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Star Evaluation: Hitchens Made More Progress, But Future at MLB Unclear

The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens in less than one month and the 2017 NFL Draft isn't far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.

For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones who will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys' 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

Today we'll continue the series with linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

What's Been Good:For the last three years, Hitchens has been one of the more consistent linebackers on the team, nearly reaching a total of 300 tackles in his career. This past year, he quietly put together another solid campaign, recording a career-high 104 tackles. Also, Hitchens played in all 16 games for the third straight season.

What's Been Bad:Despite racking up plenty of tackles and not missing a game, Hitchens hasn't really taken a huge step forward like we might have anticipated by this point in his career. He has moved positions somewhat from the outside to the middle, but there haven't been a ton of catalytic, game-changing plays. That's really the only knock on him, considering he has gotten better each year.  

2016 Highlight:Against the Vikings in early December, Hitchens had arguably his best game of his career – at least since his rookie season. But in Minnesota, he recorded 13 tackles, including one for loss, a sack and deflected a pass in the Cowboys' dramatic Thursday night win on the road.[embeddedad0]

What's Next:What's next will be a little tricky for Hitchens, who has nearly tripled his salary for this upcoming season because of the NFL's pay system that rewards mid-round draft picks in the last year of their original deals. Instead of making $690,000, he is expected to earn close to $1.9 million in base salary. His role on the team, though, is uncertain because of the status of Jaylon Smith, who continues to rehab his injury. If healthy, Smith figures to start at middle linebacker, but the Cowboys are still unsure what is timetable will be, or if he can ever fully recover from the injury that dropped him into the second round of last year's draft. Hitchens will certainly have a role on this defense, but it's still up in the air if he will move back to the strong-side linebacker position or have just a prominent role in the nickel defense and special teams. 

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