Mailbag: Jourdan Lewis’ character, linebacker depth, and Jahad Thomas

It’s time to turn to Twitter and email for another mailbag from Cowboys Nation.

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Is Jourdan Lewis a character concern?

For those wondering what Derek is referencing, you can listen to Monday’s CowboysCast here. I spoke about how Dallas has often had too much confidence in their ability to take troubled players and fundamentally change who they are as people.

Does newly acquired cornerback Jourdan Lewis fall into that category? That remains to be seen, but Monday’s report from Brandon George at the Dallas Morning News was concerning.

Lewis could very well be an innocent man, and the testimony of those who know him best is that he has excellent character. However, I don’t trust Dallas’ front office any longer to have the discernment necessary to make that call.

Let’s take a look at their recent history with red flag players.

Rolando McClain

Dallas’ error was not in gambling in 2014, and honestly wasn’t in re-signing him in 2015. The problem arose when McClain had shown himself to be unreliable and the Cowboys still gave him another contract for 2016. His absence from OTAs last spring was distracting and presented unnecessary questions for the players.

Randy Gregory

Dallas’ failure to evaluate just how bad Randy Gregory’s anxiety and depression were is unacceptable. Either they weren’t informed of how bad it was (which is unlikely given the folks I’ve spoken with) or they were naïve enough to believe they could fix the sincere emotional problems of Gregory. Believing that to the extent that they penciled him in as their right end of the future placed them in a tremendous bind that saw them drafting need in the first round this year.

Greg Hardy

I don’t believe you can blame the Cowboys too much for this one. They needed a pass rush, thought Greg Hardy had been rehabilitated, and they cut ties when they realized the experiment had gone wrong. Still, it was another miscalculation of how deep the problems went.

Joseph Randle

Of the four, this mistake is the most egregious. Randle was a backup averaging just three touches a game when he was arrested for shoplifting. That should have been the end of his time in Dallas. The Cowboys allowed him to hang around long enough for an awkward jailhouse video to leak and make things tense in the locker room. Instead of moving on in the offseason, the Cowboys decided to let DeMarco Murray walk, chose not to draft a running back, and eventually named Randle the starter. His issues became too much of a distraction in a painful 2015 season, forcing the Cowboys to cut their starting running back six games into the year.

Lets circle back to the original question: is Jourdan Lewis similar to the four cases above, or is he an innocent man unfairly caught up, much like La’el Collins? We will soon find out, but Dallas doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Linebacker depth

Let’s take a look at the linebackers currently on Dallas’ roster, according to the team’s website:

Anthony Hitchens (36 career starts)
Sean Lee (61 career starts)
Jaylon Smith (Rookie)
Kyle Wilber (16 career starts)
Mark Nzeocha (0 career starts)
Damien Wilson (5 career starts)
Lucas Wacha (Rookie)
Kennan Gilchrist (Rookie)
John Lotulelei (2 career starts)
Joseph Jones (Rookie)

It’s clear that the Cowboys boast some serious inexperience at linebacker right now.

Outside of the 1-technique, you’d be hard-pressed to find a position the Cowboys seemingly value less than SAM linebacker. It even seems as if they value the near-extinct position of fullback more. Playing nickel as frequently as the Cowboys do means there are usually only two linebackers on the field. We know that Sean Lee is a monster at WILL, but the MIKE has been a mess ever since Rolando McClain stopped caring about football.

The strength of the Cowboys’ linebackers will hinge on Jaylon Smith’s recovery. If he can become the player many thought he would be prior to his knee injury, the Cowboys will have two of the best linebackers in the NFL. Two guys who can defend the run and, in the case of pre-injury Smith, carry slot receivers across the field.

Behind those two, the depth is questionable. Hitchens has regressed since his solid rookie campaign in 2014. Damien Wilson gave some quality snaps to the team last season, and they seem to be high on the oft-injured Mark Nzeocha. There’s a lot of uncertainty past that.

The Cowboys don’t need to run seven-deep on the depth chart at linebacker since they roll with five defensive backs so often, but it is imperative that either Smith return to health or that they find a competent sidekick to play alongside Sean Lee.

A diamond in the rough?

“Do you think Jahad Thomas can make the team at running back?”

– Caleb via email

With Lance Dunbar gone and uncertainty surrounding Alfred Morris, Jahad Thomas will be given every opportunity to make the roster.

I was a bit surprised that Dallas didn’t draft a running back last month. There was word that they would have given strong consideration to San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey in the 4th round had Philadelphia not selected him, where Dallas then selected Ryan Switzer instead. With the interest in Pumphrey and re-signing of Darren McFadden, it appears Alfred Morris is a bit of a marked man.

Morris represents a potential of $1.6m in cap savings, and the Cowboys clearly became disenchanted with the sixth-year runner in 2016. If you remove his 17 garbage time carries in a blowout vs. Cleveland, Morris’ touches dipped every month. He averaged 5.6 carries in September, 4.7 in October, 2.3 in November, and just one carry in December. The dip in carries was mirrored with a dip in overall playing time, averaging 10.3 snaps in September, 8.5 in October, 6.6 in November (Minus Cleveland) and 1.5 in December, with two gameday inactives.

I think the Cowboys would like the extra sliver of cap space, and the seven extra years of youth that Thomas provides over Morris. But Dallas won’t just gift the roster spot to Thomas, he’ll need to show he can play.

Thomas is a bit smaller (5’9, 190) and doesn’t have burner speed (4.62 40-yard dash), but he plays with quickness and shows good hands out of the backfield. That skill set makes him a candidate to replace Dunbar’s touches as the shotgun back on third down pass plays, with McFadden serving as the no. 2 runner behind Ezekiel Elliott.

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