Dallas Cowboys: Dallas Cowboys

How the Cowboys were built

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett has often referred to building a program with the Dallas Cowboys.

That term is normally reserved for college football, not the NFL. Generally, coaches don't have time to build. They need to win and win almost immediately. Garrett is the second-longest tenured coach in the NFC East and only four coaches in the conference have been with their teams longer: Tom Coughlin (2004), Sean Payton (2006), Mike McCarthy (2006) and Pete Carroll (2010).

This week, Field Yates and Mike Sando put together a look at how the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks have been built.

It got me to thinking about how the Cowboys have been built.

Below is a chart comparing the Cowboys to the Patriots and Seahawks as well as the league average in 18 categories. Using the 53-man roster going into the divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys had just 21 of their own draft picks on the roster. The league average was 27.2. They had just five former first-round picks. The league average was nine.

The building has to continue, especially through the draft.

Yates and Sando put together a list of 10 critical moves for the Patriots and Seahawks to be where they are. Here are five the Cowboys have made to get in position to contend for a Super Bowl:

Building the offensive line: Before taking Tyron Smith in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Cowboys last used a first rounder on an offensive lineman in 1981. They have picked an offensive lineman with three of their last four picks with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin joining Smith. To get there, the Cowboys had to go with a mixed-and-matched group, and that played a part in three straight 8-8 finishes.

Patience, patience and more patience: Jerry Jones is not considered a patient owner and general manager but he was patient with Garrett, living through growing pains that could have cost the Cowboys a playoff spot or two. That patience was rewarded in 2014 with a 12-4 finish and a playoff win. Garrett was rewarded with a five-year contract worth $30 million after the season ended.

Hiring Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli: Garrett could not divorce himself from the offense until he was able to bring Linehan aboard. Because of his past with Linehan, Garrett's trust in what was being done on that side of the ball was unquestioned, unlike in 2013 when Bill Callahan was calling the plays. Garrett also pushed for the ascension of Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and the Cowboys' unit was much better than many could have expected.

Cutting the cord: It wasn't easy to part ways with trusted veterans like Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier in 2011 and '13, but it had to be done. Just as the Cowboys had to say goodbye to DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin in the 2014 offseason. Those players were successful and played big parts in the Cowboys' success, but they were on the wrong side of 30 and/or cost a lot against the cap. The Cowboys also didn't attempt to re-sign defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. With Ware's departure, the Cowboys chose to go with numbers at the position rather than tying up too much money in one player.

Smarter signings: In 2012, the Cowboys paid Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal as a free agent. At the time it was considered a good move because of the need at the position, but the cost has not equaled production. Since, the Cowboys have been wiser with their dollars (perhaps because they had to be) and the production has been greater. Jeremy Mincey (two years, $3 million) led the Cowboys with six sacks in 2014. Nick Hayden was a "futures" signing after the 2012 season. George Selvie was signed early in training camp in 2013. Justin Durant received just a $400,000 signing bonus in 2013. Henry Melton's big money kicks in this year, but the Cowboys won't pick up the $9 million option.


Cowboys position breakdown: Safeties

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the team, 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: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Jakar Hamilton, Keelan Johnson
Free agents: C.J. Spillman

A look back: Church and Wilcox started every game at safety, which is the first time the Cowboys have had the same pairing for a full season since 2011 when they had Abe Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh.

Church led the Cowboys with 110 tackles, according to the coaches' breakdown. He had two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure, two interceptions, six pass breakups, a forced a fumble, and a recovered fumble. Wilcox finished fourth in tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown, with 89. He had three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Like the defense as a whole, their play was solid at times and lacking at others. Wilcox has been a safety for just three seasons -- two at the NFL level. He is still learning the position and angles. Church is a decent open-field tackler, and knows how to keep himself in good spots on the field.

Heath played a backup role for most of the season, but missed two games with a broken thumb. He saw some time when the Cowboys went to a dime defense, and he covered tight ends. He is also a top special teams performer.

Spillman was picked up before the season started, mostly for his special teams’ skills. Hamilton was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was active for just two games.

A look ahead: Church and Wilcox will return in 2015, and the Cowboys have not had the same pairing start the majority of games in back to back seasons since Roy Williams and Darren Woodson (2002-03). That should be a benefit for them and the defense.

But there remains room to grow for both. Wilcox has some playmaking skills, but he needs to see the field better. Church is solid, but there are times you want more. He is good enough to win with.

Heath takes grief for a lot of things unnecessarily. He was forced to play more as an undrafted rookie in 2013 and was exposed. He is a backup safety who can be a stop-gap performer while also playing a key role on special teams.

Spillman’s ability on special teams brings value, but he will only be back on a short-term deal, probably at the veteran minimum. Hamilton was having a decent training camp before a concussion and hamstring injuries kept him off the field. Then he was suspended. He has to show the coaches he can be trusted before they give him a role on defense. The Cowboys signed Johnson to a futures contract with the hope he could develop.

A look out: Whenever people talk about upgrading the safety position, they always mention how the Cowboys need a Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed in their prime. Now it’s an Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor.

It sounds great, but there aren’t too many of those available on the planet. (And this might be a bad time to remind folks the Cowboys took Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round before Chancellor was picked in 2010). The Cowboys were highly interested in Kenny Vaccaro in 2013, but the New Orleans Saints took him with the 15th overall pick. He was a disappointment in 2014.

Sometimes solid is good enough. The Cowboys could look to the draft for upgrades, but the more pressing need defensively is finding pass-rushers. If they can find more players to affect the quarterback, it would make their safety play better.

Cowboys position breakdown: RBs

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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.

Under contract: Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams
Free agents: DeMarco Murray, Tyler Clutts

A look back: In a word, Murray was phenomenal. The Cowboys wanted to be a physical team and Murray allowed that to happen. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards, setting a single-season franchise record. He also scored 13 touchdowns and opened the season with eight straight 100-yard games.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Scott BoehmDeMarco Murray rushed for an NFL-best 1,845 yards this season, nearly 500 yards better than second-place Le'Veon Bell.
He was helped by three first-round picks on the offensive line, but he also saved his best season for a contract season. And he played in every game for the first time in his career, working through a broken left hand that required surgery.

When the MVP and offensive player of the year awards are announced later this week, Murray should be in the conversation.

Because Murray was so good, the Cowboys did not give Randle or Dunbar much work. Randle, however, managed to average 6.7 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on 51 carries. He had runs of 38, 40 and 65 yards. He ran hard and his pace was different than Murray's and caught defenses off guard. Dunbar did a decent job as a third-down back. His opportunities will be lacking just because of the depth of the Cowboys' offense but he has a good feel for setting up screens.

Clutts didn't have a carry during the season and caught just one pass in the regular season. He added his first touchdown in the playoffs. Williams' comeback from injuries was a good story in training camp and he spent the year on the practice squad.

A look ahead: What happens to Murray will be the story of the Cowboys' offseason. Do the Cowboys pay him a nice reward or do they let him walk as a free agent? Depending on the day, hour, minute that answer can change.

Murray has value to the Cowboys for more than just his ability to run the ball. Finding how to come to a financial agreement with all those things considered will be difficult. It won't be impossible. The Cowboys can certainly afford Murray, Dez Bryant and make plays in free agency with their salary cap. If they don't keep Murray, it will be a decision that they don't want to overpay for a running back.

If that happens, then Randle will get a chance to prove he can be effective as a full-time back. There are those at Valley Ranch who believe he can be a 1,400-yard rusher, but they also acknowledge there is more to the position than running the ball.

Clutts could be brought back at a decent price as well.

A look out: If Murray walks, then the Cowboys would figure to be players in the running back market. While everybody wants to connect the dots between the Cowboys and Adrian Peterson, who remains under contract with the Minnesota Vikings, the cost of business with a running back will be a factor. Peterson won't come at a discount and the Cowboys would have already passed on keeping Murray because they didn't want to fork over a lot of cap space to a running back.

The draft would figure to be the more logical spot. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon looks to be a good fit for what the Cowboys want to do in the running game and with the 27th pick in the draft, they might be in a good spot to get value. There will be other runners that will gain attention between now and May as well.

Remember, Murray was a third-round pick.

The series:
IRVING, Texas -- On Sunday, ESPN and Pro Football Focus unveiled a project to determine how close each team not in Super Bowl XLIX is to playing in the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys were deemed to be the closest of the 30 teams not in the Super Bowl. PFF graded the Cowboys with four elite players, eight good players, 16 average players and just two bad players.

But close is a relative term. Thirteen of the 30 players rated by PFF are set to be either restricted or unrestricted free agents. Teams change. Opponents change. What is true today won’t be true in September when the season begins.

[+] EnlargeBryant/Murray
AP Photo/Brandon WadeRe-signing stars Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray will likely help Dallas be a contender again in 2015.
“I think more so now than ever before,” tight end Jason Witten said, “I think we have an identity in which how we play. And I think that’s something that you feel like you’re building and can build upon. Coach [Jason] Garrett did a great job of kind of enforcing that, kind of laying out that as a blueprint week in, week out since April of what’s going to allow us to have success. Having said that, you start over. No team's the same, and so you have to build that again. I think it was good for us to taste that. It was good for guys to get back there.

“But I don’t think that says next year just roll the ball out and we’re going to do it again. No, you’ve got to do it all over again. I do think we’re good at the right positions that will allow us to have a chance to be successful.”

The Cowboys should have the best offensive line in the NFL with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin leading the group. Tony Romo had his best season. Dez Bryant, who is set to be a free agent, is among the best wide receivers, as is Witten among the best tight ends.

But then there’s DeMarco Murray. Like Bryant, he is set to be a free agent but there is no guarantee he will be back. If they have to use the franchise tag, it will be on Bryant.

If Murray leaves, the dynamics of the offense are sure to change. Maybe Joseph Randle can replace Murray. Or maybe Adrian Peterson, in fact, ends up a Cowboy. Or Mark Ingram. Or maybe some rookie. Maybe doesn’t fit into an equation.

And this is where "close to the Super Bowl," talk is not necessarily realistic. Thirteen of the 30 Cowboys graded by PFF are free agents, either restricted or unrestricted.

Eight of those 13 players are on the defensive side of the ball, including the leading tackler (Rolando McClain), leading interceptor (Bruce Carter) and second-leading sacker (Henry Melton). Key contributors like Anthony Spencer, Justin Durant and Sterling Moore (restricted) could hit the market to some degree.

When Garrett’s five-year extension was announced shortly after the Cowboys' season ended, he mentioned the word "build" in his opening statement.

“I think teams make mistakes when they say, ‘OK, we’re one player away,’” Garrett said. “I just think you’re continuing to try and build a football team. If we do that, right guys, the right way, that’s what gives us our best chance.”

The quick fix in free agency is sometimes never quick or a fix because the cost is so prohibitive. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr in 2012 to a five-year, $50 million deal but he has not played to that level and entering his fourth year with the team he is looking at a pay-cut-or-be-cut scenario.

There is also the element of luck. Was it lucky that Tony Romo spun away from J.J. Watt and found Terrance Williams for a touchdown in the overtime win against the Houston Texans? Was it good fortune that the Cowboys were matched up with the dreadful AFC South?

The Cowboys saw a bit of bad luck in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers when Bryant’s catch was overturned.

“Sometimes it’s the way the ball bounces,” Frederick said. “You’re on the sideline and you drop one and it might bounce out of bounds or it might bounce back in and the other team picks it up. There really is a bit of luck in there.”

Each year is a delicate balance of skill, luck, health and chemistry mixed in with a team’s ability.

The 2014 Cowboys were close to contending for the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean the 2015 Cowboys will be close to competing for Super Bowl L.

“One of the things you learn early on in this game is if we brought back the exact same team, the exact same players, the exact same coaches and we got together on April 20 for the start of the offseason program, we have to start all over again,” Garrett said. “So I do believe that you get yourself to a point and the experiences that we’ve had up to this point are real ones and we can benefit from those experiences, actual game experiences, success and adversities and all that, so we start from that point but we have to get back to work.

“We have to put our socks back on and start from the ground floor and do it all over again. That’s an exciting thing.”

Cowboys' youth movement has changed tide

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
IRVING, Texas – Since Jason Garrett took over as coach on a full-time basis, the goal of the Dallas Cowboys was to get younger.

Garrett constantly referenced the tough decisions to part ways with veterans Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier in 2011 and ’12. Last offseason, the Cowboys said goodbye to DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and made no attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher.

It’s one thing to say goodbye to talented players who could have played their best football, but teams have to do a good job in securing those younger, cheaper replacements.

ESPN Insider Matt Williamson, ranked all 32 teams based on their talent aged 25 and under and the Cowboys checked in at No. 21.

That might be a tad low or it speaks to what kind of shape the game is in with so many teams blessed to have such young talent.

Williamson’s top three Cowboys under the age of 25 are no surprise: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. All three just played in their first Pro Bowl. Smith and Martin were named All Pro. Tyrone Crawford and Terrance Williams rounded out the top five.

He also made note of guys like Rolando McClain, who will be a free agent, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Cole Beasley.

I can’t give away all the juicy tidbits, but if you’re an Insider, click here.

Again, Williamson has these guys at No. 21. Considering the futures of this quintet, the Cowboys appear OK. In the NFC East, Philadelphia checked in at No. 16, but I'd put the Cowboys' top five against the Eagles' top five. The New York Giants checked in at No. 25 and the Washington Redskins were last.

Garrett has said that the goal of the team is to continue to build.

The drafts have been better in the last two seasons and the Cowboys will need to continue to hit on players if they want to be true contenders as Tony Romo and Jason Witten move to the final few holes of their careers.

Cowboys position breakdown: Specialists

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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.

Under contract: Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur, Chris Jones-*

(* - restricted free agent)

A look back: In a year in which the offense was outstanding and the defense was surprising, the special teams were only OK.

Bailey missed four field goal attempts (two were blocked). Jones’ gross (45.4) and net (39.8) averages were middle of the pack, and he missed chances to pin offenses deeper.

The return game was something of a disappointment. Dwayne Harris’ punt return average fell by 3.6 yards. His kickoff return average fell by nearly 6 yards. He was not as dynamic as he was in 2013. Some of that was the blocking. Some of that had to do with teams kicking it away from him.

The coverage teams were solid enough and C.J. Spillman came on late.

A look ahead: The Cowboys signed Bailey to a seven-year extension last offseason because of what he did and what he will be. They feel better about Bailey than just about any kicker they have had in the Jerry Jones’ era.

He is clutch. He doesn’t make excuses. He works hard. He keeps his head down. Jones has a big leg, but consistency is an issue. He is also a decent holder, which is a must with a kicker like Bailey.

Harris and Spillman were arguably the Cowboys best coverage guys and both are free agents. A special teams unit changes from year to year because of how the bottom of the roster fluctuates each year. It’s tough to build cohesion, but the Cowboys should look to keep their core guys and hope to see a rebound in 2015.

A look out: The Cowboys can sign Jones to a cheaper deal than the $1.5 million restricted free agent tender, but the amount is a guaranteed and it doesn’t stop them from signing a cheaper punter to bring in some competition.

Ladouceur turns 34 in March and does not appear to be slowing down, but the Cowboys always bring in an unknown during the offseason just to ease the work on the veteran. The Cowboys usually bring in a leg to do the same for Bailey, but there is no doubt he is the kicker for the present and the long-term future.

Cowboys position breakdown: QBs

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
Cowboys 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: Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan

A look back: It’s difficult not to call 2014 Romo’s best season. He led the NFL in completion percentage. He led the NFL in quarterback rating and Total QBR. He had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBy many statistical measures, Tony Romo had the best season of his career.
And he did it coming off major back surgery and not being able to practice fully the entire season. After the second week of the season, Romo did not practice on Wednesdays during full practice weeks in order to build up strength in his legs and core.

It worked perfectly. The one time it didn’t was on Thanksgiving, a shorter week, in a 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Romo threw 34 touchdown passes and was intercepted just nine times. Three came in the first half of the season opener. He was more efficient than ever and benefitted from the belief in the running game. But as the running game slowed some late in the season, Romo’s play picked up and the Cowboys closed the regular season with four straight wins. He had 12 touchdowns and one interception. He completed 90 percent of his passes in the win against the Indianapolis Colts. He showed he didn’t need to throw for 300 yards to be successful. He did it just once all season.

And he showed again just how tough he is playing through two transverse process fractures and torn rib cartilage.

Weeden started the 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards. He was picked off twice and threw one touchdown pass. The Cardinals made a lot of quarterbacks look pedestrian during the season. Weeden had a good spring, which helped the Cowboys decide to cut Kyle Orton after the veteran skipped the offseason program, organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp. He had some good moments in the preseason and played well in relief of Romo against the Washington Redskins.

Is he a long-term answer or a stop-gap backup? The Cowboys will give him a chance to show that either way.

Dustin Vaughan made the roster as an undrafted free agent and was active for just one game. He has a big arm and showed potential in training camp and in the preseason, but his presence would not deter the Cowboys from taking a quarterback in the draft this spring.

A look ahead: For the first time since 2012, Romo will have an offseason to be able to perfect his craft. Back surgeries held him out in 2013 and ’14 and while he was able to play at a high level, he has long believed his improvement came in the spring when he tinkered with different things.

Romo turns 35 in April, but the Cowboys believe he is different than most 35-year-old quarterbacks because he didn’t play the first three years of his career. Maybe the back surgeries or hits he has taken eat up some of that clock. But this isn’t about a five-year plan with the Cowboys. There is no reason to think Romo’s about to hit a steep decline in play.

Mentally, he is at his best. Physically, he can still get it done and he has a top offensive line that is a huge benefit.

He is set to count $27.773 million against the cap, which is an astounding number but one that the Cowboys could keep him at with the kind of salary-cap shape they are in. By restructuring his deal, they would only add to how much he will count against the cap in the future.

Weeden is signed through 2015. The Cowboys will have Vaughan's rights through 2017.

A look out: Every spring we wonder if this is the year the Cowboys draft Romo’s successor. The guess now is no, they won’t. Whenever the Cowboys decide to move on from Romo or Romo moves on from the Cowboys, then they will find his successor. The thought of grooming quarterbacks these days seems quaint, like a glass of lemonade on a hot day. Teams mostly draft a guy early and play him.

They could look for a more veteran backup than Weeden, but there’s not a lot available and they still like Weeden’s arm and potential. The same goes with Vaughan.
IRVING, Texas -- According to ESPN Stats & Information, the highest salary-cap figure in the NFL since 2000 has been the $24,752,941 the Washington Redskins heaped on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in 2010.

The Dallas Cowboys could very well break that mark with quarterback Tony Romo in 2015.

Romo is set to count $27.773 million against the cap because of a $17 million base salary and a proration of $10.773 million from his signing bonus in 2013 and restructure in 2014.

At the Senior Bowl last week, Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters it is not a given the Cowboys will restructure Romo’s deal.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo will cost the Cowboys almost $28 million in salary cap space next year.
“Obviously you don’t like to mortgage your future if you can help it,” Jones said. “We started making the move toward being a younger team and going a different direction in terms of pushing money out, so we’d prefer not to do that, but at the same time every situation has ramifications and you have to make tough decisions sometimes. I don’t think there’s an exact science, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it or not do it.’”

The Cowboys don’t want to do it and they probably don’t have to do it either even when it comes to re-signing Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray to long-term deals or even putting the franchise tag (or transition tag) on either player and signing one to a long-term deal.

They can still create about $31 million in space with other moves and have enough to be viable players in free agency, re-sign their key guys and get all of their draft picks signed.

(Let’s get a misnomer out of the way: a restructure is not a re-do. A restructure is simply an accounting tool where the player still gets the same money it’s just counted differently against the cap. A re-do is a player taking less money. And Romo will not be taking less money, nor should he be asked to take less money.)

Last year the Cowboys turned $12.5 million of Romo’s $13.5 million base salary into signing bonus as part of a restructure. It helped the Cowboys get under the cap last year. They don’t need that help this March.

Romo turns 35 in April. The Cowboys have to believe he has three years left at a high level. If they can withstand such an astronomical cap figure, they should do it. Too often in the past they kept kicking the salary-cap can down the road.

The most common practice in restructuring a player’s deal is to turn the difference between his salary and the league minimum into signing bonus and prorate it five years. The Cowboys like round numbers, to a degree, in their capology and could move Romo’s base to $1 million and turn the remaining $16 million into a signing bonus.

Just like that, they create $12.8 million in space against the cap.

They also eat up $3.2 million more in cap space from 2016-2019 by doing so. Romo’s cap numbers in 2016-19 would jump to $20.835 million, $24.7 million, $25.2 million and $23.7 million.

But the cap will be going up in the future, so what’s the big deal? Sure. And Romo’s base salary in 2016 is just $8.5 million (just?). It might be better to turn the restructure trick in 2016 when you don’t have to prorate as much of the salary and don’t inflate the future cap figures too much.

But there is also this to consider when examining Romo’s $27.773 million cap figure in 2015.

The Cowboys can nibble away at that figure by restructuring it as many times as they want in the coming months, taking a bit here and there as they see fit instead of doing the maximum at the start of the league year and perhaps leaving themselves a bit more compromised in the future.

But go back to Jones words last week: The Cowboys don’t have to do it.

They should be more than willing to erase Haynesworth’s record.

Cowboys coaches will have to play catch up

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
IRVING, Texas -- With the Pro Bowl over, the Dallas Cowboys coaches will be off for the rest of Super Bowl week.

When they return to work, however, they will be busy playing catch up.

After lasting two rounds in the playoffs and then coaching in the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys have yet to have closure on the 2014 season. After their loss to the Green Bay Packers and before they headed to Phoenix to coach Team Irvin in the Pro Bowl, most of the coaches had to get new contracts.

Coach Jason Garrett admitted the calendar has been pushed back a little bit.

"All that stuff has to be pretty clean," Garrett said. "The most important thing at the outset is to evaluate our own players and try to get that done the first week we get back."

Having almost all of the coaching staff back should help those evaluations, according to Garrett. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan left for the Washington Redskins but his replacement, Frank Pollack, has been hands on with the line the last two years. Assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin is not under contract and his status is in doubt.

The only new face so far on the coaching staff could be Marc Colombo, who is considered the leader to become Pollack's assistant line coach.

Having the coaches back helps in the "evaluation and when we start talking about our schemes for the coming year," Garrett said. "We'll go back and evaluate what we've done but it's not like we're teaching a coach or a number of coaches, 'This is what the offensive system is,' or the defensive system. We have a lot of those things in place. So that gives you a chance to go back and really evaluate it and make improvements on it instead of getting people up to speed. It applies to personnel and it applies to our schemes."

In addition to the evaluation of the players on the roster, the coaches have to get up to speed with the players who could one day be on their roster. The coaches would have spent three days in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl if not for their coaching duties in the Pro Bowl. That is their introduction to the college players after the season.

They will have the chance to see the practice tape from the week and their scouts will get them up to speed before the NFL scouting combine in February.

In effect, the coaches will go through two-a-days.

"The priority will be these personnel meetings, evaluating our own team, but then you start to get that [college] stuff started," Garrett said. "Typically we work on our football in the morning and our college evaluation stuff in the afternoon."

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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: Scott Linehan was asked this question at the Pro Bowl and he said the Cowboys will continue to do what they do. The difference is Bill Callahan will not be calling the running plays. That will now be Linehan's duty. The Cowboys have full belief in new line coach Frank Pollack in part because of what he brought to the running game changes first in 2013 and in 2014. Linehan will have tweaks but it will be more about the natural order of things and the development of players and the personality of the team. What it won't be is a change in scheme.

@toddarcher: I'm not sure I can put this in the "when" category. I think it needs to be in the "if" category. Rolando McClain and Doug Free can be re-signed now if the Cowboys and their agents get busy. I'll say this for Free, McClain and all of their free agents: It'll come down to price. I don't think the Cowboys break the bank, so to speak, for anybody. McClain played well but there are questions about him. I'm not sure a ton of teams will jump at him as a free agent and I think he realizes he has landed in a pretty good spot considering his past. To me, Free is a must-keep. He is better than people think and the leader of the room. Free is 31 but tackles can play longer. I'm not sure he will see a huge payday in the $6 million average per-year range.

@toddarcher: I would say it's fairly secure, but I don't think the Cowboys will avoid looking at taking a safety in the draft in the early or middle rounds if there is one they really like. Wilcox is an interesting case. He hasn't played the position long. He had decent moments and he had moments when you are reminded he has been a safety for just three years of his football life. He has natural skills but sometimes his angles are off and he gets beat. I think there's something to continue to work with but if you can upgrade, then I don't think the Cowboys should pass on the position.

@toddarcher: I would bring Dwayne Harris back. He plays a big role on special teams and on the offense. His numbers won't reflect that offensively, but he is a guy they can count on and he is a terrific blocker. He didn't have the breakout season I thought he would have as a returner, but he is dangerous. I don't think there will be a great demand for him in free agency. Maybe he'll look for a better opportunity for more playing time, but wherever he goes he will be a niche player.

@toddarcher: All three? Not good. Davon Coleman has yet to re-sign with the Cowboys and I'm told he's considering other options. I don't know what they could be, but it's certainly within his right to do that after spending most of the year on the practice squad. Chris Whaley is an intriguing process, but how well will he come back from the knee injury? Ken Bishop has the best chance. I thought he played well in the loss to the Green Bay Packers considering he too spent most of the year on the practice squad. There is something to work with there as a rotation guy. 
IRVING, Texas – At Sunday’s Pro Bowl, L.P. Ladouceur will be a lone wolf.

He is the only member of the Dallas Cowboys not to be on Team Irvin, where Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick reside. Ladouceur is on Team Carter, coached by the Baltimore Ravens staff.

Regardless, he is just happy to be at the Pro Bowl.

“After 10 years, to get a little reward like this, it’s a little cherry on top of the Sunday for me,” Ladouceur said. “It’s pretty good.”

This is actually his third trip to the Pro Bowl. He made two as a guest of former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

Ladouceur was added as a need player. And he missed Jerry Jones’ initial phone call.

“I was hanging out with my daughter outside; it was so pretty out,” Ladouceur said. “I called back and didn’t get a hold of him but (Marylyn Love, Jones’ executive assistant) told me, ‘Congratulations.’ It was a Friday afternoon. I’m with my family. I didn’t even think about it, to tell you the truth. Just a call out of the blue.”

Ladouceur has been just about perfect since he got to the Cowboys in 2005. He turns 34 in March and is signed through 2017. He joked he wanted to play “until I’m 52.”

“I’d like to play out my contract and then we’ll see from there,” Ladouceur said. “My body feels great. I can’t tell you I can play until I’m 40, but some guys have done it. Just year by year.”

And 2014 was a good year.

Jimmy Graham: Jason Witten is my idol

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the years, we have heard countless teammates rave about Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

This past season, we heard Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray talk about Witten’s impact on them as players and men. We heard Tony Romo say Witten might be the best Cowboy of all time. Jason Garrett called Witten the best tight end in football for the past decade.

On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.

During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.

"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."

Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.

"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."
IRVING, Texas – With the NFL submerged in Deflategate, thanks to the New England Patriots, there is a another “scandal” brewing and it is in regards to It-was-a-catch-gate.

With nothing but time on his hands, Terry Hendrix, who is incarcerated in a Colorado correctional facility, has filed a lawsuit against the NFL seeking more than $88 billion.

According to WFAA.com in Dallas, Hendrix named Commissioner Roger Goodell, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and referee Gene Steratore in his suit for “negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and also reckless disregard,” after Dez Bryant’s fourth-down catch was overturned by replay late in the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Hendrix called the replay reversal a “fraud.” Most Cowboys fans would probably agree but not bring a suit against the NFL. Hendrix, however, is bringing the action on their behalf.

“For the theft from and the and the loss of a Super Bowl, against and upon Dez Bryant, #88, the 2014/2015 on field offense of and to include all the cheerrrleaders [sic], fans, of and all people in or from the sovereign republic of Texas,” Hendrix wrote in the suit.

Hendrix has asked for the case to be heard in 35 days.

His exact asking price: $88,987,654,321.88.

The power of No. 88 knows no bounds.

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:
@toddarcher: This is a difficult question to answer, because whatever I say will not be right. First, we don't know what the 2015 salary cap will be. Second, we don't know what moves the Cowboys will make to create room. We can guess at restructuring Tyron Smith, making Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut if they don't get him to agree to a pay cut and not picking up Henry Melton's option, which I think is a sure bet. But the Cowboys don't look at it the way you and I look at it. They don't say, 'We have $10 million in cap room, let's sign these guys.' To them, cap room is always changing depending on the plan they devise. I think the best way to answer the question is this: The Cowboys will be able to do whatever they want to do in free agency and the cap will not limit them in any way.

@toddarcher: The easy answer is no, they're not, but it's not an easy question. Is it realistic to expect DeMarco Murray to lead the league in rushing again? I don't know. To some, running backs are like shooting guards in the NBA. You can always find a guy. Well, maybe, but you can't find a guy who has the value to the team like Murray. And that's the biggest thing the Cowboys will have to figure out. Sure, Joseph Randle might be able to get you 1,300 yards, but can he do all the things that Murray can do? Not really. When Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Murray was the person who set the identity of the team, I don't think you can take that lightly. But I don't know how you put a price tag on that, either. We've seen running backs be devalued over the last few years, but Murray's value to the Cowboys is probably greater than he would be to another team. It's a real dilemma, and the Cowboys can only be wrong. If they sign Murray and he continues to play at a high level, we say nothing. If they sign him and he falls off, they will get hammered.

@toddarcher: I think we all need to tap the brakes on this one. It seems like we're just trying to add 2+2 and say it equals Adrian Peterson. First, he is not a free agent. We don't know if he'll be a free agent. Second, he's not coming cheaply. If the Cowboys don't want to pay Murray, then why would they pay a huge price for a great running back, but an older running back with more tread on his tire and with some off-field baggage? We've seen the Cowboys change the way they deal with things financially. In the past, maybe they would make a run at a player like Peterson at any cost. Now? I'm not so sure it's a given. And remember, he is still a member of the Minnesota Vikings.

@toddarcher: Well, there has to be somebody worth trading up to get. It's too early to really know how that will go obviously, but I believe in having more picks, not fewer. However, I don't know if you want to move down so much that you take yourself out of the running to get a good player regardless of position. That's hurt the Cowboys in the past. It helped them in 2013 when they moved down for Travis Frederick, but it almost cost them because there was a run on offensive linemen and he was the last man standing, so to speak. But they also got Terrance Williams in that trade. I don't think this team is so stacked at any spot where they should just focus in on one position and damn the rest. If the best available at No. 27 is an offensive tackle, take the guy. You can never have enough good players.

@toddarcher: I thought he was good. He had some pass-protection issues, but in the run game he was more than solid. He has been everything you could have hoped for from an undrafted free agent, albeit one that secured a large amount of guaranteed money when he signed. His knee has not really been an issue, but you never know about the long term. He is an exclusive-rights free agent, so the Cowboys will have control of him for the next two years. I wonder if they approach him about a long-term deal at modest money just to make sure he stays put. The Cowboys would be wise to do all that they can to make sure this line stays put for years to come. Tyron Smith is signed through 2023. Travis Frederick is signed through 2017 and Zack Martin is through 2018. That should be a pretty good run.

Tony Romo: 'I have to be better'

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the Dallas Cowboys’ season, Tony Romo was often asked to reflect on what he was able to do.

He never took a big picture view, saying the timing wasn’t right, that the focus was on that week’s opponent or that day’s practice.

The end of Dallas' season wasn't even two weeks old, and as he stood outside one of the team buses after a Pro Bowl practice in Glendale, Arizona, Romo’s big picture view wasn’t about his season. He did not discuss his comeback from major back surgery to lead the NFL in passer rating, Total QBR and completion percentage. He didn’t go on about the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesAfter throwing 34 touchdowns in 2014, Tony Romo is already looking forward to how he can improve his game next season.
 He didn’t thumb his nose at critics who wondered if he would ever rid himself of mistakes in big games or those who scoffed when he said in training camp his best football was ahead of him.

“Ultimately, I feel like we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do so it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Romo said. “I think you just figure out how you have to be better. I have to be better. Our team has to be better. And you have to go attack this thing with everything we got.”

On Tuesday night, sitting in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore, Romo watched his fellow Pro Bowlers walk by. He was struck at how different it felt from his earlier trips. In his first Pro Bowl in 2006, he was the unknown kid who led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He had the world in front of him.

Now in his fourth Pro Bowl and five years removed from his most recent trip to the all-star game, his life has changed. He turns 35 in April. He is married and has two sons. He knows these moments don’t last forever.

The world may still be in front of him, but his view of it has changed.

“You want to keep constantly trying to figure out new ways to improve,” Romo said. “You’re never satisfied. Last year is not a satisfying feeling. If anything, it makes you more hungry to be better going forward so you have an opportunity to achieve all your goals. Ultimately we didn’t get that done and that just never sits well. I’m a firm believer that you have to start over and go do everything you did to be better the next season. You can’t just rest on anything you’ve done. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“I’m going to have to start over, tear it all down and figure out what I did well and work on the things I didn’t do as well and then go try and continue to perfect your craft to get to your highest level.”’

How does he improve on 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions? On completing 69.9 percent of his passes? On 8.5 yards per attempt?

The secret is in the dirt. It’s an old Ben Hogan saying and one Romo references often. It’s on the practice field or in the meeting room. It’s studying the tiniest of details from where he places his ring finger on the ball to how he slightly adjusts where he points his lead foot.

“If you’re not improving and getting better from year to year, if you don’t think you can try to figure out new ways to perfect your craft, I don’t understand how you can help your football team,” Romo said. “You’re going in the wrong direction, to me, if you don’t. You’ve got to figure out how you can be a better player. Each guy has to do that a little different and just think if our team takes that approach, we have a chance to be better.”

For the first time since 2012, Romo will be able to work on his craft in the offseason. In 2013, he had surgery to remove a cyst from his back and did not take part in organized team activities and the minicamp. In 2014, he was coming back from the discectomy that prevented him from playing in the winner-take-all finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It limited him in training camp. He never practiced more than two straight days. It limited him early in the season until the Cowboys’ athletic training staff formulated the ‘Romo Wednesday,’ in which he worked on his strength in his core and legs.

“It’s going to be a much better offseason on building in areas that I haven’t been able to in a couple of years,” Romo said. “I’ll always have to maintain a little bit of what I’ve been doing for my back. Strengthening the areas there, that’s the most important thing. I think what I’ve found is that you’ve got to attack the offseason, and you can do it in many different forms. I think it’ll be nice to attack some area that I haven’t been able to.”

He doesn’t want to say what areas he will attack. He prefers to keep that secret in the dirt to himself. He said the tear-down process will start in the middle of February.

“Right now you’re just trying to enjoy the Pro Bowl and family and things like that,” Romo said.

When the bus returned to the Biltmore, he was going to sit by the pool and relax with his family and teammates. The sun was out and everything was bright.

“Next season is a whole new season and we’ve got to tear it down and start all over again,” Romo said. “You’re guaranteed nothing. That’s the only way to be successful year to year. I think our team has an opportunity with a lot of the right people in place, and I’m excited about the challenge and excited about the ability to work and get after it.”