FRISCO, Texas - If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That's a phrase you can be used often in any circumstance, but especially in football, where the NFL is driven by parity every season.
So the Cowboys were able to make a run and get into the playoffs, winning the NFC East for the third time in five seasons.
But even owner/GM Jerry Jones has made it clear, his team needs to keep improving and take its success to the next level.
So as we head into the 2019 offseason, let's look at each position on the team, and just what needs to transpire so the Cowboys can indeed, take that next step.
Today, we'll break down the linebacker position.
His Next Step?
The Cowboys landed one player in the Pro Bowl at the linebacker spot, but there could've been a case made for two? Jaylon Smith certainly had a great season, recording 150 tackles along with many big plays, including sacks and turnovers that had him in the running for Pro Bowl consideration. For Smith, that would be his next step. The production was there for the most part, but there has to be even more catalytic moments in the national prime-time games. If the Cowboys can have Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing at Pro Bowl levels, it could be scary for every offense they face.
Their Next Step?
As a unit, the Cowboys are definitely top-heavy at linebacker with both Smith and LVE leading the charge. But after that, there are plenty of questions and it starts with Sean Lee. While he still has another year on his contract, Lee is scheduled to make $7 million in 2019 in base salary. Considering his injury history and the fact he turns 33 this summer, the Cowboys will likely try to either lower his cap hit or might even consider moving on from the two-time Pro Bowler. Lee has recently hinted at wanting to come back but now the question remains at what price.
Decisions to Make?
Obviously the Lee decision is a big one for the Cowboys, but it's not the only one they need to make there. Strong side linebacker Damien Wilson is one of the team's unrestricted free agents. He finished 10th on the team in tackles with 36and he was seventh on the team in special tams tackles with six. He might be a player that gets to test the market in mid-March but that won't necessarily mean they close the door on his return. A lot of that might depend on the Cowboys' comfort level with the development of Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last season.
Getting help at linebacker doesn't seem to be a huge priority, especially in free agency. The Cowboys were able to sign Joe Thomas last year and could make some decisions regarding Damien Wilson. But if Wilson doesn't return, and regardless what happens with Lee, the Cowboys will probably always continue to covet linebackers later in the draft. Also, with Jamize Olawale and Rod Smith both free agents, the Cowboys could potentially lose both of their leading tacklers on special teams. So those late-round draft picks with linebackers could be good replacements in that regard.