Dallas Cowboys: Ben Grubbs

Offensive line fixes are complex

August, 15, 2013
OXNARD, Calif. -- Bill Callahan strolled off the practice fields Tuesday with a lot on his mind.

He's trying to coach the current group of offensive line players on the Cowboys and make sure he's got the offense going in the right direction as the offensive coordinator.

ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly segment to discuss the latest on Tom Brady's injury and Cowboys training camp in Oxnard.

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The direction of the offense overall seems OK after two preseason games, but the offensive line isn't.

Ronald Leary is the latest offensive linemen to go down with an injury. The left guard will undergo minor surgery on his knee, putting his status for the 2013 season opener against the New York Giants in doubt.

This summer, the Cowboys have lost Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Kevin Kowalski, Ryan Cook, Ray Dominguez and now Leary to some sort of injury.

The projected starters at guard have health issues.

In a desperate move, the team offered a contract to Brian Waters, who hasn't played in over a year. This offer came after Brandon Moore backed out of a deal with the team to retire.

Waters is a Pro Bowl guard, but who knows what type of shape he's in and if he can quickly morph into a starter without significant training camp practices.

Livings got hurt early in training camp and underwent minor knee surgery. There's talk about cutting Livings and just absorbing $1.7 million against the salary cap. Currently, the Cowboys have just a shade over $7 million in cap space available. Stephen Jones likes to have salary cap space to play with during the season to sign a veteran in case of injury.

He might have to do it.

Leary was having a solid camp until his injury. Kowalski was battling David Arkin for a backup spot at right guard before injuries ended the fight. The competition between the two is split, but it wasn't good enough to give the Cowboys a comfort level of starting them in a regular season game.

So here we are with injuries for an offensive line that's supposed to protect a $100 million quarterback in Tony Romo.

Second-guessing the Cowboys' decisions not to sign Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs in free agency last year would be unfair. The Cowboys grabbed Livings, a productive starter with the Bengals, and Bernadeau, a talented player with the Panthers, in free agency that year. The price paid to Livings and Bernadeau was nearly a combined $30 million. Grubbs signed a five-year $35 million deal with the New Orleans Saints to replace Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay.

Solutions for this fix are complex.

The Cowboys could increase their offer to Waters, move rookie center Travis Frederick to one of the guard spots and insert last year's starting center, Phil Costa, back to the first team. If you move Frederick, do you stunt his development? Do you weaken the center spot by moving Costa there over Frederick?

The third preseason game is Saturday afternoon in Glendale, Ariz., and the Cowboys' projected starters for the first-team offensive line are as follows: left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Arkin, center Frederick, right guard Bernadeau and right tackle Doug Free.

Gives you confidence?

Cowboys add Mackenzy Bernadeau

March, 14, 2012
IRVING, Texas – He’s not the big name fans wanted on the offensive line, but guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is the newest Cowboy, signing a four-year deal.

Bernadeau, who spent four years in Carolina, arrived in Arlington on Tuesday night and was at Cowboys Stadium along with the team’s top free-agent target Brandon Carr.

Bernadeau, a former seventh-round pick in 2008 out of Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., has started 20 games. Bernadeau is 6-4, 308 pounds and had one start in 2011 in 15 games. He started 12 games in 2010 for the Panthers.

The Cowboys did not get in the action for Carl Nicks, who joined Tampa Bay with a five-year, $47.25 million deal and have yet to talk with the agent for Ben Grubbs, who could be replacing Nicks with the Saints.

Cowboys slow on OL so far

March, 14, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said helping the interior of the offensive line was a priority, but so far in free agency the team has not gotten into the action with the bigger names available.

Carl Nicks signed with Tampa Bay, but the Cowboys made no attempt to sign the All-Pro. Some of it was cost, and Nicks cashed in with a contract from the Buccaneers worth $47.5 million over five years. Some of it was Bill Callahan, the new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Callahan coached Nicks at Nebraska and suspended him at one point, so Nicks might not have wanted to play for his college coach either.

The Saints are looking at Ben Grubbs as Nicks’ replacement. He is easily the second-best guard available, but as of yet the Cowboys have not made a play for the Baltimore veteran.

The price could be just too high to afford two big contracts for the Cowboys after the $10 million salary-cap sanction that came down from the league on Monday. With Brandon Carr meeting with the team Tuesday night at Cowboys Stadium, the team’s top priority was getting a cornerback over a guard.

Some quality remains - Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis, New England’s Dan Connolly, Minnesota’s Steve Hutchinson, who was cut – but there’s no indication as of yet that the team will make a run at any of them. The key phrase is “as of yet,” because things can change quickly in free agency.

So if the Cowboys can land a guard not named Nicks and Grubbs, then they could be in position to look at the position in the draft. Stanford’s David DeCastro is at the top of every list regarding pro-ready linemen, but keep an eye on Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, who could be a second- or third-round pick.

A free agent list for the Cowboys

March, 13, 2012
At 3:01 CT the free agency period starts in the NFL.

ESPN NFL analyst Ed Werder talks about how the NFL's salary cap penalty could prevent the Cowboys from re-signing free agents, namely WR Laurent Robinson.

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With that we've got a list of potential targets for the Cowboys:
  • Brandon Carr, CB: Finished with four interceptions and 13 pass breakups for the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Cortland Finnegan, CB: Credited with five tackles for loss and 12 pass breakups for Tennessee.
  • Richard Marshall, CB: Started nine games for Arizona last season and finished with three picks.
  • Eric Wright, CB: Ended 2011 with four interceptions and 16 pass breakups for Detroit.
  • Evan Mathis, G: Started 15 of 16 games at left guard for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
  • Ben Grubbs, G: A 2011 Pro Bowler from the left guard spot for Baltimore.
  • Carl Nicks, G: The premier free-agent guard on the market. Might go back to New Orleans.
  • Trai Essex, G: A backup guard for Pittsburgh who can also play a little tackle.
  • Chris Myers, C: One of the best centers in the game. Houston covets him, though.
  • David Hawthorne, ILB: A nice fit in the Cowboys' scheme. Led Seattle in total tackles.
  • Dan Connor, ILB: Finished with 75 tackles and three tackles for loss with Carolina.
  • Shaun Hill, QB: Backed up Matthew Stafford in Detroit last season.
  • Kyle Orton, QB: Cowboys tried claiming him last season, but missed. Threw 10 TD and 11 INTs last year.
  • Luke McCown, QB: Was Blaine Gabbert's backup in Jacksonville.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 9, 2012
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)

Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.

What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.

New York Giants

Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).

Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).

What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young

Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.

What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.

Washington Redskins

Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman

Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.

What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.

Cowboys position series: Center/guards

February, 12, 2012
This is the sixth installment of our 12-part series breaking down the Cowboys roster. Today we look at centers and guards.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezIt's uncertain if the Cowboys want to bring guard Kyle Kosier back, but it appears that they do.
Cowboys players: Derrick Dockery (free agent), David Arkin (signed through 2014), Phil Costa (signed through 2012), Kevin Kowalski (signed through 2013), Kyle Kosier (signed through 2013), Daniel Loper (restricted free agent, Montrae Holland (free agent), Bill Nagy (signed through 2014).

Top free agents: Guards: Carl Nicks, New Orleans; Dan Connolly, New England; Ben Grubbs, Baltimore. Centers: Chris Myers, Houston; Scott Wells, Green Bay.

Top draft prospects: Guards: David DeCastro, Stanford; Cordy Glenn, Georgia; Brandon Washington, Miami. Centers: Peter Konz, Wisconsin; Mike Brewster, Ohio State.

2011 review: Jerry Jones said the evaluation process of these two positions needs to get better. The Cowboys overestimated the talent level of the guards after training camp, going with younger players who proved to be inconsistent. The health of three veteran guards raised more questions. It's uncertain if the Cowboys want to bring Kosier back, though it appears that they do. Holland and Dockery might not return in 2012. Both players dealt with health issues during the 2011 season. Nagy started the season at guard, but an ankle injury in October ended his season. When Tony Romo was pressured from the outside, he didn't have solid footing in the middle of the line.

Ravens OT Michael Oher talks about his new book, Tyron Smith moving from RT to LT and the challenges associated with it and more.

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Offseason preview: Drafting a guard or center might be a possibility, but Nicks is a free agent if the Cowboys are interested in making him a significant offer. The Cowboys need to get better in this area. Finding more talent in the interior positions could help an improving run game and also assist the passing game. Dallas has to decide if a pass rusher is more important in the first round or an interior lineman.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: Other than third wide receiver and backup tight end, the area of the offense that needs the most work is this position. I'm not a fan of center Phil Costa, and I feel that you need to do better than Holland, Dockery or Nagy at left guard. Free agent Carl Nicks (Saints) would be a huge upgrade, and it would allow you to play with a little less of a center if you choose to do so. In the draft, the Cowboys will have a shot to draft Stanford's David DeCastro -- the best guard -- or they could trade down and think about Cordy Glenn, a massive left tackle from Georgia who is projected to play inside. I think the best way to fix the position is via free agency, so the Cowboys can use the draft picks to help fix the corner or outside linebacker spots. But if they do decide to draft DeCastro, you can plug him in right away -- much like you did with Tyron Smith.

Need meter (1-5): 3

Fixing the Cowboys: Pass rush and protection

January, 19, 2012
Fixing Cowboys
IRVING, Texas -- I would like to thank my warmup acts -- Tim MacMahon, Calvin Watkins and Bryan Broaddus -- for their solutions on how to fix the Cowboys.

The salary cap will not be an issue. The Cowboys have said they will be able to do whatever they want in free agency, despite the dead money that lingers. By the time free agency begins, they could have around $20 million in room.

That’s plenty.

I’m looking at the four teams that are playing this weekend in the conference championship games as prime examples of how to structure your team.

Baltimore, New England, San Francisco and the New York Giants offer the Cowboys a blueprint of what works.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezAnthony Spencer has been solid against the run but does not get to the quarterback enough.
The NFL is not about running the ball and stopping the run anymore. Those are tired clichés. It’s protecting the passer, especially up the middle, and rushing the passer.

So while we can all say the Cowboys need to get better in the secondary, I’ll go with improving the pass rush first. DeMarcus Ware needs some help. Jay Ratliff needs some help.

The Giants have pass rushers all along their defensive front, from Jason Pierre-Paul to Justin Tuck to Osi Umenyiora. San Francisco has pass rushers in Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Baltimore gets pressure from more than Terrell Suggs.

Go get a pass rusher -- make that two.

Let’s look at a team that lost last week: Houston. The Texans drafted J.J. Watt and Brooks Read, and Wade Phillips’ defense attacked the passer. Too often we have used the excuse that defensive ends in a 3-4 are just space eaters. Smith proves that wrong. So does Watt. They can be disruptive.

To come up with draft names at this point is somewhat silly, but at No. 14 the Cowboys need to get that 3-4 defensive end or outside linebacker, especially if they deem the Anthony Spencer experiment over. Spencer will be a free agent, and while he is solid against the run, he does not get to the quarterback enough.

My first two picks go to defensive end and outside linebacker.

What about cornerback? I’ll use San Francisco as an example again. Carlos Rogers was the epitome of “just a guy” when he played for Washington. He goes to the 49ers with that great front seven and makes the Pro Bowl. The Giants’ secondary is playing a lot better now that the pass rush has improved.

A terrific pass rush can offset some deficiencies in the secondary. We saw that in 2009 with the Cowboys.

If you want a cornerback, be wise. There is not a Jonathan Joseph or Nnamdi Asomugha available this year. Kansas City’s Brandon Carr offers some intrigue but he might get overpaid this year.

Next up is the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeCarl Nicks
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Saints' Carl Nicks, a veteran who has multiple Pro Bowls to his credit, could be an attractive option for the Cowboys if he is available in free agency.
This is where MacMahon got something right in targeting New Orleans guard Carl Nicks in free agency. He must’ve been reading the blog last week when I made the suggestion. We have to suppose Nicks will be available and doesn’t re-sign with the Saints before the market opens in March. I’ll take my chances on a 26-year-old free agent with multiple Pro Bowls to his credit.

Interior offensive line play is huge. New England protects Tom Brady with Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. Baltimore does it with Ben Grubbs, who is also set to be a free agent, and Marshal Yanda. San Francisco has a first-rounder in Mike Iupati inside. The Giants have Chris Snee.

Too often last season Tony Romo was left dodging traffic up the middle, and quarterbacks just can’t survive there. So why not take a guard with the first-rounder? I’m not sure Stanford’s David DeCastro can come in and duplicate what Tyron Smith did at right tackle as a rookie. Unless they are special, most rookie linemen need time to adapt to the speed and power of the NFL.

Give me Nicks, a stronger, more veteran center, and new coach Bill Callahan, and the line will be better in 2012.

Plus, to me, the defense needs more work. They have to come away with at least three impact players in the draft and/or free agency.

If they can do that, they can jump into the NFC mix next season.