Dallas Cowboys: Darren Woodson

Bradie James retires as Cowboy

May, 6, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys signed Bradie James on Tuesday so the veteran linebacker could retire with the team that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.

James played for the Cowboys from 2003-11 before joining the Houston Texans in 2012. He did not play last season.

James started all but three games from 2005-11 at inside linebacker and led the Cowboys in tackles in a six-year span, topping out at 202 in 2008. He also had eight sacks in 2008. He is the sixth-leading tackler in franchise history after Darren Woodson, Lee Roy Jordan, Randy White, Dexter Coakley and Ed “Too Tall” Jones.

The Cowboys made a similar ceremonial move with Marc Colombo in 2012. On hand for the announcement was former teammate Akin Ayodele.

Chat leftovers: Missing on best chance

March, 28, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- It's time for some leftovers from Wednesday's hour-long chat with you guys.

We had more than 120 questions posted during that time and it's impossible to handle all of them, so we'll choose five extra questions for the weekly "leftovers" post. Quick question for the house: Best leftover, pizza or Chinese food?

In the best player available strategy, I'm leaning toward pizza.

Anyway, away we go:

David Huffman. Connecticut: How many failed attempts at assembling a roster capable of playing good football deep into the postseason will it take for Jerry to say, "OK, I don't have the ability to properly evaluate the players I'm drafting and signing to this team?"

Jones
Jones
Todd Archer: I wouldn't hold your breath on this one, David. You might turn purple. But I will point out that the Cowboys had what was considered some of the best personnel in the game for a stretch from say 2007-10 and if Jerry is responsible for the state of the personnel right now, then he was responsible for the personnel then. And, yes, I realize Bill Parcells had a huge influence on the roster in those years, but he didn't get everything he wanted. As I see it, the problem is the Cowboys missed their window. They had pretty good shots in 2006-09 and won one playoff game. The one that hurts the most is the 2007 season. It was set up for them to take the NFC and they failed. Wade Phillips gave them the out late in the '07 season by letting up. The team did not react the right way, and I'm not talking about a trip to Cabo or anything like that. After the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers that year they lost their momentum and couldn't get it back, losing to the Giants at home. If they win that game -- or the Seattle playoff game the previous year -- and I think a lot of these narratives that have come about are entirely different. Since the Cowboys missed that window, they have been chasing it ever since without success and the personnel has not been as good the last three or four years, despite the proclamations from those far away that the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They haven't had that. They have had good 'name' players but spots 15-53 on the roster have been lacking.

Casey (Boise, ID): So what exactly are Callahan's duties with Linehan now in town? Will he have any influence with the play calling? Is he only in charge of the OL group? All the titles confuse me? Passing game coordinator but will call all the offensive plays???

Callahan
Todd Archer: Sorry I missed this one, Casey. This is a good question. Bill Callahan goes back to being the offensive line coach and run game coordinator, which is essentially what he was in 2012. He will give Scott Linehan options with running plays but make no mistake about it, Linehan will be calling the shots. The Cowboys will try to gloss over all of this of course and Callahan will publicly say all the right things, but how the Cowboys handled this maneuvering in the offseason is as baffling as how they handled the playcalling duties last offseason. They should have let Callahan go to Cleveland or Baltimore or wherever once the playcalling was taken away from him.

Nate (South Dakota): Any chance Jerry goes back to the past and brings in some more players from the '70s and '80s into the Ring of Honor? I would really like to see Charlie Waters, Harvey Martin, and maybe even Daryl Johnston in the Ring. Any chance?

Todd Archer: Nothing stirs the masses like the Ring of Honor. I like the two names you mentioned from the 1970s and I think Ed 'Too Tall' Jones has a case too. Charlie Waters and Harvey Martin were difference makers on the Super Bowl teams. Same with Too Tall. And he spanned the Jerry Era too. Daryl Johnston is a good name to consider as well, but the first guy from the '90s teams that I would add is Darren Woodson. He was a terrific player who was saddled with bad teams in the early 2000s and just as the Cowboys were about to turn it around his back gave out. Woodson would be right up there in my book. He should get Hall of Fame consideration too. Think about Woodson's impact this way: The Cowboys still haven't replaced him.

David (Southlake): Todd, given what Bears gave to Allen, shouldn't Cowboys have pursued him instead of Melton? Melton is coming off a major injury whereas Allen has a proven track record.

Allen
Todd Archer: You don't pay free agents based on track record. Jared Allen is 32. He has had a terrific career and might have a couple more great seasons left in him with the Chicago Bears, but that doesn't mean he would have been the right fit here. If the Cowboys weren't going to pay DeMarcus Ware, whom they knew best, or Julius Peppers, whom they knew quite well too, then they were not going to shell out money for Allen, who has no connections to the staff. It would have been the continuation of paying older players for what they have done, not what they will do. The Cowboys' plan this offseason has been simple: spend wisely on younger players, draft well in May and hope players in house make a ton of improvement. Will it work? I can't answer that question today, but that's the best way to go about it rather than hoping a thirtysomething has something left in the tank. Melton, who will probably make about $4 million this season, is just 27 and the Cowboys have a get-out-of-jail free card if he doesn't perform if they choose not to exercise the option. I'd be more willing to bet on a young player coming off an injury than an older player looking for a big pay day.

Shawn (NC Mountains): Given that Philly, Washington and Giants have made some impressive moves in free agency. Are the Cowboys the worst team in our division?

Todd Archer: If you want to give out trophies for offseason work that is less than a month old, then sure the Cowboys are the worst team in the division. But how many times have the Redskins won the Super Bowl in an offseason only to implode? What happened to the Eagles' dream team from a few years ago? I'm not picking the Cowboys to win the division or make the playoffs, but I'm not saying it's impossible either. There are a lot of moves left to make. The Cowboys have been the only team to compete for the NFC East title the last three seasons, so there is talent here. It just needs more supplementing before the games start in September. Maybe that's too optimistic of a view.

Jerry Jones' top five moments

February, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Jerry Jones’ purchase of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Stadium for $140 million.

The highs have been high, but the lows have been low, especially since the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl in the 1995 season.

Here we will look at Jones’ top five moments as the Cowboys' owner and general manager while realizing that a large segment of the fandom will not give him any credit for what happened in the early years when Jimmy Johnson was around.

1. How do you like those Super Bowls?

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Charles KrupaOwner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson celebrate their 30-13 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII on Jan. 30, 1994, in Atlanta.
The Cowboys won three titles in Jones’ first seven years as owner. They became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span, becoming the team of the 1990s with the Triplets -- Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- becoming household names. The Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII by a combined score of 82-30. They claimed Super Bowl XXX with Barry Switzer as coach by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17, exacting some revenge for the ‘70s Cowboys who could not beat Terry Bradshaw & Co.

2. Hiring Jimmy Johnson

Jones expressed regret Sunday about the rushed nature of firing legendary coach Tom Landry, but there is no doubt he made the right decision in bringing his former college teammate Johnson with him to the Cowboys. Johnson was the best coach in college football at the time at the University of Miami and brought a brashness that took the NFL by storm. The Cowboys suffered greatly in 1989 by going 1-15, but by Johnson’s second year they were competing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season and winning a playoff game by the third year. By Year No. 4, Johnson had his first of two straight Super Bowl wins. It ended badly between Jones and Johnson, wrecking what could have been a history-making era because of the egos of the owner and the coach.

3. The trade of all trades

This is where the Jimmy and Jerry camps will always be divided. If you were a Jimmy guy, he engineered the trade of Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings. If you were a Jerry guy, he had the final say. Regardless of who you want to credit, the moment is in Jones’ era as owner and is among his biggest moments. The Walker trade brought about the formation of the Super Bowl teams. The Cowboys received five players and eight picks, turning those picks into Smith, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards and Darren Woodson. It might be the best trade in NFL history.

4. A new home

At $2.1 billion, there is no stadium like AT&T Stadium. This will be the monument Jones leaves whenever he is no longer the owner and general manager of the team. To get the stadium built, Jones acquiesced to a degree by bringing in Bill Parcells as coach in 2003 after three straight 5-11 finishes. With Parcells and the coach’s two Super Bowl wins, Jones could show people he was serious about winning and changing his ways. The stadium is unmatched in the NFL, if not the world, with its nightclub-type feel, center-hung digital board, retractable roof and sliding doors. The Cowboys might not have the same home-field advantage they had at Texas Stadium, but the stadium has delivered a Super Bowl, an NBA All-Star Game, numerous concerts and the upcoming Final Four.

5. Trading for Charles Haley

Again, this will divide the Jimmy and Jerry camps, but Haley was the piece to the puzzle who got the Cowboys over the top. It weakened the Cowboys’ biggest rival at the time, the San Francisco 49ers, and brought the Dallas defense an attitude it lacked. The signing of Deion Sanders in 1995 also weakened the Niners, but Haley brought two titles -- if not the third, as well. The drafting of Smith, No. 17 overall, was another top moment with him becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. But Haley’s arrival brought to Dallas what the fans want most: Super Bowls.

Cowboys' safeties for the Hall?

February, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- NFL Nation Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez wrote a story last week about the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process and asked fellow reporters for the biggest omissions per team.

I came up with Cliff Harris, Darren Woodson, Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan. You might have some other names to include, like a Harvey Martin or Drew Pearson.

The voters have an incredibly difficult job. More difficult than people know. Just about every team has a player not in the Hall of Fame that has a case for enshrinement.

As an all-decade player in the 1970s, with six Pro Bowl selections and a four-time All-Pro pick, I believe Harris is the biggest snub. In 2004, he made it to the final 10 in the voting process but was eliminated on the cut down to six players. If he makes it to Canton, Ohio, it will be as a Senior Committee pick. There are two players in that pool each year, so Harris will have to wait. So too will Howley, the MVP of Super Bowl V, and Jordan.

To me, Woodson should get more consideration for the Hall of Fame. He was a five-time Pro Bowl pick and a three-time All Pro. He was on three Super Bowl winners. He is the Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler.

But Woodson had to suffer through some horrendous seasons as the Cowboys moved from Super Bowl contender to afterthought. Just as the Cowboys appeared ready to turn the corner under Bill Parcells, Woodson was forced to retire early because of a back injury in 2004. The Cowboys still haven’t replaced him. Think about that for a second.

Woodson was a linebacker at Arizona State and made the transition to safety. For all of the talk of a safety’s ability to cover receivers now that the game is so spread out, Woodson was at his best in the slot. He could cover receivers. He could cover tight ends. He was ahead of his time to a degree.

Woodson’s game was more than just numbers, which may be why he will not get in the Hall, but he should at least be brought up for debate.

Garrett preaches patience with Escobar

November, 15, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Ten games into his NFL career and Gavin Escobar has four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.

When the Dallas Cowboys made him a somewhat surprisingly second-round pick, there were automatic expectations for Escobar. Though they knew he would need time to develop as a blocker -- something coach Jason Garrett has repeated as often as his “process” talk -- Escobar could be a factor in the passing game with the Cowboys using more two-tight-end sets.

Everybody is still waiting.

After playing at least 15 snaps in each of the first three games, Escobar has played fewer than 10 snaps in five of the last seven.

[+] EnlargeGavin Escobar
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsGavin Escobar has had a difficult time getting playing time on a team stacked with playmakers.
“Certainly his production hasn’t been overwhelming,” Garrett said. “When we evaluate one of the things you try to do -- and is something I thought about a lot as a player, I emphasize this a lot to young players -- is if there’s an Escobar tape, and the Escobar tape has nothing to do with anybody else’s tape, these are Escobar’s plays, ‘How’d I do on my plays?’ If we evaluate the Escobar tape, he’s done some good things. And what we think as coaches is, ‘He’s done good things, let’s keep giving him more opportunities.’ One of the challenges that he has is Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams, Miles Austin, Cole Beasley -- when some of these other guys emerge, they’re competing for opportunities.”

There might not be enough footballs to go around, but then that speaks to the decision-making in taking a tight end in the second round. The Cowboys have wanted to be a heavy “12 personnel” team in the past. It never took off with Anthony Fasano. It never took off with Martellus Bennett.

Fasano and Bennett were second-round picks too.

This time it was supposed to be different. The two-tight-end grouping is the Cowboys’ base offensive set, but Escobar has not been able to beat out James Hanna.

“I think James does some things better at this point,” Garrett said. “His experience certainly helps him. If you look at Hanna from last year, he came in as a sixth-round pick middle of the year last year. He kind of started to emerge as a guy who could do some stuff for us and made some plays down the stretch. Development happens and those opportunities happen and each one of the pieces we have to get going a little bit more.”

When they picked Travis Frederick in the first round, eyebrows were raised, but Frederick’s strong play has justified the decision. Escobar’s lack of production just makes it seem as if the Cowboys have missed on a second-round pick when they had other needs to fill.

Garrett chose to dip into the Cowboys’ archives for those who want instant success from a second-round pick.

“Darren Woodson was a special-teams player his first year,” Garrett said of the Cowboys’ No. 2 pick in 1992. “He was taken in the second round. You’re arguing my point. He was a special-teams player, and he went on to have one of the great careers. So just because right at this moment the guy doesn’t come in and take the league by storm ... [Escobar] has done a nice job for us with the opportunities we’ve given him. We’re going to keep growing those opportunities and hopefully he continues to get better and better and better.”

5 Wonders: More on Tony Romo sitting

August, 6, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. – One preseason game is in the books and four remain, but there are plenty of things to wonder about.

So on it is to our third training camp installment of Five Wonders:

** On the grand schemes of things Tony Romo not playing a series against Miami is not that big of a deal. With issues on the offensive line and Romo’s lack of offseason work because of the back surgery, the team thought it was wiser to sit the quarterback against the Dolphins. Well, I wonder what they were thinking about in 2010 and ’11 when they didn’t sit Romo with offensive line issues when he had to play more. In 2010 at San Diego, Robert Brewster had to play right tackle with Marc Colombo and Alex Barron hurt, but Romo played four series. In 2011, the Cowboys made the decision to part ways with center Andre Gurode before they played at Minnesota and had undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski start with Phil Costa out. It was the first time Romo took a snap from Kowalski all summer. And Kowalski was the third rookie to start that night with Bill Nagy and Tyron Smith. There was no worry that night either. Again, it’s not a huge deal that Romo didn’t play against Miami, but it’s just notable given what happened in recent history.

** Now that Larry Allen has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Charles Haley figures to be the next Cowboy to make it. Haley has been a finalist the last few years and the feeling among voters is that the question is “when” not “if” Haley will make it. But I wonder who will be the next Cowboy to take up a lifetime residence in Canton, Ohio. Perhaps Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan, Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson get a look from the Veterans Committee. But what of the more-recent era Cowboys? Darren Woodson should gain consideration but the safety position has never been a popular pick among the voters. Woodson was covering slot receivers before it was fashionable for safeties to do so. He was truly ahead of his time in some ways. I’m not sure there is another 90s Era player that will get a look, but Jerry Jones will be in there one day. Maybe soon too.

** Forever, it seems, the Cowboys have found success stories in undrafted free agents: Romo, Miles Austin, Stephen Bowen and Dan Bailey are among the more recent vintage. But I wonder if there will be one undrafted free agent to make the team this year. Really. The leader would appear to be linebacker Brandon Magee, who could become a big part of the special teams’ units. Even those who haven’t seen Eric Rogers play a snap seem to think he can be Keyshawn Johnson, but the Cal Lutheran product has a lot of work to do in earning a spot. Safety Jeff Heath has been an under-the-radar guy and Jakar Hamilton, who received $10,000 to sign, has yet to make a mark in camp. There is a lot of time to make a push but right now there isn’t a lock yet.

** It’s hard to gauge just how interested the Cowboys are in Brian Waters. They know he is available, but they haven’t really put the full-court press on him just yet. Maybe they wanted to see Ronald Leary in a game before going ahead with it. But if they are going to sign Waters, I wonder if it’s too late. He did not take part in an offseason program last year and did not sign with a team. He was not with a team this offseason either. What kind of shape is he in? If the Cowboys bring Waters in, it’s not for a workout. It’s to sign him. He signed with New England in 2011 a week before the season started and ended up in the Pro Bowl. But in players’ years, that could be a lifetime ago.

** Let’s close with a game involving a 53-man roster projection. I wonder if the final spot or two comes down to a seventh linebacker, fourth running back, a 10th offensive linemen, a sixth wide receiver or a ninth defensive lineman? If that’s the case, then Magee, Phillip Tanner, Darrion Weems, Anthony Armstrong, Tim Benford, Eric Rogers or a George Selvie are fighting for one or two spots right now. Right now, I’m not sure the ninth or 10th offensive lineman is on the roster. Armstrong has had a really good camp and his speed separates him from some others. Selvie could be insurance for Anthony Spencer being banged up and helped himself with Sunday’s two-sack effort. Tanner also helped his cause. Based on what Tanner, Selvie and Armstrong did against Miami, it looks like the Cowboys will have a decision to make as opposed to trying to find players to keep.
OXNARD, Calif. -- We’ve all heard stories about Larry Allen's strength, power and the raw athleticism that made him one of the best offensive linemen ever.

We can all recite the stories about him bench-pressing 700 pounds and chasing New Orleans linebacker Darion Connor 50 yards to prevent a touchdown as a rookie.

And we’ve all seen video of him destroying linebackers and defensive backs when he pulled, creating running lanes for Emmitt Smith.

“Across the board, he was the best football player I ever played with -- and I played with them all,” former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said. “Troy [Aikman], Emmitt, Michael [Irvin], Deion [Sanders] ... Larry Allen was the best.

“He was also the smartest.”

Say what?

That’s right. Talk to any player or coach who played with Allen during his 12 seasons in Dallas and they’ll tell you he was among the game’s most intelligent players.

Former offensive line coach Hudson Houck used to joke that Allen was the best offensive linemen on the field and in the classroom.

“He wanted to know everyone’s assignment,” six-time Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton said. “If the quarterback was rolling out, he wanted to know exactly where he was supposed to end up so he could adjust his block properly.

“He always asked a lot of questions, but he asked a lot of smart questions. He always wanted to know what we were supposed to do if the defensive player didn’t do what we thought he would do.”

Allen was a second-round pick from tiny Division II Sonoma State in the 1994 draft. Six games into the season, he was starting. The six-time All-Pro played every position except center on the offensive line.

“Do you know how smart you have to be to go from playing at Sonoma State to starting for a two-time Super Bowl champion?” Woodson said. “Think about how big that jump is. Think about the kind of offense we had in Dallas and what he ran at Sonoma State.

“I don’t know how Larry did in math or what kind of grades he made, but he understood everything about football and concepts and that’s what helped make him a great player. He anticipated things because he knew where everyone was on the field and he could adjust.”

More important Cowboy: Dez or DeMarco?

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
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On "NFL Live," Tim Hasselbeck and Darren Woodson debated the question: Which player is more important to the 2013 success of the Dallas Cowboys? Wide receiver Dez Bryant or running back DeMarco Murray? Both of them picked Murray, and I think I agree.

As you know if you read me regularly, I think Bryant is coming into his own as an absolute monster and will continue to develop as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. I think he'll continue to be Tony Romo's favorite target and put up huge numbers in the Cowboys' passing game. But as Tim and Darren both assert in the clip there, a healthy and productive Murray would help everyone else on the offense. He'd help the offensive line. He'd help Romo. He'd probably help Bryant be even more fantastic than he was over the second half of last season.

Can the Cowboys score points if Murray is in and out of the lineup again due to injury? Sure. Romo and his passing-game weapons are enough for the Cowboys to score plenty of points. But there's little doubt that a healthy Murray would make the offense run more efficiently and reduce the pressure on Romo and those around him. The Cowboys would suffer for the loss of Bryant, but between Miles Austin, Jason Witten and the new guys they brought in via the draft, Romo could figure that out. Without Murray, they trend too predictable and don't offer enough variety.

Safety track record not good for Cowboys

March, 5, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – After the Cowboys released Gerald Sensabaugh on Monday, I wrote that the move was risky, considering the Cowboys do not have a known commodity currently under contract.

PODCAST
Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the Cowboys putting the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer and releasing Gerald Sensabaugh.

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After checking out the comments section, I soon realized Sensabaugh was the worst safety in NFL history and was responsible for the current sequester. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I believe Sensabaugh is solid. Great? No. Good enough? Sure.

Another reason why the move is risky is that the Cowboys have not been able to find a long-term safety since Darren Woodson.

And everybody believes the Cowboys struggle to identify quality offensive linemen?

Roy Williams had a good run for a few years but then tailed off badly. Ken Hamlin had one good season with the Cowboys, signed a big contract and then didn’t seem to like playing much again. Keith Davis was a special teamer turned starter out of necessity. At the prices the Cowboys paid Sensabaugh, I think they did OK with him for four years. Abram Elam lasted one season as a starter, which is better than Brodney Pool, who didn’t last a week in training camp.

(UPDATE: The original version forgot Lynn Scott, an undrafted player in 2001 that the Cowboys had hopes for early.)

Since 2001, the Cowboys have drafted nine safeties and the best has been Williams, and he was the eighth overall pick in 2002. People will remind you that Ed Reed is a Hall of Famer and went later to Baltimore. Tony Dixon (second, 2001) never panned out. Justin Beriault (sixth, 2006) was hurt and never played.

Pat Watkins (fifth, 2006) was tall and an OK special teamer. Alan Ball (seventh, 2007) was drafted as a corner, became a forgettable starter at safety and moved back to cornerback. Mike Hamlin and DeAngelo Smith were fifth-rounders in the forgettable 2009 draft and didn’t make an impact. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (fourth, 2010) was hurt when drafted, came from a small school and made switch from corner to safety – and never made an impact.

Barry Church and Danny McCray were undrafted players in 2010 that have made an impact. But Church, as close to an incumbent the Cowboys have at the position, is coming off an Achilles tear, and McCray showed he’s a special-teamer with the more work he got on defense last season.

Matt Johnson was a fourth-round pick last year and never played a snap because of recurring hamstring injuries. Judgment should be withheld until he actually gets on the field, but let’s just say history is not on his side.

The Cowboys needed to look at the safety spot before Sensabaugh’s release and now they must really look at it.

But do you trust they will find the right safety even in a draft that is considered rich at the position?

Report Card: Numbers mask ugly duckling

October, 29, 2012
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Jones
F

Rushing Offense

No wonder Jason Garrett didn't have any confidence to run the ball when the Cowboys needed a yard to extend a potential game-winning drive. With DeMarco Murray sidelined, the Cowboys gained a grand total of 19 yards on 17 carries. Felix Jones had all 19 yards on 13 carries, running tentatively after being bothered all week by a bruised knee. He lost a fumble caused by center Ryan Cook's butt. Third-string tailback Phillip Tanner got stuffed at the goal line on his only two carries of the day. The Giants' front seven dominated the line of scrimmage all day.

Romo
F

Passing Offense

The Dallas passing game produced a lot of pretty numbers. Tony Romo threw for a career-high 437 yards. Jason Witten had a franchise-record 18 receptions, more than any tight end in NFL history. The Cowboys had three 100-yard receivers for the second time in franchise history with Witten (167), Miles Austin (133) and Dez Bryant (110). But all the pretty numbers were outweighed by a butt-ugly stat: Romo's four picks, including one returned by Jason Pierre-Paul for a touchdown. The turnovers put the Cowboys in a 23-point hole, forcing Romo to throw a franchise-record 62 times while trying to lead a comeback, making all the meaningless, pretty numbers possible.

Bradshaw
B+

Rushing Defense

The Giants struggled to run the ball effectively despite stud inside linebacker Sean Lee being out for the season and fill-in starter Dan Connor leaving the game with a strained neck. The Giants averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Ahmad Bradshaw (22 carries, 78 yards) never got rolling. Reserve running back Andre Brown was more effective, accounting for 21 yards and a touchdown on his three carries, running through Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff once. However, Ratliff was a force for the majority of the afternoon. He finished with five tackles, highlighted by one when he tracked down Bradshaw behind the line of scrimmage and outside the numbers to kill a Giants drive.

Manning
A+

Passing Defense

This is about as good as it possibly gets. The Cowboys kept an elite quarterback from making an impact on the game. Eli Manning completed only 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards and no touchdowns. Danny McCray came up with an interception when strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh delivered a hit on Victor Cruz that would have made Darren Woodson proud -- a clean but vicious blow that separated Cruz from the ball on a third-down throw over the middle. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick made Cruz (two catches, 23 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (four catches, 46 yards) nonfactors.

Bryant
D

Special Teams

The Cowboys had a catastrophic special teams mistake in a loss for the third time this season. Dez Bryant was responsible for this one, losing a fumble on a reckless punt return that was doomed from the moment he failed to field the ball cleanly. That gifted a field goal for the Giants. There were several bright spots for the Cowboys' special teams, saving Joe DeCamillis' units from another failed grade. Dan Bailey hit a 51-yard field goal. Lance Dunbar had a 44-yard kickoff return. Brian Moorman averaged a net of 41.0 yards on four punts, three of which pinned the Giants inside the 20.

Garrett
D

Coaching

The Cowboys continue to be a dumb team. Ivy League-educated Jason Garrett can't escape the blame for that. His message about the importance of protecting the ball obviously isn't getting through to his team, which committed six turnovers in this loss. This is twice in the last three meetings against the Giants that the Cowboys looked woefully unprepared, putting themselves in huge holes. And Garrett's pass-happy play-calling when the Cowboys failed to pick up 1 yard on three downs with a little more than a minute to go gave ample opportunity for second-guessing.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Darren Woodson believes in Barry Church.

The Cowboys have been hampered by spotty safety play since a back injury forced Woodson, a five-time Pro Bowler and the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, to retire before the 2004 season. Woodson sees signs that Church, a third-year undrafted player who seized the starting role during training camp, can be a long-term solution.

“He’s been pigeonholed as that box safety,” Woodson said after watching Thursday’s practice at Cowboys Stadium. “Now, it seems like he’s slimmed down a little bit. He looks a lot more athletic and he knows where he’s supposed to be on the football field. If you know where you’re supposed to be on the football field, you can make a lot of plays even without the athleticism. That’s what I’m seeing from him now.

“I think he’s a different player than what we’re used to from last year. That’s building from knowing where he’s supposed to be and that confidence that he has.”

Woodson’s advice to Church: Outwork everyone during the week. Spend a ton of free time watching film. Maintain confidence, but be critical of yourself and embrace criticism from the coaches.

As a guy who played linebacker at Arizona State, Woodson relates to the transition Church is making from being a box safety to an all-purpose player at the position. The knock on Church is that he has subpar speed, but Woodson said that weakness can be masked by studying.

“I remember coming into the league and the biggest thing that held me back was the lack of confidence, because I was transitioning from one position to another,” said Woodson, an ESPN analyst who should be at the top of the list of Ring of Honor candidates. “I didn’t know the system that well. But once I started making plays, my confidence kept on building and I continued to study. I learned from the best as far as my study habits, and I became a better football player.

“I think he can go through the same situation.”

Current, former Cowboys get together

August, 23, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas – For the second straight year, Jason Garrett invited alumni to Cowboys Stadium to watch a practice as a way to mix the franchise’s generations.

Ring of Honor members Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Mel Renfro, Cliff Harris and Larry Allen were among the 54 alums in attendance.

During the practice DeMarcus Ware was able to catch up with Billy Joe DuPree. Sean Lee got some tips from Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. Tony Romo was able to see former teammates in Dexter Coakley and Darren Woodson.

After the practice the current and former players got together for a dinner inside the stadium.

“It just shows you how much tradition this has and the standard you need to hold,” Lee said. “When you see the great players, you want to be like that. You want to win to make them proud and hold that tradition up. That happens by working hard every day and trying to learn some knowledge from them about how to be successful.”

The practice also allowed the alums to catch up with each other.

“Garrison, I love talking to Walt,” Staubach said. “He was telling a story that he gave me a little Skoal. I never had it before and he remembered how I broke out into a sweat and unfortunately got sick. So I said, ‘Walt, how do you remember that?’ He said he never forgot it. I think a lot of stories are half truths, but it’s fun to reminisce. There was a great turnout with the old, veteran players.”

Jerry Jones: Ring of Honor additions unlikely

August, 12, 2012
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OXNARD, Calif. – The one-man selection committee for the Ring of Honor is not planning to induct anybody this year.

“It’s probably unlikely that we will, but I haven’t made that decision,” Jones told ESPNDallas.com.

The induction of Drew Pearson, Larry Allen and Charles Haley last year marked the first Ring of Honor class since 2005, when the Triplets of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith went in together.

There are several former Cowboys who have strong cases for inclusion in the Ring of Honor. The list arguably starts with franchise sacks leader Harvey Martin and Darren Woodson, who holds the franchise record for career tackles.

They’ll have to wait at least another year, unless Jones changes his mind.

First-round picks face final year of contracts

July, 29, 2012
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have two first-round picks -- running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins -- who enter the final year of their contracts.

Jones and Jenkins are coming off shoulder surgeries and have shown flashes of being elite players in the past. Yet, the club hasn't tendered a new contract to either.

Combine that with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who was franchised this spring at $8.8 million, and the Cowboys have three first-round picks who could be free agents at the end of the 2012 regular season.

"Those three guys we're counting on to help us win this year," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "None of the three have been ruled out for long-term contracts."

Jones said the franchise likes all three players, calling each of them, "damn good football player(s)."

The Cowboys have been known to take care of their own players before they hit free agency; Jones referenced Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek as examples.

Injuries and inconsistency have hampered the play of Jenkins and Jones.

In the offseason, Jenkins wanted a new contract. When that wasn't fulfilled, he requested a trade and skipped voluntary workouts. Jenkins, who made the Pro Bowl in 2009, is scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews next week to have his shoulder re-examined. That complicates his long-term future. Coach Jason Garrett said Jenkins could return by the end of the preseason and owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's spoken to the cornerback about becoming part of a rotation at the position. Jones said Jenkins was receptive to it.

Felix Jones, who has scored just two touchdowns the last two seasons, has played a full NFL season just once, in 2010. But Jones is seen as a dynamic player who makes defenders miss in space and has the ability to make long scores.

Spencer has never picked up more than six sacks in a single-season and is compared to fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Spencer is good in pass coverage but isn't consistent in finishing plays on the pass rush. Spencer also sought a long-term deal from the Cowboys, but talks didn't yield any significant progress.

"We like them all," Stephen Jones said.

Family, friends say goodbye to Coach Joe

April, 17, 2012
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FLOWER MOUND, Texas – The Cowboys said their goodbyes to their former special teams coach, Joe Avezzano, who passed away from a heart attack April 5 in Milan, Italy.

Among those in attendance at Tuesday's service were owner and general manager Jerry Jones, Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and Jason Garrett, Norv Turner, Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum. Players from all of the Cowboys’ eras showed up, including Preston Pearson, Bill Bates, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson, Dexter Coakley and Randal Williams.

Current Cowboys assistants Joe DeCamillis, Skip Peete and Chris Boniol, who also played for Avezzano, were in attendance. Former Cowboys assistants Robert Ford and Tony Wise were also on hand, as were any behind-the-scenes co-workers.

A crowd of roughly 200 attended the hour-long ceremony at Trietsch United Methodist Church and were treated to moving eulogies from Brad Sham, the radio voice of the Cowboys, and Avezzano’s son, Tony.

Avezzano, 68, died while working out on a treadmill. He had been in Italy coaching the Milan Seamen of the Italian Football League.

He helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, staying with the team from 1990-2002. He became the first coach of the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League before returning to the NFL with Turner in Oakland.

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