Dallas Cowboys: 2014 young guns

Young Guns: Dez Bryant

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
2:00
PM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Dez Bryant emerged as the Cowboys' No. 1 offensive threat in 2013. He finished the season leading the team in catches (93), receiving yards (1,233) and first downs earned (62).

Bryant
Bryant
For his efforts, Bryant was named to his first Pro Bowl, and to think his numbers would have been better if not for a one-catch performance at New Orleans, three-catch day at Detroit and a few games where he wasn't targeted on several possessions.

Bryant also caught a touchdown pass in his last five games.

The biggest issues for Bryant going forward is how he deals with different types of coverages and how he handles his emotions.

Quarterback Tony Romo isn't one to just target a receiver for the sake of doing that -- he throws the ball to the open man -- hence the impressive 44-catch season by rookie Terrance Williams and the 39-catch effort by second-year receiver Cole Beasley in 2013. However, there are times when the Cowboys have to find ways to get Bryant open regardless of the coverage.

Moving him around the line of scrimmage is key and you can't use the excuse that Bryant doesn't know the offense, because he has a command of it, not like Miles Austin, but he's trustworthy enough for Romo to make adjustments with him on the fly.

Playcaller Bill Callahan has to get Bryant going early because he can have such a big impact in the game. But when it doesn't happen, this is where things go haywire.

Bryant's outburst in the loss at Detroit made national news, something he wasn't trying to do, and while it later was revealed Bryant was being a positive light on the sideline, the perception was he was out of control. Bryant is an emotional player and one of the tough guys on this team. Bryant, however, has to be mindful of how he acts on the sideline.

He's everything the Cowboys need and his future says he'll get a contract extension because at his age, 25, he's somebody this team needs to move forward.

Young Guns: Sean Lee

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys believe Sean Lee is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL and paid him like one last summer when he signed a six-year, $42 million extension.

The deal could be worth as much as $51 million provided Lee is healthy.

Health is the only question mark for Lee. He has not played a full season since the Cowboys took him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He missed five games in 2013 because of hamstring and neck injuries. The sprained ligament in his neck requires rest, not surgery, which is the good news.

Despite missing five games, Lee finished second on the defense with 123 tackles. His four interceptions led the Cowboys, which is also a sign of how poorly the secondary played. He also had six pass deflections, three quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.

He is the quarterback of the defense. He is also the brains and the heart; the defensive version of Witten in a way. Lee had a run of seven straight games with double-digit tackles, including a season-high 21 against the San Diego Chargers. One of his four interceptions was good for a 52-yard return for a touchdown. He finished with 174 return yards on his picks.

Lee has a nose for the ball. Unfortunately injuries have a nose for him. In order for Lee to be considered one of the best linebackers in football, he has to play a full season. Until then, the talk is only about his potential.

If he can play in 80 percent of the snaps in 2014, he will earn an extra $1.5 million on his 2015 base salary that is already guaranteed. From 2016 to 2019, he can earn an extra $7.5 million toward his base salaries with 80 percent playing time in the previous years.

There is incentive for Lee to stay healthy. The Cowboys will gladly pay him, but they know they need him on the field if the defense is ever to become a playoff-level unit.

Young Guns
DeMarco Murray
Barry Church

Young Guns: Barry Church

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
1:00
PM ET
Since 2010, the Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Player: Barry Church
Position: Safety
Age: 25

Outlook: Church is coming off a solid 2013 season when he led the team in tackles with 135 and finished tied for fourth with six pass breakups. Church was a steady presence in the backend while the team struggled to find a consistent performer at free safety. Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath started at free safety this season, while Church didn't miss a single start. Church's season started off well when he forced a fumble and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown in the season-opening victory against the New York Giants. Church displayed abilities to become a solid run defender and was a reliable safety against the pass. There were times he was inconsistent. In a Week 3 victory over St. Louis, Church had a career-high three pass breakups. The Cowboys' future with Church is secure because he's signed through 2016.

Young Guns: DeMarco Murray

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010, the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Player: DeMarco Murray
Position: Running back
Age: 25

Outlook: When Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith are the measuring sticks of every Cowboys running back, then it is hard to measure up, but Murray had his best season in 2013. He became the first Dallas runner to top 1,000 yards in a season with 1,124 on 217 carries while playing in only 14 games because of a knee injury. He has yet to play in a full season in his first three years but his importance to the offense cannot be understated. Murray's 5.2 yards per carry was most by any runner with more than 200 carries on the season. He had three 100-yard games on the season and had 696 yards in the final eight games of the year. And he could have had more. Jason Garrett felt there were times Murray left yards on the field by not finishing his runs. Murray was also productive in the passing game, catching a career-high 53 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown.

Murray is signed through 2014. The Cowboys will have a decision to make on his long-term future. The last time they signed a running back to a megadeal, they were burned by Marion Barber. However, Barber’s running style might have curtailed his career. Murray is more elusive than Barber, but the Cowboys will have to determine if a running back is worth big money or if they can find a runner to do all that Murray does and all that he means.

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