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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
Kirk Cousins Mar 20 9:20pm ET

The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.

From RotoBaller

Dwayne Haskins Mar 20 9:10pm ET

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins met with the New York Giants on Tuesday night and has meetings scheduled with the Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins and Redskins, who all have a pick in the top 15 of the first round of this year's draft. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said that Haskins checks off many of the boxes that NFL front offices look for when considering a franchise quarterback. Haskins showed his athleticism and strong arm at his pro day after producing a school-record 50 touchdowns and 4,831 passing yards in his lone season as a starter. Along with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Haskins is one of the top two QB prospects in this draft and he'll surely come off the board to a QB-needy team in the first round. Where he lands will help determine his future fantasy outlook.

From RotoBaller

Doug Baldwin Mar 20 5:00pm ET

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin told Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle that "more surgeries (are) on the way, most likely." NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that Baldwin will visit with Dr. William Meyers soon to see about possibly undergoing sports hernia surgery, according to a source informed of the plan. Head coach Pete Carroll revealed during the scouting combine that Baldwin had knee and shoulder surgeries after the 2018 season ended. The 31-year-old showed his age last year while dealing with multiple injuries, catching only 50 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns. Baldwin's fantasy stock is trending down after a poor 2018 season, and his latest injury and possible surgery won't help matters.

From RotoBaller

Chandler Jones Mar 20 12:40pm ET

Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones, who was tied for seventh in the NFL with 13 sacks in 2018, is "very excited" to move from defensive end back to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's 3-4 defensive scheme. Jones led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017 the last time he played outside linebacker. The two-time Pro Bowler will certainly be in play in IDP leagues once again in 2019. Jones was also up to 280 pounds heading into training camp last summer, but he is now down to around 255 pounds. With veteran Terrell Suggs in the mix, the Cardinals could be sneaky tough against opposing quarterbacks.

From RotoBaller

Eli Manning Mar 20 12:30pm ET

The New York Giants brass met with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Tuesday night, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula, vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara, director of college scouting Chris Pettit and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams were in attendance. The Giants have the sixth overall pick in the draft and will need an eventual replacement for Eli Manning. Haskins is a big-armed pocket quarterback, but he could probably use a year of grooming before taking over the starting job in the NFL.

From RotoBaller

George Iloka Mar 20 9:23am ET

Free-agent S George Iloka (Vikings) is visiting the Oakland Raiders Wednesday, March 20.

Blake Bortles Mar 20 9:23am ET

Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams QB Blake Bortles received a one-year, $1 million deal from the Rams, which will be subtracted from the $6.5 million the Jacksonville Jaguars owe him.

Leonard Fournette Mar 20 3:03am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette has and will continue to work out with new University of Wyoming director of sports performance Ben Iannacchione, who spent six of the past seven seasons working in the strength and conditioning program at LSU - Fournette's alma mater. Fournette also spoke with executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, who still has 'full confidence' in the player he selected No. 4 overall in 2017. 'With Leonard, a prepared Leonard coming into camp with a mindset that he discussed and we talked about ... I have full confidence in him. He does have some things he's got to prove when he comes back about his preparation, but he's a young, young player, he loves football, had an outstanding year, had a very disappointing year, and I think he wants to - we want him to be a great player and I think he's in the same mindset,' Coughlin said.

Fantasy Spin: Fournette was among the bigger disappointments in fantasy in 2018, twice missing an extended period of time with hamstring injuries and earning a suspension for coming off the sidelines to throw a punch in Week 12. Owners have every right to avoid him for his lack of durability, but he is also shaping up to be a value pick if he slides into the late third round area of fantasy drafts. Until further notice, he will still be the focal point of the offense. He'll also have plenty of motivation on what should be an improved offense.

Deshaun Watson Mar 19 11:20pm ET

The Houston Texans signed free-agent quarterback AJ McCarron to a one-year, $3 million deal on Tuesday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. He'll serve as the backup to Deshaun Watson in 2019. The former Alabama quarterback has played in just 12 NFL games, including seven for the Bengals in 2015 when he took over for the injured Andy Dalton. McCarron has completed 64 percent of his passes for 928 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He won't be on the fantasy radar.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Lynch Mar 19 11:13pm ET

Free-agent LB Aaron Lynch (Bears) is scheduled to visit the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, March 20. Lynch has already visited with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks this week.

Randall Cobb Mar 19 11:10pm ET

The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year, $5 million deal on Tuesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He's likely to replace Cole Beasley as the team's slot receiver alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb was a second-round pick of the Packers in 2011 and spent his first eight years in Green Bay. He had a career-high 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014, but the 28-year-old missed seven games in 2018 with hamstring and concussion issues. Cobb's fantasy stock will be way down, especially going from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Dallas signal-caller Dak Prescott.

From RotoBaller

Vontaze Burfict Mar 19 11:10pm ET

The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a one-year deal worth roughly $5 million (including incentives) on Tuesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. Burfict roamed the middle of Cincy's defense for seven years, including a 2013 Pro Bowl season after he led the league with 177 tackles. The aggressive and controversial linebacker sat out due to suspension for three straight seasons and also has been hurt by injuries. It could be a perfect fit, but Burfict's days of being IDP-relevant are likely over.

From RotoBaller

Clay Matthews Mar 19 11:00pm ET

The Los Angeles Rams signed free-agent linebacker Clay Matthews to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $16.75 million, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The former first-rounder will return to his hometown. Matthews had double-digit sacks in four of his first six seasons with the Packers and was an All-Pro in 2010. The 32-year-old's play has declined in recent seasons, but he'll bring veteran leadership to an already stacked Rams unit.

From RotoBaller

A.J. McCarron Mar 19 10:43pm ET

Updating a previous report, free-agent QB AJ McCarron (Raiders) agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $3 million with the Houston Texans on Tuesday, March 19.

Geremy Davis Mar 19 9:53pm ET

Free-agent WR Geremy Davis re-signed with the Los Angeles Chargers on Tuesday, March 19. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.

Trevor Siemian Mar 19 8:03pm ET

Free-agent QB Trevor Siemian (Vikings) will meet with the New York Jets Wednesday, March 20.

Sean Mannion Mar 19 7:53pm ET

Free-agent QB Sean Mannion (Rams) has drawn interest from the Minnesota Vikings, according to sources.

Eric Berry Mar 19 7:33pm ET

Free-agent SS Eric Berry (Chiefs) left his visit with the Dallas Cowboys Tuesday, March 19, without putting pen to paper. He is expected to visit more teams in the near future.

Sean Smith Mar 19 7:13pm ET

Free-agent Sean Smith (Raiders) was reinstated from his suspension Tuesday, March 19.

Clayton Geathers Mar 19 6:53pm ET

Free-agent S Clayton Geathers (Colts) met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday, March 19, according to a source.