Usually, the beginning of the preseason doesn’t bring too much. A couple quarterback battles form, guys get hurt, too many teams get smoke blown up their rear end. It’s a time full of questions.
But last Friday, the NFL dropped a load. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was suspended six games by the league, a move that was touted and criticized by fans. The Bills also made two pretty major trades, sending Sammy Watkins to the Rams and Ronald Darby to the Eagles. It was the biggest day the NFL had since the free agency period, and with the NBA’s dominance of headlines throughout August, Friday was a day the league office had probably coveted for months.
On Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension…
Zeke’s suspension didn’t come as a shock. We all knew there was a chance a ban was coming, and the Cowboys pretended to act like they didn’t know, a trend that’s pretty common in the league when it comes to domestic violence.
But hey, the NFL actually did something partially right this time. Zeke got six games, the heaviest domestic violence ban since I’ve launched this site. Under the new policy, it’s six games for the first incident, and a lifetime banishment for the second.
That’s the way it always should have been. We can argue all we want about whether six games is the right amount; some might say it should vary based on the incident (which, I’d hope not, because clearly the NFL can’t handle that), some might say beating women should be an automatic banishment, and then there’s the idiotic crowd of “Six games is too much!”.
This is the NFL’s first attempt at consistency, which is why a certain take that circulated on Twitter is a bad one.
When the Josh Brown and Ray Rice “suspensions” were handed down, the NFL was completely incompetent at determining what the punishment should be and how to evaluate the evidence presented to them. The Zeke suspension is like the first day of a new job for them, and, if the NFL made the correct call (which, if Zeke is appealing, it means he’s either lying or the NFL shockingly screwed up yet another investigation), then they did pretty good for their first day.
That’s why the tweet above is a false argument. Yes, it’s ridiculous that the NFL has gone so back and forth on this stuff. But Zeke’s suspension, for now, seems to be a step in the right direction.
From the football aspect, this is a huge loss for Dallas. In my preseason research, I’ve already identified Dallas as a candidate for a down season. That doesn’t mean they’ll be bad, but I’m not sure they’ll be as good as last year. Zeke’s suspension certainly doesn’t help that.
The Cowboys have nice depth behind Elliot, with Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden, but neither are the workhorse backs like Elliot is, and McFadden always has trouble staying on the field. This puts immense pressure on Dak Prescott, who I have always been a big fan of, and who I think is the one guy who can barrel through it. That said, the sophomore slump is always a concern, and even if it’s not a “slump”, it seems a tad unrealistic that Prescott can have the exact or better year that he did last year. Part of what made Prescott so good was his reliance on Zeke, so that when it was his time to pass, he was rested and ready to make a good throw. Dallas loved the play-action in 2016-2017. They used it 23.6% of the time per Pro Football Focus. Zeke’s absence hinders their ability to rely on it greatly.
The Cowboys’ defense is a mess, with multiple guys suspended for PEDs and/or drug offenses. It wasn’t great to start, but with the added absences, Dallas’ D could very well be one of the worst three in the league.
If this much goes wrong for Dallas, the division could slip out of their grasp. The NFC East is just as mediocre as it is every year, where you could see each team winning 11 games and each team finishing 8-8, yet no one winning less than seven games.
As you’ll read in upcoming weeks, I am very high on Philadelphia, and think with Zeke’s suspension that they are the best team in the division. Dallas, with everyone healthy and back on the field, should reclaim that title. But a rough start out of the gate and a surprise performance from a division foe could leave the Cowboys in bad shape.
On the Bills’ trades…
Essentially, here’s what the Bills did:
Bills get: Jordan Matthews, EJ Gains, 2nd round pick, 3rd round pick
Eagles get: Ronald Darby
Rams get: Sammy Watkins, 6th round pick
There were sides I liked to it and sides I didn’t. The value they got for Sammy Watkins was incredible. Yeah, he’s a No.1 receiver when healthy, but thats been a huge question over the years. To get a 2nd round pick for a banged up wide-out was a total steal. Swapping out Watkins for Matthews may seem like a downgrade talent wise, but Matthews is solid, and the Bills need consistency in a wide receiver corps that is pretty thin. They’re counting on big things from 2nd round pick Zay Jones and need Anquan Boldin to catch 60-or-so balls this season.
Matthews isn’t fantastic, but he’ll be a nice target, and when you factor the return on Watkins, it makes the trade pretty equal.
On the other hand, I thought the Bills gave up on Ronald Darby too early. He was awesome in his rookie year, and only struggled with injuries last season. Plus, it’s not like Rob and Rex Ryan’s defensive system helped him or anyone out.
Buffalo got good value back, but their secondary is pretty weak, and Philadelphia’s is even worse. The Bills should have been able to squeeze a little more out of Philly since Darby will contribute much more to them than he would in Buffalo.
As for St. Louis, I mean, anything to help Jared Goff I guess? Watkins is fine when healthy, but you know he’s gonna miss at least three games. The Rams receiving core isn’t the strongest either. If you’re gonna cough up a 2nd round pick, then at least make a move for someone more consistent.
The Eagles won these moves. Though acquiring the least known name, Darby means more to the Eagles than Watkins will to LA or Matthews to Buffalo. He gives the Eagles an answer to the only question on their defense.