as he returns to form.

Chad Williams Feb 14 10:13pm ET

Arizona Cardinals WR Chad Williams caught 37 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2018 and had two catches or less in all but two games.

Laquon Treadwell Feb 14 10:03pm ET

Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell averaged 5.7 yards per target last year, the fourth-worst mark among receivers with at least 50 targets, and Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com expects Treadwell's fifth-year option to be declined.

Fantasy Spin: The former first-round pick has been a bust, and he didn't show any signs of righting the ship despite a bigger role in 2018. Even in dynasty formats, it may be time to give up on Treadwell.

Golden Tate Feb 14 9:53pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles impending free-agent WR Golden Tate and Washington Redskins impending free-agent WR Jamison Crowder are options to fill the need the Green Bay Packers have at slot receiver, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.

Fantasy Spin: The Packers need a dependable option to support Davante Adams, and both Tate and Crowder would quickly become potential WR3 options if Aaron Rodgers is throwing them the ball.

Keanu Neal Feb 14 9:33pm ET

Atlanta Falcons SS Keanu Neal (knee) posted a video of himself going through agility drills without a brace on his injured left knee.

Colt McCoy Feb 14 9:13pm ET

Washington Redskins QB Colt McCoy (leg) was seen without any braces or supports for his injured leg.

Denzel Perryman Feb 14 8:43pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers impending free-agent LB Denzel Perryman will be re-signed this offseason if the Chargers have their way, according to a source.

Colin Kaepernick Feb 14 8:13pm ET

Updating a previous report, free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) desired at least $20 million to play in the Alliance of American Football, according to a source.

Nick Foles Feb 14 7:53pm ET

Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is expected to 'keep tabs on' the New York Giants this offseason, according to NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt. A source with knowledge of Foles' thinking said the former Super Bowl MVP would 'probably' be interested in starting for the Giants if they were to release QB Eli Manning.

Fantasy Spin: There are many pieces that must fall in order for Foles to the Giants to work out. It's a sensible destination, though, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley leading one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. Foles could be the piece that makes them take a forward step. Were this signing to come to fruition, Foles would demand QB1 consideration given the pieces that would be around him.

Nick Foles Feb 14 7:53pm ET

Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is not expected to return to the Philadelphia Eagles as the backup to Carson Wentz.

Fantasy Spin: Foles deserves a starting job. He won't want to play as a backup and make less money when there are teams willing to pay him to be their starter. He can be a part of the QB1 conversation if he lands in the right spot. Of course, when Wentz is healthy he too has QB1 appeal.

Colin Kaepernick Feb 14 7:13pm ET

Free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) and former NFL QB Tim Tebow were asked if they wanted to join the Alliance of American Football, according to league co-founder Bill Polian. Polian said he doesn't know what transpired with Kaepernick, but added that he spoke personally with Tebow, who declined.

Antonio Brown Feb 14 6:53pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown and Steelers impending free-agent RB Le'Veon Bell are not expected to be intensely pursued by the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. The Colts will have the most salary cap space in the league this offseason and will do their due diligence, but Brown's off-field drama and Bell's asking price may be too much for the Colts.

Fantasy Spin: The Colts did just fine last year without the services of Brown or Bell. Brown seems like more of an immediate need, but general manager Chris Ballard wants a cohesive and cooperative locker room. While the fantasy marriage of Brown and/or Bell with the Colts might be ideal, don't get your hopes up.

Sean Lee Feb 14 4:33pm ET

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee is considered a strong candidate to be cut this offseason, in the opinion of NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. Lee's extensive injury history, $10 million cap hit and the presence of fellow LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith don't bode well for a possible return.

Christian Kirk Feb 14 2:23pm ET

Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (foot) expects to be fully healed from his broken foot by the end of February. Kirk suffered the injury in Week 12 last season. Doctors said his recovery process is going well. 'I'm doing all the things I can to make sure I'm the best me,' Kirk said.

Fantasy Spin: Kirk performed well overall as a rookie despite Arizona's disappointing year. He and Josh Rosen showed glimpses of a future dynamic duo. Even with Larry Fitzgerald returning, Kirk possesses WR3 upside as Arizona's No. 2 wide receiver.

Pierre Garcon Feb 14 2:00pm ET

The San Francisco 49ers will not pick up the 2019 option on wide receiver Pierre Garcon, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. The 32-year-old declining wideout played in just 16 total games in his two seasons in San Francisco and missed eight games last season with shoulder and knee issues. The Niners will be hit with $7.2 million in deal money and will save $1.075 million on the salary cap. Garcon, who will turn 33 in August, plans on continuing his career, but he's unlikely to have a robust market given his age and injuries the last two years.

From RotoBaller

Case Keenum Feb 14 1:53pm ET

Denver Broncos QB Case Keenum could likely be obtained in a trade for a fifth-round draft pick, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Thursday, Feb. 14. Keenum could be one of the top backups in the league, according to Motensen, and the Tennessee Titans would be an ideal landing spot.

Fantasy Spin: Titans starting QB Marcus Mariota hasn't played a full year in any of his four pro seasons so far, and he missed three starts this past season with injuries, so Keenum would certainly project as better option than current backup Blaine Gabbert, who had a 74.9 rating and threw as many interceptions (four) as TD passes while making a trio of starts.

Keke Coutee Feb 14 1:50pm ET

Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee, who dealt with hamstring injuries off and on his entire rookie season, is fully healthy again in the offseason and is excited going into his second season. "I'm feeling great," Coutee said. "I'm feeling really good. I'm feeling like myself." He managed to play in only six games in 2018 and had 28 receptions for 287 yards and one touchdown. Coutee also had 11 catches for 110 yards and a score ono 14 targets in the wild-card playoff loss to the Colts. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside, Coutee could have a big year in his second season out of the slot in a dangerous offense. He might fly under the radar in drafts, too, making him an attractive sleeper.

From RotoBaller