Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones met Tuesday at the club’s Valley Ranch training complex to discuss the receiver’s contract situation, two sources said.

Bryant
Bryant
The two also spoke briefly in the locker room after Saturday’s preseason game about the prospect of getting a deal done before the start of the regular season on Sept. 7. Bryant has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to discuss a new contract once the season begins.

"Gotta respect it," said Cowboys vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones. "He’s half of the deal. You’ve got to have him to have the deal. Obviously, we respect [the deadline]. He wants to concentrate on the season. If we don’t get it done before the season starts, we’ll get it done after the season, if that’s when he wants to do it. We’re not going to be worried about it one way or the other."

Bryant and the Cowboys have been discussing a long-term deal for several months, but have been unable to reach an agreement.

Bryant, who caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns, considers himself a top-5 NFL receiver and wants to be paid like one. Those players earn about $12 million per season. The Cowboys view him more as a top-10 receiver and would like to pay him in the $8-10 million range.

They have often compared him to DeSean Jackson, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal with Washington in the offseason.

The sources said Bryant and Jones had an amicable meeting Tuesday in which Jones reiterated to Bryant how much he wants him to be with the Cowboys long-term.

"We’re working hard," Stephen Jones said. "Oh, I’m optimistic that eventually we get something done. Obviously, we think the world of Dez, and that’s what we want and he wants that, so just got to work hard at it."

After the Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith to an eight-year, $98 million contract extension during training camp, the NFLPA reportedly looked into the negotiations because the Cowboys circumvented Smith’s agent and persuaded Smith to agree to a deal that would keep him tied to the Cowboys until the 2023 season.

Right now, one source said the biggest impediment to getting a deal done is the amount of guaranteed money.

If the sides don’t reach an agreement, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on him and pay Bryant $12.3 million next season.

-- Tim MacMahon contributed to this report
IRVING, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys:

1. If you choose to be positive, there are some scenarios where the Cowboys’ defensive line could be solid instead of a disaster.

Spencer
Melton
It all starts with defensive tackles Henry Melton (knee, groin) and Terrell McClain (ankle) and defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) getting healthy. Spencer and Melton can be good players and McClain can be solid.

Add defensive ends George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey to the mix, along with rookie DeMarcus Lawrence after he returns from his broken foot, and the Cowboys would be pretty happy with that rotation.

It will require considerable good fortune to get Spencer and Melton each playing at a high level early this season, but if it happened, the Cowboys would have a pretty good defensive line rotation without much drop off between the starters and backups.

2. The cornerback situation the first month of the season will be dire.

Morris Claiborne had a strong start to training camp, but he hasn’t been able to sustain it. Knee and shoulder injuries have limited him since the first week of practice.

The Cowboys are trying to get him ready for the first game against San Francisco, but we have no idea how long his body will hold up. They can’t trust him to be healthy enough to play, which is a concern since Orlando Scandrick will miss the first month of the season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Heading into the opener, Brandon Carr is the only proven cornerback on the roster the Cowboys know will be ready for the opener. That's scary.

3. Receiver Jamar Newsome had a nice game against Baltimore, as did fifth-round pick Devin Street.

Tim Benford has been on the practice squad each of the last two years, Chris Boyd has good size and potential and LaRon Byrd has been a good special-teams player in the past.

Street, a fifth-round pick, will make the team, but it’s going to be tough for any of the other receivers to make it. The Cowboys will probably keep five receivers: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Street. One of the other guys will have to be a beast on special teams to make the roster.

Key number: 20

The Cowboys had only 20 drives of 10 plays or more last season. Only Miami and the New York Giants had fewer. It was the result of the Cowboys' struggles on third down, which prevented them from sustaining drives, and their inconsistent running game. Too many times the Cowboys were in third-and-long situations that didn’t put them in position to convert.

They must do better this season to protect their defense and keep them off the field.

Player to Watch: Tyler Clutts

Jason Garrett has talked all training camp about establishing a physical presence and how much a true fullback will help the Cowboys do that.

Clutts has been doing a good job working with DeMarco Murray and taking advantage of his limited opportunities, but to win the job he must prove himself more valuable to the offense than the third receiver or second tight end.

He needs to be a core player on special teams, and he needs to be a difference-maker on the 12 to 15 crucial goal-line and short-yardage plays the Cowboys will have this season.

Romo preseason debut is success

August, 16, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- You wanted to see Tony Romo move around Saturday night in his preseason debut against the Baltimore Ravens.

You wanted to see him get jostled, and you wanted to see him throw the deep ball. And deep down, you probably wanted to see him lead the first-team offense on a scoring drive too.

He did all of that in just 14 plays and emerged unscathed.

So the evening must be considered a rousing success, despite Baltimore's 37-30 win at AT&T Stadium.

This season is all about the Dallas Cowboys' offense because we know the defense is going to stink. For the Cowboys to end their string of three consecutive 8-8 seasons, Romo must stay healthy and the offense must be prolific.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo's 4-for-5 night and long TD pass suggest the 34-year-old QB will be ready for Week 1.
Obviously, we won't know whether Romo's back is going to hold up until the regular season begins, but the starting offense has looked dynamic throughout training camp and has been good in each of the first two preseason games.

The Cowboys have taken a cautious approach with Romo throughout training camp, given that the 34-year-old quarterback has had two back surgeries in the past year and the alternative is Brandon Weeden.

So far, so good.

Romo completed four of five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut. He led the starting offense to a touchdown but also botched a handoff that resulted in a Ravens touchdown.

Considering he's missed so much practice time during training camp, we shouldn't really be surprised he was involved in a mishap such as that. Actually, the real surprise is probably that more mistakes didn't occur.

Romo has become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks because of his ability to move in the pocket and create extra time that often results in big plays. He provided a glimpse of his ability to still do that on the Cowboys' third play.

Facing pressure, Romo stepped up into the pocket. Then, he moved right and delivered a perfect pass to Dez Bryant, who was running across the field. The catch and run netted 22 yards.

"I thought he looked like himself and moved around in the pocket," coach Jason Garrett said. "He made some good throws that looked like he saw the field well. He felt the pocket really well and looked comfortable moving the team."

(Read full post)

Three thoughts on Day 12 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

A few days ago, I was watching practice with former Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton, while the offense was gashing the defense virtually every play.

Newton leaned over and said, “If Butch Davis or Dave Wannstedt was coaching this defense and they had a day like this, he’d tell one of his guys, 'Enough of this, let’s take them to the ground. I want to see somebody get hit.'

Wilcox
Well, J.J. Wilcox took it upon himself to drill Dez Bryant during Sunday’s Blue and White scrimmage. Less than a minute later, punches were being thrown.

Bryant had been talking trash virtually the entire scrimmage, and he had just taken a slant about 80 yards for a touchdown on the previous series. Finally, Wilcox had heard and seen enough.

He delivered a message. Good for him. Next time, delivering it sooner would be even better.

Zack Martin gets matched up with former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton much of the time, and it hasn’t seemed to bother him.

It’s just training camp, but he looks like a player who is going to be a quality starter for a long time.

Martin
That is good because it’s devastating when a franchise misses on a first-round pick. One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys have only one playoff win since 1996 is they missed on a pair of first-round picks in 2008.

Coming off a 13-3 season, the Cowboys had two first-round picks and three of the first 61 picks.

They drafted Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins and Martellus Bennett. Neither first-rounder received a second contract with the Cowboys.

They spent a third-round pick on DeMarco Murray to replace Jones, they spent $50 million on Brandon Carr to replace Jenkins and they essentially spent a second-round pick on Gavin Escobar to replace Bennett.

Jones, Jenkins and Bennett didn’t have to be stars, but what if they were? The Cowboys would have more than one playoff win.

The same is true if they had each had been good players like Anthony Spencer. Or really good players like Greg Ellis.

None of them were impact players in Dallas, and the Cowboys have spent a lot of time, money and resources cleaning up that mess.

Dallas might have a similar situation with Morris Claiborne, but it looks like they got it right with Martin.

If the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo upright -- that is a huge if -- this could be the Cowboys’ best offense since the glory days of the early 90s.

In 2007, the Cowboys scored 455 points (28.4 per game) as Tony Romo passed for 4,200 yards with 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Terrell Owens had 1,355 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns, and Jason Witten had 1,145 yards with seven touchdowns.

This offense should be able to run it, and the triumvirate of Dez Bryant, Witten and Terrance Williams is better than T.O., Witten and Patrick Crayton.

The key, as it was in 2007, will be the offensive line. If that unit plays to its immense potential this offense will be one of the league’s best -- as long as Romo is in the lineup.

Key number: 257

The Cowboys’ defense was on the field for 1,094 plays last season and 257 of them -- 65 runs and 192 passes -- gained 10 yards or more.

That’s 23.4 percent. Wow.

The 65 runs of 10 plus yards they allowed ranked second only to Chicago’s 84. Philadelphia (202) and Minnesota (200) were the only teams that allowed more pass plays of 10 yards or more.

The Tampa 2 scheme is designed to stop big plays because the safeties and linebackers are supposed to keep plays in front of them.

This is the biggest indictment of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. He couldn’t get his players to play the scheme the way it was designed.

Player to Watch: Martez Wilson

The Cowboys are trying to convert Wilson from a linebacker to a defensive end, in part, because they are so desperate for someone, anyone who can rush the passer.

Wilson, who played nine games with three different teams last season, has a quick first-step and he used it to scoot past tackle Jermey Parnell during Sunday’s Blue & White scrimmage. Then he stripped the ball from quarterback Brandon Weeden and returned it from a touchdown.

“One of the things he has that’s just so evident is great quickness and explosiveness off the ball,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The biggest thing for him to do is to learn how to play the position and all the nuances of playing with his hand on the ground as a defensive end.”

The Cowboys need pass-rushers and playmakers, which is why he will get every opportunity to make the team.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 7 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

The Cowboys signed Tyron Smith to a huge deal -- a $98 million extension -- that will keep him locked up for the next 10 seasons.

Smith
It’s hard to believe owner Jerry Jones has ever felt better about giving a player a contract. Smith is only 23, and he’s already one of the best left tackles in the game. His work-ethic is beyond reproach and he has emerged as a leader.

When Jones talks about Smith, he compares him to tight end Jason Witten, a consumate professional. Every long-term deal has some risk; the risk on Smith’s deal is negligible.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is going to miss 8-10 weeks with a fractured right foot, which pretty much ruins his rookie season.

In a perfect world, Lawrence -- a need pick -- would be finding a groove about the middle of the season and making an impact for the Cowboys. Now, he’s just going to be getting started right about then.

More important, he’s missing all of the teaching that takes place during training camp. During the season, most of the work is about preparing for the next opponent. The Cowboys drafted Lawrence to be a significant contributor this season. Now that is unlikely to happen.

The Cowboys have five receivers who have pretty much guaranteed spots on the roster, including rookie Devin Street.

But there is so much potential in the receivers group that the Cowboys could easily keep six. If they do, the best special teams player will make the team. And we’re not going to know who that is until the preseason games start because you can only simulate so much in training camp. The games are when players such as LaRon Byrd, Dezmon Briscoe and Chris Boyd separate themselves.

Key number 24.6

Imagine if the Cowboys didn’t have a league-leading 24.6 million counting against their salary cap for players no longer on the team, how good their cap situation would be. As it is, the Cowboys were about $11 million under the salary cap before they signed Smith to his mega deal. Still, they have the room to get team-friendly deals done with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, if they choose. DeMarcus Ware ($8.5 million), Jay Ratliff ($6.9 million) and Miles Austin ($2.7 million) comprise the biggest chunks of dead money.

Player to Watch: Jeremy Mincey

Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys have been intrigued by Mincey for several seasons, but had not been able to get a deal done. They finally have him, and they need the 30-year-old veteran to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. He has 20 sacks in 66 career games. His best season occurred in 2011 for Jacksonville, when he had eight sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. Dallas would take that with zero complaint.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant caught 11 balls out of the slot last season, which is nine more than he caught in 2012.

The Cowboys want him to catch a lot more from the slot this season.

 The Cowboys can finally expand Bryant's package of plays because they can move him around the formation and put him in the slot, where he doesn't have to deal with bump-and-run coverage.

Jason Garrett said the Cowboys would've liked to have done it in other years, but Bryant wasn't ready. His grasp of all the different positions wasn't good enough.

Now, it is.

There's a significant difference between playing outside receiver and one who is in the slot.

"He's grown as an inside receiver," Garrett said. "The trait and the qualities are different. I've been around a lot of outside receivers who looked like a fish out of water when they moved inside.

"If you picture an X receiver in right formation, there's no one outside of you. You're typically working against a corner by yourself or there's a safety rotating over the top. When you're inside, you have people inside of you and outside of you. You have a linebacker walked out, you have a safety coming down, and you have to have a feel for how to run the routes because there's a lot going on.

"It has a lot to do with your feel as an athlete -- your vision, your instincts and your experience. You have to get in there and do it."

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
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Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Strong offseason fueling Brandon Weeden

July, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”

Orton move could aid Smith, Bryant deals

July, 16, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- As of July 6, the Dallas Cowboys had $8.021 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

With the release of Kyle Orton, that figure should be closer to $10.7 million.

Smith
Bryant
Bryant
The Cowboys gained $2.707 million in cap space by cutting Orton after calculating the $3.25 million savings, minus Joseph Randle's $542,220 base salary now that he moves into the top 51 contracts that currently count against the cap.

As we’ve talked about before, cap space is always a moving target because the current figures do not include the top 53 contracts, which will count by the time the season starts, the practice squad players, injury settlements and future signings of players needed in case of injuries. Teams also like to leave a cushion in case ‘act of God’ situations arise.

But the extra room does give the Cowboys some more wiggle room in which to work on deals for Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant or both.

The Smith deal will be gigantic, given his age, ability and the desire to lock up the best young left tackle in the NFL. The Bryant deal will be big but not as gigantic.

The Cowboys have already secured Smith’s right for 2015 by picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, but they want to get him locked up for the long term sooner rather than later. His agents visited Valley Ranch a few times in the offseason but it is not known how far along the sides are in negotiations.

Bryant is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2015, but the Cowboys could also use the franchise tag to keep Bryant for an extra year. The wide receiver tag in 2014 is $12.3 million. The Cowboys want to keep Bryant and Bryant wants to remain with the Cowboys. There have been talks with his agent but nothing pressing.

The Cowboys have used training camp in order to get deals done in the past. Last year the Cowboys signed linebacker Sean Lee to an extension during camp.

Will they continue that trend? We’ll see, but the Orton move at least gives them some more cap space.


Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Wide receivers

On the roster: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, Devin Street, Tim Benford, LaRon Byrd, Jamar Newsome, L'Damian Washington, Chris Boyd

Locks: Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Harris, Street

Has a shot: Benford

Need help: Byrd, Newsome, Washington, Boyd

How many fit? The Cowboys typically keep five wide receivers and that appears to be the max going into 2014 as well, but injuries in camp or an unexpected turn from a Benford, Byrd or Boyd could force them to keep six.

They know what they have in their top four receivers. Bryant is a star. Williams is only entering his second season but he showed last year he can handle the job. Beasley and Harris have roles in the slot while they can play a little bit outside if needed. Street has the lead for the fifth spot after a solid spring. The Cowboys traded up in the fifth round to get him and liked the fact that he worked in a pro-style offense at Pittsburgh. He needs to work on handling a more physical game at the NFL level but that’s something every young receiver needs.

Benford has spent the last two seasons on the practice squad, which is not always the best thing. I can’t think of a receiver who made the jump to the active roster with the Cowboys after spending that much time on the practice squad. But he had a good spring and his quickness in the slot could earn him some extra time. At the very least he can show he can play in the league with a good spring. Byrd is listed at 225 pounds, but he looks almost like an H-back. He did a nice job catching the ball in the spring and his experience in the pro game gives him an edge. Newsome was on the practice squad last year and flashed a few times this spring.

Washington’s spring was cut short because of a shoulder injury. His speed and story have a lot of people rooting for him, but Boyd might be the more accomplished receiver. He has good size and decent speed to fit what the Cowboys want in outside receivers.

Every year one of these young receivers jumps out early at camp only to be reeled in later on. Last year it was Eric Rogers. One of these guys will do the same, but don’t get too excited too fast. It will be difficult for any of them to break into the top five without an injury.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties

Jimmy Graham deal Dez Bryant's baseline?

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
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IRVING, Texas -- Jimmy Graham was unable to declare himself a wide receiver in an arbitration case, but the New Orleans Saints tight end did fairly well with his reported four-year, $40 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Dez Bryant look for ways to come to an agreement on a long-term deal so they can avoid any franchise-tag hassle next offseason, can Graham’s deal be something of a barometer for Bryant?

Graham
Bryant
Bryant
Graham argued he was a receiver because he lined up mostly off the line. It was an argument that was eventually denied by an arbiter, but there is some truth to what he was saying. Graham is not a tight end in the way Jason Witten is a tight end. But that is his position. Bryant will never be asked to put his hand on the ground to block somebody the way Graham is asked to do at least part of the time for the Saints.

But I digress. Let’s just look at the statistical comparisons of Bryant and Graham. Both players were selected in the 2010 draft. Bryant was a first-round pick, so he has an extra year on his rookie deal. Graham was a third-round pick.

In the past three seasons their numbers are fairly similar.

Bryant: 248 catches, 3,543 yards, 34 touchdowns.
Graham: 270 catches, 3,507 yards, 36 touchdowns.

Any discussions between the Cowboys and Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, have been kept under wraps for the most part. Most of the figures thrown around have been by the media. There are seven wide receivers with an average annual value of at least $10 million: Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson.

Marshall, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Bowe and Jackson have at least $20 million in guaranteed money in their deals, as does Andre Johnson, who is threatening a holdout from the Houston Texans' training camp.

Graham’s contract puts him in line with receivers if not with the top-paid guys like Johnson ($16.2 million), Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). Harvin ($12.9 million) and Wallace ($12 million) who cashed in during free agency. Bowe averages $11.2 million. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million deal that included $16 million guaranteed in the offseason.

So where does Bryant fit in? Should he get Graham’s $10 million average or play out the season and possibly get tagged (that was $12.3 million in 2014)?

There is some middle ground in which both sides can compromise, but Graham's deal could help define just where that ground is, even if he is a tight end (wink, wink).

Insiders not high on Cowboys' future

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
11:15
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – ESPN Insiders John Clayton, Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando had the difficult task of coming up with power rankings for teams over the next three years.Insider

The Dallas Cowboys did not fare well. They came in at No. 28. Only the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders were worse.

Using five categories – roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching – the Cowboys checked in with 68.10 out of 100. The Seattle Seahawks checked in at No. 1 with 88.4 points.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/John FroschauerTony Romo's age could be a factor in the Cowboys' low ranking in the NFL Future Power Rankings.
To read the full article, you have to be an Insider, but here’s what they wrote about the Cowboys:
The overview: Dallas and Oakland are the only teams ranking among the NFL's five worst in four of the five categories. The Cowboys were 13th at QB. Tony Romo ranked tied for eighth in our recent "QB Tiers" project, but that was for the present. The future rankings project forward through 2016, when Romo will be 37 years old. How will his surgically repaired back hold up? Subtracting DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee from a defense that's already shaky appears devastating. That helps explain why the Dallas roster (beyond QB) ranked 29th. There aren't enough front-line players on defense. Salary-cap challenges persist. Only the Raiders and Dolphins ranked lower than the Cowboys in the front-office category, which is a strong statement of disapproval for how Jerry Jones runs the franchise. --Mike Sando

The dilemma: For Dallas, the real issue going forward is how successful it is at developing its draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, primarily 2012 draftees Morris Claiborne and Tyrone Crawford and 2014 draft picks DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens. The offense is set, regardless of how easy it is to pile on Romo. Defense is where championships are won. --Louis Riddick

The youth movement: The Cowboys are betting on two rookies from the 2014 class to be exactly what they hope they can be. If Zack Martin performs well at guard after transitioning from playing mostly tackle at Notre Dame, the offensive line could be the best in the NFL -- no exaggeration. And second-rounder Lawrence needs to provide pressure for a defensive line that is really light on ceiling elsewhere. --Mel Kiper
Analysis: If they’re going to hold Romo’s age against the Cowboys, then why isn’t that a factor for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees? Injury, too. Manning has a medical risk to him and is the oldest of the quarterbacks. Brady’s 25 touchdown passes in 2013 were the fewest he has had since 2006. Is that a sign of age catching up with him?

While I have said the Cowboys should have kept Ware, are the Insiders sure Ware’s best days aren’t behind him? He has been slowed by injuries as well the last few years. Can he be a consistent 12-15 sacks-per-year guy for the next three years?

I’m not so sure salary-cap challenges persist. They’ll be in really good shape in 2015 and should be in great shape in 2016, all while being able to keep Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant off the market, and perhaps DeMarco Murray, too. The days of the Cowboys doing huge deals for players they don’t know, I believe, will be few and far between.

The Cowboys have re-tooled this roster in the last three years. They have tried to rebuild – without using that word – and win at the same time. Where I agree the most is the development of defensive players. They need Claiborne, Crawford and Lawrence to play at a high level this year. They also need guys such as Bruce Carter, Brandon Carr and whoever plays safety next to Barry Church to play much better than they played last year.

I was a little more optimistic in my three-year take on the Cowboys, while using the last three years as a template.

Some of this is the benefit of the doubt. I get it. Those teams and quarterbacks have earned the benefit of the doubt. The Cowboys haven’t earned anything.

I just don’t think they earned a No. 28 future ranking, either.

Cowboys chat recap: Put heat on coaches

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- After a little break, we were back chatting on SportsNation on Wednesday and touched on a number of topics.
  • Why the Cowboys go to Oxnard, California, for training camp
  • Why Kyle Orton will be at training camp
  • Why the way Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett manage the game matters
  • Why Calvin Johnson helps Dez Bryant this year

If you want to read the full chat, click here, but I want to delve more into one topic.
Cris A. (Dallas TX): What prevented Gavin Escobar to see so little playing time last year, his poor pass blocking or the coaches not finding a way to fit him in the offense?

Todd Archer: I'd say both. But here's where I think we'll see a difference with Linehan: he will coach to guys' strengths. It won't be about what Escobar can't do, but what he can do. It won't be about what [Cole] Beasley can't do but what he can do. I think the Cowboys coached a little scared in the past when it came to things like that. Do I think Escobar will be a great on-the-line tight end? Not really. He just doesn't have the body type to play the line. He's not that kind of player. But I think he can be an effective player if used right.

This was just a stream of consciousness in the chat, but it got me to thinking about the Cowboys’ offense the past few years. I think the coaches got bogged down into things guys couldn’t do as opposed to what they could do. Escobar is a good example of that. They knew he wasn’t much of a blocker when he was picked but they really didn't do anything to put his skills to work as a rookie. If he couldn’t block, he couldn’t be counted on. Despite their professed love for “12 personnel,” they ran the same stuff they did when Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett or John Phillips was the backup tight end. They didn’t invent ways to use Escobar differently. So what is the natural reaction? Well, Escobar is a bust. That’s not exactly fair to the kid. The coaches bear some responsibility for not utilizing his talents. To a smaller degree, they have done the same with Bryant. They haven’t moved him around because they were unsure he could play different spots or get in the slot. This offseason Bryant has moved around more. We saw Cole Beasley line up some outside. We’ve seen running backs line up in the slot.

To me, the coaches have been too reactive to the defense, despite Garrett saying they want to dictate the action. They haven’t. Now, they have been productive in yards and points and sometimes both over the years. But could they have been better? A lot better? There didn’t seem to be a lot of innovation to the offense because the answer was always, "trust the system." Well, the system sometimes should bend for the players in it. I don’t believe the Cowboys have done that enough.

But here’s a guess: Linehan will help change that, especially on game day.

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.

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