Jon Machota, Cowboys beat writer for SportsDayDFW.com and The Dallas Morning News, answered questions about the team during a live chat Friday. Here are some highlights.
What can we expect from Jaylon Smith this season?
Jon Machota: I don’t think anyone can accurately predict that at this point. He appears to be healthier than he has been at any point since he was drafted. Having the drop-foot brace off is obviously a great sign. What intrigues me at the moment is what if Smith, Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch are all healthy and playing well? How will they split up the playing time? It’s unlikely the Cowboys will have three linebackers on the field very often. Lee is never coming off the field if healthy, so that leaves Vander Esch and Smith to split time in nickel situations, depending on Leighton’s progress. But that’s a problem the Cowboys would gladly welcome.
So, is it a big loss if the Cowboys don’t aquire Earl Thomas?
Jon Machota: Right now, I have the Cowboys going 9-7 and just missing the playoffs. Adding a player like Thomas would put them into the postseason, in my opinion. Of course, they could make the playoffs without him. But he’s the type of impact player that’s worth an extra win or two. And that could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. The Cowboys have some solid options at safety, but they obviously don’t have a player on the back end of Thomas’ talent level. Adding him could be the missing piece that makes Dallas a Super Bowl contender.
Is it possible that DeMarcus Lawrence is the Cowboys’ most valuable player on defense, or will that always be a healthy Sean Lee?
Jon Machota: Sure. It’s Sean Lee right now, but Lawrence could definitely take over the crown. To do that, though, he has to build off last season. If he turns into a 16-20 sack per season player, it would be tough to argue that he’s not only the defense’s MVP but possibly the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He has that type of potential. If you gave any NFL team the choice between having one of the league’s best linebackers or one of the best pass rushers, they’re taking the pass rusher. If Lawrence repeats what he did last season, it would be tough to argue against him being Dallas’ defensive MVP.
To what do you attribute the regularity of up followed by down years under Garrett? Does this team have trouble winning when expectations are high?
Jon Machota: Expectations are part of it, but so is availability and game-planning. Not having Ezekiel Elliott for six games was a huge blow last year. Not having an adequate Tony Romo replacement in 2015 was another. Those shouldn’t be excuses, especially after you watched what the Eagles overcame last season, but it’s part of the game in a salary cap era.
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