Dallas Cowboys: Sharrif Floyd

Chat leftovers: Changing Cowboys' mindset

April, 4, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had more than 190 questions in Wednesday's chat, so there is a lot to pick from in this week's chat leftovers.

But first a leftover question: What's better Thanksgiving leftovers or Easter leftovers? I'm going Thanksgiving. Nothing like a cold turkey sandwich with stuffing on wheat bread.

And away we go:

Rick (San Antonio): Todd, the Boys have been one game away from advancing to the tourney. And JJ is always on cue to mention that and seems to be happy with a team that barely gets into the playoffs. Will his mentality change to form a team that can dominate?

Todd Archer: I get your sentiment, Rick, but I think the days of a team having to dominate from Game 1-16 are largely over. I realize the Seattle Seahawks were good all year, as were the Denver Broncos, but Jerry has seen teams like the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants get hot at the end of the season and make playoff runs. It's not about being the dominant team in September. It's about being ready in December. Clearly the Cowboys haven't been ready in December (or early January) with their three losses in Week 17 the last three seasons, but as Bill Parcells use to say: get in the tournament and anything can happen. Did you have UConn in the Final Four?

Crawford
Roger Murtaugh (Dallas): Do we still like Tyrone Crawford? Is Crawford's return and the signing of Melton enough to deter the Boys from going D-Line in the first round?

Archer: The Cowboys still like Crawford … a lot. They believe he can play all four line spots, but that seems to be a stretch for me. He's not a nose tackle in base situations and I don't think he's a right defensive end either. He can play either tackle spot in pass-rushing spots. I think he's a left defensive end mostly but can move inside in obvious passing situations. While the Cowboys like him -- a lot -- I don't believe they should have huge expectations where he makes a colossal jump. He's not played a lot of football here lately and he didn't have a sack as a rookie. They should view anything they get from him as gravy. And as for the draft, I don't think Melton's arrival takes the Cowboys out of going defensive line in the first round at all.

Toby (Billings,MT) [via mobile]: Do you think we will see more production from escobar and or hanna this year?

Archer: They better get more out of Gavin Escobar. He has a chance to do some things in the passing game for sure. He can make some tough catches and I think he can really work the seams. Now, do I think he'll be an on-the-line tight end? Not really but that doesn't mean he won't get on the field. I think Scott Linehan will be more creative in getting more out of the 12 personnel package than what they Cowboys did last year. I like Hanna, but I'm not sure how the Cowboys feel about him. I think the Cowboys draft a blocking tight end in the middle to late rounds and if they go with only three tight ends, then Hanna could be the odd-man out.

Mario (South Carolina) [via mobile]: Is the Cowboys organization going to sign any more free agent vets to strengthen the offense and defense up a little more or is scoring high in the draft the big game plan this season.

Gregory
Gregory
Archer: I think they're done in free agency until after the draft unless something pop opens that is unexpected. Most of the guys available now have been available since free agency began and the Cowboys have yet to kick the tires really on anybody. I think they wait to see what they get out of the draft and fill in holes with cheap prospects in free agency. One name I'd like to see them go after is safety Steve Gregory. If we're going to play the 'better than' game, while factoring in cost, I think Gregory would be better than the other safeties not names Barry Church. Now that's just my opinion. As I've said, I think the Cowboys are ready to roll with J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson for now.

9to82 (Anywhere but here): Aren't all the additions in free agency made by Skins, Eagles, and Giants really just "march madness"? People hail DRC signing...reminder, he was terrible in Philly. Can't buy a championship folks.

Archer: I agree with the general statement, but those teams have gotten better to a degree. How much? Who knows? But the Redskins are better with DeSean Jackson. The Eagles are better with Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles. The Giants are better with their flurry of signings. Are the Cowboys better with Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Brandon Weeden? I'd rather have DeMarcus Ware but I'm OK with Melton over Hatcher, even with Melton coming off the knee injury. The Cowboys have stuck to their free agency plan. They could have spent, but chose not to. They're trying to build the right way. Not that the Eagles, Redskins and Giants made any foolish signings, but I do believe we've seen a lot of times win a title in March that don't make the playoffs in January.

Bruce (Gotham): What would the Cowboys do if Manziel fell to them in the draft?

Archer: If that happened, I wish I could be in the room to hear the conversations. It's actually a conversation they should have before the draft. You have to be prepared to take any player. I don't think the Cowboys were prepared to take Sharrif Floyd last year when he fell to No. 18 and they were killed for dropping down so far. I'd take Manziel, but I'm not the general manager. I can see the Cowboys taking him, but I can see them wishing the phone would ring so they could pick up some extra picks. But do you really believe he will be available at No. 16? I don't.

Chat leftovers: Chris Johnson? No

March, 21, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had more than 140 questions in Wednesday's Dallas Cowboys chat and it's impossible to answer all of them, so we're going to feature a weekly chat leftovers post to answer some of the best questions I missed the other day.

Who doesn't love leftovers?

In this segment we'll touch on Chris Johnson coming to the Cowboys, draft value, Joseph Randle and if this team is just hanging on until a complete rebuild.

Away we go:

Bo (Dallas): There were rumors of Chris Johnson coming to Dallas. Any update on that?

Archer: This isn't happening. The Cowboys don't want to assume the contract and if free agency has told us anything they don't want to acquire descending players and frankly that's what Johnson is these days. He's just not a fit, unless he wants to come in at the veteran minimum. And that's not happening either. The Cowboys will ride with DeMarco Murray. He seemed to turn a corner in the second half of the season and ended up getting added to the Pro Bowl. Murray is a better fit for this running game and for this salary cap. He's still on his rookie deal. The question the Cowboys will have is what to do with Murray in the future. Do they lock him up long-term? The only way I see that happening is if it is on a team-friendly deal. With the way the running back market is going, these backs better realize every deal going forward everywhere is going to be team friendly.

Daryl (Jersey): Why don't the Cowboys like 1-technique in the first round?

Archer: It's about value. A one technique typically plays only in rushing situations. The NFL is turning into a passing league and the stout-run defender is just not as valued these days. Third down is the money down. Teams want players who can affect the quarterback and stay on the field for all three downs, especially those they take in the first round. The Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd last year with the 18th pick because they did not view him as an elite pass-rusher. Their feeling then -- and now -- is that you can find a run-plugging defensive tackle later in the draft or even in free agency. Nick Hayden wasn't bad (and, yes I'm aware of Pro Football Focus' grade) and they gave little money to Terrell McClain in free agency.

Preston (North Little Rock): Do you think Joseph Randle is the answer at backup running back? With the offseason emphasis being on a better running game in 2014, do they look to draft another RB in this year's draft?

Archer: I like Randle even if his numbers as a rookie were less than stellar. He had a lot of carries when the Cowboys were trying to put a game away and defenses stacked the line. He had a lot of work when the line wasn't playing as well as it did later in the year. Is he great? Is he a game changer? I don't know, but I think he can handle the job if something happened to Murray. The Cowboys also like Lance Dunbar as a change of pace back and appeared to find him a role on Thanksgiving vs. the Oakland Raiders before he got hurt. I'd never say never on drafting a running back, but if they do I think it happens on the third day of the draft.

Brian (Ft. Worth, Texas): It feels like the Cowboys team of the late 90s with Aikman hanging on and the team trading for Galloway. Do you get that sense that the team is barely hanging on to its window to win with Romo?

Archer: I wrote about this the other day when the debate was whether the Cowboys are rebuilding or not. I don't think they are rebuilding. I think they are re-tooling. The only starters over 30 are Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Doug Free. DeMarcus Ware is gone. So is Jason Hatcher. So is Miles Austin. The core of this team is now Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Murray and those guys. The Cowboys have to find more of those guys to maximize what they have left in Romo and Witten. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but the Cowboys can win the NFC East. They'll need a lot of things to go right for them, but I don't see the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and New York Giants pulling away from them.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Cowboys

March, 13, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insiders Mel Kiper and Todd McShay don't always seem to agree on much, but they agree on the Dallas Cowboys' selection with the 16th pick in the first round of the draft: Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

There is no doubt the Cowboys need to address the defensive line in the draft. The apple of many eyes for the Cowboys is Pitt's Aaron Donald, but he's slotted to the Chicago Bears at No. 14 in Kiper's latest mock. Insider Donald looks to be the better fit in what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants. And basically what Marinelli wants is a pass rushing menace in the middle of the line.

I said this when reacting to McShay's selection, but I don't know if the Cowboys view Jernigan as a 3-technique. And if they view him more as a nose tackle, then they will not pick him with their first pick for the same reason they didn't take Sharrif Floyd last year.

In his first two mock drafts, Kiper had the Cowboys selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He's slotted to the St. Louis Rams at No. 13 in this mock.

The names that could draw the most interest from the Cowboys among those picked after No. 16 are Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Louisville safety Calvin Pryor.

A lot of things will change between now and May. Who knows, maybe the Cowboys will get greedy in free agency when it comes to defensive linemen and not be forced to go that route in the first round.

Gauging Jason Hatcher's market

March, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Jason Hatcher has been waiting for this day for a long time.

Hatcher
Hatcher
He will soon find out how much the rest of the NFL thinks of him and whether he will be a former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle.

It is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but in the last week two defensive ends have signed contracts that could be an indication of what Hatcher, who led the Cowboys in sacks (11) in 2013, gets paid.

The Minnesota Vikings signed Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. He had 17.5 sacks in his first four seasons and has started only one game. The Vikings, however, are changing the face of their defensive line and will likely say goodbye to Jared Allen and Kevin Williams in favor of Griffen and Sharrif Floyd.

Griffen is also 26.

On Monday, the Seattle Seahawks re-signed Michael Bennett to a four-year, $28.5 million deal with $16 million guaranteed. Bennett had 8.5 sacks in 2013 in helping the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. He has 23.5 sacks in his career, including 17.5 in the last two seasons.

He is 28.

Hatcher’s first bite at the free-agent market came in 2011 after a lockout. Teams acted quickly and Hatcher took a three-year, $6 million deal from the Cowboys. Up to that point he had started one game and never had more than 2.5 sacks in a season.

Now 31 and coming off his best season, Hatcher wants to cash in. If Griffen can get a deal worth $8.5 million annually and Bennett, who is better than Griffen, gets $7.125 million annually, then does that keep Hatcher in the $6 million-a-year neighborhood? Maybe it's in the mid-$5 million range.

He plays a different position, but ends tend to have more value than tackles, even in a 4-3. Age will also be a factor. It can be argued Hatcher does not have as many miles on his soon-to-be 32-year-old body, but that won’t inflate his price that much.

The Cowboys would have to create cap room for a deal. They could re-work the deal for DeMarcus Ware or release the seven-time Pro Bowler, or they cut lower-priced players to fit Hatcher’s first-year cap figure. They don’t want to restructure anymore contracts.

Teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are believed to have interest in Hatcher, but what type of interest is it?

It seemed like a foregone conclusion when the season ended that Hatcher would not be with the Cowboys in 2014, but the salary cap has increased and his price might be more palatable than originally believed.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Cowboys

March, 6, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insider Todd McShay has his third mock draft available and he has the Dallas Cowboys picking a defensive tackle with the 16th pick in the first round. But not the one that has been most linked to the club so far in the offseason.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is McShay’s pick in part because he had the Chicago Bears take Pitt’s Aaron Donald with the No. 14 pick, which would be crushing to some Cowboys fans who believe Donald would be the perfect guy for Rod Marinelli.

The question I would have is whether the Cowboys see Jernigan as a three technique or more of a one technique. If they think he is more of a nose tackle, then I think the Cowboys would pass on Jernigan at No. 16. If they think he can get to the passer, then they would be OK.

I can’t tell you what the Cowboys really think at this point because they don’t even know. They are in the beginning stages of the draft process.

To a degree this is the Sharrif Floyd argument from a year ago where the coaches did not feel Floyd had the pass rush they wanted to make him a first-round pick.

A one technique is a run stopper and a two-down player. For a first-round pick, he better not have to come off the field in passing situations.

In McShay’s first two mocks he had the Cowboys taking Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt (Dec. 18) and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Feb. 6).

Cowboys need defense, but can't force pick

February, 22, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Everybody knows the Dallas Cowboys need help on defense.

Just about every mock draft so far has the Cowboys selecting a defensive player, be it Pitt defensive end Aaron Donald or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Or some defensive end. Or defensive tackle. Or maybe a different safety.

Defense, defense, defense.

After allowing the most yards in franchise history and the second-most points in a season, it is not a mystery.

But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys must draft defense in May.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsDrafts need and value could line up if defensive lineman Aaron Donald is available when the Cowboys pick in the first round.
“I think you get in a lot of trouble if you focus in on one spot,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “You start targeting something and drafting off need, we all know that will get you in trouble. I don’t think it’s to anyone’s surprise that it would be nice to come out of the draft at some point with a defensive front guy, a defensive lineman or two, but I don’t think we’re just going to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take the first two picks and they’ve got to be defensive linemen.' I feel like you get in trouble that way.”

It is a yearly question around the draft: Take the best player available or draft for need?

The two are always linked. Need can’t be avoided. The draft is the best way to build a team. You have to take need into account when selecting players, but like anything it is about degrees.

Too often teams will elevate certain players at a position knowing they need help.

“Just grade them like you see them,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said, “then we’ll talk about them and adjust accordingly. Just because we need a defensive end, we’re not going to bump him into Round 1 if he’s a third-round talent. We’ll figure it out.”

In 2006, Chester Taylor ran for 1,216 yards but the Vikings took Adrian Peterson in the first round of the 2007 draft, which was a no-brainer. But in 2011, the Vikings took tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round even though Visanthe Shiancoe had three straight seasons with at least 40 catches. Rudolph was the MVP of the 2012 Pro Bowl.

The Vikings had Kevin Williams, but drafted Sharrif Floyd (maybe you’re aware the Cowboys had him rated highly only to pass on him at the No. 18 pick) with a nod to 2014 if not 2013.

“We’ve been very cognizant of sticking to what our draft board says,” Spielman said. “That guy you may not need this year, but two years from now or in his second year that guy might be a heckuva player for you.”

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs the past four years. Core players such as Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are on the back ends of their careers. Jason Garrett is in the final year of his contract and needs to win. But the good of the franchise trumps any short-term gain by filling needs.

“I think you’re always trying to accomplish two things: I think you’re trying to bring guys in who can help you now and then help you in the future,” Garrett said. “You want to bring in the right kind of guys in. The way you evaluate players is you want to make sure they have the right physical measurables to play his position at this level so that’s a starting point for you. You also want to make sure they have the right intangible qualities regardless of what their position is, the kind of guys you want to bring to your football team. So that hasn’t changed.”

A draft is not a one-year proposition. The Cowboys are not drafting only with 2014 in mind.

They need defensive linemen, especially if Ware is a salary-cap casualty or if Jason Hatcher leaves in free agency. They need linebackers too with Bruce Carter in the final year of his deal. They need a safety opposite Barry Church. They need cornerback help too because you can never have enough cornerbacks.

But Dez Bryant is entering the final year of his contract and Miles Austin likely won’t be back in 2014, so they need receivers too. Doug Free is in the final year of his contract, so they need a right tackle. DeMarco Murray is entering the final year of his contract, so they need a running back. Romo turns 34 in April, so they need a quarterback.

“There’s a natural deal there and we’ve talked about it with our scouts,” Jones said. “We don’t want to see it. We want the guys to get the grades they should get and not try to start liking a guy just because we may need a position.”

Cowboys coaches, scouts get on same page

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- In an effort to avoid the miscommunication that led the Dallas Cowboys to pass on the fifth-ranked player on their board while holding the 18th pick in the first round in last year's draft, the defensive coaches spent the last two weeks discussing with the scouts the characteristics of the players they want in their 4-3 scheme.

Last year the Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd in part because he was not a fit for what Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli wanted in a defensive lineman. During last year's draft owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Floyd did not have the "quick twitch" the Cowboys needed at defensive tackle.

If that was the case, then Floyd should not have been rated so highly.

"That was unfortunate with Sharrif," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "I don't want to single a guy out, but I think that can happen when you change a system. You move from what we were doing and we were so into that, and then all of a sudden you move to a 4-3 and you've got new coaches in the room and what they're trying to accomplish and that kind of slipped through the cracks a bit on us. It won't happen again."

The Minnesota Vikings drafted Floyd with the No. 23 overall pick and he had 2.5 sacks as a rookie. Jones felt the Cowboys evaluated the player correctly but not when it related to the Cowboys' scheme.

"You have some players that you have issues with because they don't fit your system necessarily," Jones said. "Even though Sharrif may have been a first-round type player in our old system, he might not have been a first-round player for what we want in our system as an under tackle. I mean, we think in our system we can find nose tackles later in the draft that do a good job. I think under tackles are hard to find, great ones are."

Improving D-line the top offseason priority

December, 30, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- So much for the defensive line being a position of strength for the Dallas Cowboys, as Jerry Jones declared during draft weekend.

Improving that unit will be the Cowboys’ top offseason priority, according to executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones.

“I think our biggest challenge is to get a better roster – get us to where we can compete better,” Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan. “I think it will start with our defensive front there. We put a lot of energy into the offensive line the last couple of years. I think we did some good there with Tyron [Smith] and [Travis] Frederick in terms of shoring that up, doing some things there with Doug [Free], who came along this year and played well.

“Obviously we’ll turn our attention to the front seven. With the injuries and the cap situation that we have, we’ll certainly have to take a long, hard look at it. My number one goal in the offseason is to improve our roster, especially in the front seven.”

The Dallas defensive line was hit hard by injuries this season, causing the Cowboys to use 19 players in the front four. The Cowboys did not address the defensive line in this year’s draft, passing on Florida’s Sharrif Floyd despite the fifth-ranked player on their board falling to them at No. 18 overall.

Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who the Cowboys were counting on to be an impact player despite a significant recent injury history, declining production and attitude problems, didn’t play a down for Dallas this season before his acrimonious release. Defensive end Anthony Spencer, who was paid $10.6 million after the Cowboys used the franchise tag to keep him, played one game before undergoing microfracture knee surgery and going on injured reserve. Tyrone Crawford, the team’s top young defensive lineman, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon suffered on the first day of training camp.

The Cowboys need Crawford to make a complete recovery and at least compete for a starting job next season. He’s likely to replace either Spencer or defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who made it clear after his career year that he’ll sign with the highest bidder in free agency.

“We have nothing but respect for that, but we don’t want to be ruled out of it,” Stephen Jones said of Hatcher. “We’ve had really good players go into the open market – Jay Novacek and Darren Woodson – that ended up back in Dallas. We’re certainly going to keep our hat in the ring. You never know what markets are going to do out there and how things are going to be.

“We certainly would love to have Jason back, but as he said, he’s got to take care of his family and we have to do what’s best for the Cowboys.”

Whether Hatcher returns or not, the Cowboys will commit a lot of resources this offseason to filling holes on their defensive line.

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

Five Wonders: Cowboys just good, bad enough

October, 29, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – The World Series has had games end on an obstruction call and a pick off. The Dallas Cowboys have lost games in which they have scored 48 points and won the turnover battle, 4-0.

I wonder what else weird could happen.

At the midway point of the Cowboys’ season, it’s time for Five Wonders.
  • I wonder if this is just who the Cowboys are. They are good enough to beat the bad teams and just not good enough to beat the good teams. Since 2011, the Cowboys are 16-1 against teams that are below .500. Against teams .500 or above, they are 4-19. This year they are 4-0 against team below .500 (New York Giants, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles) and 0-4 against the teams .500 or better (Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs). With rematches against their division foes and games against the Minnesota Vikings (1-6) on Sunday and Oakland Raiders (3-4), maybe, just maybe the Cowboys can get to nine wins and break this 8-8 train they have been on. They play three teams that are currently above .500 in the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
  • One of the signature plays from Sunday’s game against the Lions was Matthew Stafford throwing it up down the middle of the field to Calvin Johnson with the Cowboys in the perfectly drawn up defense with safety Jeff Heath in the middle of the field to take away the post throw. But Johnson was able to take the ball away from Heath and cornerback Brandon Carr for a 54-yard gain. I wonder why Tony Romo doesn’t take more chances with Dez Bryant. There’s risk involved and for all of the great things Stafford does, some of it isn’t sound. There is a time and place for everything. Bryant has shown the ability to take the ball away from defenders. It will be his ball or nobody else’s. Miles Austin has struggled with that type of play the last few years, so I can understand not taking those chances with him. But Bryant will play defensive back if he has to.
  • I wonder how much attention Sharrif Floyd will receive on Sunday. If you can rewind the clocks to last April, Floyd was the apple of many draftnik’s eyes and could not believe the Cowboys’ good fortune to see him there at No. 18 in the first round. The Cowboys had Floyd ranked on their draft board in the top five but when push came to shove Rod Marinelli just didn’t see enough pass rush to make Floyd worth it. If that was their reasoning, fine, but Floyd should not have been so high on the draft board. The Cowboys elected to trade down with San Francisco and eventually took Travis Frederick with the 31st overall pick. They also picked up an extra third-round pick in the deal and were able to select Terrance Williams. The process might have been flawed, but the results have been favorable so far. Frederick has been terrific and Williams has a touchdown catch in four straight games. Floyd has five tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Vikings.
  • I wonder where the screen game was against the Lions. The Cowboys used it effectively once with running back Joseph Randle picking up 13 yards. When you face a front four like the Lions, the easiest way to slow down the pass rush is to run the ball. The Cowboys didn’t run the ball well. The second way to slow it down is with some screens. They didn’t look to it enough against the Lions. They have not been a big screen team in years. Maybe it has something to do with their linemen in space. Frederick is more of a plodder. Brian Waters does not move as well as he did earlier in his career. Mackenzy Bernadeau replaced Waters and he is not great in space. Same with Ronald Leary. But when things are going poorly, the screen game could have bought Romo some precious half-ticks later in the game when he was looking to get the ball down the field.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will make a practice-squad call up for the fourth straight week with cornerback Micah Pellerin. According to a source, Morris Claiborne could miss the next two games with a hamstring injury suffered against the Lions. The Cowboys only have three other corners on the 53-man roster in Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb. They can’t go into a game with only three, can they? Minnesota might be a run-first team, but it is not a run-only team. Pellerin has been on the practice squad since the season started. For those wondering why Sterling Moore would not get the call, the Cowboys view him as a slot player and not somebody who can fill in outside. Plus, he’s not been in football for two months. If they make the move, Pellerin gets the call.

Five Wonders: Run D to be tested more

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys head to Philadelphia this week with first place in the NFC East on the line, but I really wonder how good the Cowboys really are.

What’s funny is how people say the division is awful and the Cowboys should run away with it. I wonder why. It’s not as though the Cowboys’ roster is filled with so much more talent than the rest of the division.

If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC East, the storyline is set for those who want to believe they underachieved again; not that they might be just as poor as the division's other three teams.

Anyway, let’s get to wondering in this week’s Five Wonders:

• I wonder if I got a little carried away with the defensive redemption angle from Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins. When measured against the performances against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, it was better. A lot better. But the defense still allowed 433 yards, gave up 216 rushing yards, including 77 on nine carries from Robert Griffin III. Their work on Alfred Morris was OK until the 45-yard touchdown run. But with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy coming up Sunday and games against Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte, as well as rematches with McCoy and the Morris-Griffin tandem, the run defense will have to improve. McCoy leads the NFL with 630 yards rushing and runs like he is part of a video game.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsRookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has 18 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns through six games for the Dallas Cowboys.
• I wonder if those all wondering if the Cowboys should have picked Sharrif Floyd in the first round understand that it likely would have meant they would not have Terrance Williams on the roster. This isn’t to excuse the Cowboys for not looking to the defensive line in the draft, but two players like Travis Frederick and Williams is a lot better than one player like Floyd. That’s my gripe with the team on the first-round moves they made for Tyron Smith and Morris Claiborne in 2011 and ’12. Smith is playing much better this year and appears to have taken to the left tackle spot, but the Cowboys passed on a chance to pick up two picks from Jacksonville in a trade. They traded up to get Claiborne with the sixth pick in 2012, giving up their second rounder to do so. Frederick has played better than most thought he would and Williams has developed quickly. Since his fumble vs. San Diego he has turned it on and earned Tony Romo’s trust.

• It’s way too early to even think about the Pro Bowl, but while some of the normal names on the roster will get kicked around for the all-star game, like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant, I wonder if Dwayne Harris works his way into the mix. The Cowboys have not sent a non-kicking/punting special teamer to the Pro Bowl since Jim Schwantz in 1996. Harris is proving to be a dynamic punt returner. It’s more than just his 86-yarder for a touchdown against the Redskins. He gets positive yards almost every time and his decision-making has improved. Although fielding a punt at his 5 might be a little dubious, but it speaks to his confidence level. In his last 16 games, he has 10 punt returns of at least 20 yards. He is averaging a ridiculous 23.6 yards per punt return and 34.7 yards per kick return. The sample size is small, but Harris is making a name for himself.

• I wonder if people forget there is a salary cap in the NFL. When the Cowboys cut Will Allen last week I was inundated with those asking if the team is setting up a trade for Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is playing this year on the franchise tag. With roughly $2 million of cap space, the Cowboys are not in position to make a splash trade without a long-term commitment that they just can’t afford to make with other players inching toward free agency. They would have a hard time adding a substantial veteran free agent as well because of the cap. There are ways to move some money around, like re-working Doug Free’s deal, for instance, but they would be setting themselves up for a tighter cap in 2014 and possibly beyond. The best the Cowboys can hope for is internal improvement along the defensive line as they better understand what Rod Marinelli wants.

• I wonder how it is possible Dez Bryant has as many games averaging less than 10 yards per catch as he does averaging at least 13.5 yards per catch. Against the Redskins, Bryant caught five passes for 36 yards. In the opener against the Giants, he averaged 5.5 yards per catch. Against the St. Louis Rams he averaged 9.5 yards per catch. It’s proof that if teams want to take a receiver away, they can do it. It might also be proof the Cowboys are not always willing to take shots down the field, even to Bryant, who can outmuscle just about any defensive back in the game. The Cowboys have done a better job moving Bryant around this year, but they have to get the ball to him in space more.
OXNARD, Calif. – What, the Cowboys worry about Jay Ratliff?

On the contrary, they have complete confidence that the four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle will be a dominant force this season. They firmly believe that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s coaching will revitalize Ratliff’s career.

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That would all make perfect sense, if only Kiffin and Marinelli had healing powers.

There’s no reason to doubt that a healthy, in-his-prime Ratliff would have been a phenomenal fit as a 3-technique tackle in the Tampa 2, the gap-shooting spot which Warren Sapp made famous en route to the Hall of Fame. But the Cowboys seem to be crossing their fingers and ignoring all the reasons to doubt that Ratliff’s body will allow him to flourish in that role.

Ratliff’s hamstring strain will sideline him for at least the entire training camp. He still hadn’t completely recovered from the sports hernia surgery that ended his 2012 season early when the Cowboys reported to camp. And Ratliff has missed significant time over the last 18 months due to a torn plantar fascia and high ankle sprain.

His body is breaking down after Ratliff’s remarkable run of durability and productivity as an undersized 3-4 nose tackle. The Cowboys are counting heavily on a declining player.

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The signs of decline were evident before injuries limited Ratliff, who missed only one game total in his first five year as a starter, to six games last season. Follow his sack numbers over the last five years: 7.5, 6, 3.5, 2 and 0.

You think that guy is going to be a dominant force just because he sees fewer double-teams?

Maybe sacks can be misleading. Try to find a stat that indicates anything other than Ratliff’s days as an impact player are done.

Ratliff’s last two Pro Bowl berths were based on reputation. The last one he earned on merit was in 2009, when he was credited with 83 tackles, six sacks, eight tackles for losses, 33 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Ratliff’s totals in 38 games since then: 101 tackles, 5.5 sacks, seven tackles for losses, 38 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.

Yet the Cowboys have complete faith that the injury-ravaged Ratliff will wreak havoc again this season.

That faith isn’t just lip service, either. They passed on Sharrif Floyd, the fifth overall player on the Cowboys’ board, when he fell to them in the draft and didn’t draft a defensive tackle.

For some reason, the Cowboys are comfortable counting on Kiffin and Marinelli to work a miracle and reverse time for Ratliff.

Cowboys desperate for D-line depth

July, 22, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. – Jerry Jones’ draft-weekend declaration that the defensive line is a strength for the Cowboys caused a lot of eyebrow raising and head scratching.

It’s even more off the mark now.

The Cowboys desperately need to address their lack of depth on the defensive line. It was an issue before Tyrone Crawford, the team’s best young defensive linemen, went down with what the Cowboys fear is a torn Achilles tendon during the first practice of training camp. It’s a glaring need now.

“We’ll probably be looking at that,” said executive vice president Stephen Jones, declining to discuss any potential candidates. “We were already looking at that anyway.”

The Cowboys were counting on the 6-foot-4, 284-pound Crawford to spell Anthony Spencer at the strong side defensive end and also play some at defensive tackle. The hope was that Crawford, a third-round pick in 2012 who earned rave offseason reviews, would perform well enough to make the Cowboys comfortable saying farewell to Spencer in free agency.

But next offseason is a long way away. The Cowboys have to address their immediate concerns about the defensive line.

With Ratliff and Spencer (knee) nursing injuries, Sean Lissemore and Kyle Wilber joined DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the starting defensive line. The only other healthy defensive linemen on the roster with any NFL experience: Ben Bass, who saw action in two games as an undrafted rookie last season; and Nick Hayden, who has played a total of two games since 2010.

Stephen Jones insists that the hamstring strain that sidelined Ratliff for the start of camp isn’t a significant concern. However, it’s another indication that Ratliff’s days of being a durable interior playmaker are probably done. He turns 32 next month, missed 10 games last year and is still recovering from the sports hernia surgery that put him on injured reserve in 2012.

The Cowboys passed on the easiest way to add depth to their defensive line when they traded down in the first round instead of selecting Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the No. 5 player on their board, with the 18th overall pick. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who didn’t feel that Floyd was “quick twitch” enough to excel in their scheme, essentially won a draft-room debate over the scouts.

That decision was widely questioned at the time, and the second-guessing will continue, especially if Floyd emerges as a force for the Minnesota Vikings.

But the Cowboys can’t worry about that at the moment. They’ve got to get busy finding reinforcements for a depleted defensive line that is far from a strength.
The Dallas Cowboys' draft board was revealed by the website Blogging The Boys last week.

A review confirmed some of the statements or truths coming out of Valley Ranch at the time of the draft. But a closer look also reveals a question: Is there a disconnect in the Cowboys war room between Jerry Jones and the personnel people?

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The Cowboys had a chance to draft tight end Tyler Eifert or defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd instead of moving down in the first round in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys did neither and traded down from No. 18 to No. 31. The 49ers drafted safety Eric Reid with the pick.

Eifert, meanwhile, was considered the best tight end in the draft.

If Eifert was rated so high by the Cowboys' personnel people, why not take him? The Cowboys decided against taking Floyd, who fell in the first round, because of what Jones called "fast twitch muscles."

Really?

It appears Jones sided with the coaches by bypassing Floyd and Eifert and didn't listen to his personnel people. The coaches and the personnel people will always have a variety of opinions regarding the draft, no matter what round. But it seems Jones should have listened to his personnel people over the coaches.

If you didn't take Eifert in the first round, why draft Gavin Escobar in the second round? Eifert was a better player based on how the scouts graded the tight end position. So Jones bypassed a first-round talent to move down in the draft and select a second-round graded player in center/guard Travis Frederick.

This is nothing against Frederick, but he's a second-round player drafted in the first round. It's not his fault and he shouldn't apologize for being drafted where he was.

But the process in which the Cowboys went about getting him seems very flawed and in some ways screams that Jones, the scouts and the coaches are not on the same page.

It certainly didn't appear the Cowboys were on the same page in the first round of the draft.

Afterward it seemed everybody was on point because the Cowboys stayed true to the board. The Cowboys didn't do that in the first round, and for that you have to blame the general manager.

There's only so much Jason Garrett can do in the war room. If he stands on his head against a move, it will be noted, but Jones makes the final call here.

While Jones is respected in the NFL for some of his draft day moves, it's hard not to believe what happened in the first round two months ago will affect the franchise going forward.
The defensive line is a position of strength for the Dallas Cowboys.

Just ask Jerry Jones.

The Cowboys owner/general manager made that declaration after the first round of the draft, when Dallas decided to pass on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, opting to give more weight to the opinions of two prized new assistant coaches than the scouting department.

Jones’ rationale, which was a regurgitation of what he heard from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, was that Floyd wasn’t “quick twitch” enough to play the 3-technique tackle in the Cowboys’ new scheme. The Cowboys didn’t believe it was in their best interests to use a first-round pick on a 4-3 nose tackle.

Kiffin and Marinelli certainly know what they’re looking for in a 3-technique defensive tackle. After all, they coached Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in Tampa. (They didn’t draft him, though. Sapp was coming off his rookie year when Kiffin and Marinelli were hired by the Buccaneers.)

The real head-scratcher here is why the Cowboys didn’t consider improving their defensive tackle depth a primary concern.

The confidence in the defensive ends is understandable. DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dominant pass-rushers in NFL history. Anthony Spencer is coming off a career year. They’re making the transition from 3-4 outside linebackers back to the position they both played in college, but the Cowboys have good reason to believe the ends will be a strength of the defense. (Next year isn’t so certain with Spencer playing for a franchise-tag deal for the second straight year, but 2012 third-round pick Tyrone Crawford has a lot of fans at Valley Ranch.)

There are a lot of question marks, however, at defensive tackle.

There’s a lot of buzz around Valley Ranch about how former Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff will thrive in Kiffin’s scheme. You hear no concern from the Cowboys about Ratliff, who turns 32 in August, having his sack totals decline in five straight seasons, including when injuries limited him to six games in a sackless 2012.

“He will flourish, I emphasize ‘flourish,’ in this defensive scheme,” Jones said. “He is a natural 3-technique. He is always highly respected because he could play nose as well as he could with his forte being quickness, high agility, high motor. He is an integral part of what we’re doing. And I think he’s going to have an outstanding year.”

If Ratliff plays the 3-technique, who is the Cowboys’ nose tackle? They decided they didn’t need Floyd and didn’t address the position later in the draft, either.

Will it be Jason Hatcher? That’s a heck of a transition for a seven-year veteran who has been a 3-4 defensive end his entire career.

Sean Lissemore? He might be a quality rotation player, but his performance when pressed into playing the majority of snaps at nose tackle in the final month of the season offered no indication he’s ready to be a full-time anchor of the run defense.

Brian Price? Tampa Bay’s 2012 second-round pick was out of football last season after being cut by the Bears. It’s tough to count on a guy who’s trying to get his career back on track after it was derailed by injuries and other issues.

Josh Brent? Unfortunately, he’s more likely to be in a jail cell than on a football field next season.

Maybe Floyd isn’t a great fit for the Cowboys’ defensive scheme. That doesn’t explain why they have completely ignored a glaring need at nose tackle.

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