It is a perfectly sound pick if the Cowboys lose DeMarco Murray to free agency. While a running back has not been picked in the first round the last two years, Gordon would give the Cowboys the ability to continue their run-first, run-often mentality that worked so well in 2014.
But it's not the ideal pick for a team that needs an influx of defensive help.
What McShay's mock draft does indicate is the possibility that the Cowboys are in a never-never land when it comes to landing a pass-rusher or cornerback. Eight defensive ends and three cornerbacks were among McShay's first 26 picks.
Even the offensive tackle position was well picked over.
While you can never ignore the Cowboys trading up to make sure they land a valued pass rusher or cornerback, which I can't name just yet because it is early in the process to know who the Cowboys love, like or loathe, giving up early round picks does not help build the base of a team.
As much as the Cowboys needed to land DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round last year, giving up their third rounder to get him was costly.
If the projections continue down the same path, the Cowboys' best hope is to find a team willing to trade up to No. 27 so they can acquire multiple picks in the top three rounds.
With a deep running back field, you might feel better getting one in the second or third rounds than in the first.
IRVING, Texas -- Now that U.S. District Court Judge David Doty has cleared the way for Adrian Peterson to possibly be reinstated to the NFL, the future of the Minnesota Vikings running back should start to come into focus.
The Dallas Cowboys have been viewed as a natural landing spot for Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, native, but several obstacles are in the way: age and price.
Though there is no doubt Peterson is one of the best -- if not the best -- runner in the NFL, the possibility of any team making a trade with Minnesota is difficult. From a financial standpoint, it would work for the Vikings to either cut or trade Peterson, but if a team deals for the running back it has to be able to assume a $12.75 million base salary in 2015.
Given that the Cowboys are ready to assume a $13 million price tag on Dez Bryant with the franchise tag, the Cowboys would have to make several moves that free up salary-cap room that will impact their decisions in the future.
If the Vikings release Peterson, who has said last week he is "still uneasy" about returning to the team in 2015 because of how the team dealt with his legal situation, then the Cowboys -- or any team -- could structure a contract in a way that would make it possible for the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player to return to his home state.
But he won’t be coming for free, and the Cowboys have expressed a desire to be more financially sound than they have in the past.
The Cowboys have repeatedly stated their desire to build through the draft. Though the possible addition of Peterson would make an already strong offense even stronger, it would likely hurt the Cowboys' ability to improve the defense because of the draft pick or picks it would take for any team to acquire Peterson.
Even the possibility of Peterson joining the Cowboys, however, could affect the team’s discussions with DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing. Coach Jason Garrett has made clear his desire to retain Murray, as has Jerry Jones.
With his first and likely last chance to cash in after playing out his rookie contract, Murray is the best runner available currently. If Peterson becomes available, then Murray would be viewed differently, and teams that had been prepared to make strong pitches for him might turn their attention to Peterson instead.
One candidate is New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty. If he doesn't reach a deal with the club, he could be given the tag at a price of close to $9.5 million. McCourty earned roughly $10 million on his rookie contract, so the one-year tag would almost match what he made in his first five seasons.
"To me, that's no reason to stress," McCourty said on Wednesday. "I love it here. The franchise tag is player-friendly now, it's a good number."
Bryant earned about $11.8 million, so the one-year tag worth $13 million would be more than what he earned in his first five seasons. The only tags higher belong to quarterbacks and defensive ends.
"I've never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn't do it over this kind of money," Jones said from the scouting combine. "That usually is not realistic. It's just too much money. And consequently it's not set up or packaged the way that parties might want -- and I want to emphasize again -- it's not really set up in our best interest at all. There's a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn't franchise, but this is here when you don't have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term. And so if anything it's in the right situation, it's a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future."
But making a player-to-player comparison is not the best approach. McCourty plays a position that is not as valued as Bryant.
Safeties don't get paid the same as receivers. McCourty might not mean to the Patriots what Bryant means to the Cowboys.
While McCourty can look at the $9.5 million tag as a sign of the team's belief in him, other players, perhaps like Bryant, can look at the tag as a negative.
A player shouldn't thumb his nose at $13 million, but if he has a chance to come close to potentially tripling that figure in guaranteed money in a long-term deal, the angst can be understandable to a degree.
According to NFL Players Association figures, the Cowboys are at 82.58 percent of their minimum average, spending $211,407,314 in cash in 2013 and 2014.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, each team has to be at 89 percent off minimum cash floor spending after 2016 or the league has to collectively be at 95 percent. If not then the difference must be paid to the NFLPA, which will give the money to current and former players who are on the smaller-spending rosters during that time.
In 2013, the Cowboys spent $127.9 million, according to NFLPA figures, and $83.5 million in 2014.
Because teams can make simple accounting changes to help with cap space, the union wanted to make sure more cash was getting in the players' hands, which prompted the minimum cash spending floor.
In order to reach the 89 percent minimum this year, the Cowboys would have to spend roughly $139.9 million in 2014.
Getting a long-term deal done with Dez Bryant -- or DeMarco Murray -- would go a long way in helping them get there. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 53 players under contract currently have cash value of roughly $80.6 million.
Large signing bonuses to Bryant and/or Murray, would also count toward the minimum spending levels. The Cowboys can also re-work the contracts of players like Tyron Smith or Tony Romo and have that money count toward the minimum.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys will be more than compliant by the deadline.
"It's a product of circumstance, that's all I'll say about it," Stephen Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine.
Taylor wrote: "Jerry isn't offering Bryant a lucrative long-term deal for one reason: He doesn't have to do it."
Taylor offered up what he thinks Bryant should get and what has happened with the negotiations between the Cowboys and Bryant:
Market value in the world of elite receivers is a five- or six-year deal that averages about $14 million and guarantees Bryant $35 million to $40 million.
Don't believe any poppycock about the Cowboys being close to a deal with Bryant during the season before he changed agents, because that's organizational propaganda at its best.
The Cowboys never offered him any deal with more than $30 million in guaranteed money, which means Bryant was never interested in that deal. The Cowboys offered him a deal with about $20 million in guaranteed money.
Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine the Cowboys thought they were close to a deal with Bryant. Perhaps one person’s definition of “close” and another person’s definition are different, but it's likely why Bryant switched agents last fall.
The Cowboys have not had any detailed talks with Bryant’s new agents, Kim Miale of Roc Nation and CAA’s Tom Condon. They didn’t talk at the combine either. Everything is pointing toward the franchise tag at this point.
But if I have to contest one thing from Taylor's column it is the amount of guaranteed money the Cowboys are willing to commit.
Since the talk of using the franchise tag on Bryant has been around since last summer when a long-term deal did not get done, the fact that the team only would be willing to guarantee “about $20 million,” doesn’t make much sense to me.
The franchise tag figures to come in at close to $13 million for receivers in 2015. For the sake of math, let’s use that figure. That $13 million would be fully guaranteed once Bryant signs the tender. The Cowboys can also use the tag in 2016, which would be an increase of 120 percent, which means they would be willing to guarantee Bryant another $15.6 million.
At the very least Bryant is looking at $28.6 million in guaranteed money over the next two years based off the franchise tag.
Just logically it would follow that Bryant would not accept a deal that did not include at least that much guaranteed. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has the most guaranteed money among receivers at $48.7 million. Before his recent deal, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was second at $27 million along with Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace.
From there it goes to Vincent Jackson ($26 million), Andre Johnson ($20.5 million) and Dwayne Bowe ($20 million).
So based off the franchise tag over the next two years, Bryant’s guarantee would already be second-most to Johnson.
The debate is how close Bryant gets to Johnson in the guaranteed money. Does he want just a little more? Will he take a little less? How high are the Cowboys willing to go?
All great questions that cannot be answered at this time.
But if there was a holdup in the discussions during the season, that was likely it.
Among Jones’ biggest regrets is how poorly he handled the dismissal of the iconic coach. Last year Jones said he should have taken former owner Bum Bright up on his offer to fire Landry, who was coming off three straight losing seasons.
Ever since that day Jones has been searching for his Landry.
While no coach will last 29 years in one spot again, like Landry did, Jason Garrett has the chance to become Landry-like for Jones.
Clearly that didn’t happen and Johnson left after five seasons. Since Johnson, Jones has had Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Garrett as head coach.
Switzer and Parcells lasted four full seasons. Phillips was fired midway through his fourth season. Campo lasted three straight 5-11 seasons. Gailey lasted two seasons but made the playoffs both times.
Garrett is starting his fifth full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. He was the interim coach for eight games in 2010 after Phillips’ firing.
He has posted a 41-31 record as coach, finally breaking that 8-8 hurdle in 2014 with a 12-4 record and an NFC East title.
Speaking from the NFL scouting combine last week, Jones was not asked a question about Garrett until the 75th minute of a 90-minute session.
“What’s to ask?” Jones laughed.
Last year there was plenty to ask. The three straight 8-8 finishes were an indictment on the Cowboys' personnel but also on Garrett. His team missed out on the playoffs with three straight Week 17 losses from 2011-13. Garrett’s job security was raised to Jones at just about every offseason event he attended.
Jones maintained belief in Garrett and consistently said Garrett had a long-term future with the Cowboys even if few believed Jones’ words because his actions -- or lack thereof on a contract -- said otherwise.
But in 2014 Garrett flourished. Freed from overseeing every detail of the offense with the hiring of Scott Linehan, a trusted confidante, Garrett was able to be a walkaround head coach.
“My biggest responsibility here was to assess that for the future and quantify it for the future,” Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine. “This was not a reward. You can say the contract is a reward. You wouldn't have gotten it if you had not done good. For me, this was an assessment of this guy can coach. This guy has soaked it up.”
Jones paid for Garrett to learn on the job, so to speak. The payoff for Jones’ patience came in 2014. For Garrett, the chance to step away from the offense worked out well.
“I think when you’re a head coach and you’re calling the defensive signals or you’re calling the plays on offense, you still want to be the head coach of the whole football team,” Garrett said. “I made a concerted effort when I became the head coach, when I was calling plays, to do that. I tried to sit in meetings on the defensive side, be with the special-teams group. But there’s a logistical aspect to it too. When you’re the offensive coordinator and playcaller, you have to prepare for that. I just think as much as anything else, once we got Scott Linehan in here to handle that role, I could really, truly spend my time equally between and among those three different units.
“I think that’s an important thing. It’s not only the time during the week. It’s time during the game. It’s the emotions, addressing the different weaknesses that you might have on the football team, try to shore those up. I just think it allowed me to do that better.”
It’s what Jones hoped would happen in 2013 when he forced Bill Callahan to be the playcaller, but that did not work out well because Callahan was not as familiar with the Cowboys' passing game. Linehan’s background with Garrett, having worked together with the Miami Dolphins, and their similar offensive systems made Garrett more comfortable.
Now Garrett spends more time with the defense, trying to learn more about the whys and hows of Rod Marinelli’s scheme. He does the same thing with special teams.
“He is not the same guy he was when he joined us as offensive coordinator and certainly not the same guy he was when he was playing quarterback for the Cowboys,” Jones said. “This guy has evolved. He has shown abilities to operate with duress. He has shown ability to be reasonable when needed, unreasonable when needed. He will confront any areas that need to be confronted. Will he do it with skill? Yes. Does he set it up so when he needs correct he can? Has he built a proper deal to correct staff or players? Is he good with communicating any need he has with the league, with the organization, all of those things? I gave him $6 million a year for five years.”
It might help them that their seems to be plenty of pass-rushers in this year's draft based on what was on hand at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
When the Cowboys ran a 3-4 defense from 2005-12, they had to focus their pass-rush attention on certain body types. DeMarcus Ware was the prototype as the college defensive end turned 3-4 outside linebacker.
With a dozen or so teams running a 3-4, the Cowboys had to hope their needs at the position matched up with what was available in a particular draft. Now that they run a 4-3 defense, the Cowboys don't have to make projections because of a position change.
The Cowboys do have distinctive differences in what they look for in left and right defensive ends. At left defensive end, they want a little more size and strength to hold up against the run. At right defensive end, it's purely about athleticism and pass rush.
In other words, it's what the Cowboys had in Ware. While the job descriptions of a 3-4 outside linebacker and 4-3 right defensive end might be different, the body types are similar.
Some of the top draft prospects, like Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler Jr. and Shane Ray could fit either scheme. Clemson's Vic Beasley came in bigger than many expected (246 pounds) and stronger (35 reps on the bench press) while maintaining his speed. Kentucky's Bud Dupree checked in at 269 pounds and was listed as a linebacker but did not do the drills because of a groin injury. He still ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Virginia's Eli Harold could work his way into first-round discussions after his combine workout.
Pass-rushers go quickly in the draft. Last year the Cowboys had three right defensive ends in Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and DeMarcus Lawrence. Clowney and Barr were gone in the top-nine picks. The Cowboys knew they needed a right defensive end as they entered the second round and traded up to the 34th overall pick to take Lawrence
ESPN Insider Todd McShay has teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants looking for pass-rushers in the top 10. The Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have similar pass-rush needs before the Cowboys pick at No. 27.
Remember, the Cowboys compared Bryant to Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson during training camp, among the silliest comparisons you'll ever hear. Jackson is a supreme deep threat; Bryant is among the game's best receivers.
Lowballing Bryant has zero to do with any concerns about Bryant's off-the-field activities. Nor does it have anything to do with any alleged video.
While the Cowboys will tell you they've yet to have a meaningful conversation with Bryant's agent, Tom Condon, it wouldn't matter if they had.
Jerry isn't offering Bryant a lucrative long-term deal for one reason: He doesn't have to do it.
It's really that simple, but just because the rules allow a franchise to take advantage of a player doesn't mean it should. So Bryant, first-team All-Pro this season, has every reason to be mad, annoyed, disappointed or any other adjective you want to use to describe his mood.
The Cowboys threw the ball 110 fewer times in 2014 than in 2013, yet Bryant still caught 88 passes for 1,320 and established a new franchise record with 16 touchdowns. He has at least 1,230 yards each of the past three seasons and scored 41 touchdowns.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters.
Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) joins to give an idea of how feasible it would be for the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in Southern California. Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) discusses why he thinks Jameis Winston is all but a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) breaks down which direction the Jets will go with the No. 6 overall draft pick. Will they go with a quarterback? Defense? Receiver? Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) weighs with his thoughts on where the Titans will turn at No. 2 if Winston is off the board.
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As the Cowboys prepare for the 2015 NFL draft, don't rule them out from taking an offensive lineman for the fourth time in the last five years.
The selections of Smith, Travis Frederick (2013) and Zack Martin (2014) worked out well and changed the Cowboys' modus operandi, and finding another gem at No. 27 overall is possible.
“It certainly is,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said last week at the NFL scouting combine.
The Cowboys don't have a right tackle under contract since Doug Free and Jermey Parnell are set to hit the free-agent market. Parnell might command more money and thus be out of the Cowboys' price range. Free is a little older but arguably more important to the offensive line than Parnell, but Free is coming back from foot surgery.
He missed seven games, counting the playoffs, in 2014. The surgery rehab might limit some of his work leading into training camp.
By taking a tackle in the first round, the Cowboys would have protection at right tackle and also have a player in the pipeline to replace Free down the road. Iowa's Brandon Scherff might be gone by No. 27, but Pitt's T.J. Clemmings or Miami's Ereck Flowers could be names worth investigating before the draft.
The Cowboys hit it right with Martin, despite their obvious need for defensive help last year. They have an obvious need for defense in 2015, but it won't come at the expense of the best player.
“You just wouldn't have thought that we would have drafted an offensive lineman last year after your last two first picks [on the O-line], but it was obvious that he was the best player there for us,” Jones said. “At the time, the only other one that was rated higher [Johnny Manziel] was being batted around there at the last minute. Still, [Martin] was the better player on the board for us, and we didn't have something that we were interested in what was being offered as an alternative.”
Though no team in the NFL is "all in" on analytics, the Dallas Cowboys were one of nine teams called "believers."
The Jerry Jones Cowboys are not as focused on analytics as those teams, but the Cowboys use GPS-monitoring systems on players in practice to measure just about anything. They are also in a partnership with Pro Football Focus, like a good amount of teams in the NFL.
Will McClay has attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in the past, and the Cowboys will be represented at it again this weekend.
Analytics in football might never be able to approach the level of use it has in baseball, but it’s still a tool teams should use for guidance if not final decision-making.
Last season Jason Garrett made four bold moves late in the season that might have been viewed as analytics' driven by some, and gut calls by others.
In the Cowboys’ 41-28 win against the Chicago Bears, Garrett went for it twice on fourth down on the Cowboys’ third possession of the game, with a field goal almost assured. Twice DeMarco Murray converted on fourth-and-1, and the second try was a touchdown to give the Cowboys a lead they would never lose.
In the Cowboys' win against the Washington Redskins in the season finale, Garrett green-lighted an onside kick attempt with the Cowboys ahead 20-7 in the second quarter. The Cowboys recovered the try and effectively ended the game six plays later with a Murray touchdown.
The gutsiest move came in the wild-card game against the Detroit Lions. Facing fourth-and-6 from the Lions' 42 with six minutes to go, Garrett went for it again and Tony Romo connected with Jason Witten for a 21-yard gain. With 2:32 to play Romo hit Terrance Williams for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
"He really deserves all the credit for that because the book might say, 'Don’t do that,' but when you’re playing to win ...," passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said after the game.
Was that analytics or was that gut?
To me, it was Garrett going with instincts when others might have decided to punt in a three-point game.
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 four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.
Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) and Gutierrez will attempt to make sense of the notion that the Chargers and Raiders, who have both called Los Angeles home in the past and have been fierce rivals since their AFL inception, could share a stadium in nearby Carson.
Pat Yasinkas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) will also let us know what the Buc's might do with the No. 1 overall pick after James Winston's showing at the combine.
Staying with the QB vibe, Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) will give us an update on what he thinks Gang Green will do at No. 6 overall in the draft if both Winston and Marcus Mariota are off the board.
And Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) opines on what the Titans might do at No. 2 overall, go with one of the QBs or perhaps rising USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, or might they go in an entirely different direction?
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In the two playoff seasons before 2014, the Cowboys used a committee approach.
In 2007, the Cowboys had three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis, and Marion Barber and Julius Jones combined for 368 carries, 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2009, the Cowboys had two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line in Davis and Gurode, and Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for 394 carries, 2,026 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Even if Murray comes back and his touches are reduced, he will still be the lead back over Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams or any other back they keep (Lance Dunbar), sign or draft. But the disparity in carries from 2014 -- Murray had 392, Randle had 51 -- will not be as great.
If Murray leaves, the same would hold true with a free-agent signing (Mark Ingram?) or a draft pick (Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi) as the lead back and Randle and whoever else as the secondary ball carriers.
"I think that generally we are in two-back systems across the league if you look at the practical way it shakes out," Jerry Jones said. "Most of these teams split a running game that approaches the number of rushes we have. They split it. But there are more backs. There are more backs. That adds to what happens. That adds to the answer: how do you address your running game? OK. You don't necessarily expect to have a back carry that kind of load and still have a very successful running game."