Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by two other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the big game.
Kevin Seifert (NFL Nation writer) takes us behind the multi-step process that goes into the pregame checking of football inflation, and the impetus behind the league allowing quarterbacks to play with their own footballs. He also chats briefly about the Super Bowl's head referee, Bill Vinovich, and what we might be able to expect from his mixed crew.
Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) shares his thoughts on covering the Super Bowl after having been in the press box of each championship game since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta in 1994.
Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com this Friday at 1 p.m./10 a.m. PT as we catch up with Legwold and ESPN Insider's Mike Sando, who will fill us in on the Hall of Fame selection process that will occur this weekend.
Also, be sure to give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.
Listen to this week's podcast here.
Under contract: Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur, Chris Jones-*
(* - restricted free agent)
A look back: In a year in which the offense was outstanding and the defense was surprising, the special teams were only OK.
The return game was something of a disappointment. Dwayne Harris’ punt return average fell by 3.6 yards. His kickoff return average fell by nearly 6 yards. He was not as dynamic as he was in 2013. Some of that was the blocking. Some of that had to do with teams kicking it away from him.
The coverage teams were solid enough and C.J. Spillman came on late.
A look ahead: The Cowboys signed Bailey to a seven-year extension last offseason because of what he did and what he will be. They feel better about Bailey than just about any kicker they have had in the Jerry Jones’ era.
He is clutch. He doesn’t make excuses. He works hard. He keeps his head down. Jones has a big leg, but consistency is an issue. He is also a decent holder, which is a must with a kicker like Bailey.
Harris and Spillman were arguably the Cowboys best coverage guys and both are free agents. A special teams unit changes from year to year because of how the bottom of the roster fluctuates each year. It’s tough to build cohesion, but the Cowboys should look to keep their core guys and hope to see a rebound in 2015.
A look out: The Cowboys can sign Jones to a cheaper deal than the $1.5 million restricted free agent tender, but the amount is a guaranteed and it doesn’t stop them from signing a cheaper punter to bring in some competition.
Ladouceur turns 34 in March and does not appear to be slowing down, but the Cowboys always bring in an unknown during the offseason just to ease the work on the veteran. The Cowboys usually bring in a leg to do the same for Bailey, but there is no doubt he is the kicker for the present and the long-term future.
Under contract: Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan
A look back: It’s difficult not to call 2014 Romo’s best season. He led the NFL in completion percentage. He led the NFL in quarterback rating and Total QBR. He had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.
It worked perfectly. The one time it didn’t was on Thanksgiving, a shorter week, in a 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Romo threw 34 touchdown passes and was intercepted just nine times. Three came in the first half of the season opener. He was more efficient than ever and benefitted from the belief in the running game. But as the running game slowed some late in the season, Romo’s play picked up and the Cowboys closed the regular season with four straight wins. He had 12 touchdowns and one interception. He completed 90 percent of his passes in the win against the Indianapolis Colts. He showed he didn’t need to throw for 300 yards to be successful. He did it just once all season.
And he showed again just how tough he is playing through two transverse process fractures and torn rib cartilage.
Weeden started the 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards. He was picked off twice and threw one touchdown pass. The Cardinals made a lot of quarterbacks look pedestrian during the season. Weeden had a good spring, which helped the Cowboys decide to cut Kyle Orton after the veteran skipped the offseason program, organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp. He had some good moments in the preseason and played well in relief of Romo against the Washington Redskins.
Is he a long-term answer or a stop-gap backup? The Cowboys will give him a chance to show that either way.
Dustin Vaughan made the roster as an undrafted free agent and was active for just one game. He has a big arm and showed potential in training camp and in the preseason, but his presence would not deter the Cowboys from taking a quarterback in the draft this spring.
A look ahead: For the first time since 2012, Romo will have an offseason to be able to perfect his craft. Back surgeries held him out in 2013 and ’14 and while he was able to play at a high level, he has long believed his improvement came in the spring when he tinkered with different things.
Romo turns 35 in April, but the Cowboys believe he is different than most 35-year-old quarterbacks because he didn’t play the first three years of his career. Maybe the back surgeries or hits he has taken eat up some of that clock. But this isn’t about a five-year plan with the Cowboys. There is no reason to think Romo’s about to hit a steep decline in play.
Mentally, he is at his best. Physically, he can still get it done and he has a top offensive line that is a huge benefit.
He is set to count $27.773 million against the cap, which is an astounding number but one that the Cowboys could keep him at with the kind of salary-cap shape they are in. By restructuring his deal, they would only add to how much he will count against the cap in the future.
Weeden is signed through 2015. The Cowboys will have Vaughan's rights through 2017.
A look out: Every spring we wonder if this is the year the Cowboys draft Romo’s successor. The guess now is no, they won’t. Whenever the Cowboys decide to move on from Romo or Romo moves on from the Cowboys, then they will find his successor. The thought of grooming quarterbacks these days seems quaint, like a glass of lemonade on a hot day. Teams mostly draft a guy early and play him.
They could look for a more veteran backup than Weeden, but there’s not a lot available and they still like Weeden’s arm and potential. The same goes with Vaughan.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by EPSN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert and Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter).
Seifert, who has covered the world of NFL officiating with aplomb, will break down the process of inflating and inspecting footballs and how officials are involved in the process. He’ll also give us a scouting report on the officials assigned for Sunday.
Legwold, who covered the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, will then give us a day-by-day breakdown of the week and how teams attempt to stay focused with so many outside distractions.
Also, the crew will discuss the Pro Football Focus project that examined how many above-average players each NFL team was from contending for this year’s Super Bowl.
Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
NFL Nation TV will have a second show this week on Friday at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT.
The Dallas Cowboys could very well break that mark with quarterback Tony Romo in 2015.
Romo is set to count $27.773 million against the cap because of a $17 million base salary and a proration of $10.773 million from his signing bonus in 2013 and restructure in 2014.
At the Senior Bowl last week, Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters it is not a given the Cowboys will restructure Romo’s deal.
The Cowboys don’t want to do it and they probably don’t have to do it either even when it comes to re-signing Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray to long-term deals or even putting the franchise tag (or transition tag) on either player and signing one to a long-term deal.
They can still create about $31 million in space with other moves and have enough to be viable players in free agency, re-sign their key guys and get all of their draft picks signed.
(Let’s get a misnomer out of the way: a restructure is not a re-do. A restructure is simply an accounting tool where the player still gets the same money it’s just counted differently against the cap. A re-do is a player taking less money. And Romo will not be taking less money, nor should he be asked to take less money.)
Last year the Cowboys turned $12.5 million of Romo’s $13.5 million base salary into signing bonus as part of a restructure. It helped the Cowboys get under the cap last year. They don’t need that help this March.
Romo turns 35 in April. The Cowboys have to believe he has three years left at a high level. If they can withstand such an astronomical cap figure, they should do it. Too often in the past they kept kicking the salary-cap can down the road.
The most common practice in restructuring a player’s deal is to turn the difference between his salary and the league minimum into signing bonus and prorate it five years. The Cowboys like round numbers, to a degree, in their capology and could move Romo’s base to $1 million and turn the remaining $16 million into a signing bonus.
Just like that, they create $12.8 million in space against the cap.
They also eat up $3.2 million more in cap space from 2016-2019 by doing so. Romo’s cap numbers in 2016-19 would jump to $20.835 million, $24.7 million, $25.2 million and $23.7 million.
But the cap will be going up in the future, so what’s the big deal? Sure. And Romo’s base salary in 2016 is just $8.5 million (just?). It might be better to turn the restructure trick in 2016 when you don’t have to prorate as much of the salary and don’t inflate the future cap figures too much.
But there is also this to consider when examining Romo’s $27.773 million cap figure in 2015.
The Cowboys can nibble away at that figure by restructuring it as many times as they want in the coming months, taking a bit here and there as they see fit instead of doing the maximum at the start of the league year and perhaps leaving themselves a bit more compromised in the future.
But go back to Jones words last week: The Cowboys don’t have to do it.
They should be more than willing to erase Haynesworth’s record.
When they return to work, however, they will be busy playing catch up.
After lasting two rounds in the playoffs and then coaching in the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys have yet to have closure on the 2014 season. After their loss to the Green Bay Packers and before they headed to Phoenix to coach Team Irvin in the Pro Bowl, most of the coaches had to get new contracts.
Coach Jason Garrett admitted the calendar has been pushed back a little bit.
"All that stuff has to be pretty clean," Garrett said. "The most important thing at the outset is to evaluate our own players and try to get that done the first week we get back."
Having almost all of the coaching staff back should help those evaluations, according to Garrett. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan left for the Washington Redskins but his replacement, Frank Pollack, has been hands on with the line the last two years. Assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin is not under contract and his status is in doubt.
The only new face so far on the coaching staff could be Marc Colombo, who is considered the leader to become Pollack's assistant line coach.
Having the coaches back helps in the "evaluation and when we start talking about our schemes for the coming year," Garrett said. "We'll go back and evaluate what we've done but it's not like we're teaching a coach or a number of coaches, 'This is what the offensive system is,' or the defensive system. We have a lot of those things in place. So that gives you a chance to go back and really evaluate it and make improvements on it instead of getting people up to speed. It applies to personnel and it applies to our schemes."
In addition to the evaluation of the players on the roster, the coaches have to get up to speed with the players who could one day be on their roster. The coaches would have spent three days in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl if not for their coaching duties in the Pro Bowl. That is their introduction to the college players after the season.
They will have the chance to see the practice tape from the week and their scouts will get them up to speed before the NFL scouting combine in February.
In effect, the coaches will go through two-a-days.
"The priority will be these personnel meetings, evaluating our own team, but then you start to get that [college] stuff started," Garrett said. "Typically we work on our football in the morning and our college evaluation stuff in the afternoon."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It may not be as warm as Hawaii or have an ocean for players to frolic in, but Arizona will host this year’s Pro Bowl, marking the second time since 1980 that the game won't be played offshore.
While most of the attention this week has been paid to the deflation controversy, there have been plenty of Pro Bowl storylines in the desert leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (ESPN). For the second consecutive year, the game won’t feature an AFC vs. NFC format. This year’s teams will be led by a pair of Hall of Fame wide receivers: Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.
Here are five things you need to know about this year’s Pro Bowl:
Kickers will have to be more precise: One of the more significant changes at this year’s Pro Bowl will make both kickers -- the Philadelphia Eagles' Cody Parkey and the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri -- work harder. The NFL narrowed the uprights from 18 feet wide to 14 feet wide for the game. The goal is to make extra points and field goals more challenging since kickers made about 84 percent of their field goal attempts this season. And as the NFL did during the first two weeks of the preseason, it is moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard kick.
Pro Bowl is the NFL’s laboratory: Not only will the league experiment with the goalposts and extra points, the NFL will also implement changes for instant replay. Instead of going under the hood to review plays, the referee will watch replays on a Microsoft Surface, the same tablet teams have been using all season to review plays. The replays will be streamed to the tablet.
Stats and facts: Of the 115 players selected for the Pro Bowl this season, 88 will play. This is the sixth consecutive season 100 or more players were chosen. ... Last year, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21 with the fewest points scored by a winning Pro Bowl team since 1996. ... Members of the winning team, including coaches, earn $55,000; those on the losing team get $28,000. ... Each team has the same number of AFC and NFC players this season. ... The Denver Broncos had the most Pro Bowl selections with 11, while three teams -- the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings -- didn’t have a selection. ... There are 36 first-time Pro Bowl selections this year. ... Five rookies will play in the game: New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys G Zack Martin, St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald, Baltimore Ravens LB C.J. Mosley and Eagles K Cody Parkey.
- The offensive scheme
- Keeping Rolando McClain, Doug Free
- J.J. Wilcox
- Dwayne Harris
- The young defensive tackles
@toddarcher: Scott Linehan was asked this question at the Pro Bowl and he said the Cowboys will continue to do what they do. The difference is Bill Callahan will not be calling the running plays. That will now be Linehan's duty. The Cowboys have full belief in new line coach Frank Pollack in part because of what he brought to the running game changes first in 2013 and in 2014. Linehan will have tweaks but it will be more about the natural order of things and the development of players and the personality of the team. What it won't be is a change in scheme.
@toddarcher: I'm not sure I can put this in the "when" category. I think it needs to be in the "if" category. Rolando McClain and Doug Free can be re-signed now if the Cowboys and their agents get busy. I'll say this for Free, McClain and all of their free agents: It'll come down to price. I don't think the Cowboys break the bank, so to speak, for anybody. McClain played well but there are questions about him. I'm not sure a ton of teams will jump at him as a free agent and I think he realizes he has landed in a pretty good spot considering his past. To me, Free is a must-keep. He is better than people think and the leader of the room. Free is 31 but tackles can play longer. I'm not sure he will see a huge payday in the $6 million average per-year range.
@toddarcher: I would say it's fairly secure, but I don't think the Cowboys will avoid looking at taking a safety in the draft in the early or middle rounds if there is one they really like. Wilcox is an interesting case. He hasn't played the position long. He had decent moments and he had moments when you are reminded he has been a safety for just three years of his football life. He has natural skills but sometimes his angles are off and he gets beat. I think there's something to continue to work with but if you can upgrade, then I don't think the Cowboys should pass on the position.
How secure is Wilcox's starting job? #cowboysmail— Josh O'Neal (@JoshONeal4) January 23, 2015
@toddarcher: I would bring Dwayne Harris back. He plays a big role on special teams and on the offense. His numbers won't reflect that offensively, but he is a guy they can count on and he is a terrific blocker. He didn't have the breakout season I thought he would have as a returner, but he is dangerous. I don't think there will be a great demand for him in free agency. Maybe he'll look for a better opportunity for more playing time, but wherever he goes he will be a niche player.
With Cole Beasley playing a bigger part, we saw Dwyane Harris less and less. What do you see the team doing with him? Re-sign? #cowboysmail— Brannon Curry (@MilliTuesday) January 21, 2015
@toddarcher: All three? Not good. Davon Coleman has yet to re-sign with the Cowboys and I'm told he's considering other options. I don't know what they could be, but it's certainly within his right to do that after spending most of the year on the practice squad. Chris Whaley is an intriguing process, but how well will he come back from the knee injury? Ken Bishop has the best chance. I thought he played well in the loss to the Green Bay Packers considering he too spent most of the year on the practice squad. There is something to work with there as a rotation guy.
He is the only member of the Dallas Cowboys not to be on Team Irvin, where Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick reside. Ladouceur is on Team Carter, coached by the Baltimore Ravens staff.
“After 10 years, to get a little reward like this, it’s a little cherry on top of the Sunday for me,” Ladouceur said. “It’s pretty good.”
This is actually his third trip to the Pro Bowl. He made two as a guest of former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.
Ladouceur was added as a need player. And he missed Jerry Jones’ initial phone call.
“I was hanging out with my daughter outside; it was so pretty out,” Ladouceur said. “I called back and didn’t get a hold of him but (Marylyn Love, Jones’ executive assistant) told me, ‘Congratulations.’ It was a Friday afternoon. I’m with my family. I didn’t even think about it, to tell you the truth. Just a call out of the blue.”
Ladouceur has been just about perfect since he got to the Cowboys in 2005. He turns 34 in March and is signed through 2017. He joked he wanted to play “until I’m 52.”
“I’d like to play out my contract and then we’ll see from there,” Ladouceur said. “My body feels great. I can’t tell you I can play until I’m 40, but some guys have done it. Just year by year.”
And 2014 was a good year.
On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.
During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.
"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."
Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.
"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."
With nothing but time on his hands, Terry Hendrix, who is incarcerated in a Colorado correctional facility, has filed a lawsuit against the NFL seeking more than $88 billion.
According to WFAA.com in Dallas, Hendrix named Commissioner Roger Goodell, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and referee Gene Steratore in his suit for “negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and also reckless disregard,” after Dez Bryant’s fourth-down catch was overturned by replay late in the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Hendrix called the replay reversal a “fraud.” Most Cowboys fans would probably agree but not bring a suit against the NFL. Hendrix, however, is bringing the action on their behalf.
“For the theft from and the and the loss of a Super Bowl, against and upon Dez Bryant, #88, the 2014/2015 on field offense of and to include all the cheerrrleaders [sic], fans, of and all people in or from the sovereign republic of Texas,” Hendrix wrote in the suit.
Hendrix has asked for the case to be heard in 35 days.
His exact asking price: $88,987,654,321.88.
The power of No. 88 knows no bounds.
In it we discuss:
- Cap room
- DeMarco Murray's value
- What of Adrian Peterson
- Finding defensive linemen in the draft
- Ronald Leary
Away we go:
Tyron Smith, making Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut if they don't get him to agree to a pay cut and not picking up Henry Melton's option, which I think is a sure bet. But the Cowboys don't look at it the way you and I look at it. They don't say, 'We have $10 million in cap room, let's sign these guys.' To them, cap room is always changing depending on the plan they devise. I think the best way to answer the question is this: The Cowboys will be able to do whatever they want to do in free agency and the cap will not limit them in any way.
Joseph Randle might be able to get you 1,300 yards, but can he do all the things that Murray can do? Not really. When Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Murray was the person who set the identity of the team, I don't think you can take that lightly. But I don't know how you put a price tag on that, either. We've seen running backs be devalued over the last few years, but Murray's value to the Cowboys is probably greater than he would be to another team. It's a real dilemma, and the Cowboys can only be wrong. If they sign Murray and he continues to play at a high level, we say nothing. If they sign him and he falls off, they will get hammered.
Travis Frederick, but it almost cost them because there was a run on offensive linemen and he was the last man standing, so to speak. But they also got Terrance Williams in that trade. I don't think this team is so stacked at any spot where they should just focus in on one position and damn the rest. If the best available at No. 27 is an offensive tackle, take the guy. You can never have enough good players.
@toddarcher: I thought he was good. He had some pass-protection issues, but in the run game he was more than solid. He has been everything you could have hoped for from an undrafted free agent, albeit one that secured a large amount of guaranteed money when he signed. His knee has not really been an issue, but you never know about the long term. He is an exclusive-rights free agent, so the Cowboys will have control of him for the next two years. I wonder if they approach him about a long-term deal at modest money just to make sure he stays put. The Cowboys would be wise to do all that they can to make sure this line stays put for years to come. Tyron Smith is signed through 2023. Travis Frederick is signed through 2017 and Zack Martin is through 2018. That should be a pretty good run.
@toddarcher Hi Todd - With Tyron, Travis and Z getting the majority of the attention, how would you rate Ronald Leary's performance in 2014?— Max DeFilippis (@maxflipper) January 23, 2015
Play No. 1: Tony Romo incompletion vs. PackersSituation: Fourth-and-2 from Green Bay 32
Score: Green Bay leads, 26-21
Time: 4:42 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: This one goes down in the Cowboys' annals with Dwight Clark's "The Catch" and Jackie Smith's end zone drop in the Super Bowl. Dez Bryant made an apparent catch for the ages, leaping high above cornerback Sam Shields, taking three steps and lunging for the end zone. Bryant bobbled the ball, though it’s unclear whether it ever touched the ground, but regained possession as he rolled into the end zone. We’ll be discussing whether he caught it 50 years from now, but Green Bay advanced to the NFC Championship Game, while the Cowboys' season ended in disappointment.
Play No. 2: Tony Romo injured vs. RedskinsSituation: Third-and-11 from Dallas 36
Score: Washington leads, 10-7
Time: 7:59 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett did it to Romo again with his blitzing scheme. For the second consecutive season, Romo suffered a significant injury against Washington. This time, he suffered two small fractures in his back that forced him to miss one game and essentially rendered him useless against Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day. Win any of those three games and the road to the Super Bowl would have gone through Dallas.
He never took a big picture view, saying the timing wasn’t right, that the focus was on that week’s opponent or that day’s practice.
The end of Dallas' season wasn't even two weeks old, and as he stood outside one of the team buses after a Pro Bowl practice in Glendale, Arizona, Romo’s big picture view wasn’t about his season. He did not discuss his comeback from major back surgery to lead the NFL in passer rating, Total QBR and completion percentage. He didn’t go on about the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.
“Ultimately, I feel like we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do so it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Romo said. “I think you just figure out how you have to be better. I have to be better. Our team has to be better. And you have to go attack this thing with everything we got.”
On Tuesday night, sitting in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore, Romo watched his fellow Pro Bowlers walk by. He was struck at how different it felt from his earlier trips. In his first Pro Bowl in 2006, he was the unknown kid who led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He had the world in front of him.
Now in his fourth Pro Bowl and five years removed from his most recent trip to the all-star game, his life has changed. He turns 35 in April. He is married and has two sons. He knows these moments don’t last forever.
The world may still be in front of him, but his view of it has changed.
“You want to keep constantly trying to figure out new ways to improve,” Romo said. “You’re never satisfied. Last year is not a satisfying feeling. If anything, it makes you more hungry to be better going forward so you have an opportunity to achieve all your goals. Ultimately we didn’t get that done and that just never sits well. I’m a firm believer that you have to start over and go do everything you did to be better the next season. You can’t just rest on anything you’ve done. It just doesn’t work that way.”
“I’m going to have to start over, tear it all down and figure out what I did well and work on the things I didn’t do as well and then go try and continue to perfect your craft to get to your highest level.”’
How does he improve on 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions? On completing 69.9 percent of his passes? On 8.5 yards per attempt?
The secret is in the dirt. It’s an old Ben Hogan saying and one Romo references often. It’s on the practice field or in the meeting room. It’s studying the tiniest of details from where he places his ring finger on the ball to how he slightly adjusts where he points his lead foot.
“If you’re not improving and getting better from year to year, if you don’t think you can try to figure out new ways to perfect your craft, I don’t understand how you can help your football team,” Romo said. “You’re going in the wrong direction, to me, if you don’t. You’ve got to figure out how you can be a better player. Each guy has to do that a little different and just think if our team takes that approach, we have a chance to be better.”
For the first time since 2012, Romo will be able to work on his craft in the offseason. In 2013, he had surgery to remove a cyst from his back and did not take part in organized team activities and the minicamp. In 2014, he was coming back from the discectomy that prevented him from playing in the winner-take-all finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It limited him in training camp. He never practiced more than two straight days. It limited him early in the season until the Cowboys’ athletic training staff formulated the ‘Romo Wednesday,’ in which he worked on his strength in his core and legs.
“It’s going to be a much better offseason on building in areas that I haven’t been able to in a couple of years,” Romo said. “I’ll always have to maintain a little bit of what I’ve been doing for my back. Strengthening the areas there, that’s the most important thing. I think what I’ve found is that you’ve got to attack the offseason, and you can do it in many different forms. I think it’ll be nice to attack some area that I haven’t been able to.”
He doesn’t want to say what areas he will attack. He prefers to keep that secret in the dirt to himself. He said the tear-down process will start in the middle of February.
“Right now you’re just trying to enjoy the Pro Bowl and family and things like that,” Romo said.
When the bus returned to the Biltmore, he was going to sit by the pool and relax with his family and teammates. The sun was out and everything was bright.
“Next season is a whole new season and we’ve got to tear it down and start all over again,” Romo said. “You’re guaranteed nothing. That’s the only way to be successful year to year. I think our team has an opportunity with a lot of the right people in place, and I’m excited about the challenge and excited about the ability to work and get after it.”
Kiper has long been a fan of Zack Martin, though he keeps wondering if the Cowboys will move him to right tackle in the future. That’s not happening.
Martin was an obvious success story in becoming an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. The rest of the class, however, was kind of quiet to Kiper. DeMarcus Lawrence, their second-rounder, missed a lot of games earlier in the season. He said fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens “provided some useful depth.”
Hitchens actually provided more than that, starting 11 games and getting credited with 100 tackles by the coaches.
The long-term success of a draft won’t be measured by Martin. It will be measured by how Lawrence develops, especially considering what the Cowboys gave up to get him. He was more productive in the playoffs. Hitchens will be valuable.
But what will wide receiver Devin Street provide after catching just two passes as a rookie? The Cowboys had five seventh-round picks. Defensive end Ben Gardner missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury. Linebacker Will Smith spent most of the year on the practice squad. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop showed some promise in the loss to the Green Bay Packers.
If they can get one of those seventh-rounders to become a regular contributor, then that’s a success.