Dallas Cowboys: Carlos Rogers

IRVING, Texas – First-round picks have to be the cornerstones of NFL rosters. The majority have to be more than one-contract players. If not, it generally means they didn't live up to expectations.

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ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys, the NFL draft and much more.

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With 2008 first-rounder Mike Jenkins gone off to Oakland and Felix Jones all but gone to anywhere else but here, the Cowboys have not extended the contract of one of their first-round picks before it expired since DeMarcus Ware, one of their two first-round picks in 2005.

Through a quirk in the system, Marcus Spears (2005) was a restricted free agent in 2010 and was kept for a year, but only because the price was right and cheaper than the guys who backed him up. He ultimately re-signed after the 2011 lockout ended and was cut this offseason after the second year of the current deal. Bobby Carpenter (2006) was traded to St. Louis in the final year of his deal.

The 2007 pick, Anthony Spencer, is on the team, but his deal expired after 2011 and the Cowboys have kept him with the franchise tag the last two years. In 2012 they did it because they weren’t sure how much they loved him. They did it this offseason because they didn’t feel like they could lose him. It is possible Spencer could sign a new deal this offseason, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush on that done.

The Cowboys had six first-round picks from 2005-08 and have extended one before that player’s deal expired. How does that compare with the rest of the NFC East?

The New York Giants had three and extended one (Mathias Kiwanuka, 2006) and let two walk (Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips). Philadelphia had two and extended one (Mike Patterson, 2005), but that was in the second year of his deal and he didn’t become a dominant player. Brodrick Bunkley (2006) was traded by the Eagles before his deal was up. Washington had two and kept Carlos Rogers (2005) for a year the same way the Cowboys kept Spears, but then he signed with San Francisco in 2012. LaRon Landry (2007) walked after his rookie deal was up with the Redskins.

For the Cowboys, the next first-rounder to come due will be Dez Bryant, their top pick in 2010, whose contract is up after the 2014 season. Will Bryant cash in on a big deal before his contract expires?
The Cowboys have too many holes to fill with significant free agency investments and early draft picks. They need to aggressively address their priorities and bargain shop or count on young players to step up in the other need spots.

Fixing Cowboys
The priorities are clear: cornerback and the interior offensive line.

There is only one undoubtedly elite player just entering his prime at those positions available in free agency. That’s why Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who is expected to leave the Saints and happened to play for new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan at Nebraska, should be the Cowboys’ top target.

The best corners in free agency – Atlanta’s Brent Grimes, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan and San Francisco’s Carlos Rogers – are in their late 20s or beyond. The Cowboys are dealing with the downside of paying big money to a cornerback at that stage of his career with Terence Newman. That’s a hole they need to fill via the draft.

[+] EnlargeDre Kirkpatrick
Kelly Lambert/US PresswireAlabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick would be a perfect fit for the Cowboys, even if they have to trade up from the No. 14 spot to get him.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who made Leonard Davis one of the richest guards in NFL history only to cut him a few seasons later, has said he wants to stop the trend of paying top dollar for offensive linemen in free agency. Nicks is worth being an exception, especially given the Cowboys’ glaring need. He’s a dominant player who is only 26 years old, so the Cowboys would be purchasing his entire prime.

What would Nicks cost? Just look at what the Saints pay their other Pro Bowl guard to get an idea. Jahri Evans has a seven-year, $56.7 million deal.

That would eat up a major chunk of the estimated $17 million the Cowboys are expected to have under the salary cap after they take care of housekeeping issues such as cutting Newman. If the Cowboys re-sign receiver Laurent Robinson, it likely would mean Nicks would be the lone surefire starter they sign in free agency.

So the Cowboys better find a cornerback in the draft. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to reach for one in the first round.

It’d be ideal if Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, the kind of big, physical cornerback the Cowboys want, is available with the 14th overall pick. He’d probably be worth trading up a few spots.

But a lot of bad picks are made when teams get locked into one position in the first round. If another player is clearly the best player on the board when the Cowboys are on the clock, get that guy, even if it’s Stanford guard David DeCastro and Nicks is already signed. If that happens, the Cowboys’ interior line suddenly goes from a glaring weakness to a major strength, no matter who beats out Phil Costa for the starting center job.

There should be quality corners, such South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Virginia’s Chase Minnifield, available in the second round.

Safety, defensive end and outside linebacker are other need positions for the Cowboys. If the Cowboys find long-term solutions at those spots over the next year, it’ll probably be young players already on the roster: Barry Church, Sean Lissemore and Victor Butler, although Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw is also a first-round possibility. The Cowboys would be wise to create as much competition at those spots as possible with low-risk, short-term free agents and/or mid- or late-round draft picks.

But the Cowboys can’t afford to fail to address their two biggest needs, a process that should start with a 6-foot-5, 343-pound solution.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-49ers preview

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
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Something I learned a long time ago when I was starting out as a young scout with the Packers was that when you lost a game in the NFL, there is no one in the league that felt sorry for you. You study the tape, make the corrections, and you move on to the next week.

Scout's Eye
As hard as that loss against the Jets was to take, this team must move on. What awaits the Cowboys in Week 2 is a trip to San Francisco against a 49ers team that smothered the Seahawks on defense and then made them pay for their inability to cover on the punt and kickoff return with reserve wide receiver Ted Ginn returning one of each for a touchdown to put the game away.

The 49ers have some nice talent in some key spots, but I would not say that quarterback is one of those spots. Alex Smith was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, the same draft with Aaron Rodgers who went some 22 picks later. Rodgers has thrown for over 8,000 yards his first two years as a starter and has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit, while Smith is working with his third head coach in the last seven years.

Breaking down Smith, he stands tall in the pocket, keeping his feet active. When he feels pressure, he will slide to safety. If receivers are covered down the field, he will check the ball down to the backs underneath.

Smith did a nice job in the Seattle game of keeping his eyes down the field but running with the ball to convert third downs or put his offense in a positive position. The Cowboys have to be careful with Smith if Rob Ryan plays man coverage chasing receivers all over the field and Smith takes off running to try to make a play.

The ball comes off his hand with some velocity with an overhand throwing motion. Smith will try to look off receivers then come back the other way with the ball.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is the play caller, so he really tries to run the offense to give Smith the best opportunity to make an easy throw in the passing game. Harbaugh will move the pocket with waggles or boots giving Smith high/low reads with receivers.

In the Seattle game, Harbaugh mixed his formations throughout, lining up in one look then shifting pre-snap to try to create confusion. Harbaugh went unbalanced several plays, then ran the ball weak side with Frank Gore, which was a different wrinkle.

Along with tight end Vernon Davis, Gore is the 49ers’ best offensive player. Gore doesn’t have explosive speed, but what he does have is the ability to keep coming at you. He is a physical back.

There were times where Harbaugh was able to start Gore one way then bring him back with misdirection with a pulling tackle and a backside tight end. Gore has the vision to see the creases and holes. Again, he just isn’t a burner.

The Seahawks had some success against Gore making him stop and have to restart. Gore is one of those backs that builds up speed as he runs. The Seahawks were able to get some defenders into the backfield, causing him problems getting going again.

This will be the second week that the Cowboys defense will have to face an athletic tight end. Last week, it was the Jets’ Dustin Keller. This week, it’s Davis, who has freakish speed down the field. If I am Ryan, I do not allow him free access in the route.

Davis is similar to Jason Witten in that he is too athletic for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to deal with. Unlike Witten, Davis wants nothing to do with the run blocking side of the game. Harbaugh will line Davis up all over the formation and Smith looks for him in route first.

Last week against the Jets, Ryan took DeMarcus Ware and moved him to the left side to rush against right tackle Wayne Hunter. This week, look for Ryan to potentially have the same plan moving Ware over 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis.

Was not impressed at all with Davis’ work. He is heavier than Hunter and his feet are slower. Ware and the other rushers should be able to attack Davis to the outside then work some underneath moves as well. Look for Harbaugh to try to use that misdirection I mentioned earlier to slow Ware down in his rush.

Last week, the Cowboys did a nice job in their front seven of coordinating their linemen with linebackers and creating pressure on Mark Sanchez. Smith will likely face the same pressure from Ryan with multiple looks and pressure. Again, Harbaugh will try and give Smith easy throws and he will also try and move the pocket to keep the pressure off his quarterback as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have a nice front seven. It’s a group of players that are high effort and motor types. Ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are relentless rushers and active against the run.

The Seahawks had trouble blocking this front because they were unable to sustain blocks. If you don’t keep a hat on Smith, McDonald, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, you are going to struggle to move the ball.

The inside linebackers on the 49ers are outstanding. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are always around the football.

When the Cowboys tried to run the ball last week, they had to deal with the Jets and their run-through inside linebackers. Run-through linebackers read the play quickly, see the gaps and beat the blockers to the spot. When you face run-through linebackers, it throws off your running game because they get into the backfield and it messes with the timing of the play.

These 49ers linebackers are more active than what the Cowboys faced last week, so the zone blocking scheme of the Cowboys will be tested.

When the 49ers blitz, they like to use their inside linebackers in games with the defensive line. In the nickel, Smith and McDonald will move inside and Brooks moves from outside linebacker to rush end. In this look is where you see those blitzes.

The Cowboys will also need to be aware that the 49ers can get good pressure with just a four-man rush.

In the secondary, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the corners and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the safeties. I really liked the play of Brown more than that of Rogers. Brown is quick footed and also did a nice job of fighting for the ball in the air. Brown is a bit of a gambler and is not afraid to jump routes.

Rogers has faced the Cowboys many times in his career as a former member of the Redskins. Rogers will play in the slot when the 49ers go to the nickel. If the Cowboys can hold up against the front seven pressure of the 49ers, then they will have a chance to make some plays against this secondary that is good but not great.

Five-star answer: 49ers don't have a Revis

September, 15, 2011
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This week's question: Is this the week Miles Austin gets 100 receiving yards?

After struggling throughout the preseason with a hamstring injury, Miles Austin was outstanding last weekend against the Jets. In my book, Garrett and the staff made a mistake by not putting the football in his hands down the stretch.

Garrett and the Cowboys had the matchup they needed but didn’t take advantage of it. Dez Bryant, who was banged up both mentally and physically, was put in situation where he was asked to make plays but couldn't deliver against the Jets' best defensive player. In his condition, Bryant wasn't going to beat Revis. The more you watched him play in the second half, the more you understood this.

The bottom line was that Antonio Cromartie simply could not cover Austin. I do not see Garrett making that same mistake this week vs. the 49ers. The most difficult situation for the Cowboys is when Bryant doesn’t practice and he doesn’t get the reps. Bryant needs these reps to have a chance to be successful, because he's not at that point in his development where he can miss practice and jump right into the game plan. He needs to be drilled and he needs to be coached. Bryant should play against the 49ers, but Austin will have the offensive success.

I look for the Cowboys' offensive line to be able to protect Romo, giving him the necessary time to deliver the ball downfield. The 49ers' most talented position is at linebacker, not corner. The 49ers line up at corner with Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock at the nickel. Brown played the best last week against the Seahawks, and Rogers has gone against the Cowboys before while with the Redskins. It goes without saying, but there is no Darrelle Revis in this group and I can see Garrett taking advantage of that this week After last week's final interception, look for Romo to be even more committed to getting Austin the ball and the 49ers looking for ways to stop him.

Austin gets his 100 yards.

Scout's Eye on Washington Redskins

September, 9, 2010
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Scout's Eye
Sunday's has the makings of a difficult game for the Cowboys on several levels. It’s a division opponent, it’s on the road, and the Redskins have a new coach, which means new systems on offense and defense.

Coach Mike Shanahan has had a great deal of success in his NFL coaching career running a zone-blocking scheme with a mobile quarterback. Wade Phillips and the Cowboys staff have had to resort to other means to try and figure out what Shanahan might use in his game plan.

Dallas worked against Shanahan and the Broncos two seasons ago in practice and played a preseason game as well. The Cowboys can draw from that experience but also from the four games the Redskins played this preseason against the Bills, Ravens, Jets and Cardinals.

In studying those games, Shanahan has the offense working in that zone-blocking scheme. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams is a nice fit in this offense. He is mobile, plus he is able to play with a form of power. He shows the ability to play on his feet. You rarely see him on the ground.

A nice matchup to watch was when Williams went against Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Suggs is a pass rusher similar to what he will face with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Suggs is an explosive player off the edge. Where he was able to take advantage of Williams was down inside on the rush.

The Redskins will put tight ends in the backfield to help with protection. Cooley and Davis did help in the preseason, but it wasn’t always to Williams’ side. Look for Ware to throw a wide variety of moves at Williams early in the game to gauge where he is.

Donovan McNabb told the media Wednesday that his ankle was fine and he was ready for the start against the Cowboys. McNabb hurt the ankle in the preseason, and there was talk that he might miss the game, which you knew wasn’t going to happen. Where McNabb is good in this offense is his ability to be a deceptive ballhandler, use his feet and deliver the ball on the move.

A large part of this offense is the use of the quarterback on boots and waggles. The Redskins want to pound the ball on the stretch play, then spin the quarterback away from the flow to work the ball to Cooley or Davis on the delay or Santana Moss down the field.

What the Redskins showed in their preseason games were routes down the field. Galloway and Moss both have speed and will stretch the field on vertical routes. Moss is dangerous is when he lines up in the slot and has the opportunity to run deep or crossing routes. He puts a great deal of pressure on the defense when he is allowed to do this because he is not afraid to take his route anywhere, plus he has the speed to create separation.

Cooley causes problems because of his ability to line up anywhere in the formation and complete routes. He has consistent hands and is a dependable player on third downs, much like a Jason Witten is for the Cowboys.

If the Cowboys are going to have success on defense Sunday night, it will have to be controlling the Redskins running game and not allowing McNabb to be effective in the play-action game.

*Throughout his NFL career as a head coach, Shanahan’s teams have been of the 4-3 defensive type of scheme. In Shanahan’s return to football -- after sitting out the 2009 season -- he is now working with a 3-4 look.

When asked about the switch, Shanahan said that in the 3-4, you can cause the offense more problems.

The scheme change presents challenges for the personnel staff. Do you have enough linebackers? Who is your nose man? The Redskins had a solid 4-3 group last season but now must move players around to handle the change.

Throughout his career, Andre Carter played as a wide 9 technique, with his hand on the ground rushing the passer. Now he is moved to outside linebacker, playing over the tight end and dropping in coverage.

Linebacker London Fletcher played with two big inside players at tackle to protect him. He now only has a nose man to do that.

Where this game can be won or lost is if the Cowboys do a poor job of handling the linebackers for the Redskins. Brian Orakpo, Carter and Fletcher can all make plays.

Across the defensive front, Adam Carriker, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Kedric Golston are not dynamic players. Albert Haynesworth is the best player in this group but has struggled with his conditioning this preseason and at this time is not a starter. Haynesworth has played both nose and end in the preseason and did a much better job in the Jets game then he did in the others.

Where the Cowboys need to worry is if Haynesworth becomes motivated and decides he wants to be a dominant player.

The Redskins like to move Orakpo around in passing situations. There were times this preseason where he and Carter were rushing from the same side or Orakpo was coming from the inside linebacker spot.

In the preseason, I thought that cornerback Carlos Rogers has played better than DeAngelo Hall. Hall is a veteran player that understands how to play routes, but the physical side of the game will be a struggle.

Look for the Cowboys to try and find a way to attack safeties LaRon Landry and Kareem Moore. Landry has been a liability in coverage because of his aggressive play. Landry is a hitter but will struggle in space.

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