Dallas Cowboys: Brady Poppinga

The Dallas Cowboys were almost $20 million over the salary cap when the offseason began, but the restructuring of contracts and releasing of some players put the team in a better situation after the NFL draft.

Baylor head coach Art Briles joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what kind of player the Cowboys are getting in Terrance Williams.

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The Cowboys are a little more than $5 million under the salary cap. They will pick up an additional $2 million when the release of defensive end Marcus Spears takes effect June 1.

That means the Cowboys will have $7 million available to sign draft picks and free agents. That figure could increase if right tackle Doug Free is released (saving $7 million) or takes a pay cut (an undetermined amount of savings).

Defensive end Anthony Spencer is under contract for $10.6 million, but his cap number could be decreased if he is signed to a long-term deal.

The Cowboys want to have salary-cap space during the season in the event obtaining a veteran free agent is necessary due to injury. Last season, the Cowboys signed Charlie Peprah, Brady Poppinga, Brian Schaefering, Ernie Sims and Anthony Armstrong because of injuries.

Right now, the Cowboys are on target to have enough space to take care of draft picks and free agents before and during the season.

What's left of the Cowboys free agents

March, 3, 2013
The Cowboys have knocked off two of their 18 free agents, with the signing of center Phil Costa to a two-year deal on Saturday and deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur signing a five-year contract on Friday.

Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys' fascination with their players, what it's like to be released late in your career, why Tony Romo isn't worth elite quarterback money and Doug Free's possible move to guard.

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Here's what's left of the Cowboys' free agents and the possibility of the team signing them:

Linebacker Victor Bulter. The team could bring him back as a possible candidate to play outside linebacker. He does make plays, but isn't consistent.

Cornerback Michael Coe. A late-season pickup who most likely won't return.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman. An injury ended his season, but age, and the Cowboys' goals of using younger players at his position are more important than bringing him back.

Guard Derrick Dockery. He was a nice pickup in training camp, but the team will treat him like Coleman: find a younger player for his position.

Safety Eric Frampton. The unrestricted free agent did a nice job last season in spots and could return to add depth to the position.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins. It's doubtful he'll return. He felt disrespected by how the team treated him last season while he recovered from shoulder surgery.

Running back Felix Jones. Cowboys want durable players at this position and Jones hasn't been that.

Punter Brian Moorman. He was on the roster because of the knee injury to Chris Jones. Jones has recovered and Moorman will be elsewhere.

Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. As the season progressed he lost playing time and might be with another team in 2013.

Safety Charlie Peprah. Cowboys should bring him back to add depth to the position. A physical presence.

Tight end John Phillips. It seems Phillips never took the next step in his development. Time to find another squad.

Linebacker Brady Poppinga. Batman won't be in Dallas/Fort Worth in 2013. He didn't make enough plays.

Linebacker Ernie Sims. Was a nice pickup in 2012, but Cowboys will go younger with the depth chart at linebacker.

Linebacker/Defensive end Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys have until Monday to franchise him and it appears doubtful they'll do it. Odds of him playing for somebody else, look better by the day.

Safety Danny McCray. He's a restricted free agent, so his return to get significant special teams snaps will continue.

Defensive end Brian Schaefering. Might be worth inviting back to training camp and seeing if he can push for a roster spot.

Simpler scheme played role in move to 4-3

February, 13, 2013
IRVING, Texas – With all the injuries the Cowboys had in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, it seemed like Rob Ryan had to re-teach his scheme to a new player every week.

The Cowboys lost Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff and Orlando Scandrick, as well as Josh Brent to injured reserve or the non-football injury list, forcing the team to find street free agents like Ernie Sims, Brady Poppinga, Brian Schaefering and Charlie Peprah and poach Sterling Moore off New England’s practice squad.

It was taxing and difficult, considering the supposed complexities of Ryan’s schemes.

Part of the desire to add Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and move to the 4-3 was the supposed simplistic nature of the scheme.

“In this day and age in the NFL, with shortened offseasons, shortened training camps, injuries, all those kinds of things, it’s important to try and put offensive and defensive systems in place that allow you to deal with the schedule and absorb the injuries that very well could happen,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That was one of the philosophical advantages of playing this 4-3 defense. We think it can be a simpler defense for us, for guys to come in here and learn in this day and age, and also if you have the injuries to absorb it allows you to maybe do that a little bit better.”

Cowboys free agents: Brady Poppinga

February, 6, 2013
[+] EnlargeBrady Poppinga
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBrady Poppinga was signed after Bruce Carter was injured, but he doesn't figure into the Cowboys' future plans.

Brady Poppinga

Position: Linebacker

Type: Unrestricted

Summary: Poppinga was signed after the Cowboys lost Bruce Carter for the season to a broken elbow. He worked out for the Cowboys earlier in the season but the team chose to sign Gary Guyton, who lasted last than week. Poppinga played in four games with one start and had four tackles. He also had four tackles on special teams. He played mostly inside linebacker but also worked on the outside when the Cowboys went with a hybrid 4-3 look.

Why keep him: He has some position flexibility and can play special teams, and he would command only a one-year deal at or near the minimum. While a tad eccentric, he brings energy to the practice field.

Why let him go: With a 4-3 scheme, the Cowboys need to get faster at linebacker. Poppinga turns 34 in September.

Best guess: He was a stop-gap player because of injury in 2012 and doesn't figure in the future plans.

Follow the rest of the series here.

Indications are Rob Ryan will return

January, 1, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys appear to be a franchise with stability, given the firing of seven head coaches on Black Monday in the NFL.

During Cowboys training camp last summer, Ben of Ben & Skin made a list of eight reasons why the Cowboys would be better. Now that the season is over, how did he do?

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Coach Jason Garrett didn't want to talk about potential staff changes, but when pressed about defensive coordinator Rob Ryan he didn't sound like a man willing to hand out pink slips.

"We’re not going to get into staff conversations right now," Garrett said Monday. "I have a lot of confidence in Rob Ryan. There’s no question about that."

Ryan's defense missed five starters and two backups. His best defensive player, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, played basically with one arm in the last two games. His starting safety, Gerald Sensabaugh, played with a bad hip.

Few players are healthy late in the season, but not having at least seven main players will hurt a defense.

The Cowboys defense finished the 2012 season 19th overall, 22nd against the run and 19th against the pass.

Turnovers, an area of discussion this season at Valley Ranch, were rare. The Cowboys snagged seven interceptions, tied for the lowest in the league with Kansas City. The Cowboys also recovered nine fumbles.

Yet Ryan mixed and matched his personnel because of injuries. He moved cornerback Brandon Carr to safety in some packages. He had Mike Jenkins playing more slot corner, a spot he never worked at before. At one point in Sunday's regular-season finale against Washington, Ryan moved Brady Poppinga to outside linebacker.

Defensive end Sean Lissemore moved to nose tackle with starter Jay Ratliff (sports hernia surgery) and backup Josh Brent (suspended list) out for the season.

The secondary had numerous new faces, ranging from Eric Frampton, Michael Coe, Charlie Peprah and Sterling Moore. These players weren't with the team in training camp.

In the last two months of the season, the Cowboys signed eight defensive players to the active roster.

"I thought Rob did a really good job," Garrett said. "I stood up here a number of times and said you don’t want to talk about injuries and we’re not talking about them now but in answering your question I’m going to say that it was a real challenge for (Ryan). If you think about the number of guys we lost on defense, starting, marquee players who are just simply out, and the other guys who are battling through injuries and the challenges he had bringing guys from the practice squad up, from off the street and on our team and literally playing them two days later.

"That happened a number of different times and I thought he did a really good job managing that situation. I thought our defensive staff did a good job managing that situation, getting these guys ready to play in a shorter period of time against some competitive opponents. I thought they handled that situation well. We became more decimated as the year went on. We had to make adjustments in our schemes to try to fit to what these guys are capable of doing and it was challenging. There’s no question about it, but he never blinked. He understood what we had and tried his best to put the best guys out there that he could."

A look at the Cowboys' free agents

December, 31, 2012

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Cowboys will have 18 free agents, but the biggest decision will be with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

The Cowboys could place the franchise tag on him for a second straight year, but that will cost them $10.6 million. Spencer has played so well in 2012 that another team could be willing to overpay him to pry him away from Dallas.

The Cowboys are not in the best of salary-cap positions and will likely have to restructure a number of contracts and cut players just to reach the expected $121 million cap.

Here’s a look at the free agents to be:

Jason Hatcher returns to practice

December, 27, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher returned to practice on Thursday after he missed Wednesday's session with a thigh bruise.

Defensive lineman Robert Callaway and linebacker Brady Poppinga were also at practice after missing Wednesday because of travel issues.

Coach Jason Garrett said the discipline regarding Callaway and Poppinga missing practice will be handled internally.

The Cowboys signed a practice squad player on Thursday, defensive lineman Monte Taylor. He spent time with the Seattle Seahawks in minicamp before getting released in June. The Philadelphia Eagles picked him up a few days later. But the Eagles released Taylor on Aug. 31.

The Cowboys practiced outside, after moving practice to Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday because the fields were covered with ice. In the cold temperatures, wide receiver Dez Bryant and Taylor practiced without long sleeves.

Practice report: DeMarcus Ware sits, but better

December, 26, 2012
IRVING, Texas – DeMarcus Ware did not practice Wednesday because of elbow and shoulder injuries, but the Cowboys outside linebacker reiterated he will play Sunday at Washington in the NFC East title game.

“I’m going regardless,” said Ware, who did go through the walkthrough at Cowboys Stadium.

Ware said he will not wear a harness for his right shoulder, nor will he take a painkilling injection. He is wearing a brace to help his hyperextended right elbow. He missed most of the second half last week against New Orleans but returned for a play in overtime.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher also missed Wednesday’s practice because of a thigh bruise, as did Ware’s backup, Victor Butler, who has a groin injury.

For the first time in three weeks running back DeMarco Murray was able to take part in a Wednesday practice, going through a full session with his sprained foot. Wide receiver Dez Bryant (finger), running back Felix Jones (knee) and linebacker Ernie Sims (concussion) were also full participants.

Linebacker Alex Albright was limited with a knee injury he suffered in the first half of the loss to the Saints.

Linebacker Brady Poppinga and nose tackle Robert Callaway missed practice for non-injury reasons. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff will miss his third straight game following sports hernia surgery.

Two Cowboys subject to fines for missing practice

December, 26, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Cowboys linebacker Brady Poppinga and defensive lineman Robert Callaway were not at Wednesday’s practice because the Christmas snowstorm cancelled flights into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Tuesday night.

“I accept any responsibility,” Poppinga said. “Stand by your actions, right?”

Players were off on Monday and Tuesday after the overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday and were to report to Valley Ranch early Wednesday morning. Poppinga said he contacted team officials Tuesday to let them know what was happening. Callaway was not available for comment on Wednesday.

Per rules in the collective bargaining agreement, players are subject to a fine of slightly less than $10,000 for missing a mandatory practice.

Poppinga was unaware Wednesday’s practice was at Cowboys Stadium after flying in Wednesday morning from Los Angeles.

“I just landed and got here as fast as I could,” said Poppinga. “I got myself a nice workout in. If I knew they were at the stadium, I would’ve headed over there.”

On the practice report, Poppinga and Callaway are listed as having missed the workout for non-injury reasons.

Jason Hatcher misses practice

December, 26, 2012
ESPNDallas' Todd Archer reports from Arlington that defensive end Jason Hatcher missed Wednesday's practice with a thigh bruise.

Also, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware attended practice, but didn't have a helmet.

Defensive lineman Rob Callaway and linebacker Brady Poppinga also missed practice for an undetermined reason.

Safety Matt Johnson, who is eligible to come off the reserve/injured list on Friday, was running off to the side. Johnson has been nursing hamstring injuries.

The Cowboys held practice at Cowboys Stadium because their practice fields were not thawed out from the snowy Christmas Day in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

In case you wondered, Cowboys Stadium's roof and doors were closed during practice.

Cowboys thin at inside linebacker

December, 23, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys are dangerously thin at inside linebacker with Ernie Sims suffering from dizziness and Alex Albright spraining his right knee in the first half against New Orleans.

Sims suffered a concussion last week against Pittsburgh but was able to practice on Thursday and Friday. He was questionable for today’s game but started. He came out in the first quarter.

Sims’ replacement, Alex Albright, was hurt covering a kickoff with 5:35 left in the second quarter. He was replaced by Brady Poppinga, who signed with the Cowboys on Nov. 26.

Sims is questionable return. The team made the announcement that Albright "might" return.

Pondering the 46: Heavy with defensive backs

December, 21, 2012
IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys can attest, injuries play a large part when pondering the 46-man gameday roster. So does the opponent.

With New Orleans bringing the second-ranked pass offense in the NFL, the Cowboys will likely have to counter by having all nine defensive backs available with Morris Claiborne returning from a one-week absence due to a concussion.

Five inactives appear to be a lock: Jay Ratliff, David Arkin, Darrion Weems, Kevin Kowalski and Phillip Tanner.

Who are the final two?

Last week against Pittsburgh the Cowboys dressed all six wide receivers, but that might be a luxury they cannot afford this week. To me, that puts the final couple spots down to the defensive line, wide receiver and linebacker.

I’d rather see Brian Schaefering over Robert Callaway along the defensive line. Linebacker could be a question, so if they go there that final spot comes down to Brady Poppinga and Kyle Wilber. Since Poppinga started last week and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan used more of a 4-3 look vs. Pittsburgh, he gets the edge. At wide receiver, Anthony Armstrong was active last week but didn’t play an offensive snap, so he’s inactive this week in my book.

Jason Hatcher: Who are these guys?

December, 19, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Since the regular season started, the Cowboys have made 58 roster moves. Twenty of them have come in the first 19 days of December.

On Wednesday they officially welcomed defensive linemen Ike Igbinosun to the practice squad.

Jason Hatcher, a Cowboy since 2006, looks around the locker room and is not sure who’s who anymore.

“Those guys man like I said I don’t know half of them but they’re playing their butt off right now,” Hatcher said. “I’m learning their names, but they doing a great job coming off the street doing what they do.”

The defense has seen the addition of Brady Poppinga, Sterling Moore, Michael Coe and Brian Schaefering since Nov. 26 and all four have made contributions.

“I learned I think Coe’s name today,” Hatcher said. “That’s probably one. Sterling No. 30, I learned his name today. There’s a few more I’ve got to learn by they’ve been balling.”

Wait, Moore has been here three weeks and you’re just learning his name?

“Really?” Hatcher said. “Shoot, I didn’t know that one. I feel bad. My bad, Sterling.”

UPDATE: Ernie Sims out for game

December, 16, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims is out for the rest of Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh because of a concussion.

Sims was hurt on a first-quarter kickoff that resulted in a touchback after the Cowboys took a 3-0 lead. He went through a sideline concussion test before heading to the locker room.

With Sims out the Cowboys have Dan Connor and Alex Albright to play in the base defense. Brady Poppinga started the game with the Cowboys opening in a 4-3 look.

Pondering the 46: Opponent could make a difference

December, 14, 2012
IRVING, Texas – With so many new faces in new places, configuring the Cowboys’ 46-man roster for Sunday against Pittsburgh could be a challenge.

Injuries play a big part in setting the roster, so even though DeMarcus Ware said he will play with a hyperextended elbow against the Steelers, the Cowboys have to prepare for the possibility Ware won’t be able to finish the game. Does that mean they dress all eight linebackers?

Injuries in the secondary have the Cowboys shorthanded too. Can they dress all nine of them?

While the Cowboys might want to get a look at wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, can they get all six wide receivers active? How about all five running backs?

Facing a physical team, the Cowboys could want to dress all seven defensive linemen, including newcomer Brian Schaefering. Most likely they will go with six with Schaefering and Robert Callaway taking the last two spots with Jay Ratliff off.

The Cowboys’ final decision has to come down at wide receiver, running back and linebacker. Is Phillip Tanner active? Can they go with four receivers, especially with Dez Bryant playing with a broken finger? What role can Brady Poppinga serve?

The inactive guesses: David Arkin, Darrion Weems, Kevin Kowalski, Ratliff, Poppinga, Beasley, Michael Coe