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The Dallas Cowboys do not play a game that matters again until September, but coach Jason Garrett’s proximity to the hot seat is already being discussed.

That’s what happens when you miss the playoffs for the fifth time in seven full seasons as coach, with the Cowboys finishing 9-7 in 2017.

At the Senior Bowl this week, owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked if it was fair to consider Garrett on the hot seat in 2018.

“It’s fair for you to ask,” Jones told reporters in Mobile, Alabama, “but he’s not on my hot seat.”

Well, what else would you expect Jones to say in January? He would not answer that question in any other way. Jones backed Wade Phillips publicly until the end in 2010 when it was painfully obvious the players were no longer buying what he was selling.

“I would like for Jason to repeat as coach of the year within 24 months,” Jones said. “And he’s capable of doing that if we do good next year, be coach of the year twice in 24 months. That would be great.”

Garrett was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year after the Cowboys’ 13-3 finish in 2016. He took a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, in the preseason, handed the keys to a fourth-round pick, Dak Prescott, and built the offense around a rookie running back, Ezekiel Elliott, to finish with an NFC-best 13 wins.

He didn’t have the answers in 2017 with Elliott’s suspension and injuries to offensive tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee derailing their season. By the end of the season, the passing game was unrecognizable even after Elliott’s return from suspension.

While disappointed in missing out on the playoffs, Jones never gave serious consideration to dismissing Garrett. But there have been changes to Garrett’s coaching staff. Wade Wilson (quarterbacks) and Joe Baker (secondary) were fired. Receivers coach Derek Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri and will be replaced by Sanjay Lal. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was allowed to leave for the same job on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack was fired and replaced by Paul Alexander. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is expected to join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis and was replaced as passing game coordinator by Kris Richard, who spent the previous three seasons as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

More spots need to be filled, which is why Garrett was not at the Senior Bowl this week.

The coaches who remain and new coaches spent the week going over the Cowboys’ personnel, reviewing the 2017 season and what needs to be done to improve. Attending the Senior Bowl can be beneficial to coaches as they get a first look at prospects, but the truth is the week often turns into a high school reunion of sorts where coaches spend time catching up with buddies instead of paying attention to what’s happening on the field.

“I’m really excited about the changes we’ve made on the coaching staff,” Jones said. “There have been many. Probably by the time we’re through there would’ve been eight coaching changes. And so I think all of those give us a chance to improve, and we really are pleased with the availability of the coaches we’ve got and so I think that will help us. It was all done with the personnel we have and the moves we might have in mind.”

Garrett faced a more pressure-filled future in 2014. He was coming off three straight 8-8 finishes and was in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys went 12-4 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs largely on Romo’s best season and DeMarco Murray’s 1,845 yards rushing.

That earned Garrett a five-year deal. This will be the fourth year of that contract.

“Jason has had a lot of success here,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “At times when we have had an offseason there’s been some extenuating circumstances and I just think Jason is a great head football coach. He was coach of the year last year. This is a tough business now, when one year you’re coach of the year and the next people are asking questions like this. I understand it. I understand that’s the nature of our business, but we just really believe Jason is the right man for the job.

“He has a great way about the team. He represents the organization in a great way and we just feel like he’s the right guy for our organization.”

But make no mistake — he will be on the hot seat even if Jerry Jones doesn’t want to say it right now.

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Dallas Cowboys coaches — those who remain, anyway — are set to return from vacation next week, and at some point they will head to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.

At the moment, the Cowboys need a tight ends coach, a linebackers coach, a secondary coach, a special-teams coordinator, a wide receivers coach and a quarterbacks coach. The front office and head coach Jason Garrett might already know who will fill some of those roles and just aren’t saying.

So let’s lay out what has happened to the staff since the season ended, and what might happen next:

WHO’S OUT?

Special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia — Despite being under contract and putting together a good unit the past few seasons, he was allowed to leave by the front office and join Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. Bisaccia is respected across the league and desires to be a head coach one day. Getting back together with Gruden could help him.

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus — He is expected to be Josh McDaniels’ defensive coordinator wherever the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator lands a head-coaching job (Indianapolis Colts, cough, cough). He was elevated to passing-game coordinator in 2017 and was a key part of the coverage schemes the Cowboys used. He devised their dime package a couple of years ago. He bet on himself last year, choosing not to sign an extension with the Cowboys in hopes of becoming a coordinator in 2018.

Wide receivers coach Derek Dooley — He would have been back with the Cowboys in 2018 but was able to land the offensive coordinator job at Missouri. This move allows him the chance to get back on track to being a head coach one day.

Offensive line coach Frank Pollack — With Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on his unit, his job did not appear to be on the line after the 2017 season ended. But a change was made, anyway, even though he remained under contract. He ended up as the line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson — The longest-tenured assistant under Garrett (2007-17), he was Dak Prescott’s first backer on the staff prior to the 2016 draft. His contract expired, and he was told he would not return.

Secondary coach Joe Baker — He was told his contract would not be renewed. While he incorporated almost an entirely new secondary in 2017, the fact that the players the Cowboys let walk in free agency — such as Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne — played better elsewhere did not help his cause.

Tight ends coach Steve Loney — He chose to retire after one season in his position, ending a coaching career that began in 1974.

WHO’S IN?

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander — He spent 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach and was able to put together some solid running game and pass protection schemes. He inherits what will be the best group he has coached and will be in charge of improving the pass protection while keeping the run game top notch. Over the years, he has changed his blocking scheme depending on the talent he has had.

Running backs coach Gary Brown — Sources say he is expected to return for his sixth season. He had interest from the Raiders and Houston Texans. He has had success with DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott since joining the Cowboys. He has also developed Keith Smith from a linebacker to a fullback and Rod Smith as an effective third-down back.

Sanjay Lal — A source said Lal will be the receivers coach after interviewing for the position last week. Miles Austin also interviewed for the spot and could be considered for another role on the staff, but Lal’s experience gave him the edge. The key question for the Cowboys and whoever coaches the receivers will be Dez Bryant’s future with the team.

WHO COULD BE IN?

Kellen Moore — After spending most of last season on the practice squad, he has interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job, and his close ties to Scott Linehan help his case. He has always been viewed as a coach-in-waiting. Considering that Linehan effectively runs the quarterback room as coordinator, it will allow Moore a chance to grow as a coach.

Keith O’Quinn — He has served as Bisaccia’s assistant since 2014. He has experience in coaching on both sides of the ball and comes from a scouting background. Considering how a special-teams unit is put together, the coach has to have an understanding of every level. The special-teams coordinator also has to work closely with Garrett. O’Quinn’s experience on the staff helps.

John Pagano — He is scheduled to meet with the club over the next few days. He ended last season as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, taking over for Ken Norton Jr. He has been an NFL assistant since 1996 and has extensive work as a linebackers coach, which is a sign the Cowboys are preparing for life without Eberflus. Pagano has experience in 4-3 and 3-4 systems and could be a solid resource for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Ray Horton — He won a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992 as a defensive back and was considered for Garrett’s staff back in 2011. He was out of football last season after serving as Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2016. While the Cowboys would like Greg Jackson to return to help the secondary, Horton has a lot of experience.

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If the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen want to know about their new coach, Paul Alexander, they would be wise to study Willie Anderson.

They will see a lot of Anderson whenever they get around Alexander. Anderson has not played since 2008, but he is still a fixture on the tape Alexander shows his linemen each year.

In 1996, Anderson was the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, the 10th overall selection. He was named a Pro Bowler four times. He was an All-Pro pick three times. He started every game he played from 1997-2006. If not for Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer, he would be the best offensive tackle in Bengals history.

“Great coaches learn that teachers teach,” Anderson said. “A teacher should never say, ‘I teach math.’ You should say, ‘I teach John math. I teach the student.’ That’s an important of teaching. Don’t say, ‘This is my scheme and we do this.’”

In 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach, Alexander adapted. Anderson said he changed based on the personnel he had. He is not just a power-blocking line coach. He is not just a zone-blocking coach. He teaches it all, according to Anderson.

The Cowboys have had success with a zone-blocking scheme since Bill Callahan came in as line coach and continued with Frank Pollack, whom Alexander will replace, the last three seasons. The Cowboys have not had a running game ranked outside the top 10 over the last four seasons. But in truth, the Cowboys ran all sorts of run plays.

“It’s a mix,” Anderson said. “Every O-line coach in football, that’s the biggest misconception. If you’re a line coach, you’re teaching everything. We run power. We run zone. It’s all the same stuff. It’s about how that individual guy can get it taught to those five guys on the line.”

Through the years, the Bengals running game had success. From 2000-02, Corey Dillon had at least 1,300 yards rushing each season and 24 rushing touchdowns. From 2003-06, Rudi Johnson had at least 1,300 yards rushing each season and 36 rushing touchdowns. From 2009-11, Cedric Benson had three straight 1,000-yard seasons and 19 rushing touchdowns. In 2012, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a 1,000-yard season. In 2014, Jeremy Hill had 1,124 yards rushing and in 2015 he had 11 rushing touchdowns.

“Corey Dillon was the best at what we called 16 and 17 Chase,” Anderson said. “He would chase my inside leg however I took the guy and he felt the inside guard, but you have to have the players to do that. Corey was a great zone runner because he was great at cutting back, great vision. He can press the line and at the last second allow for the blocker to set up the block. Why did Terrell Davis run for 2,000 yards running nothing but zone? Denver was the smallest line. They’d run zone and cut the back side. That’s all they did. So Corey loved Chase but at the end [of his time with the Bengals] he wanted to run straight ahead. That’s because our line changed. We didn’t have the guys that could get movement, so he felt like he could get more yards just running straight ahead. With Rudi, he ran the power game. He ran the counter game. He ran zone.”

Alexander had top talents like Anderson, Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth. He also helped Kevin Zeitler earn the biggest contract for a guard in free agency last year when Zeitler joined the Browns.

With the Cowboys, Alexander inherits three Pro Bowlers in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. He has a young right tackle in La’el Collins. The left guard and backup tackle spots are in flux, but he has a group that is the envy of just about every team in the league. He will also have Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and finished 17 yards short of 1,000 in 2017 despite missing six games because of a suspension.

“It’s all about players you have and what you’re good at and what you’re back is great at,” Anderson said. “Zeke can do a plethora of things. … Paul’s going to assess Zeke, assess the offensive line and they’re going to put scheme together that’s best for them.”

Anderson, who runs a linemen academy for professional, college and high school players as clients, hopes to come down in the spring and work with Alexander, like he had done in Cincinnati, to help. He knows of the Cowboys’ linemen but doesn’t know them personally. But he knows how good they can be, which he sees as good as the group of the 1990s that won Super Bowls right before he entered the league.

“You take Zeke and Dak Prescott, their rookie year and that line was hailed up there with the Cowboys’ from the 1990s,” Anderson said. “Those guys were dominant. That group brought a lot of attention. As an O-line, we want attention. We want people to see how important that group is to show everybody why they were successful as a team. That’s what these guys have. Now you move Collins out to right tackle, I think he’s still learning but he’ll be better in his second year at the position. You have a dominant center and guard that can get overlooked because of how dominant Tyron is. But that’s a real good group of guys. I know Paul is ecstatic to get his hands on to them.”

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all of his years as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones had not made a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals until last September when the team acquired cornerback Bene Benwikere.

In effect, the Cowboys have made their second trade with the Bengals, swapping offensive line coaches.

According to a source, the Cowboys have hired Paul Alexander, who had been with the Bengals for 23 years, to replace Frank Pollack, who took Alexander’s job with the Bengals.

Alexander has a multi-faceted background as the Bengals’ line coach since 1995. While Pollack came from the Bill Callahan school of zone blocking, Alexander uses a combination of zone, power and trap schemes.

Since 2014, the Cowboys have not had a running game rank outside the top 10. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014. Darren McFadden finished fourth in 2015 even though he did not become the lead back until the sixth game of the season. Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016.

Elliott nearly became the first Cowboys runner to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons top open a career since Tony Dorsett in 1977-78, finishing 17 yards short despite playing in just 10 games because of a suspension.

The strength of the Cowboys’ roster is their offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Smith has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the last five years. Frederick and Martin have been named the last four seasons.

La’el Collins moved from left guard to right tackle in 2017 and improved as the year went on. The two questions the Cowboys have are at left guard, where 13-game starter Jonathan Cooper is set to become a free agent, and at backup offensive tackle, where things fell apart in Smith’s absence from three-plus games due to injury.

The Bengals did not have success in 2017, finishing ranked last in yards offensively and 31st in rushing. Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times after getting sacked 41 times in 2016.

But Alexander will undoubtedly have the most talented group of linemen he has had in his career in Dallas. He oversaw the development of Willie Anderson, a first-round pick in 1997, who became a five-time Pro Bowler. He also saw Andrew Whitworth become a Pro Bowl left tackle. Kevin Zeitler left the Bengals after the 2016 season for the richest free-agent deal ever given to a guard. Martin should top that figure this offseason or next.

The Cowboys felt they needed to move on from Pollack even though the rushing numbers in the six games without Elliott were still good enough to rank in the top 10. Pass protection was an issue. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times, including 22 times in the final eight games of the season. The passing game took a major hit with Prescott not throwing for at least 200 yards in eight games.

Even with Smith on the field, there was a belief among some in the building that the pass protection was the biggest reason for the slide of the pass-game numbers, especially in the second half.

The Cowboys don’t need to overhaul their running game. However, they can add to the scheme with the addition of Alexander. Where Alexander needs to have the biggest impact is protecting Prescott.

The Cowboys believe if they can do that, they won’t be far off from playing in games like this weekend’s.

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Offensive line coach Frank Pollack will not be back with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, as he joined the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday.

It is the sixth change on Jason Garrett’s staff since the season ended and perhaps the most significant, because of the resources the Cowboys have put in their offensive line and their desire to be a run-first team.

Paul Alexander, who spent more than 20 years with the Cincinnati Bengals, is interviewing with the Cowboys as Pollack’s replacement, according to a source. A source said Tom Cable, who was fired by the Seattle Seahawks and was a college teammate of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, is also a candidate.

Assistant offensive line coach Marc Colombo, who played for the Cowboys from 2005-10, will also be in the mix.

Pollack took over for Bill Callahan after the 2014 season. Dallas was in the top 10 in rushing — including second in both 2016 and 2017 — in each of Pollack’s three seasons as the line coach.

During Pollack’s tenure, left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin made the Pro Bowl each season and all three were first-team All-Pro picks in 2016. Pollack also oversaw the move of La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle in 2017.

Pass protection, however, was an issue in 2017. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times after he was sacked 25 times as a rookie. The Cowboys missed Smith for three full games and all but three snaps of a fourth. In the first game Smith missed, Prescott was sacked eight times by the Atlanta Falcons, with backup tackles Chaz Green and Byron Bell giving up six sacks. Without Smith on the field, Prescott threw one touchdown pass. The protection was better with Smith on the field, but Prescott’s yard per attempt dropped from 8 to 6.8 in 2017.

Pollack joined the Cowboys in 2013 as Callahan’s assistant offensive line coach. When Callahan left for the Washington Redskins, Garrett promoted Pollack, who is a stickler for details and technique.

Pollack joins special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, wide receivers coach Derek Dooley, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, secondary coach Joe Baker and tight ends coach Steve Loney as coaches not returning. Bisaccia was named the special-teams coach with the Oakland Raiders, and Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri. Loney is retiring, and Wilson and Baker had expiring contracts.

Running backs coach Gary Brown, whose contract ran out, also reportedly interviewed with the Raiders and has drawn interest from at least one more team. The Cowboys, however, want to keep Brown. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and secondary coach Greg Jackson also have expiring contracts.

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Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is recovering from right elbow surgery that will keep him out of the upcoming Pro Bowl but not from the start of the offseason program.

The surgery was a considered a cleanup and nothing too serious. Martin did not miss a game in 2017 and has not missed a game in his career.

The Cowboys hope to pick up talks on a long-term deal for Martin, who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons, early in the offseason. He is set to make $9.3 million in 2018 under the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but the Cowboys would like to lock him up to a deal that takes him well into the future. Martin has also expressed a desire to remain with the Cowboys.

Left tackle Tyron Smith is also expected to miss the Pro Bowl after he ended the season on injured reserve. He was slowed by back, hip and groin injuries but was placed on injured reserve the final week of the season because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee suffered against the Oakland Raiders.

At the end of the season, coach Jason Garrett said the hope is Smith could avoid surgery. Smith missed three games and most of a fourth because of injuries after missing two games in 2016.

“He has had some different things over the last couple of years that he’s dealt with,” Garrett said the day after the season ended. “We don’t necessarily see it as a trend. He’s still a young player. He’s played a lot of snaps, but physically he seems to be in good shape beyond the specific injuries that he’s had.”

Without Martin and Smith, center Travis Frederick would be the lone Cowboys’ representative on the offensive line at the Pro Bowl. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks, was also picked for the all-star game.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins had left foot surgery to help fix an issue that bothered him from the sixth game of the season on. Collins did not miss a game and moved to defensive tackle when the Cowboys put Stephen Paea on injured reserve. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and 22 tackles.

Collins had similar surgery on his right foot prior to his rookie season and was limited into training camp, but he managed to start 14 of 16 games and finish with five sacks. The Cowboys do not expect him to have any issues recovering from this surgery.

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The changes Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have alluded to since the Dallas Cowboys’ season ended have started.

According to multiple sources, special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia will be allowed to leave despite being under contract with the Cowboys for two more seasons, and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and secondary coach Joe Baker, whose contracts were set to expire, were told they will not be back with the team.

Bisaccia will most likely to join Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders.

The future of offensive line coach Frank Pollack is also in question, despite having three Pro Bowl players — Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin — in place since 2014. Pollack took over as line coach in 2015; during his tenure the Cowboys have finished ninth, second and second in the NFL in rushing.

Pass protection, however, was an issue in 2017, especially with Smith missing three full games and most of a fourth because of injuries. The Cowboys allowed 32 sacks; 22 came in the final eight games, including eight against Atlanta without Smith. Dak Prescott threw just one touchdown pass in the games in which Smith did not play.

Bisaccia had been the Cowboys’ assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator since 2013. While the return games have not produced much, the Cowboys’ coverage teams have been among the best in the NFL. The Cowboys allowed just 75 punt return yards this season, the fewest in the league. Before a late-season slide, Dan Bailey had been the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and punter Chris Jones had his best season.

The Cowboys had made a commitment to adding or keeping key special-teams contributors over the years.

Wilson had been the quarterbacks coach since 2007. He helped the development of Tony Romo and Prescott, who earned Pro Bowl honors, but the Cowboys drafted just two quarterbacks during Wilson’s tenure: Stephen McGee in 2009 and Prescott in 2016. Both were fourth-round picks.

Baker, a college teammate of Garrett’s, was promoted to secondary coach in 2016 after spending four seasons as an assistant secondary or safeties coach. The Cowboys have not had a secondary member lead the team with more than three interceptions since Terence Newman had four in 2011. The Cowboys selected four defensive backs — Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Marquez White — in last year’s draft after opting to let veterans Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox leave in free agency.

Carr, Church and Claiborne were much more productive with their new teams than they had been with the Cowboys in their final seasons.

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Last offseason the stated goal of Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was to sign All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to a contract extension, but that never came about.As the Cowboys look to an offseason that starts the day after Sunday’s finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, the priority remains to sign Martin to a long-term deal. A source said the discussions should happen a lot sooner than last year when they did not happen much until training camp.

The Cowboys and Martin’s agents, Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser, held talks last offseason and into training camp but the discussions never really progressed very far. When the season started Martin wanted the negotiations to end so he could focus on the field.

“I think we had good talks,” Martin said. “It was just at the time, I didn’t want it to linger during the season and think about it. Kind of held it and played this year so hopefully we can talk and get something done here this offseason.”

The Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick to long-term extensions prior to the start of their fourth seasons. The Cowboys have the fifth-year option on Martin for 2018, which is worth $9.3 million. With DeMarcus Lawrence looking at the franchise tag and the team wanting to retain other free agents, signing Martin could be an important part of the offseason to create some salary-cap flexibility.

Martin’s deal should surpass the five-year, $60 million deal Kevin Zeitler signed with the Cleveland Browns last offseason as a free agent that included $31.5 million in guarantees. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in four seasons last week and has never missed a game.

Despite the lack of success this season, Martin has no desire to play anywhere else.

“I was lucky enough to be drafted here and I want to be here for my career,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can get something worked out.”

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Despite a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith will play against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Smith went through his normal pregame stretching routine with strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik and was pronounced fit to play. He is wearing a wrap on his knee and normally wears a brace as well. He went through one limited practice during the week and was listed as questionable.

Smith suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of last week’s victory over the Oakland Raiders. Protecting themselves against Smith not being able to play a full game, the Cowboys will have backup tackles Byron Bell and Chaz Green both active.

Bell took the first-team snaps in practice during the week.

Smith had been slowed by back, hip and groin injuries this season before injuring his knee and missing two games. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his career earlier this week.

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If you’re wondering about the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff scenarios, take a break. It’s time for Five Wonders:

Away we go:

  • Ezekiel Elliott will be back from suspension on Dec. 18 for the beginning of the prep work for the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve. In the first 23 games he has played, Elliott has gotten almost all of the meaningful carries. He played 464 of the 547 offensive snaps in the first eight games of the season. When he returns, I wonder if the Cowboys will go back to giving him almost all of the meaningful carries or if they will give Alfred Morris some work in the run game and Rod Smith some work in the pass game. Of the two, Morris’ time is likely more in jeopardy. The Cowboys will have to see what kind of conditioning Elliott is in when he comes back, but Smith has been useful in the passing game beyond his 81-yard touchdown catch against the New York Giants. It might be smart to work Elliott back up to speed.
  • I’m on record as saying the Cowboys need to keep linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who is set to be a free agent. I wonder why the Cowboys aren’t talking to him about a new deal now. The word I’ve gotten is that there haven’t been any discussions. Considering Sean Lee’s injury status and Jaylon Smith’s continuing return from a serious knee injury, keeping Hitchens around makes sense and not just for insurance. Hitchens is a good player; better than people want to realize. If he goes, then the Cowboys have to add a linebacker somehow, either in free agency or the draft. Why not keep one of your own? Here’s a mini-wonder inside a wonder: I wonder if teams will place a higher value on Hitchens than the Cowboys and make him an offer he can’t refuse if he gets to the open market.
  • Speaking of keeping potential free agents, I wonder if the Cowboys will make a push to keep left guard Jaylon Smith. The former No. 7 overall pick struggled to find a footing with the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, but he has done well enough for the Cowboys to consider keeping him in 2018. Cooper is better served — as are all left guards — when Tyron Smith plays, but the Cowboys value continuity up front. They can keep him with a short-term deal, draft a potential starter in the spring and keep the group together for another year.
    • Brice Butler was inactive against the Giants in part because of a foot injury. He was limited throughout the week in practice leading up to the game. I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to keep Butler inactive even if his foot improves. He is a free agent after the season and his chances of returning don’t seem great. The Cowboys want to see what rookie Noah Brown can do, and he is better in the running game. Butler has made some big plays this season, mostly on broken plays. I think he is a solid player and can help an offense but as presently constituted, he just doesn’t seem like the best of fits right now. He played in fewer than 20 snaps in each of the last three games he has played.
    • The Cowboys and Giants have met in Week 1 in five of the last six seasons in part because it is a guaranteed ratings’ draw to open the season. While that will still be true in 2018, I wonder if the NFC East rivals are done meeting in Week 1. What point would it serve? At 2-11, the Giants are about to have a top-three pick, a new coach, a new general manager and probably a new quarterback. The season-opening meeting is something of a tradition but it’s one that needs to end.