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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

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
Rodney McLeod Jun 18 11:43am ET

Philadelphia Eagles FS Rodney McLeod (knee) expects to be ready for training camp, and he's on schedule in his rehab from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

Mike Evans Jun 18 10:53am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans restructured his contract Tuesday, June 18, which created $3.2 million in 2019 salary cap space.

Trey Burton Jun 18 9:00am ET

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he "feels good" about tight end Trey Burton (hernia) being ready for the start of training camp this summer. Burton had hernia surgery this offseason. The 27-year-old caught a career-high 54 passes (76 targets) for 569 yards and six touchdowns in his first year in Chicago with Nagy running the show. In this improving offense, Burton could improve further and will be a strong TE1 as long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks in training camp.

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Travis Kelce Jun 18 9:00am ET

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (ankle) has missed all of the team's offseason workouts as he recovers from ankle surgery, but he expects to be 100 percent healthy in time for training camp. Kelce is one of a kind at the tight end position and should be the first name off the board at the position in fantasy drafts despite his ankle injury. The 29-year-old caught a career-high 103 passes (150 targets) for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and has superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes throwing him passes. Kelce has now gone over 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons. He's pretty good.

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Carlos Hyde Jun 18 9:00am ET

Kansas City Chiefs running back Carlos Hyde, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, has occasionally lined up next to starter Damien Williams in the backfield at minicamp and has frequently been used as a receiver. "It's not just a one-dimensional running back here. You do it all. You line up at receiver. You actually run routes. You're not just a decoy," Hyde said. It's all fine and dandy right now, but it remains to be seen how much run Hyde will actually get when the games matter. At best, he's a handcuff for Williams owners in fantasy drafts. The 28-year-old floundered with both the Browns and Jaguars in a disappointing 2018 season. He had 10 combined receptions in 14 games last year.

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D.K. Metcalf Jun 18 9:00am ET

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been very impressed with rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in offseason practices. "Its great seeing DK [Metcalf] make his plays. I think DK is looking really, really special," Wilson said. "He can do anything and everything and hes tremendous." The second-round pick isn't just a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds with a 4.33-yard 40-yard dash and 40.5-inch vertical jump. Wilson has been impressed with his knowledge of the game as well. Metcalf should be the No. 2 in his rookie season behind Tyler Lockett, and he really has a chance to put up special numbers in Year 1 with Wilson slinging him the football deep.

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Marquez Valdes-Scantling Jun 18 9:00am ET

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been lining up as the No. 2 behind Davante Adams and ahead of Geronimo Allison during offseason practices. Minicamp practices revealed that MVS is a starter and probably the No. 2 behind Adams, with Allison likely to serve as the slot man in three-wide sets. I think this offense is really catered for a guy like him, Adams said of Valdes-Scantling. The fifth-round pick had some standout games as a rookie but was altogether very inconsistent for fantasy owners. Valdes-Scantling finished with 38 catches for 581 yards and had a team-high 15.3 yard-per-catch average. It's looking like he's a perfect fit for new head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, and he'll be coveted by fantasy owners in the later rounds as a potential breakout candidate.

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Michael Roberts Jun 18 9:00am ET

Detroit Lions tight end Michael Roberts reverted back to the Lions on Friday after the Patriots tried to acquire him in a trade. Roberts failed his physical and has now been waived by the Lions. The 25-year-old was a fourth-round pick in 2017 and had just nine catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games due to injuries in 2018 with Detroit. It remains to be seen if he'll resurface with another team, but even if he does he won't be on the fantasy radar.

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David Montgomery Jun 18 9:00am ET

Chicago Bears third-round rookie running back David Montgomery has impressed the team as a route-runner out of the backfield in offseason practices. "We always knew he had great hands. You dont know how great of a route runner a college back is, but hes a really good route runner," head coach Matt Nagy said. Montgomery has had comparisons to former Bears do-it-all back Matt Forte, which is a high bar to match. However, the Bears drafted Montgomery with a purpose and then sent Jordan Howard packing in a trade to the Eagles. Mike Davis will also factor in, but Montgomery has as high of a ceiling as any other rookie back to come out of the 2019 draft.

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James Conner Jun 18 9:00am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had more than 62 percent of the team's carries in 2018 and 64 percent of the targets in the passing game among running backs. However, he thinks the team will spread the ball out more evenly in the backfield among him and Jaylen Samuels in 2019. Samuels had 328 yards from scrimmage in the three games that Conner missed with an ankle injury late in the year. There's also fourth-rounder Benny Snell, who ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns at Kentucky in 2018. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he isn't concerned about Conner's durability at all. Conner should be the team's primary back and should be the first target in fantasy drafts, but Samuels should also be useful in PPR formats as the Steelers look to spread things around with Antonio Brown gone.

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Arik Armstead Jun 18 9:00am ET

San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa (hamstring), the team's first-round pick, believes he'll be ready for Week 1 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 hamstring strain on May 23. He thinks he'll be able to get enough work at training camp to be ready for the regular season. Bosa also hasn't played football for nearly a year after suffering a sports hernia. The pass-rusher could get off to a slow start in his first NFL season after not practicing at all this spring, but in the long run Bosa should be very helpful in improving San Fran's pass rush. Bosa has been watching the team practice and learning the scheme while picking the brains of Arik Armstead and Dee Ford.

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Noah Brown Jun 18 9:00am ET

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown (knee) underwent a scope on his knee last week but is expected to be ready for training camp next month. The 23-year-old had five receptions in eight games played in 2018 and has just nine catches for 87 yards and on scores in 21 games over two seasons after being drafted in the seventh round in 2017. He's buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Randall Cobb, so he's well off the fantasy radar.

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Kirk Cousins Jun 18 9:00am ET

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had high expectations in his first year in Minnesota after signing a fully guaranteed $84 million deal, but it didn't exactly pay off on the field. Cousins had career highs in completions (425), attempts (606), completion percentage (70.1) and passing touchdowns (30), but the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. Cousins is hoping to win more games in 2019, but he's just 34-37-2 as a starter in the NFL and has no playoff wins. The Vikings are expected to focus more on the running game under offensive advisor Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski this year. Cousins could put up decent numbers, but he should be drafted as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 this time around.

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Nick Foles Jun 18 9:00am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone doesn't expect left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) to be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Robinson should be available eventually in training camp, but it's disappointing after he tore his ACL way back in Week 2 of last season. When healthy, Robinson will be tasked with protecting quarterback Nick Foles' blind side in his first year with the team after coming over from the Eagles.

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Jared Goff Jun 18 9:00am ET

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is confident that the Rams will give quarterback Jared Goff a contract extension. "Whether it ends up happening this year or next year, there is a zero percent chance this guy's not gonna get an extension he's worthy of," McVay said. "All the narratives out there are wrong. Jared and I couldn't be more connected, and I couldn't be more appreciative of him as our leader. He is so vital and important to us and our success. That extension will get done. It's a matter of when, not if." Goff will make $4.26 million in 2019 and $22.783 million in 2020. He's had growing pains at times but helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance last year. Consider him a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 going into 2019.

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Anthony Miller Jun 18 9:00am ET

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said the team is optimistic that wide receiver Anthony Miller (shoulder) will be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Miller had left shoulder surgery in January after playing through the injury in his rookie season. The 24-year-old was impressive in his first season, catching 33 passes for 423 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. Miller will once again be a big part of Chicago's passing game alongside Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and should be able to improve on those numbers, although don't expect his touchdowns to go up in his sophomore campaign.

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Carson Wentz Jun 18 9:00am ET

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver DeSean Jackson have had a great connection and good timing throughout the offseason program. Head coach Doug Pederson said that Jackson spent the entire offseason in Philadelphia working with Wentz, and their chemistry is showing through. Jackson, 32, was a bust in his final year in Tampa with 41 catches for 774 yards and four touchdowns, but he's still very fast and averaged 18.9 yards per catch. He's boom or bust as a deep threat, but D-Jax will still have appeal in standard-scoring leagues in a very potent offense. However, his per-game catches will likely fluctuate with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor gobbling up targets.

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Kerryon Johnson Jun 18 9:00am ET

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has made an impact as a pass-catcher in organized team activities, and the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett thinks he can catch as many as 60 passes in 2019. Theo Riddick has been the team's primary receiving back the last few seasons, but he might not even be a lock for the 53-man roster this year and is a trade candidate. Johnson caught 32 passes in 10 games as a rookie in 2018 and could easily add to that production as the team's lead back if he stays healthy. He may not get more than 20 touches a game with C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner, Riddick and rookie Ty Johnson being in the mix, but Johnson is in line to take a big second-year leap for fantasy owners in this run-first offense.

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Cameron Meredith Jun 18 9:00am ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Cameron Meredith (knee) said it's the same knee injury that he dealt with last year that kept him sidelined for organized team activities and minicamp this year. However, he's mostly just being smart with it so that he can have a healthy training camp. Meredith had a breakout year in 2016 with the Bears but then missed all of 2017 with his knee injury and played in only six games with the Saints in 2018, catching nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown as a complete non-factor. If he doesn't prove his health this summer, Meredith is in danger of not making the final roster.

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Damon Harrison Jun 18 9:00am ET

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay skipped minicamp last week in hopes of landing a new deal, and he's unsure if he'll report to training camp next month either. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison also sat out of minicamp this week as he seeks a new deal. Both players forfeited $250,000 of workouts bonuses this spring. Slay is scheduled to make $12 million this year and has two years left on the extension he signed in 2016. Harrison also has two years left on his deal and will make $6.75 million in 2019. The Lions have been reluctant to renegotiate contracts of players with multiple years left on their deals, so Slay and Harrison may be barking up the wrong tree. Slay, 28, is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season and has 11 interceptions over the last two years.

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