Dallas Cowboys: Doug Free

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
AM ET
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.
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.

Offensive line

Smith
On the roster: Tyron Smith, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems, Uche Nwaneri, John Wetzel, Josh Aladenoye, Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton, Darius Morris

Locks: Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free, Leary, Parnell

Inside track: Weems, Nwaneri

Need help: Wetzel, Aladenoye, Clarke, Cureton, Morris

How many fit? The Cowboys had 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster to start last season and through attrition ended with eight on the final 53-man roster of the season. Eight seems too light, but the Cowboys have carried just seven to the game for the past few seasons. Ten might seem like too many but finding offensive linemen can be tricky and the future has to be factored in with Free and Parnell entering the final year of their contracts.

As the Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp, I believe nine is the magic number. The top six are without question Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free and Leary. The Cowboys could have their best line since 2007 when Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis made the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys invested three first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. Free rebounded with a solid 2013 season. Bernadeau and Leary are good enough to win with.

The questions are with the backups.

With Parnell entering the final year of his contract, could he be trade bait late in camp provided Weems shows he can be the swing tackle on game day?

There would be some salary-cap benefit, saving $1.5 million, especially if Parnell isn’t viewed as a starter in 2015 or beyond. The Cowboys could choose to extend Free’s deal, which could make a Parnell move possible. It’s all predicated on Weems, who had some good moments in the offseason.

The interior depth is a little in question. The loser of the left guard battle between Bernadeau and Leary becomes the top backup with Bernadeau serving as the backup center. Nwaneri has a lot of experience. Clarke could be a guy worth grooming for the future after what he showed as well. Wetzell might have some position flexibility as well at tackle and guard.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers

Frederick looks to lighten Romo's plate

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
12:15
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick likes to please. He especially likes to please his quarterback, Tony Romo.

As Frederick enters his second season with the Cowboys, he has one goal.

“I’m going to try and do as much as I can to take as much as I can off Tony that he was doing before for the offensive line,” he said. “Not necessarily because I was a rookie or this or that, but because, if I can see it better, that’s going to take one thing off his plate and that’s going to help the team as a whole.”

Frederick
Romo
Part of Romo’s responsibility is setting the protections with calling out the middle linebacker. The offensive line follows the assignment. If Frederick can take that responsibility away from Romo, then Romo can worry more about the coverage.

When Romo and Frederick watch film of practices or games, they discuss what worked and didn’t work, what they might do differently the next time.

“I think what really has helped is going through the season last year,” Frederick said. “It’s literally about situations. You can talk about as many situations as you can think of and still see 50 more. It’s about being in situations and maybe you make a mistake. Maybe last year I’d change the Mike (linebacker call) on something and he would rather have kept it. After it happened, he told me, ‘OK, this is what I would’ve done.’ Now in the next situation I can do it.”

It’s not just about making Romo’s life easier. If Frederick can do more, he makes it easier for his fellow linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau.

“The more I can communicate, the better Zack’s going to be able to do, the better Tyron is going to be able to do, the better Doug’s going to be able to do,” Frederick said. “When that happens, everybody can move faster and play faster and they don’t have to think. If I can think more than I did last year, then it makes it less that everybody else has to think about.”

There is a physical adjustment Frederick has made this offseason, too.

“Hand placement has been a big thing for me,” Frederick said. “In college it’s just about getting it done. If you’re strong, you have a better opportunity because no matter where you grab usually you can just hold on. But in the NFL with the great talent we play against and even here in who we practice against every day, you really have to focus on where you’re playing your hands and an inch can make a huge difference.”

Veteran depth key to offensive line

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
4:50
PM ET
The Dallas Cowboys haven't made the signing of guard Uche Nwaneri official because they have to make a roster move first.

Nwaneri
Moving Sean Lee to injured reserve, thus clearing space when training camp starts, is one possibility. The Nwaneri signing means the Cowboys want to add experienced depth to an offensive line that is getting younger at its core.

Four potential starters are each under 25 -- Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.

Smith, 23, anchors the left tackle spot and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The team picked up his vested option for next season and has plans to give him a long-term deal.

Martin, 23, was a first-round draft pick this year and will play right guard with the potential to move to right tackle in the future.

Frederick, also 23 and last year's first-round pick, was solid at center and appears ready for a long-term future with the Cowboys.

Mackenzy Bernadeau is 28 and he's competing for a starting left guard spot with Leary.

The old man of the group if you will, is 30-year-old Doug Free, who played well in 2013 after taking a pay cut. The Cowboys value him. The question is for how long, considering they have Martin on the roster as well as two younger tackles, Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell.

Nwaneri is 30. If he makes the team, he's got eight years of experience and adds depth to the interior of the line, which is important to the Cowboys.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said protecting Tony Romo up the gut is essential considering the quarterback is coming off back surgery.

This offseason, the Cowboys devoted themselves to getting younger and as one team official said, youth is important.

When you stick with youth, mistakes happen, and the Cowboys are willing to deal with that -- at least right now.

But there is nothing wrong with adding an experienced player to the line, and if Nwaneri's deal is completed that's what the Cowboys will have accomplished.
As we enter a dead period of the offseason, we present some financial numbers that might interest you before training camp.
  • The Cowboys have roughly $8.5 million in salary-cap space. That's enough money to fit in a new contract for a free-agent linebacker, if the team deems one necessary to fill Sean Lee's spot at middle linebacker. Currently Justin Durant is No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker. The Cowboys are open to leaving Durant there, but want to see more work once training camp starts and most likely one or two preseason games before looking at the free-agent market.
  • SportsNation

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  • When it comes to the NFC East, Washington has just $2.5 million left in cap space. The Philadelphia Eagles have the most within the division at $19.3 million with the New York Giants coming in third at $6.9 million.
  • Cornerback Brandon Carr has the highest salary-cap number on the team at $12.2 million. Tony Romo ($11.7 million), Jason Witten ($8.4 million), Doug Free ($6.5 million)and Morris Claiborne ($4.43 million) are in the top 5. Backup quarterback Kyle Orton, if he plays in 2014, will have the sixth highest cap number on the team at $4.43 million. With Orton and Romo taking up so much cap space, the Cowboys average $17.7 million in space devoted to the quarterback position, far higher than the league average of $12.3 million. Pittsburgh has $21.7 million in cap space to the quarterback position, which leads the NFL.
  • The Cowboys lead the NFL in salary-cap space devoted to cornerbacks at $22.7 million. The NFL average for that position is $13.06 million with Carr leading the NFL with his cap number. Orlando Scandrick has a cap number of just $3.6 million and he's a projected starter over Claiborne.
  • Last year, the Cowboys had $48.6 million in cap space taken up by defensive players. So far that number has decreased to $42.2 million for the 2014 season. On offense, the Cowboys numbers have gone up. Last year, the Cowboys cap number for the offense was $49.4 million and this season it's $55.2 million.

More reps for youngsters as minicamp ends

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' offseason comes to an end after Thursday's final minicamp practice, but the club has already been saving some of the veterans for training camp.

Coach Jason Garrett has rested some of the regulars over the last two weeks of work. Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Brandon Carr and Barry Church did not take part in the two-minute drill in Wednesday's workout. Dez Bryant did not take part in every snap. Doug Free was replaced by Jermey Parnell for a spell.

"It's really just to see those young guys and see some of the other guys that we're counting on," Garrett said, "and give them an opportunity to show what they can do; work with the ones, be in some of the situations we've been working on and see how they respond."

Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar had a fourth-down catch in a two-minute drill that ended in a Bryant touchdown. Cornerback Sterling Moore shut down a throw to Terrance Williams in the end zone. Tyrone Crawford forced an incomplete pass with a pressure.

"We'll continue to do that and see how they respond to the work," Garrett said.

Thursday's practice will be the Cowboys' first at AT&T Stadium. It will be followed by a family cookout.

Players can continue to work out at Valley Ranch until 10 days before training camp starts. Injured players will continue to rehab. The rookies will continue their full-scale workouts for another week, but the on-field work with the coaches will end until the team reconvenes in Oxnard, California, on July 22.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

• When the Cowboys might draft a successor to Tony Romo
• Dead money in 2015
• Special teams' job opportunities
• Can the Cowboys be the Mavericks?
Brandon Carr's contract

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: If Romo remains healthy and plays well, then I think you'll see it happen in 2016. The Cowboys are all-in on Romo. They said as much when they skipped on taking Johnny Manziel. They don't believe in drafting a developmental quarterback, in part because you might be developing him for another team and, truthfully, quarterbacks taken in Rounds 3-7 hardly ever pan out. For every Russell Wilson or Tom Brady, there is a ton more guys like Mike Teel and Stephen McGee. Now, if Romo cannot make it through the season healthy, then I can see the Cowboys going after a quarterback early in 2015. Kyle Orton may or may not play here in 2014, but he is out of a contract in 2015. Brandon Weeden is doing some nice things right now, but I don't think they view him as a potential starter down the road. If you're looking for a franchise quarterback, the odds say take him early. I believe when the Cowboys are ready to move on from Romo, that's when they start to look.

@toddarcher: I wrote about this a few months ago. In Miles Austin, Orton and possibly Doug Free, you're looking at about $11.3 million in dead money in 2015. Austin was a June 1 cut this year, which pushed money into next year's cap. Orton has two voidable years left on his deal that will come forward. Free also has two voidable years left, but the Cowboys might try to extend his deal, which would take away that dead money. The Cowboys have done a good job of cleaning up their cap the past couple of years and will be in good shape in 2015 and excellent shape in 2016. But that doesn't mean they will go crazy in free agency spending money on players they don't know. I really think they have learned their lesson that they don't get their money's worth.

@toddarcher: Cody Mandell will have a chance, but I think he'll clearly have to beat out Chris Jones over the summer. He didn't do it in the organized team activities. For some reason it takes young punters time to get accustomed to the NFL game. Maybe it's the directional kicking that is more prevalent. Jones has a strong leg. Left-footed punters can be tricky for returners because of the spin on the ball. He's also a good holder, and that's important for Dan Bailey. The Cowboys' special teams were good last year. I don't see any changeover from the specialists unless Mandell knocks out the champ, so to speak.

@toddarcher: I'm not sure which way I should take this. If you mean the Cowboys will be the last wild-card team, then I can see that happening, but until I see more visual evidence in training camp, I'm sticking with 8-8 and missing the playoffs. If you mean, the Cowboys' offense will have to carry the day, then, yes, I'd say true. There are just too many questions on defense to expect anything great. The offense, however, has the tools necessary to be one of the best in the league. Maybe I'm too optimistic on this, but I think Scott Linehan will be really good. I think he'll be more aggressive than Jason Garrett or Bill Callahan. I think he will devise ways for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to beat double teams. All that being said, if the defense can't be at least a little better and get into the low 20s in rankings, then I don't think the Cowboys will make the playoffs.

@toddarcher: He is guaranteed $1 million this year now that he has been on the roster the first day of the league year. That's the last of the guaranteed money. Yes, he will be gone if he doesn't play well this season. If the Cowboys were to cut him in 2015, they would save only roughly $550,000. If they made him a June 1 cut, then it would free up $8 million in space in 2015, but Carr would count $7.4 million against the cap in 2016. To me, it would be better to not spread the hit over two years even though there wouldn't be much savings. I'll give Carr credit for how he has approached this offseason. He knows it is a big one for him. He has changed his approach to the offseason and dropped some weight in hopes of being faster. If he plays solidly, like he did in 2012, then maybe the Cowboys approach him with a pay cut. If he plays great, then I think you might see them restructure the deal potentially to open up cap room. 

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
11:50
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys selected Zack Martin in the first round of last month's draft, Mackenzy Bernadeau didn't need to be told what it meant.

Like first-round picks before him on the offensive line, Tyron Smith (2011) and Travis Frederick (2013), Martin is being plugged in as a starter. The Cowboys have plugged him in at right guard, where Bernadeau has started 26 games the last two seasons.

"I know the business," Bernadeau said. "I know he's going to come in and play somewhere. Not knowing obviously where it's going to happen but I was prepped to know if he's ready to come in take the right side I'll be competing or trying to play the left side or just be ready to prepare to if I need to play all three interior positions. I knew myself and I didn't have to have a conversation with anybody."

Bernadeau has worked with the first team at left guard during the organized team activities and will compete with Ronald Leary for a starting spot. Leary started every game at left guard in 2013. Bernadeau has been taking some backup center snaps as well.

"Since I've been here I'm always going to be ready for all three spots, left side, center, right side," Bernadeau said. "I'm always prepping for that."

Bernadeau, who accepted a pay cut during the offseason over the next two seasons, played left guard for the Carolina Panthers. He said the difference between playing on the right or left side is, "like learning to write with your left hand instead of your right hand," but his previous experience helps.

He had to get used to right tackle Doug Free the last two years, but has spent time getting used to playing next to Tyron Smith in 2014.

"It's more important to get used to the guys next to you and what their steps are than the techniques because I played both sides before," Bernadeau said.

Perhaps most importantly for Bernadeau is that he is on the field at all in the offseason. He missed his first offseason with the Cowboys because of hip surgery and was limited last year because of shoulder surgery.

"It's great to be able to get a full offseason in," Bernadeau said. "Hopefully I'll stay healthy."
IRVING, Texas -- Here are some observations from the Dallas Cowboys’ organized team activities on Monday:

• The Nos. 1 and 2 defenses came up with wins in the two-minute drills against the offense. Linebacker Justin Durant broke up a fourth-down pass from Brandon Weeden to Jason Witten. Weeden was late with a third-down throw to Dez Bryant that could have been a big gain.

• The second-team defense had two would-be sacks to close out their two-minute drill. Martez Wilson came unblocked after the defense blitzed from the strong side.

• Linebacker Kyle Wilber showed some position flexibility by moving to left defensive end in the two-minute drills. He was at least able to battle to a draw with Doug Free.

• Cornerback Morris Claiborne took part in team drills after being limited to individual drills during the first OTA open to the media. With the Cowboys working mostly in their nickel defense, Claiborne got a lot of work on the outside, but Orlando Scandrick continued to work with the starters.

• Wide receiver Terrance Williams had two drops in the early part of practice but came up with a nice sideline catch on a throw from Weeden with safety J.J. Wilcox late with some help.

• Safety Jakar Hamilton came up with a nice pass breakup on a crossing route by Jamar Newsome on a throw from quarterback Caleb Hanie.

• Running back Lance Dunbar killed the backup linebackers in 7-on-7 drills. He ran away from Keith Smith on an underneath route. He lined up in the backfield, in the slot and even motioned wide. Dunbar has the look of a space player Scott Linehan has excelled with in the past in special circumstances.

• Jason Witten was a late arrival to practice because his son had minor surgery Monday. Witten said his son is fine and he was able to take part in all of the team work. Backup tight end Gavin Escobar did not practice because of a sore back. He said he banged his knee in practice last week but that is OK.

• Wide receiver Dwayne Harris did not take part in any offensive team drills but he did return punts during the special teams portion of practice.

• New defensive tackle Terrell McClain showed some burst up the middle to stop a run by DeMarco Murray while playing the three technique. He also played the nose tackle spot for a few snaps with Nick Hayden sitting out.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 24, 2014
May 24
12:00
PM ET
Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:


Away we go:

 

Five Wonders: Don't say bye to Free yet

May, 21, 2014
May 21
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- With a rookie minicamp out of the way and the organized team activities starting next week, it's time for the award-winning Five Wonders.

Away we go:
  1. Free
    When the Cowboys picked Zack Martin in the first round, the assumption was that he would (or could) move to right tackle in 2015 with Doug Free in the final year of his contract. I wonder if the Cowboys look to extend Free's contract this offseason. Free is set to make $3.5 million in 2014 as part of a re-worked deal he signed last year. The final two years of his contract void after this season, which means he will count $3.98 million against the cap if he's not a Cowboy in 2015. That's not a reason to keep him. He rebounded with a decent 2013 season and he just turned 30. The Cowboys need to be sensible with a new deal and we've spent the offseason talking about not paying age, which was part of the reason why they said goodbye to DeMarcus Ware and never really tried to keep Jason Hatcher. But tackles tend to play longer. Flozell Adams played his best after he turned 30. This isn't to predict Pro Bowl success for Free; just an example. As for Martin, it was interesting to hear Jerry Jones reference multiple times the importance of being stout in the middle of the line. Keeping Martin at guard might make sense.

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    Who's the Cowboys' best draft pick in the Jerry Jones era?

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      1%

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  2. By signing Ryan Williams to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money this week, the Cowboys have opened up the competition behind DeMarco Murray. I wonder if they can keep four tailbacks. They did the last couple of years because Phillip Tanner was able to play on most of the special teams' units. Williams' injury history would seem to keep him away from special teams. Lance Dunbar covered some kicks and punts last year, but he had a difficult time staying healthy. Joseph Randle will have to work to be a special teamer. If the Cowboys don't keep a fourth tailback it would allow them to go heavier at tight end or offensive line or even carry a third quarterback, depending on what Kyle Orton decides to do this year. It would also open up a potential spot on the practice squad for a tailback as well.

  3. The Cowboys have made adding defensive linemen to the mix an offseason priority. They want to throw numbers at the position. The Cowboys want to mix the snaps around to keep players fresh. I wonder if Henry Melton or Anthony Spencer can come even close to cashing in on their playing time incentives. Both players have to get healthy first, but Melton is further along in his rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament than Spencer is in his return from microfracture surgery. Melton and Spencer can earn up to $1.5 million apiece depending on certain play-time percentages. Melton can earn $250,000 for 50 percent play time and up to $750,000 if he reaches 70 percent. He has never played more than 60 percent in a season. Spencer' play-time incentive levels are 65 percent ($250,000), 75 percent ($500,000) and 85 percent ($750,000). If he starts the year on the physically unable to perform list, then he would be lucky to hit on the lowest threshold.

  4. I wonder if Jason Garrett's decision to scale back one day of the rookie minicamp because of the number of players who were hurt or were slowed by dehydration is a sign that he will be more compromising in his practice schedule throughout the year. The Cowboys have studied how other teams go about their practices and have dealt with injuries, but the general conclusion is they are doing the right things. Too many players suffered hamstring injuries the last few years. The Cowboys installed ballet bars outside the locker room to help with stretching pre- and post-practice, but I've maintained Garrett needs to cut back on his practice time. You don't want to leave your best work at Valley Ranch during the season. The Cowboys are one of the teams that use GPS devices on players to measure how much they practice, distances traveled and other pieces of information. If the numbers indicate a player has reached a threshold, then they need to rest that guy so as to not risk it. He can call it an adjustment to the new collective bargaining agreement that has shortened the offseason conditioning program. Who knows, it might just work. And it beats the alternative.

  5. On the list of position battles, punter will rank low on the list, but I wonder if undrafted Cody Mandell can push Chris Jones this summer. Mandell averaged 47.1 yards per punt last season at Alabama with a 42.1-yard net average. He had 14 punts of more than 50 yards and 15 ended up inside the 20. He had six touchbacks. Jones will go to camp as the leader without question. He averaged 45 yards per punt and had a 39-yard net average. He had 30 punts inside the 20 and just six touchbacks. He also developed into a reliable holder for Dan Bailey, which cannot be overlooked. And another aspect gives Jones an edge: he's left-footed.

Zack Martin opens at right guard

May, 16, 2014
May 16
3:40
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IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick, all eyes were on guard Zack Martin at the first rookie minicamp practice.

And not just the coaches, scouts, front office and media.

A handful of veteran offensive linemen watched the drills Friday, led by Doug Free, Tyron Smith and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

"They just want to see us work," Martin said. "And if we’re going to be part of that group, they want to make sure and know what they’re getting."

After starting all but two of his 52 games at Notre Dame, Martin lined up at right guard on Friday. Bernadeau started 26 games the past two seasons at right guard. Ronald Leary started at left guard in 2013.

"It's really just a starting point, first time he's been out there," coach Jason Garrett said. "We see his position flex and his versatility. We actually see him starting inside more than we see him starting outside. We'll have great competition all throughout our offensive line, particularly in the interior of our offensive line. It seems like it's a pretty natural fit for him. He typically played on the left hand side, played left tackle, but his position flex is something we thought was a real asset. He's a smart football player. He has a lot of poise about him and doesn't seem to be fazed by a whole lot.”

The Cowboys threw 2013 first-round pick, Travis Frederick, into the starting lineup from the beginning last year. Martin said he does not expect it to take long to get comfortable inside.

“Playing inside, the guys are a lot tighter,” he said. “Everything is closer together, so out on the edge you’ve got room to maneuver. Inside you’ve got to have tighter footwork and be more aware.”

And if he needs any pointers, the veterans will be there.

“Just helping with techniques,” Martin said. “Technique is something you’ve got to get. They’re like another coach on the field. Doug’s been through it a bunch of years now. Maybe if he sees something the coaches don’t see, he’ll correct me.”

Cowboys pick Zack Martin in 1st

May, 8, 2014
May 8
10:03
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IRVING, Texas -- The pick: Zack Martin, offensive line, Notre Dame.

My take: Jerry Jones passed up style for substance by taking Martin over quarterback Johnny Manziel, which might say how the Cowboys are being run these days.

Martin is the third offensive lineman the Cowboys have drafted in the first round in three of the past four years after Jones did not pick an offensive lineman with their top pick from 1989-2010. Martin joins Tyron Smith (2011) and Travis Frederick (2013) as the first-round picks taken the past four seasons.

Martin can come in and play guard, either right or left, as a rookie in 2014 and move to tackle in 2015 depending on Doug Free's status. Free is set to become a free agent after the season. It is also possible Free could move to guard.

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The move bolsters the Cowboys' line for quarterback Tony Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries in less than a year, and it also helps for whenever the Cowboys move on to Romo's successor in the future.

Martin was a four-year starter at Notre Dame at left and right tackle.

Saying no to Johnny: In what had to be a difficult decision for Jones, as the Cowboys said no to Manziel. Will it come back to haunt them the way passing on Randy Moss did in 1998?

Moss tormented the Cowboys in his years with the Minnesota Vikings. Manziel could have that opportunity now.

As much as Manziel would have been a marketing dream for Jones, it would have forced him to choose between Manziel and Romo at quarterback. The Cowboys gave Romo a six-year, $108 million extension last year with $55 million guaranteed. From a salary-cap standpoint, the Cowboys would be hard-pressed to get out of Romo's contract comfortably until 2016, though it would not be impossible to do in 2015.

Now, however, it's a decision Jones does not have to make.

What's next: The Cowboys hold the 47th and 78th picks in the second and third rounds on Friday. After going with Martin in the first round, look for them to target defense. The Cowboys had the worst-ranked defense in 2013.

Cowboys need more Bradie James picks

May, 7, 2014
May 7
10:30
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IRVING, Texas -- In talking about Bradie James on Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones could not help but think of the draft.

It wasn’t just that the draft is coming up Thursday. It was something James signified in turning into a starter from 2005-11 with the Cowboys, a captain and the leading tackler for a six-year run.

“When I think about the fourth-round value of what Bradie brought us, that’s where you’re trying to go,” Jones said.

James was the 103rd pick of the 2003 draft. When the Cowboys moved to the 3-4 scheme in 2005, he became a better fit for the defense. He was a sure tackler, dependable player and good leader. He was solid in a lot of ways.

Since James, the Cowboys have not been so fortunate with their fourth-round selections.

In 2005 they drafted Marion Barber (109 overall) and Chris Canty (132 overall). In 2007 they drafted Doug Free (122 overall). Barber earned a Pro Bowl spot and was a tough runner. Canty was a solid player for four years before leaving in free agency. Free is the Cowboys' starting right tackle.

Since selecting Free in the fourth round, however, the Cowboys have not found an every-day starter. Running back Tashard Choice (122 overall, 2008) started four games in parts of four seasons. Quarterback Stephen McGee (101 overall, 2009) and Victor Butler (110 overall, 2009) combined to start three games. Brandon Williams (120 overall, 2009) never made an impact in part because of a knee injury.

The Cowboys never figured out of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (126 overall, 2010) was a cornerback, safety or wide receiver in his two seasons with the team. David Arkin (110 overall, 2011) never started a game.

In 2012, the Cowboys picked Kyle Wilber (113 overall) and Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Wilber became a starter out of necessity last year but at outside linebacker after playing defensive end in the 4-3. Johnson has yet to play in a game because of an injury.

Last year the Cowboys took cornerback B.W. Webb (114 overall) and he did little to inspire the stopping of what has become a trend.

Successful drafts are determined by the quality of depth a team forms in the later rounds. In 2003, the Cowboys found James and he went on to become the franchise’s sixth all-time leading tackler. Free has been a starter since 2009.

The Cowboys need more of those guys this week in order to have a successful draft in 2014 and less of the Arkins, Butlers and McGees.

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