Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones

Year in review: Best and worst of 2014

December, 30, 2014
Tony RomoAP Photo/Elaine ThompsonThe Cowboys' win at Seattle made the league take notice of what Dallas could do.
IRVING, Texas -- Coming off three straight 8-8 seasons, there was little reason to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones tamped down the expectations at the team’s kickoff luncheon, acknowledging it would be an uphill battle. Coach Jason Garrett promised only that his team would fight.

Four months later, the Cowboys have won the NFC East and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Jones should be a candidate for Executive of the Year. Garrett should be in the Coach of the Year debate. Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray should be in the Most Valuable Player conversation.

Whether this team can sustain success remains to be seen because it still has holes to fill defensively and Romo will be 35 next year.

But enjoy the ride while you can.

With the way they are built and the formula they have used to win games, the Cowboys could carry on this success into the postseason.


5. Drafting Zack Martin: This took on a life of its own because Jones kept talking about how much he loved Johnny Manziel. At the time of the draft, he said there was no discussion about taking Manziel in the first round. Every time he talked after that, it was clear Jones was the only person pining for Manziel. Where would the Cowboys be without Martin? He might have been the best rookie in the NFL, but because of the position he plays, he has little chance of winning the Rookie of the Year award. He was a Day 1 starter and played like a veteran the entire season. Along with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Martin gives the Cowboys another cornerstone starter on the offensive line. And all three were named to the Pro Bowl.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsRookie Zack Martin has been a starter from Day 1 and played like a veteran the entire season.
4. Not sleepless in Seattle: Nobody goes into CenturyLink Field and beats the Seahawks. The Cowboys won 30-23, but they were much more dominant than the final score indicated. If not for some special-teams gaffes, this game would not have been that close. They were able to handle the crowd noise. They were able to handle the Seahawks' defense. They were able to hem in the Seahawks' offense. This was their fifth straight win in what turned out to be a six-game winning streak, but it was the first time the Cowboys made people take notice of what they could do.

3. Topping the record books: With a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter of the 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Romo surpassed Troy Aikman as the Cowboys’ all-time leader in passing yards. It was fitting that Romo broke the record on a throw to Witten, his teammate for 12 years and best friend. It also might have been Romo’s best pass of the day, leading Witten down the seam with a strike just over the defender’s head. The Cowboys clinched their first playoff spot and NFC East title since 2009 with the victory, which was more important to Romo than any record. A week later against the Washington Redskins, Murray broke Emmitt Smith's franchise record for rushing yards in a season with 1,845 yards and Dez Bryant set the team mark for touchdown catches in a season with 16, one more than Terrell Owens had in 2007.

2. Let’s go streaking: Murray became the first player in NFL history to open a season with eight straight games of at least 100 yards rushing. Jim Brown did it in six straight games in 1958. Along the way, Murray shed the label that he can’t be a bell-cow running back. The Cowboys handed him the ball at least 22 times in seven of the first eight games. He broke off big runs and he picked up the dirty yards. By the end of the season, he displayed a toughness that had teammates and coaches in awe, playing six days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken hand.

1. Answering the bell: The Philadelphia Eagles lit up the Cowboys on Thanksgiving 33-10. On Dec. 14, the Eagles stormed back to erase a 21-0 Cowboys lead and take a three-point advantage. On the next drive, the Cowboys answered with an eight-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Murray. The Cowboys showed everybody they were not the same old team on that drive, answering the call at the most critical time. Had they lost that game, the Cowboys’ playoff chances would have taken a massive hit. Instead of wilting, the Cowboys stood tall.


5. Captain out for the year: Already looking at an uphill battle defensively, the loss of linebacker Sean Lee for the season with a knee injury in a May minicamp was a crushing blow. Lee is not only the most talented defender the Cowboys have, he is also their heart and brains. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in practice, continuing his bad luck of injuries. He missed games in his first four seasons because of hamstring, wrist, toe and neck injuries. Now, he has missed a full season. The Cowboys and Lee believe he will come back at 100 percent in 2015, but it might be as a weakside linebacker instead of a middle linebacker. The other injuries of note included losing Morris Claiborne, whom the Cowboys traded up to get with the sixth pick in 2012 and have yet to see any payoff, and Justin Durant, who was named a captain at the start of the season. But Lee’s injury hurt the most.

[+] EnlargeSean Lee
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys had to overcome losing Sean Lee, their most talented defender, for the season.
4. Saying goodbye: DeMarcus Ware is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks with 119. He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. But age and price forced the Cowboys to cut Ware. They talked about working out a new deal at a lower price, but never officially made him an offer. The Denver Broncos swooped in and gave him $20 million guaranteed in the hopes he would be their missing piece on defense. The Cowboys have struggled to rush the passer and there is some who wonder if they should have done more to keep Ware, who has 10 sacks with Denver. Who knows, maybe they will get a chance to meet in the Super Bowl?

3. What home-field edge? There is no stadium in the world like AT&T Stadium. Just ask Jones. Just ask the visiting fans. So loud were the fans of the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, the Cowboys had to go to a silent snap count on offense to deal with the crowd noise. It was almost embarrassing. But it wasn’t just the crowd noise at home. The Cowboys could not generate a home edge, losing three straight home games. They needed the victory over the Colts to finish .500 at home for the season.

2. That hurts: Romo’s surgically-repaired back was a huge topic the entire offseason and season. It took another turn when he suffered two transverse process fractures in the Oct. 27 meeting against the Washington Redskins. He took a knee to the back from blitzing linebacker Keenan Robinson in the second half. While he was able to return to the game, he was ineffective. Brandon Weeden had to start the following game, a 28-17 loss to Arizona, with Romo needing the week to rest. He was able to endure a nine-hour flight to London for the Nov. 9 game against Jacksonville and deliver a win.

1. Holiday nightmare: In order to have the best moment of the season at Philadelphia, the Cowboys needed their worst moment on Thanksgiving. They had no answer for the Eagles in the 33-10 loss. Romo was not the same quarterback, playing on short rest. The defense was overmatched. The Cowboys played a Sunday night game at the New York Giants before the Thursday meeting and did not have their legs as an entire team. The result was the worst showing of the season. But again, that moment did lead to the best moment.

Tony Romo will make flight to London

November, 2, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys depart Monday evening for London, quarterback Tony Romo will be on the flight.

Not only that, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he expects Romo to play Nov. 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"The proof is in the pudding," Jones said after the Cowboys' 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. "We certainly wouldn't put him on that plane and take him to London and fly over and fly back if we weren't planning on him playing."

Romo suffered two transverse process fractures in the Oct. 27 loss to the Washington Redskins. He was inactive for Sunday's game and spent time on the sideline trying to advise his replacement, Brandon Weeden.

As Romo walked out of the stadium Sunday, he was reluctant to say much.

"We'll get to London," he said, "and we'll get ready to play Jacksonville."

Jones said Romo will be given a first-class seat for the team's 9.5-hour flight to London so he can lie down.

Romo did not practice during the week but remained hopeful through Saturday night that he could play. Coach Jason Garrett said Romo improved during the week, and the decision was not made until 90 minutes before kickoff and the inactive list was due.

There is no risk of further injury should Romo get hit again. The fracture takes six weeks to heal, but his return to the field will come down to his ability to handle the pain and move well enough to play.

"We're optimistic," Garrett said of Romo's chances of playing against the Jaguars. "People with similar injuries have been on a similar timetable where they missed the first game and they were getting close to being able to play in that second game. So we'll see how he feels. Again, it's the same standard with the pain tolerance and how that relates to how he can function."

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty missed one game with a similar injury this season. Romo has demonstrated the ability to play through pain in his career. In 2011 he played with a fractured rib and punctured lung. He played last year at the Washington Redskins with a disk injury that required surgery five days later. He returned to the Redskins game last week after X-rays proved to be negative and he received a pain-killing injection.

"Hopefully Tony will get healthy and get back as quick as he can," tight end Jason Witten said. "I know he's doing everything he can to get back out there for next week."
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones said Jason Garrett experienced his finest moment as a head coach with the Dallas Cowboys' win against Seattle.

"We're not going to step back and make any proclamations like that," said Garrett of the owner's compliment. "We're going to get back to doing work. We were here this morning watching tape, so we can learn from it and prepare our presentation for the players."

Others have asked Garrett to rank the Seattle win on his personal list of accomplishments, and some folks want to know if he thinks the Cowboys are contenders.

"We don't really rank things," he said.

Garrett is forever focused solely on helping his team get better today -- and that means not reminiscing over wins or looking past the next opponent.

It also means not letting things you can't control such as Jones' hyperbole affect him, whether it's a compliment or criticism.

"We're a work in progress and I'll keep saying that cause that's what we are, so I don't really get into any declarations about what this team is or isn't," Garrett said. "Yesterday was a good game for us, we've gotten off to a good start and we've done some good things.

"But we have to focus on getting better, focus on today, focus on this week's challenge and get ready to be our best."

When your team has a punt blocked, botches a shotgun snap and muffs a punt -- all leading to points for the opposition, it's easy to show them how they must improve.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was in a good mood, naturally, after his team beat the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, 30-23.

There wasn’t a better birthday present he could have received than that win.

“Frankly, more than I could have expected,” said Jones, who turns 72 Monday. “Almost as good as the Herschel Walker trade.”

The Walker trade reached its 25th anniversary on Sunday and was discussed everywhere by everybody involved, and it included the normal argument between Jones and the former coach, Jimmy Johnson, as to who gets the credit for the deal that changed the fortunes of the franchise.

If there is a credit for Jones nowadays, it is how he has committed to the offensive line with three first-round picks in the past four years in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, even if he has pined for Johnny Manziel more than once since May.

Behind that trio, as well as Ronald Leary and Doug Free, the Cowboys ran for 162 yards on 37 carries against what was the NFL's best run defense.

Manziel is on the Cleveland Browns' bench and Martin is playing at a top level. Does Jones have any regret on passing on Johnny Football now?

“Well, I don’t know how that’s relevant,” Jones said, reading the question like Tony Romo read the Seattle defense. “I’m really not so sure I'm ready to admit a mis-thought. It is not relevant, and I really have had some very stern, succinct instructions not to mention Johnny anymore from people who count, let me put it like that.”

Of course, Jones couldn't stand taking a good-natured poke at Johnson when asked if his former Arkansas teammate is taking credit for the Cowboys' line.

“What do you think?” Jones said, smiling a wide smile. “There is still an 'I' in the alphabet, isn't there?”

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

August, 30, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. In it we discuss:
  • Jerry Jones, the general manager
  • Wondering about Michael Sam
  • Predicting the record
  • Josh Brent's production
If you want to see Part 1, click here. Away we go: @toddarcher: I guess I've missed how he's been given a pass on this matter. But this is where Jerry can't win. If he professed Super Bowl expectations, then he would be ridiculed for overselling a team that clearly needs a lot of help. Jones has been more realistic (mostly) about this team, although saying this defense is much improved seems to be a stretch after what was witnessed in the preseason. The failings of this team's personnel are squarely on Jones. He's the general manager. He's responsible for this. But that doesn't mean he will be changing the general manager anytime soon or ever. Jason Garrett or others will have to pay for the sins of how Jones has constructed the team.

@toddarcher: I don't think Michael Sam would fit on this defense even with the need for pass-rushing help. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants speed. That's the No. 1 trait. Sam is not a speed player. He plays faster than he is timed and he had an excellent college career, but the Cowboys were dubious about his pro chances entering the draft and nothing really changed their opinion in the preseason. At the time of this writing, Sam is still with the Rams, so it's a moot point. But the Cowboys' decision (should it come up) would have nothing to do with Sam's sexual preference and everything to do with the position he plays. He's a left defensive end and the Cowboys have enough of those.

@toddarcher: Can I get a do-over? I've predicted an 8-8 finish, which is always something of a copout, but at the time I made the prediction I though this team would be able to overcome enough of the defensive shortcomings to win half of their games for the fourth straight season. Now I'm not so sure. Let me use a baseball analogy: The Cowboys have a bunch of fourth and fifth pitchers in first- and second-pitcher roles. You like some of these guys as role players, but the Cowboys need them to play way above their heads and need almost all of them to do so. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably say 6-10.

@toddarcher: It's hard to imagine he would be anything but a bit player, a backup. He hasn't played since 2012. He hasn't been in a team's conditioning program in two years. He was a solid player in a 3-4 scheme, but hardly a star. He was functional. If he can do that again, then the Cowboys would be happy. But I don't think he would appreciably change the Cowboys' defense. If/when he is reinstated, he will face a suspension, so he would need even more time to get on the field. Once he is ready to play, then maybe he takes the spot of a Ken Bishop, but the rookie seventh-round pick has done nice things this summer to see what he can become.  
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 27-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.

1) Brandon Weeden didn’t do much over the last three preseason games to inspire much confidence, if the Cowboys need him to play.

Jason Garrett said he did the usual array of good things and bad things in the game, but the troubling thing during the preseason is that he seems to have a habit of staring down his receivers. Other times, he’s not decisive and he either throws the ball late or scrambles because the receiver is no longer open.

He finished the preseason 34-of-57 for 388 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns.

The reality is that if the Cowboys need him to play this season, he’ll be behind the starting offensive line and he’ll have enough weapons that all he has to do is manage the game.

2) No team wants to go winless in preseason. Jerry Jones did his best to put a positive spin on it by referencing his first preseason as the Cowboys’ owner.

The Cowboys went 3-1 in the preseason and 1-15 during the 1989 season.

“Well, it has always concerned me,” Jones said. “On the other hand, the first year I came in the NFL, we were undefeated going into the Denver game. Dan Reeves was their coach. He was a disciple of Tom Landry and he was hot over the fact that Coach Landry and those things had been done here with the Cowboys.

“He left [John] Elway in all the way through the game and we played into overtime to beat the Cowboys so we didn’t go undefeated.

“We went 4-1. Thought this is going to work. We won one football game that year. So much for preseason.”

3) Dustin Vaughan isn’t going to make the final roster.

This team has too many issues on defense and players such as Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence need roster spots even though they aren’t playing for several weeks. Vaughan is a great fit for the practice squad, and if the 6-foot-5, 235-pound undrafted free agent gets claimed by another team then that’s just a tough break.

Other teams have issues with their rosters and most teams don’t keep a third quarterback.

Key number: -56

It’s just the preseason and coach Jason Garrett stayed committed to evaluating personnel.

Still, it must be discouraging to get outscored by 56 points, the largest point differential in the league, as the Cowboys went winless in the preseason.

The Cowboys have gone winless in the preseason five times. Only the 1998 team that still had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders made the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Rolando McClain

Rolando McClain is the most intriguing defensive player on the roster. He has every physical skill you want in a linebacker, but none of us really knows how much he wants to play.

He says the right things on the rare occasion he speaks publicly, but he’s missed several practices as he gets his body used to playing football again. After all, this is a player who’s retired twice in the past year, so you’re always waiting to see if he’ll retire a third time.

The Cowboys are trying their best not to depend on him, which is good. But they need help at linebacker, so it’s only a matter of time before they get seduced by his talent and put him in the starting lineup.

“I don’t think Rolando is going to be the savior of this team,” Jerry Jones said. “We don’t have Sean Lee, but Rolando does have the skill level to come in here and really add to what we can do.

“We’re going to need him, but I don’t want anybody to think I expect him to be Dick Butkus or even Sean Lee.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is in the final year of his four-year contract.

He’ll tell you he’s too consumed with today’s to-do list to spend any time thinking about his contract situation and whether he’ll get an extension.

At the same time, Garrett spends a lot of time talking about building a program and how the process of building a team with staying power takes time.

Garrett is 29-27 as a head coach and has missed the playoffs each of his three full seasons as head coach.

For now, Jerry Jones isn’t interested in committing to Garrett beyond this season.

“Well if I said that, I’d be giving him a contract and that’s not how we’re operating here,” Jones said of committing to Garrett beyond this season.

“I have in no way shut that door, but I have already decided that we were going to operate this year with his contract status the way that it is.”

As you would expect, Jones declined to rule out altering Garrett’s contract status during the season.

“I’m just saying as we sit here right now and as we enter the season, then I thought it was in the best interest of the team for us to keep the status of the coaches’ contracts the way that they generally are across the board,” Jones said. “And I haven’t changed that from the way you started training camp.”
In the 20 years since Jimmy Johnson left, Jerry Jones has had six head coaches. For some reason, Jones still can’t get over the breakup.

And that is why Johnson, who led the Dallas Cowboys to a pair of Super Bowls, will probably never get into the Ring of Honor.

"In the Ring of Honor, the last word is honor," Jones said after Thursday’s preseason game. "And so you have to give that some thought and we have to look at the definition.

"Tex Schramm told me the definition is someone who made a material difference in where the franchise is. It didn’t have in there Super Bowl-winning coaches.

"It said, somebody that has made a difference in the franchise. And so that will always be a debate."


It’s hard to believe Jones has to think about whether Johnson made a material impact on the franchise.

He did.

It would make more sense if Jones simply said he didn’t like Johnson and didn’t want him in the Ring of Honor.

Johnson helped take a broken franchise to a championship as the Cowboys went from 1-15 to two-time Super Bowl champs in five seasons.

"Can you get over disloyalty and the understanding of what disloyalty is? Can you get over those items you’re talking about," Jones said. "Let me just say this: A lot of people had to get over a lot of things to get in a lot of Halls of Fame.

"We debate this all of the time. When was the last time they put a perfect one in a Ring of Honor or a Hall of Fame? I haven’t seen one."

Jones didn’t say he would never change his mind about putting Johnson in the Ring of Honor, but it’s clearly not happening anytime soon.

ARLINGTON -- The Dallas Cowboys completed their first winless preseason since 2000 Thursday night at AT&T Stadium.

Denver smashed Dallas 27-3 as the Cowboys joined the Indianapolis Colts as the only teams to lose all four exhibition matches. The Cowboys lost their four games by a combined score of 116-60. The 56-point differential was the NFL's largest.

The Cowboys went 0-5 in 1962, 1986 and 1998 and 2000.

Chan Gailey's 1998 team that had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders went 10-6 and won the NFC East. None of the other teams made the playoffs.

Nothing owner Jerry Jones has said in the last 24 hours should make you feel optimistic about the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Brandon WadeJerry Jones knows this Cowboys team has a lot of question marks on defense.
In an ESPN The Magazine article Jerry is quoted as saying he's still mad the Cowboys didn't quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round because it would've made them relevant for another decade.

Has Jerry really been so seduced by the Cowboys' cache and marketing prowess -- Forbes reported this week the Cowboys are worth $3.2 billion, tops in the NFL -- that he's forgotten what's important?

Even if the Cowboys drafted Manziel in April he wasn't going to play anytime soon because Tony Romo's six-year, $108 million contract extension begins this season.

The only way Manziel was going to get on the field is if Romo suffered an injury, forcing him into the lineup.

Jerry's in love with the idea of Manziel keeping the Cowboys on prime time television and in the headlines no matter how bad the product on the field.

Here's a novel approach: Win some games. Win some playoffs games. Compete for a championship.

The Cowboys have one playoff win since 1996, which is shameful. They have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons and it'll probably be five when this season ends.

Perhaps, Jerry has forgotten the Cowboys didn't become America's Team and one of the most polarizing franchises in professional sports because of glitz and glamour. They became marketable because they won with a collection of personalities and Hall of Fame players.

Don't forget, the the Cowboys used to be sarcastically called, "Next year's champions" because they couldn't win the biggest games.

Making the playoffs an NFL record 20 consecutive years with players ranging from Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett to Aikman and Smith made the Cowboys' blue star among the world's most identifiable logos.

Drafting Manziel would've been the dumbest move Jerry made since letting his ego get in the way of his relationship with Jimmy Johnson. We know this because Jerry's the only one in the organization that thought it was a good move.

Not vice president Stephen Jones. Or coach Jason Garrett. Or assistant director player personnel Will McClay. Or anyone else in the organization with a valued opinion.

If the Cowboys did a better job of drafting and developing players they'd have more young stars such as Dez Bryant to build marketing campaigns around.

Then again, Jerry is as desperate as he's ever been. This team is as far away from the Super Bowl as the day Jerry hired Garrett, in part, because the Cowboys have been trying to rebuild without bottoming out.

It's a worthy goal, but it has left the Cowboys with a quality offense and an abject defense.

Having watched training camp and four preseason games, you get the feeling several offensive players such as Jamar Newsome, Ryan Williams and LaRon Byrd will wind up on NFL rosters or practice squads if they get released, while defensive players who don't make this team will need to contemplate the next phase of their life.

That's one of the reasons Jerry told fans at the team's kickoff luncheon Wednesday that the 2014 season was going to be an "uphill battle."

"These guys we're expecting to play have a lot to prove to play the way we expect them to play," Jerry said. "I candidly have these thoughts that you do your best work when you have the longest odds.

"This team has no-name guys. Guys that weren't No.1 draft picks. Guys that were retired. You have guys coming back from injuries. This a to-prove group. The to-prove Cowboys."

This from a man who wears Ray-Bans with rose-colored lenses to bed, while listening to Tony Robbins CDs. If Jerry isn't optimistic, then this team must be far worse than we even imagined.
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.

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

Witten's presence affects entire franchise

August, 26, 2014
Jason WittenAP Photo/James D SmithJason Witten has done much more than put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, the Cowboys say.
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten is the conscience of the Dallas Cowboys.

When he speaks to the team, players listen intently. He makes them laugh. He excites them. He brings them to tears. The grind of playing professional football matters to Witten perhaps more than it should and definitely more than it does to most.

New teammates look at him reverentially and almost fearfully; they know they need to earn his trust to gain acceptance. Older teammates look to him for guidance on or off the field. Opponents respect him for his talent and professionalism.

For the front office and coaches, Witten’s combination of determination, dedication and hard work almost make him a cliché. He has set a standard that few can match with nine Pro Bowls. Only Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Larry Allen have played in more Pro Bowls as Cowboys than Witten. With 21 catches this season, he would join Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in NFL history with at least 900 receptions.

Witten was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012 and serves as the Cowboys’ rep to the NFL Players Association.

Although most sit on every word from Witten and the 11-year veteran rarely talks about himself, several members at different levels of the organization were asked about Witten and his impact on the franchise.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Tom Pennington/Getty Images"I don't know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten," Dez Bryant said.
The students

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, Witten’s teammate since 2010

"It’s amazing the way that he moves. I can’t believe it. He’s big [6-foot-6, 261 pounds] and, like, he’s real shifty. He gets in and out of his breaks so quick. I watch him, like I really pay attention to him and still try to figure out how he does it. Witt is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, persons in this world. He’s helped me so much just by being around him with not one word spoken. It’s just his presence. The way that he works, I feel like I have to do that. I have to follow that kind of person if I want to be right on or off the field. He’s played a big part in my life. I don’t know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten."

Running back DeMarco Murray, Witten’s teammate since 2011

"I’ve spent a lot of time with him this offseason and in the past, and every day I’m picking his brain still like I’m a rookie again because he’s a perfect example of being a pro, being a great person. He’s someone you model your game after and you model yourself as a person after as well. He does it the right way, and you can see it from the 11 or 12 years he’s been in the league, and this looks like this is his first training camp. He’s just like a kid in a candy store when it comes to football. All the individual accolades, it’s meaningless for him. He never talks about it. He never wants that. All he wants is a Super Bowl. That’s something you can respect about a person with the great attitude he has, the great selflessness he has as a person, as a teammate. I’ll run through a wall for that guy."

The neighbor

Mackenzy Bernadeau, Witten’s teammate since 2012

"Being in the locker next to him, you get to learn more about a guy. I’ve always respected him as a man and as a player, but just seeing the way he carries himself, brings himself to work every day, how passionate and enthusiastic he is about the team, he’s an emotional guy when he’s in the game. As a teammate, you better be right. If you’re not on the right page, he’s going to make sure you’re on the right page. Very competitive. Passionate about everything he does from lifting to running. He’s a team player. He’s a guy you can talk to, hang with, crack jokes with, but when it comes time to work, he’ll be ready to work and he expects everybody else to work. He’ll get in your face, but you know when you look in his eyes he means business and he’s ready to go. He plays that way, prepares that way for a game, for a practice. You see it just every day in his walk."

The position coach

Mike Pope, first year as Cowboys tight ends coach, 32nd year in the NFL

"He’s incredible. … He only has one gear, and he’s an intense and fierce competitor. He just never wants to lose anything. I don’t care what it is. You run a sideline route in two-minute, and the official says he’s this short of the first down, he goes haywire. He is different than some guys I’ve had who can do that out here and be a great human being when they step across the sideline. I’ve had a few that couldn’t do that. They were great on this side of the sideline, but they’re not very good over there. But he’s all things to all people. The other thing is his knowledge of football. He’s got a quarterback’s knowledge of football. He knows so much about what’s going on. Very seldom, it’s rare if he misses something. If it’s new, he might take a rep or two. He’s got the vastness of all this offense for all these years, and it has changed some, but there’s a lot of plays gone through his library in the years he’s played. But he’s just a brilliant football guy. He really is."

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJason Witten's work ethic surely hasn't gone unnoticed by Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones.
The owner

Jerry Jones, Cowboys owner and general manager since 1989

"He’s a marvel. He’s a marvel. It’s funny, he was a subject for us visiting [in camp], and just, we were watching him down there in some specific drills, and he just executed every drill as though he were executing against the New York Giants. Just to perfection to his ability to do it. And it’s really, he’s a special guy. He’s certainly in the top-five player … person … on any level of the NFL that I’ve been associated with in the 25 years in the NFL. Period. Across the board."

The trainer

Jim Maurer, Cowboys’ athletic trainer for the past 25 years

"There’s a lot of great players that have been through here, but he’s definitely got great football traits. Personally, from a medical side, you’re always wanting a guy that’s going to beat the odds every once in a while. Not necessarily with the things he’s had to beat with the ruptured spleen, but any injury, and Jason has always been the consummate professional as far as getting all the treatment he needs, asking us more questions to do whatever else we can do. A lot of guys do that. He’s not the only one, but for some reason he responds really well to everything and comes back. And not just comes back to play but comes back to play great. That’s immeasurable. I don’t know how many more of those guys are out there or will ever be out there."

The weight coach

Brett Bech, Cowboys' assistant strength and conditioning coach

"What people see on Sunday is a culmination of what starts probably in early February for him. Even this late in his career, he’s looking to improve himself physically, mentally. He never stops watching film. He takes notes feverishly. I sit right next to him in team meetings, and he’s always writing. Even the most general thing, he’ll write it in his notebook, circle it and put stars around it. For instance, ball security, five points of contact, which I’m sure he’s heard since he was a freshman in college. But we’re doing it a couple of weeks ago and he’s writing in his notebook, ‘Five points of contact,’ with stars all around it, and it’s probably the 15th time he’s been doing it, but it’s that attention to detail. In the weight room he’s always looking for ways to get his hips more flexible or to stay in peak physical condition with different ways of training, whether it’s altitude training or just interval training. He’s always asking about his technique or coming in and doing extra stuff. He knows his numbers as well as we do -- body fat and his vertical jump. He works his butt off, and it shows. I think the younger guys see that, and I’ll use him as an example. Him and a few other guys as an example of there’s a reason he’s making Pro Bowls in his 12th year because he works like this. If he didn’t, he may be a pretty good player. He may be one of our better guys. But he’s a household name because of his approach."
MIAMI -- It's pretty clear the Dallas Cowboys are ready to move on from weakside linebacker Bruce Carter.

The Cowboys were disappointed when Pittsburgh took linebacker Ryan Shazier one pick ahead of them in May's draft, and they want Rolando McClain to earn the starting middle linebacker job because it would allow the coaching staff to move Justin Durant to Carter's position.

But Carter gave the coaching staff a glimpse Saturday of why they drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft with a nice diving deflection of a pass in the first quarter and an apparent blocked punt that was nullified by a penalty.

"Actually Bruce had some good things happen for him tonight and I particularly like him on that pass coverage," owner Jerry Jones said. "He shows what he can be for you on plays out there. But I thought Bruce really in practice or in a game, probably has looked the best he’s looked."

Carter has the size, speed and athleticism the Cowboys want in a weakside linebacker. Athletically, he fits this scheme perfectly because it allows him to run freely to the ball sine he's always protected from offensive lineman by a defensive tackle. Carter's problem is he still thinks too much on the field, which negates his athleticism.

Whether Carter starts or not, he's going to have a significant role in the Cowboys' nickel defense because of his pass-covering ability. He's entering the last year of his contract and the Cowboys, for now, have no plans to re-sign him.

It's up to Carter to change that.

Miami batters Romo, beats Cowboys

August, 23, 2014
Tony RomoAP Photo/Lynne SladkyCowboys starter Tony Romo finished Saturday's game with a quarterback rating of just 68.5.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Dallas Cowboys' offense we saw against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night isn’t going to be nearly good enough during the regular season to offset their raggedy defense.

The offensive line, fortified with three first-round picks in the past four seasons, struggled against Miami’s defensive line.

In the process, the unit allowed Miami to hit quarterback Tony Romo way too often. The Dolphins sacked him three times -- and he played only a half.

Oh my.

Miami beat the Cowboys 25-20 at Sun Life Stadium, but Romo absorbed the beating Miami put on him. Even though the 34-year-old needed a trip to the cold tub immediately after the game, overall it remained a successful evening.

At least we found out Romo can take such a beating. Hey, that’s important when you consider that Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year, and that the club has been extremely cautious with him during training camp.

The Cowboys have consistently given Romo days off during training camp to ensure he has no issues with his back. Romo didn’t play in the first preseason game, and he played just 14 snaps in the second.

And it’s unlikely that he’ll play in Thursday's final preseason game against Denver. Baltimore jostled him a bit last weekend, but the Ravens didn’t pound him the way Miami did.

“It was good to see Tony out there playing,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “He got knocked around a little bit, and that could be good and bad.

"You want the protection to be clean, but at the same time for him, in his preparation for [the Sept. 7 opener versus] San Francisco, it's good to have him feel the physical part of the game.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images"It's good to have him feel the physical part of the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of quarterback Tony Romo, sacked three times Saturday.
The consistent pressure on Romo is the biggest reason the Cowboys couldn’t sustain drives Saturday, which is troubling since most of their offensive starters played the first half.

The Cowboys ran 32 plays in five series but managed only a pair of long field goals -- 52 and 50 yards -- from Dan Bailey. The Cowboys gained just 110 yards, an average of 3.4 per play.

Romo completed just 10 of 18 passes for 87 yards, with a long of 17. He finished with a passer rating of 68.5.


The Cowboys were 2-of-8 on third down under Romo. Twice, Miami sacked Romo on third down, ending a drive. Another time, Romo was hit hard as he delivered the ball, leading to an incompletion.

“I’ll be very candid with you, their defensive front was doing a pretty good job, and that concerned me,” owner Jerry Jones said. “He took those three sacks, and that concerned me. Not that we couldn’t correct what it takes to block them, but it concerned me that he was taking those sacks.”

At the end of the first half, the Cowboys had moved from their 20 to the Miami 24. On first-and-15, defensive end Cameron Wake sacked Romo for an 8-yard loss, thwarting the drive and setting up Bailey’s second field goal.

"We wanted to put more points on the board, but we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Romo said. “The game is always going to be hard if you keep putting yourself behind."

Here’s the deal: This team has no chance if its offense doesn’t play well. What you saw from the Cowboys’ defense against Miami is what you’re going to see all season. The unit is going to give up a ton of yards and hope it forces turnovers and makes teams kick field goals.

Any thoughts the Cowboys have of making the playoffs depends on them fielding a dynamic offense. And when you consider the plethora of playmakers Romo and playcaller Scott Linehan have at their disposal, there’s no reason Dallas shouldn’t have one of the league’s top offenses.

The best way for the Cowboys to win games is to use their offense to grab leads, then use the running game, led by DeMarco Murray and the offensive line, to protect the defense and close out games in the fourth quarter.

To do that, however, the offensive line can’t get manhandled the way it was by the Dolphins. This is the preseason, so there’s zero reason to overreact, although this is the last time we’ll see most of the team’s key starters before the season begins.

Romo would tell you that a tad better execution on a couple of plays and the offense would’ve looked just fine Saturday. Romo would also tell you he didn’t feel as though Miami overwhelmed the Cowboys’ offense, otherwise he’d be concerned.

Still, it’s clear the Cowboys have much work to do to get ready for San Francisco.

Garrett has spent all offseason talking about having an offensive line that will enable the Cowboys to play a more physical style. He’s said the line will make Romo better and the defense more efficient.

We didn’t see that against Miami. We'd better against San Francisco in two weeks.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 13 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) Before you get yourself all worked up over the possibility of Josh Brent rejoining the Cowboys, understand their desperation level.

This defense gave up 415.3 yards and 27 points a game last season, and there’s no guarantee it will be better. And that’s with a quality defensive staff headed by Rod Marinelli.


Would you like to see Josh Brent return to the Cowboys?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,151)

Adding Brent to the roster would really be no different than adding Rolando McClain. They’re taking a chance on a player they might otherwise pass on because the defense needs a talent infusion.

Study the players on the Cowboys’ defensive line, and making the decision to add Brent to the mix isn’t that difficult.

Plus, there’s no guarantee he makes the team. He hasn’t played in more than a year and he wasn’t working out much, if at all, while he was in jail.

Actually, the most interesting aspect of Brent’s potential return is whether Roger Goodell suspends him or counts the year he sat out in retirement as a suspension year.

With all of the criticism Goodell received for the two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice, it’s hard to tell whether that will make him issue a tougher penalty than he ordinarily would in the Brent case.

2) Rolando McClain has some minor hamstring and quadriceps issues, but it’s clear the Cowboys want him on the field.

They say the minor injuries are the result of McClain not participating in the offseason workout program combined with the hard work he has put in since he arrived.

The combination has put his body under some stress. Still, the club is beyond pleased with his work right now.

Don’t be shocked if the starting linebackers against San Francisco are Kyle Wilber, McClain and Justin Durant.

Bruce Carter has work to do.

3) The screen pass looks like it’s going to be a bigger part of the Cowboys’ offense than it has been, which would make sense.

Play-caller Scott Linehan used them frequently with running back Reggie Bush last season, All of the lineman except Ron Leary would be considered quality blockers in space, and DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar have good hands.

Screen plays don’t work without the coaching staff committed to the practice time it takes to get good at executing them.

Key number: 37

The Cowboys problem last season wasn’t moving the ball. They had just 37 three-and-outs in 183 possessions.

Only six teams had a higher percentage and five made the playoffs. Now, the Cowboys need to score touchdowns instead of kick field goals.

Do so, and they might be able to protect their defense and win some games.

Player to Watch: Devin Street

The fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh is a smooth receiver who has the size the Cowboys these days at 6-3 and 200 pounds, but his task right now is to get stronger.

He’ll have to get bigger, so he can be physical enough to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage and to create separation with all of the hand-fighting that goes on between receivers and defensive backs.

He scored a couple of touchdowns in the Cowboys Blue & White scrimmage, but if he wants playing time this season he’ll have to do it on special teams unless there’s an injury.

The Cowboys like their group at receiver, so they don’t need to rush Street into the lineup. They can develop him slowly and let receivers coach Derek Dooley help him improve.

Cowboys give fans playoff tickets, not hope

August, 1, 2014
OXNARD, Calif. -- Jerry Jones, who ranks among the NFL’s best marketing men and worst general managers, has seemed determined to dial down expectations for the Dallas Cowboys during this training camp.

[+] EnlargeDallas Cowboys 2014 Postseason tickets
ESPNThe Cowboys included playoff tickets -- including for the NFC title game -- in their packages to season-ticket holders.
As if the longest playoff drought of Jerry’s ownership tenure hasn’t accomplished that already.

Jones refused to say the Cowboys had to improve their record – 8-8 in each of Jason Garrett’s three full seasons as a head coach – for Garrett to keep his job after his contract expires at the end of the season. Jones has repeatedly stressed how young this Dallas roster is, a pleasant way of saying the franchise is in a rebuilding process, at least on the defensive side of the ball.

Heck, we’ve gone more than a week of camp without Jerry saying “Super Bowl” in any context, words that are usually on the tip of his tongue as he puts on his promotions cap at this time of the year.

So it’s certainly surprising that Cowboys fans received playoff tickets with their season-ticket packages, a first in the NFL, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports.


Will Cowboys season-ticket holders get to use their playoff tickets?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,243)

It subjects the Cowboys to some ridicule, but it’s not as if it would be the first or worst playoff promise broken since Jones built his $1.2 billion football palace. Remember all those tickets sold for Super Bowl XLV for temporary seats that didn’t get safety clearance? At least disappointed fans won’t have grounds for a lawsuit in this case.

The easiest prediction in all of sports is that the most entertaining mediocre team in football will find a spectacular way to miss the playoffs. It’s happened the last three years in the final week of the season, when the Cowboys lost win-or-go-home de facto NFC East title games.

It's hard to believe that this season will be any better, with the Dallas defense in a state of disrepair and franchise quarterback Tony Romo coming off a couple of back surgeries.

The Cowboys might not be able to give their fans hope, but they sure can provide some cool souvenirs.