Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: I'm not sure where you get he's "always been 10-15 pounds overweight," from other than maybe an eye test. He was not in the best of shape going into the 2013 season. That's why he was "uniquely running mountains" as Jerry Jones called it. I think he was in better shape going into this season in part because of the rehab he had to do for his back surgery. He has never been a physical specimen. He's not going to show up and look like Colin Kaepernick all of a sudden. But I think he knows he has to do a better job with his core at all times of the year in order to make it through a full season.

@toddarcher: I'm guessing you are presuming DeMarco Murray will not be part of the Cowboys in 2015. It was noteworthy that the Cowboys gave Williams $240,000 in a bonus as part of the two-year deal he signed after the season. But that would hardly keep the Cowboys from going after a running back in the draft or a more proven -- if less costly -- veteran in free agency. I think some of the reason why the Cowboys gave Williams that bump in pay was something of a thank you for not leaving when other teams tried to sign him off the practice squad. Williams was smart to stick around, especially if Murray doesn't return. He had a good preseason last summer but was caught in a numbers game when it came to the 53-man roster. I think he could be caught again in that situation depending on how things shake out.

@toddarcher: It's going to be a long haul for Claiborne. He can ask Williams about the rehab because he went through the process when he played for the Arizona Cardinals. From what I've been able to gather, you won't see him on the field in the offseason program and he might not be ready for the early part of training camp. It's more complicated than a comeback from, say, a torn anterior cruciate ligament. There is a lot of stress on the tendon because of the nature of the position. Time is the best healer, but building up strength is a must too. This is a big year for Claiborne for a lot of reasons but for him personally it's a contract year. He's already made plenty of money in his career. Now it's about showing he can have a lasting career.

@toddarcher: Cole Beasley has handled some punts. Lance Dunbar has done some kickoff work. Those guys are restricted free agents, but I'd expect both to be back. Joseph Randle can do it a little bit, buf he might have a larger role as a running back depending on what happens with DeMarco Murray. Terrance Williams has worked on kickoffs in practices. So has J.J. Wilcox. None of those guys are as proficient as Dwayne Harris. I think the Cowboys would like to keep him, but I do wonder if he wants to find a chance to play more as a receiver. At best, he comes back as the fourth receiver for the Cowboys in the 2015 season.

@toddarcher: I like Brett Hundley too, but I don't see the Cowboys taking a quarterback early. Maybe in the middle of the draft or even late they take a guy, but I don't think the Cowboys start the process of finding Romo's successor until they have driven all the way down the road with him as a quarterback. It's a nice theory to draft a guy and have him sit and learn, like Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay, but the Cowboys need those early picks to play right away to maximize what Romo has left. Taking a quarterback would mean one fewer player the Cowboys can use on defense or on the offensive line or at running back. The Cowboys will find Romo's successor when they no longer have Romo, in my opinion.

IRVING, Texas – You can no longer spell Pro Football Hall of Fame without Charles Haley.

Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones often said his teams of the 1990s would not have been able to spell Super Bowl without the acquisition of Haley from the San Francisco 49ers in 1992.

[+] EnlargeCharles Haley
AP Photo/Denis PoroyCharles Haley holds the NFL record for most Super Bowl victories by a player (5).
On Saturday, Haley was selected to the Hall of Fame on his sixth try. On Aug. 8, he will join 1990s teammates Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and Larry Allen in enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.

Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. He was the catalyst for the Cowboys’ victories in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII and XXX, and he won two Super Bowls with the 49ers. In 12 seasons, Haley played on 10 division championship teams and in six NFC Championship Games in a seven-year span.

Haley played in just 63 games with the Cowboys but was added to the team’s Ring of Honor in 2011. He had 34 sacks with the Cowboys and 100.5 for his career. He was one of the best pass-rushers of his generation.

For the Cowboys, he brought an attitude to a unit that needed some bite. He played hurt and battled back injuries at different times, but he played big at the biggest moments. His 4.5 sacks are a Super Bowl record.

"Charles was the difference maker for us," Jerry Jones said. "He put the 1990s Cowboys over the top.

"He brought a personal spirit and a competitive drive to our organization that changed the course of Cowboys history.

"Intelligence, toughness, will and determination are what Charles means to me. He was a great pass-rusher who could stop the run. He was a guy that teams had to game plan for. He was a defensive playmaker and a game changer -- a complete player, a great teammate who demanded, and expected, excellence from himself and the players around him."

He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice (1990, 1994) and was voted to the Pro Bowl five times. He earned All-Pro honors twice, first as an outside linebacker with the Niners and then as a defensive end with the Cowboys.

Haley is the 22nd player, coach or front office member for the Cowboys to earn selection to the Hall of Fame. Allen was the most recent Cowboy to be enshrined, in 2013.

J.J. Watt receives all 50 votes

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
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PHOENIX -- NFL Defensive Player Of The Year J.J. Watt was a unanimous selection as The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player Of The Year for 2014.

The ultra-energetic and versatile Houston Texans end collected every vote from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.

"It's special," he said. "It's a testament to my coaches and teammates and everything they did throughout the year. There are so many people who helped make this possible."

He is the first unanimous choice for an AP award since Tom Brady won Most Valuable Player in 2007, and the first for top defensive player under the current voting setup.

In his fourth pro season, Watt earned his second such honor with 20.5 sacks, 78 tackles -- 29 for losses -- 50 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and 10 blocked passes.

He is the first NFL player with multiple 20-sack seasons. Watt also had 20.5 sacks in 2012, his other top defensive player season.

Watt finished second in the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player voting behind Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, who also took the honor in 2011, received 31 votes for the 2014 award from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.

Watt, seeking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, got 13 votes. Since the number of voters for the AP MVP was reduced to 50 in 1999, the 13 votes by Watt are the most for any defensive player.


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Junior Seau headlines HOF class

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
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PHOENIX -- Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields, both 12-time Pro Bowl selections during their NFL careers, were elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 on Saturday.

Seau, in his first year of eligibility, Shields, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown and defensive end Charles Haley were the five modern-era enshrinees selected in the meeting of the Hall's board of selectors.

The class of 2015 also will include former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who played 240 games in his career and was the seniors committee nominee, as well as two nominees in the contributors category -- former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian, as well as longtime NFL executive Ron Wolf.

The board of selectors began the day with 15 modern-era finalists, which were trimmed first to 10 finalists and then to five in the daylong meeting. A finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote from the 46 selectors to be selected for enshrinement.

The class was announced during the "NFL Honors" awards show inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall. It will be formally enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in August.

Seau played 13 seasons with the Chargers, three years with the Miami Dolphins


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Cowboys position review: Defensive line

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
3:00
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Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Lawrence
Mincey
Under contract: Jeremy Mincey, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Josh Brent, Terrell McClain, Lavar Edwards, Jack Crawford, Ken Bishop, Ben Gardner, Amobi Okoye, Chris Whaley.

Free agents: Nick Hayden, George Selvie, Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer.

A look back: The Cowboys parted ways with DeMarcus Ware, the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, and did not attempt to keep Jason Hatcher, who led the team in sacks in 2013. For a defense that is based on front-four pressure, the Cowboys entered 2014 without much of a pass rush.

Mincey was a solid free-agent pickup and led the Cowboys with six sacks. Melton had five sacks but never felt 100 percent in his comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Melton’s struggles allowed Tyrone Crawford to flourish. He might have been the Cowboys’ best defender during the season, not just the best defensive lineman. He found a home as the three-technique in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. You want more than three sacks, but he was coming off a torn Achilles and showed potential to be a cornerstone piece.

Hayden and Selvie were serviceable parts. Spencer’s recovery from microfracture surgery was a long one, but it paid off later in the season.

The Cowboys gave up a lot to move up to take Lawrence in the second round. He started the season on injured reserve because of a broken foot, missing the first eight games. He did not record a sack in the regular season but he had two in the playoffs, including the clinching play to beat the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round.

McClain had moments, but not as many as expected from his work in the spring in part because of an ankle injury that bothered him early and late. Brent returned to the Cowboys after his suspension was lifted and played in one regular-season game after hurting his calf. He returned for the playoffs.

A look ahead: The Cowboys have to treat the defensive line the way it has treated the offensive line in recent years. They need to upgrade the talent. Doing it all at once, however, is not likely.

The drafting of Lawrence started the process, but the Cowboys need to find more pass-rushers. They have decisions to make on players such as Melton, Spencer, Hayden and Selvie. Melton has a $9 million option the Cowboys will almost certainly decline. Spencer, Hayden and Selvie could be stop-gap guys as the Cowboys look to gradually rebuild.

Crawford, Mincey and Lawrence give the Cowboys a give the Cowboys a solid trio up front. McClain and Bishop have the ability to fill out the rotation. Crawford was coming on just as he suffered a thumb injury that ended his season. He can play end or tackle, especially in pass-rushing situations. Brent should be able to benefit from a full offseason after missing two seasons with legal problems. He remains a favorite of Jerry Jones.

Okoye, Gardner and Whaley are coming back from injuries that kept them out the entire season. The hope is they develop into solid backups.

A look out: The Cowboys have picked an offensive lineman in the first round in three of the last four years and they now have a line that is the envy of the league. They need to make the same commitment to the defensive line for the defense to progress from OK to good in 2015.

The Cowboys had just 28 sacks in the regular season. They need to bump that considerably. A strong pass rush helps the back seven produce more takeaways. That the Cowboys were able to get 31 turnovers is pretty remarkable. Imagine what they could do if they had a more consistent rush.

While there could be big names available in free agency, such as Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Cowboys’ free agency approach is likely to be more about numbers than signing one player at a huge price. In letting go of Ware, the Cowboys were able to compensate with guys such as Mincey, Selvie and Spencer at roughly a third of the cost.

The draft is the likely spot for the infusion of talent. Sitting at No. 27 in the first round, it might be difficult to get a game-ready player, but guys like Alvin Dupree, Trey Flowers and Mario Edwards Jr. might be names to keep an eye at defensive end and Texas' Malcom Brown and Ohio State’s Michael Bennett could be names to watch at tackle.

Cowboys position review: Offensive line

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
1:30
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Reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Under contract: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Darrion Weems, Donald Hawkins, John Wetzel

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin
AP Photo/Gus RuelasDon't rule out a fourth first-round pick joining Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on the Cowboys' offensive line.
Free agents: Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Tony Hills

A look back: There is no doubt this group changed the way the Cowboys played the game. Since 2011, the Cowboys rebuilt the offensive line with first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. They also hit on an undrafted free agent in Leary and saw Free's level of play rebound.

Smith, Frederick and Martin were named to the Pro Bowl. Smith and Martin were named All Pro.

The ability is unquestioned. As a group, they have a work ethic that seeps through the entire roster. They stay longer on the practice field than other groups. They meet longer than other groups.

Smith was not as dominant as he was in 2013, but he was still one of the best left tackles in football. He signed a 10-year deal with the Cowboys over the summer that included $40 million guaranteed. He might have the strongest hands in football. When he locks on to a defender, the battle is over.

Frederick is mostly known for his smarts but is more athletic than people think and moves well. Martin's selection with the 16th overall pick was well chronicled and he did not disappoint. He might have been the best rookie in football even if he won't win Rookie of the Year.

Free missed five regular-season games and the playoffs with foot and ankle injuries, but his fellow linemates consider him the glue to the unit. Parnell did a serviceable job when Free was out. Bernadeau started one game when Leary had a groin injury. He is a solid backup at all three interior spots.

A look ahead: The Cowboys might face an either/or decision on Free and Parnell. Parnell is younger, but Free, 31, is a better player. He can communicate faster in large part because of his experience. He had his pay cut in half the last two years from the big deal he signed in 2011, so the negotiations on a new deal might be a little tricky.

The trio of Smith, Frederick and Martin figure to get better. Most players believe their biggest jumps come between their rookie seasons and second year but Martin is already at a level reserved for veterans. He doesn't make mistakes twice. The common thread between the three -- besides skill -- is their fight. They don't give up on plays and they make it hard for linemen every snap.

Leary is a better run blocker than pass protector but he is solid and continues to improve. Bernadeau's making good money for a backup and offers security if something happened to the three interior linemen.

Hawkins was inactive for every game but his roster spot was never in jeopardy. He is a developmental player along the lines of Weems, whose season was KO'd by shoulder surgery. Wetzel spent the year on the practice squad but might have ability as a tackle and guard.

A look out: Bill Callahan is off to the Washington Redskins, but the Cowboys made sure the message will remain the same by promoting Frank Pollack to offensive line coach. Pollack has been with the Cowboys the last two years and has the line's ear. They listen to him and trust him.

With the uncertain status of Free and Parnell, it is not out of the realm of possibility the Cowboys look at a fourth first-round pick on the line in the last five years. It's too early to discern who that could be, but the current track record of success would suggest they can find a guy who will help.

To me, Free needs to be kept. There is always a price that is too high, but he means a lot to a line that is still learning the game to a degree. They could look for interior help in the middle rounds or in a low-cost free agent.

Regardless, there is no reason to feel this group will drop off in 2015.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers

2015 Hall of Fame finalist: Charles Haley

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
12:00
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One of the main arguments for Charles Haley to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the same as it has been the past few years: He is the only player to own five Super Bowl rings.

For the Dallas Cowboys, however, he was the missing piece. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said on numerous occasions the Cowboys could not spell Super Bowl without Haley. He arrived in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers in 1992 and the Cowboys won three of the next four Super Bowls. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice (1990, '94) and was voted to the Pro Bowl five times. He earned All-Pro honors, first as an outside linebacker with the Niners and as a defensive end with the Cowboys.

With a defensive line that was loaded with talent, Haley did not play every snap, but he played the most important snaps. He brought a nasty demeanor to the Cowboys' defense that made it one of the best groups in the NFL.

The most important part of any résumé should be winning, and Haley won. He has the Super Bowl rings to prove it. His teams won 10 division titles in 12 years and he played in six conference championship games in a seven-year span.

This is the sixth time Haley has been a Hall of Fame finalist. Maybe his wait will finally come to an end on Saturday.

2015 Hall of Fame finalist: Jimmy Johnson

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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For the first time in the process, Jimmy Johnson will have his name bandied in a room full of Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.

He faces long odds as a first-timer on the ballot. He is one of three coaches up for discussion with Don Coryell and Tony Dungy.

He has more Super Bowl wins than either coach, but Coryell is considered one of the finest offensive minds in NFL history and Dungy had longer success with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.

But what Johnson accomplished with the Dallas Cowboys is worthy of the discussion. He took over in difficult circumstances after Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, replacing a legend in Tom Landry and inheriting a roster void of talent. The Cowboys went 1-15 in his first year.

By his fourth season, the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII and were the envy of the league. The Herschel Walker trade changed the Cowboys' route to success. Johnson's knowledge of the college football landscape helped the Cowboys find talent in almost every round of the draft.

In 1993, Johnson helped the Cowboys repeat as Super Bowl champions, something that had happened just six times previously.

There would be no chance for three straight Super Bowl wins. The relationship between Jones and Johnson deteriorated badly, and Johnson was out of the game until returning as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1996.

He remains the second-winningest coach in Cowboys history with a 44-36 regular-season record. He went 7-1 in the playoffs, but there is a hint of wonder regarding both of those marks had Jones and Johnson been able to work through their issues.

Maybe if they had, Johnson would already be enshrined.

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
9:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:

@toddarcher: I received a few inquiries on the franchise and transition tag this week. First, you can't use both. You can use just the franchise or just the transition, so that takes one option away. The franchise tag numbers haven't been set yet, so we will have to go with some guesses. The receiver tag figures to be about $12.5-$13.5 million; the running back tag could be about $11 million. The transition tags will be lower. The Cowboys want to lock up Bryant to a long-term deal, but they aren't about to just give him everything he wants. There is a negotiation that has to happen. Something could happen before March, but I highly doubt it. I've said since last summer that Bryant is destined for the franchise tag. Why not tag Murray? Well, that is $11 million against the cap this year. It's entirely doable, but not the wisest allocation, especially if they would go to $15 million on guaranteed money on a long-term deal. I'm just throwing that number out there as a guesstimate. Maybe the transition tag would make some more sense, but there is compensation due if they choose not to match an offer made by another team.

@toddarcher: Let me answer this a couple of different ways: If you're waiting for the Cowboys to make big moves in free agency, like signing a big-name player, I think you will be waiting a long time. The big moves will be in attempting to keep their own guys, like Bryant and Murray and a few others. Personally, I think the best way to go about free agency is to do what they did last year: sign smaller deals with a number of guys to fill some holes leading into the draft. I'd put guys like Nick Hayden, Anthony Spencer and maybe even a Cole Beasley or Dwayne Harris into this category.

@toddarcher: I guess there are different levels of "legit effort" to ponder, but I think the Cowboys make a bid to keep Rolando McClain. It's difficult to conjure up a comparison to help zero in on the contract, so maybe it takes a little bit of time. He is a difference-maker for the defense, but there are questions about him, especially his health. Was it a product of sitting out of the game for so long? I think an offseason program will really benefit him. Based on what he said at the end of the season, I believe he wants to come back. He knows he has a good thing with the Cowboys. The coaches know him and his quirks. Jason Garrett has the Nick Saban seal of approval, so that helps. But I'm not so sure the Cowboys break the bank to keep him.

@toddarcher: Beasley is often compared to Welker because they are short by NFL standards. Before that, the same comparison was made between Welker and Danny Amendola, who also had Texas Tech ties. I don't believe Beasley is the next Welker. It's not an ability issue. Beasley is talented. But their games are a little different. Welker has a more compact build and has shown he can make plays outside. Beasley has a slighter build and has been an asset in the slot. I don't want this to come off as a knock on Beasley. I think the Cowboys should sign him to a multi-year deal soon. But he won't get the opportunities Welker got in Miami, New England, and Denver to catch 100 passes in a season. Not with Bryant. Not with Jason Witten. Not with the Cowboys wanting to run the ball more. But Beasley can be a valuable part of the offense the way Welker has been for his teams.

@toddarcher: From what I've been told, everything is coming along fine. It was a little slow in the beginning, but the hope is that he will be able to take part in the offseason program and do at least some of the organized team activities and minicamp. I can see a scenario in which the Cowboys limit him somewhat in the spring so he doesn't overdo it. Lee will always try to do more. It's just his nature. The Cowboys will want to make sure he is building throughout so he's ready for Week 1 of the regular season, and not just thinking about getting back this spring. Lee has gone through an ACL rehab before, so he knows the steps necessary to get back on the field..

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IRVING, Texas -- Adrian Peterson has been hit at least 1,100 more times than DeMarco Murray.

Peterson, who turns 30 in March, is scheduled to earn $12.7 million this year, which is more than any other NFL running back. And just so you know, he has carried the ball more than 300 times only once in the past four seasons, which is important because this Dallas Cowboys offense requires a workhorse.

Oh, and Peterson still must be reinstated to the NFL by commissioner Roger Goodell after last season's child-abuse scandal forced him to the sidelines for the final 15 games.

Regardless of whether the Cowboys sign the 26-year-old Murray to a long-term deal, which should be their top priority, signing Peterson would be the kind of dumb, high-profile, headline-generating move the Cowboys used to make, when owner Jerry Jones had the loudest voice at Valley Ranch.

Now, he doesn't.

Vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and scouting director Will McClay just let him think he does. Hey, whatever works.

Obviously, Peterson will have a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, but good organizations resist the temptation to fall in love with the name on the back of the jersey.

That's another mistake Jerry has made over the years. He has paid players for what they've done instead of paying them for what they will do. Good organizations focus on the future -- not the past -- and they deal in reality, not what they want reality to be.

So the 2,097 yards Murray gained two years ago isn't really part of his discussion, though it speaks to his overall talent. Neither are his 91 career touchdowns or his 5.0 career average per carry.


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PHOENIX -- The 108 official Super Bowl XLIX footballs will receive additional security this weekend amid an ongoing NFL investigation into the inflation of game balls in the AFC Championship Game, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Thursday.

"There will be some added security just because of the environment we're in for this game," Blandino said during a football operations news conference at the Phoenix Convention Center.

ESPN.com reported last week that, per longstanding NFL policy, an independent set of equipment managers and ball attendants will handle pregame preparation of game balls. This year, Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin was chosen to supervise the group.

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will prepare 54 balls apiece to be used in Sunday's game; Blandino said the high number is due to charity commitments for game-used balls. Each team will hand over its footballs to Medlin and the NFL on Friday afternoon, where they will remain -- with the additional security -- until about three hours prior to the game. At that point, referee Bill Vinovich will test each ball to ensure it is within the NFL's allowable range of 12.5-13.5 PSI.

The NFL has hired attorney Ted Wells to investigate how 11 of the Patriots' 12 footballs were found to be underinflated at halftime of the AFC Championship Game. In the meantime, the league has already said it plans a full review of its policy regarding pregame football preparations this offseason. One possibility could be to discuss the legal range with Wilson, the league's official manufacturer. The 12.5-13.5 range has been in the NFL's rulebook for at least 75 years, Blandino said.

Blandino did say Thursday that the inspection of the footballs by referee Walt Anderson before the AFC Championship Game was handled properly.

"My major concern is did we follow proper protocol?" Blandino said. "Everything was properly tested and marked before the game. Walt gauged the footballs himself; it is something he has done throughout his career.

"Officiating is not part of the investigation."

Some other highlights of Blandino's news conference:

• Blandino clarified the protocol for referees if and when the Patriots' offense attempts to declare ineligible a player with an eligible number. Vinovich will point at the player, wave his arms in a manner similar to the signal for an incomplete pass, and then point at the player again when announcing he is ineligible. Blandino said the referee will not tell the defense not to cover the ineligible player, as Vinovich did when the scheme first surfaced during the AFC divisional playoff round.

• The NFL's competition committee has already received proposals from teams to expand instant replay, and Blandino said there is a growing movement in the league to capitalize in whatever way possible on emerging technology to correct more mistakes. The "process rule" that disallowed a key postseason catch by the Dallas Cowboys


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Cowboys position reviews: LBs

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
2:00
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Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Lee
Carter
Carter
McClain
Under contract: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Dekoda Watson, Kyle Wilber, Cam Lawrence, Keith Smith, Will Smith
Free agents: Bruce Carter, Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, James Anderson

A look back: It started out poorly last May when Lee was lost for the season because of a knee injury. He was their best playmaker on defense and the heart of the unit. It just added a question to a defense full of questions.

Throughout the season, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus mixed and matched his guys because of injuries, but as a group the linebackers performed well.

McClain was picked up in a next-to-nothing trade with the Baltimore Ravens and finished second on the team in tackles despite missing three games. Durant was having his best season before it ended because of injury. Carter was maddening at times, but led the Cowboys with five interceptions and played better down the stretch.

Hitchens proved to be a jack of all trades, starting games at all three linebacker spots. He finished with 100 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown. When he was picked, the Cowboys hoped the fourth-rounder could be a serviceable backup to Lee and play special teams. Wilber also had some moments in spot duty as a strongside linebacker.

A look ahead: Lee will be back in 2015, which is good news, but the rest of the group is in a state of flux because of free agency.

If the Cowboys re-sign McClain, then Lee can play the weakside spot. If not, he will return to his middle linebacker spot. It will be difficult to define how much McClain is worth because this was the first time he has had success at this level. The Cowboys got lucky with him and he might realize this is a good spot for him to remain and not just go to the highest bidder in free agency.

Carter and Durant are also interesting studies. Carter has all the athletic ability in the world, but there are stretches of play where you wonder how much he likes football. Durant was lighting it up but has durability concerns. Carter turns 27 next month. Durant turns 30 in September.

Hitchens showed incredible toughness playing through a high ankle sprain late in the season that earned him points throughout the organization. Is he a full-time starter or a fill-in replacement? What’s his best spot? It might be the Will linebacker, but he has some natural middle linebacker skills, too.

A look out: If they are unable to keep their free agents – or unwilling, depending on price level – the Cowboys have to find help.

Without McClain, Carter or Durant, the starters going into the season would be Lee, Hitchens and Wilber and plenty of questions with the depth. The answers would likely be low-cost free agents, such as Durant two years ago, and the draft, such as Hitchens in 2014. They had better be able to run and rally to the ball. That's what made the group successful in 2014.

McClain was a Pro Bowl alternate. With a full offseason of work and another year in the system, his play should improve. Putting him and Lee on the field together could give the Cowboys their best 4-3 linebacker pairing since Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen.

In Eberflus, the Cowboys have a coach who can develop players and teach new pickups on the fly. He might be a coordinator of the future for another team because he knows the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.

Cowboys position review: Tight ends

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
12:00
PM ET
Reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Position: Tight end

Under contract: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar

A look back: At some point you would think Jason Witten will slow down. He turns 33 in May but he is looking like another Tony Gonzalez, a player who can go at a high level well past what is reasonable.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJason Witten didn't put up his usual numbers in 2014, but he remained a vital presence in the Cowboys' offense.
Do not look at Witten's numbers as a true sign of how well he played in 2014. His 64 catches were his fewest in a season since 2006. The 703 yards were the fewest since his rookie season. He scored five touchdowns. Witten's blocking is what separated him from just about every other tight end in the NFL. He doesn't come off the field. In the Cowboys' zone game, the tight end is responsible for setting the edge and Witten did a great job of that.

So did Hanna, whose play was vastly underappreciated. He came to the Cowboys with the reputation as a pass catcher but has developed into a decent blocker. He caught four passes for 48 yards. His toughness is also unnoticed. He played the final few games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee.

Escobar had four touchdown catches but caught just nine passes for 105 yards on the season. His blocking improved but he was not able to keep Hanna off the field. Rarely did he have his hand on the ground as the true tight end during the season.

A look ahead: Witten's production increased in the final month of the regular season and playoffs, almost as if the Cowboys went back to the script that had him catching 80-90 passes a season. He is remarkably durable and he consistently wins the offseason awards for the way he trains.

He is probably more fluid now than he was five years ago. Again, maybe there will come a time where he slows down, but it doesn't look like it'll happen in 2015 with the way he played in 2014.

Escobar
Hanna
Hanna is going into the final year of his contract. Like any tight end, it's difficult to play behind Witten because the options are so limited. Hanna fills a vital role because of how much the Cowboys use two-tight end personnel.

It's not Escobar's fault he was picked in the second round in 2013. The Cowboys need more value out of a pick that high but Escobar looks more like a situational player than an every-down player. Again, that's not his fault. It's almost a product of the Cowboys' system. Tony Romo trusts him more, but there will only be so many chances with Dez Bryant, Witten, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and possibly DeMarco Murray around.

A look out: The Cowboys will need another tight end at some point in the offseason just out of numbers. They could conceivably carry a fourth tight end on the 53-man roster, but that would likely be at the expense of a fullback.

It will be hard to attract any significant free agents to Dallas because the depth chart appears set. Because Hanna will be a free agent after the season, looking late in the draft or at a priority undrafted free agent might make sense. But that tight end has to be able to do a lot of everything -- not just be a pass catcher or just a blocker.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
11:00
AM ET
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review ESPN.com's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.

 

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