SamJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesA struggling Cowboys defense could use Michael Sam, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year.

IRVING, Texas -- If there were ever a team built to add Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, it's the Dallas Cowboys.

Sam, expected to join the practice squad if he passes a physical Wednesday, will fit right in.

Just like Deion Sanders did. And Bill Parcells did. And Terrell Owens did. Hey, this is America's Team, the NFL's most polarizing franchise.

No other franchise is even close.

That's why they're still a regular part of the league's prime-time television package even though a generation has grown up in north Texas with no clue the Cowboys used to rule the NFL.

Love them. Or hate them. You can't live without them, which is why whatever the Cowboys do -- even signing a player to the practice squad -- still makes big news.

While other teams might've been reluctant to sign Sam because they feared his presence would be a distraction that's a non-factor in Dallas where Jerry Jones believes the more mini-cams the better.

These players are used to having a locker room full of media every day during the season. Five, 10 or 20 more isn't going to be a big deal.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Mike Fuentes/ZUMARemember, Jerry Jones is a marketing genius who believes every word written or spoken about the Cowboys, positively or negatively, is good for business.
Remember, Jerry is a marketing genius who believes every word written or spoken about the Cowboys, positively or negatively, is good for business.

Jerry's approach is among the reasons the Cowboys have one of the world's most recognizable logos.

Remember there's an article in the current edition of ESPN The Magazine in which Jerry bemoans the fact he didn't draft quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round, "because it would've kept the Cowboys relevant for 10 years."

See, to Jerry, a player who keeps the Cowboys in the headlines is as important as a player who helps them win. A player who can do both is invaluable.

Frankly, there's no one who can tell you absolutely why Sam is getting an opportunity in Dallas.

The Cowboys didn't like him as a player as they researched him leading up to the draft. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants a defense built on speed and quickness, which is not Sam's forte.

The Cowboys had the 16th, 23rd and 33rd picks in the seventh round and passed on Sam each time.

Maybe, the Cowboys' perspective has changed because the defense has the potential to be the worst statistical unit in NFL history. Then again, he could be joining the Cowboys' practice squad because it'll help Jerry sell even more Cowboys' jerseys than he does now.

After all, Sam's jersey has been among the highest-sellers since the Rams took him in the seventh round.

Those of you who deal in conspiracy theories will find it interesting that news of Josh Brent's reinstatement -- he's eligible to play Week 11 -- arrived a couple of hours after news broke that Sam would potentially be joining the Cowboys' practice squad.

If Sam can contribute to the Cowboys' raggedy defense then great, but Jerry is always beyond thrilled anytime he can create one more reason for folks to talk, write or lead their sportscasts with the Cowboys.

It's no accident Forbes recently valued the Cowboys at $3.2 billion, making them the NFL's most valuable franchise. Imagine, how much the Cowboys would be worth, if they actually won some games?

The Cowboys are 136-136 with one playoff win since the start of the 1997. They've missed the playoffs each of the past four years and most people think coach Jason Garrett will be fired if the Cowboys miss the playoffs again.

The Cowboys are expected to have one of the NFL's worst defenses, so giving last year's SEC defensive player of the year a chance to earn a roster spot isn't out of the realm of possibility.

The Cowboys gave up 27 points and 415.3 yards per game last season, and they're without their top three players from that unit. DeMarcus Ware (Denver) and Jason Hatcher (Washington) left via free agency and Sean Lee tore his ACL and is out for the year.

The current unit is filled with journeymen, youngsters trying to make a name for themselves and veterans determined to reclaim their careers.

Since Saturday, the Cowboys have traded a conditional pick to Tennessee for defensive end Lavar Edwards and signed Jack Crawford and linebacker Korey Toomer to the active roster.

Sam, trying to prove he can play in the NFL after a great college career, should fit right in.

One way or the other.

Michael Sam makes football sense for Cowboys

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- Signing Michael Sam to the practice squad is a move that makes perfect football sense for the Dallas Cowboys.

Forget about the fact that Sam is seeking to become the first openly gay NFL player. If the Cowboys aren't mature enough to handle that, they're doomed anyway.

So what if Sam gets more attention than any other practice-squad player? If anything, it's a bonus for owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who loves when the Cowboys are in the news and jerseys are being sold.

But that's no reason to bring Sam to Valley Ranch. Dallas' desperate need for pass-rushers -- now and in the future -- is a good reason to give Sam a shot.

Quick, name all the healthy edge rushers on the Cowboys' roster who perform that role better than Sam. The silence is deafening.

If anything, a case could be made for putting Sam on the 53-man roster right away. The Cowboys won't have DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick drafted to fill DeMarcus Ware's pass-rushing shoes, for the first half of the season. Anthony Spencer is still at least a couple of weeks away from being ready to return from microfracture knee surgery. George Selvie, whose seven sacks last season more than doubled his previous career total, is dealing with a sore right shoulder. Jeremy Mincey, the starting right defensive end, is better suited to be an interior rusher on passing downs.

The Cowboys didn't draft Sam, who was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams and was released last week, because they considered him a tweener who wasn't a fit in their 4-3 scheme. At 6-foot-2, 261 pounds, Sam is not big enough to be an every-down defensive end or fast enough to be an outside linebacker.

But Sam has the potential to contribute in the Cowboys' nickel and dime packages. His combine numbers weren't impressive, but you can't deny his knack for getting to the quarterback.

Sam displayed that ability at Missouri, where he had 11.5 sacks last season while earning co-defensive player of the year honors in the SEC. He displayed that ability during the preseason, when he recorded three sacks in four games -- or three more than all the defensive ends who made the Cowboys' 53-man roster.

The Cowboys need pass-rushers. The owner has never minded publicity. There's no better place for Sam to try to get his NFL career started.

Josh Brent return OK'd for Week 11

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

IRVING, Texas -- Josh Brent is a member of the Dallas Cowboys once more, but before he can return to the field he must serve a 10-game suspension handed down from the NFL.

The NFL on Tuesday said his return is conditional on staying out of legal trouble and "any prohibited alcohol-related conduct will likely result in an immediate suspension and potential banishment from the NFL."

Brent will be allowed to return to the Cowboys' facility starting in Week 7 for team meetings and individual workouts, the NFL said in a news release. Starting with Week 9, he can return to all team activities other than traveling with the team and playing.

"If Brent fully complies with these terms, and following an additional report and recommendation from the league's substance abuse program advisors, he will considered for full reinstatement to return to play following Week 10," the NFL's statement said. "Brent may appeal this decision within five days."

Brent also must fully comply with any evaluation, treatment or counseling required by medical or other professionals assigned to him and with the requirements set forth by courts regarding his probation, testing, and monitoring, the NFL said.

Brent's agent, Peter Schaffer, said they would appeal the decision.

"We are going to invoke our appeal right," Schaffer said in a phone interview with "We were truly hoping that the commissioner's response to Josh's request for reinstatement would be one that we wouldn't have to appeal, and that it would be fair and based on precedent. The last thing we thought we'd have to do today would be appeal the decision."

Schaffer pointed to the fact Brent voluntarily retired.

(Read full post)

Will Cowboys' defensive state lead to Sam?

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- In search of pass-rushing help, the Dallas Cowboys will bring Michael Sam in for a physical on Wednesday and potentially add him to the practice squad.

Forget the off-the-field attention that would accompany Sam should he join the Cowboys, how does he fit on the field?

Sam was not on the Cowboys’ draft board in May. At the time, they did not believe he would be a good fit in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. Marinelli constantly stresses speed all over the defense and Sam timed poorly leading up to the draft despite being the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year last season at Missouri.

When Sam was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, the Cowboys did not initially budge from their stance in May. Perhaps more time and the pressing need to improve defensively changed the perception of Sam. He had three sacks and 11 tackles in four preseason games, but was unable to crack St. Louis’ strong defensive front.

The Cowboys do not have a strong defensive front and can use pass-rush help.

Since the final preseason game the Cowboys added two defensive linemen to the 53-man roster, picking up Lavar Edwards in a trade from the Tennessee Titans and signing Jack Crawford on Monday. They re-signed Kenneth Boatright, who was among their final cuts, to the practice squad on Monday.

The Cowboys will take a committee approach with their defensive line this season and need numbers. They have 11 defensive linemen on the active roster and could dress as many as nine for games.

If Sam becomes a Cowboy, then he could get a chance to be part of that rotation down the road.

Lawrence on short-term IR; Dallas signs DL

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys placed rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he will miss the first eight games of the season.

The Cowboys signed defensive lineman Jack Crawford, who was cut last week by the Oakland Raiders, to take Lawrence’s place on the roster.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Crawford, who played in 19 games and had 18 tackles for the Raiders over the last two seasons, is primarily a defensive end but has the versatility to also play tackle. He caught the Cowboys’ eye during the joint practices between Dallas and Oakland at training camp.

The Cowboys traded up to draft Lawrence with the 34th overall pick early in the second round because they identified him as the last available edge pass-rusher in the draft ready to make an immediate impact, a glaring need after Dallas released DeMarcus Ware, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader. But Lawrence broke his right foot while being blocked by Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith early in training camp and had to undergo surgery.

Dallas opted to use its lone short-term injured reserve spot on Lawrence. He will be ineligible to practice for six weeks.

Inside Slant: Michael Sam's week

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

Everyone has an opinion on why Michael Sam was not among the 2,016 players initially signed to NFL rosters or practice squads this week. Here's the boring truth: Everyone is right.

I can make a fact-based, football-only argument for why Sam didn't make the St. Louis Rams, and for why no other team has signed him to its 53-man roster. It's more difficult to explain the tepid interest he received on the practice squad market.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dallas Cowboys plan to add him to their practice squad Wednesday, but there is no concrete football answer for why it took so long -- or why 16 other defensive ends signed practice squad contracts before the Cowboys expressed interest in Sam. In this case, it seems na´ve not to consider the impact of his status as the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL.

Let's first tackle the 53-man roster issue before addressing some theories about his initial exclusion from practice squads.

I spoke with a veteran scout Tuesday morning who said the consensus pre-draft evaluation of Sam largely held up during the preseason. Despite the decision to drop 13 pounds before training camp to maximize his speed, Sam didn't prove fast enough to be an NFL-level edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme. And at 257 pounds, he's at least 20-25 pounds too light to fit into other roles: Either as a 3-4 defensive end or as a "swing" backup who can play both inside and outside. (It's worth noting that the defensive lineman who beat out Sam for the Rams' final roster spot, Ethan Westbrooks, can play all four line spots in the 4-3.)

Speed also proved a determining factor on special teams. Those who watched the Rams' preseason games mostly saw Sam used as a blocker for kickoff returns -- a position usually manned by backup defensive tackles and offensive linemen. It's one special-teams position where speed doesn't matter. Practice repetitions apparently made clear that he wasn't a candidate to cover kickoffs or punts, which require sustained speed and lateral movement over 50-plus yards.

So when the Rams waived Sam over the weekend, the rest of the NFL was left to judge whether it could find use for a player who isn't an ideal fit for either of its two dominant defensive schemes and also isn't likely to be much of special-teams contributor. In those terms, it's easy to understand how he passed through waivers.

Nothing about what you just read is unusual for a seventh-round draft pick in the NFL, a natural place to select marginal prospects. Over the past 20 drafts, 46.8 percent of seventh-rounders made a Week 1 roster, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Between 2010 and 2013, that figure was slightly higher at 52.8 percent. In essence, it's a 50-50 proposition.

Some might suggest that Sam's pre-combine announcement sunk his draft status, meaning his chances to make a team based purely on skill should have been higher. That sentiment would require a considerable expansion of conspiracy theory now that all 32 teams have passed on signing him. What's more likely: That 32 teams are knowingly ignoring a player who can help them win this week? Or that there is a football consensus that he cannot?

The answer seems clear to me. On the other hand, the wait for a practice squad spot proved a more difficult space to navigate.

The first thing to know is that most teams use their practice squad as a weekly revolving door of players brought in for many different reasons. There are hundreds of practice squad transactions in the NFL every season.

Some arrive to be evaluated as prospects. Others can provide practice depth at a position where a veteran is taking reps off. A few are signed because they look like or play similarly to an upcoming opponent. In other words: If you're healthy, if you're willing to be treated (and paid) like a scrub and you have even modest skills, you're a candidate to be an NFL practice squad player.

So why wasn't Sam among them prior to Tuesday's news? He is by all reports healthy. The Rams praised his effort through his tenure in St. Louis, and as a "tweener," he could actually provide a reasonable facsimile of upcoming opponents at multiple positions on the scout team. Why were the Cowboys reported to have spent much of Tuesday on "due diligence" on Sam, an unusual time investment when it comes to practice squad players?

We are left, then, to examine the impact of Sam's historic announcement here. As we learned in the divorce between the Minnesota Vikings and punter Chris Kluwe, the NFL's team concept -- fairly or unfairly, right or wrong -- frowns upon any attention a player receives other than for his performance on the field. None of us can get into the heads of general managers to gauge bigotry levels, but we can state with some confidence that, when given the option between relative equals, they are much more likely to make the decision that draws the least amount of public attention.

Fortunately, this story has concluded fairly. Sam received a genuine opportunity to make the Rams' 53-man roster. By consensus, he wasn't good enough. He'll now get a second chance to impress another organization, albeit after a longer-than-usual wait and with a franchise whose owner craves attention like no other. But all's well that ends well, I suppose.
The Dallas Cowboys had the NFL’s worst run defense in the preseason, allowing 158.3 yards per game.

For the Cowboys to have any chance to beat San Francisco, they must slow down the 49ers' running attack. Jim Harbaugh’s offense isn’t fancy; it wants to dominate the point of attack and use the running game to set up everything else.

Frank Gore does most of the work for the 49ers, who ran finished third in rushing attempts last season.

He has three 100-yard games each of the past two seasons and 11 games with the 20 carries of more. He’s not a speed runner, but demonstrates extreme patience as a runner.

He has no problem taking his time to let a play develop before attacking the defense’s soft spot.

The Cowboys ranked 27th in the NFL in run defense last season (128.9 yards per game) and yielded more than 130 yards eight times. The Cowboys were 3-5 in those games.

They were 4-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards.

To slow down San Francisco, the Cowboys will need good performances from defensive end Tyrone Crawford, especially with starter George Selvie slowed by a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice on Monday.

Bruce Carter and Kyle Wilber, who will each play some strongside linebacker, need to perform at a high level.

“They have a big, strong offensive line,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They have a great runner and they have a dynamic playmaking quarterback. The challenges are certainly there. They’re all over the tape.”

Cowboys to bring in Michael Sam

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

Michael Sam is flying into Dallas on Tuesday night and will take a physical for the Cowboys on Wednesday, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

If Sam passes his physical, the Cowboys intend to sign him to their practice squad, the source said.

"It's been a roller coaster this past week but I'm happy where I'm at now," Sam told MailOnline. "I'm just looking forward to being a Cowboy, my focus is on making the team."

Sam, who is seeking to become the first openly gay athlete to play in the NFL, was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

"It has all happened so quickly, but it's exciting, I just wanna get back to playing football you know," Sam said. "I haven't had chance to speak to any of my family yet, not even my mom, but I will. I never followed the Cowboys growing up because I never had a team. I am a fan of defenses and Dallas need some help, that's why I'm going."

The Rams spent a seventh-round draft pick, No. 249 overall, on Sam in May's draft. He put together a solid preseason performance, coming up with 11 tackles and three sacks. In Thursday night's preseason finale against Miami, Sam finished his preseason work with a team-high six tackles.

Sam cleared waivers Sunday and is free to sign with any team.

The Rams finalized their 10-player practice squad on Monday, and it did not include Sam.

Coach Jeff Fisher had suggested that a lack of bodies at positions with little depth could leave the defensive end on the outside looking in when the team added to that unit.

The Cowboys announced Tuesday that rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence

(Read full post)

Brandon Weeden adjusts to life as backup

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- For the first time in his NFL career, Brandon Weeden is entering the regular season with a clearly defined backup role.

Weeden, the Week 1 starter for the Cleveland Browns the past two seasons, knew he'd have no chance to challenge Tony Romo for the starting job when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He readily accepts being the backup, understanding that he won't play unless something goes wrong or the score is lopsided late in the game.

But Weeden can't afford to be comfortable with the idea that he'll spend every Sunday wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard on the sideline.

"It's a different mindset, but I think you have to go about it the same way," said Weeden, a former first-round pick who was 5-15 as a starter with the Browns. "You have to be prepared every snap because playing this position, you just never know. Whether it's for a play here, a play there, you just never know. You've just got to be ready.

"You've got to prepare as if you're going to play. You can't take nights off and not study at night and not do the things you normally do if you were the starter. I think you've got to prepare the same way and when your number is called, go in there and make the best of it."

Weeden got an edge in preparing to play for Dallas for the same reason the Cowboys will likely need him at some point this season: Romo's bad back.

While Romo sat out all of the offseason workouts, Weeden worked with the starters. Weeden also got all of the reps with the ones during the several practices that Romo missed for precautionary reasons this summer.

Weeden had mixed results during the preseason, finishing with a mediocre 77.2 passer rating in the four games. His best performance by far was when he played behind the starting offensive line in the preseason opener, completing 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. His worst performance was in the finale, when he was 6-of-12 for 35 yards with an interception playing with backups.

"Overall, there's a lot to build on,” Weeden said.

At this point, Weeden's job is to prepare like he'll play every week despite not knowing when he'll get his next snap.
[+] EnlargeBrian Waters
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsBrian Waters' career took off after the Chiefs turned the collegiate tight end and fullback into a lineman.

Guard Brian Waters, one of the best offensive linemen of his era, announced his retirement as a player. Waters played 11 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, one with the New England Patriots and one with the Dallas Cowboys. His final game was with the Cowboys in 2013.

Waters was selected to play in the Pro Bowl six times. His best seasons were with the Chiefs from 2000 through 2010, when he played for several seasons on perhaps the best offensive line in the game along with one Hall of Fame lineman, Willie Roaf, and another strong candidate for the Hall, guard Will Shields.

(Read full post)

Still no firm timetable for A. Spencer

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- The fact that defensive end Anthony Spencer will start the season on the 53-man roster instead of the physically unable to perform list means that the Dallas Cowboys anticipate that he’ll be ready for game action sooner rather than later.

  However, there is not a firm timetable for the return of Spencer, who is in the late stages of the rehab process of undergoing microfracture knee surgery in October.

There are still two significant steps Spencer must take before playing in a game can be seriously considered. The first step is to participate in individual drills during practice, which is preparation for the second step of full-contact work.

“It’s just a gradual process,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do from a movement standpoint in his workouts with the rehab guys. As these weeks go on, he’ll do more and more. We try to do football movements with him, we’ll ramp up football moves by himself, and we’ll slowly integrate him into practice.”

Spencer, who has by far the best résumé of the edge rushers on the roster, said he expects to begin individual drills “in the next couple of weeks.” He is doing similar drills off to the side during practice, but he’ll work at a higher pace and get more reps when he is cleared to join his teammates on the field.

The Cowboys have significantly increased Spencer’s workload over the last two weeks, testing the knee before declaring him ready to practice.

“No swelling, no pain,” Spencer said. “It’s a little stiff in the morning. After I sit around after practice for a couple of hours, it’s a little stiff. Other than that, it’s fine.

“I feel good when I’m doing the stuff I’m doing out there. I’ve just got to get bodies in front of me.”

It’s still to be determined when that happens and how much practice Spencer will need before playing in a game.

Plan in place for Orlando Scandrick

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will not be allowed to have contact with Orlando Scandrick until Sept. 29, when the cornerback’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy is over.

Before the suspension started, the Cowboys gave Scandrick a workout plan. Scandrick said he would train twice a day with his personal trainer in Los Angeles during his suspension.

“No different to what we’d do with players who are gone from after the offseason before training camp and from the end of the regular season before they come back, before the offseason program,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Talk to (strength coach Mike Woicik, assistant strength coach Brett Bech), get everything squared away that way.”

Safety Jakar Hamilton will miss the first four games because of violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but he is allowed to continue to work out at Valley Ranch during his suspension. He is not eligible to take part in practices until Sept. 29.

Lot to learn, but Spillman knows 49ers well

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
IRVING, Texas -- C.J. Spillman sort of smiled when it was brought to the newest Dallas Cowboy safety's attention that he will play against his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

“It’s a business,” he said, “so treat it as nothing other than that.”

Spillman will enter the game knowing more about the Niners’ defensive and special teams’ schemes than the Cowboys. He will play catchup over the next few days to get a basic understanding of what Rod Marinelli wants from his safeties and what Rich Bisaccia wants from the special teams.

But Spillman’s knowledge of San Francisco will help.


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“Even though I might not schematically know what’s going on in-depth right now, I know the personnel and the guys and what they’re capable of doing,” said Spillman, who joined the Niners in 2010. “That will help me in the learning process.”

The Cowboys envision Spillman as a core special-teamer, which was his role with the Niners. He led Sam Francisco with 19 special teams tackles last season. But coach Jason Garrett said Spillman could develop into a helpful member of the defense as the year goes on.

Garrett called it more of a coincidence that the Cowboys would sign Spillman the week before they played his former team.

“I think we’ve all been in those situations where we’ve had a coach or a player from another team and you have conversations with those guys about different things,” Garrett said, “but for the most part, I think most teams do best when they trust their preparation that they would do off of film and base a lot of what they’re going to do from a game plan standpoint on the film in the traditional way to evaluate. Sometimes, those things can be helpful to you. Sometimes, they can kind of confuse the issue. We brought him in here because we thought he was a good football player who could help our football team.”