Dallas Cowboys: Houston Texans

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have mixed and matched their offensive line this summer.

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Darren Woodson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss accountability at Valley Ranch and what he expects to see from the 2013 Dallas Cowboys.

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The latest pairings had Tyron Smith, left tackle, Mackenzy Bernadeau left guard, Travis Frederick, center, Doug Free, right guard and Jermey Parnell right tackle. That group might not play in the Week 1 game against the New York Giants on Sept. 8.

So just where is the Cowboys' comfort level with their offensive line?

"It’s getting there," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday. "It’s obviously something that we just started experimenting with last week, so to say you’re just totally comfortable with it, I don’t think anybody realistically would say that. You also have to say, ‘Well, what are the alternatives? Are you more comfortable with this lineup, that lineup or this lineup?’ That’s something obviously Bill (Callahan) and Jason (Garrett) and Frank (Pollack) are really going over in their mind: What gives us the best chance to rush the ball successfully and protect Tony against the Giants."

There is an expectation Ronald Leary will recover from knee surgery in time for the Giants game and start at left guard. If he's not available, the Cowboys will use the first-team line employed in last week's preseason game against the Bengals where Free played at guard for the first time in his career.

"He did a nice job," Jones said of Free. "Parnell coming off an extended injury did a nice job (too). We're looking at ways to get our best players on the field for our best five to beat the Giants."

Church: Rules put safeties in tough spot

August, 27, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – As a big-hitting safety, Barry Church can empathize with Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger.

Swearinger, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, has become somewhat infamous because of a controversial hit that wrecked Dustin Keller’s knee, putting the Dolphins tight end out for the season. Swearinger’s explanation was that safeties have no choice but to aim low when receivers come across the middle because of NFL rules that strictly penalize shots to the head.

“It’s definitely a tough situation that they put us in,” Church said. “If you hit up high, you’re getting fined about $20,000. Nobody wants to lose that. If you hit too low, you’re jeopardizing somebody getting injured, so you’ve got to aim between the chest and the knee.

“But that’s hard. When you’re coming flying 100 miles per hour and they’re ducking their head as well, you don’t want to hit helmet to helmet with them, so you try to go even lower and you risk the injury. At the end of the day, it’s part of the game. If you’re playing inside the rules and you can’t hit high and you’re going low, I see no problem with it.”

The worst thing a safety can do is approach such collisions with hesitation. As Church said, that’s a good way to miss a tackle and get cussed out by your coaches.

Church, like former Cowboys greats such as Cliff Harris and Darren Woodson, takes great pride in punishing receivers who come across the middle. That intimidation factor is a critical element of playing the position, particularly for a safety like Church who wasn’t gifted with great speed.

“You’ve just got to shoot your gun and hope injury doesn’t get involved with it,” Church said. “Once you get a big hit on them, they’re looking. They get alligator arms. When the ball goes up in the air, they short-arm it because they don’t want to get it.

“Making them feel your presence around the middle is huge. It’s huge.”

It’s become a lot harder to do legally with today’s NFL rules.

First-round bust runs mouth about Romo

August, 13, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. – A mostly irrelevant former NFL defensive tackle found a way to get some attention.

Travis Johnson ripped Tony Romo on TV, saying a bunch of inflammatory things during a CSN Houston roundtable discussion.

“Tony Romo has not earned a dollar he’s been given in this league,” Johnson declared. He later added: “He’s a thief; he needs to be brought up on federal charges.”

Even the harshest Romo critic who has at least one rational brain cell would have to admit that the $10,000 signing bonus the Cowboys gave him when he was an undrafted rookie was one heck of an investment. And the six-year, $67 million deal that was set to expire after this season looks like a pretty good bargain when you compare Romo’s production to David Garrard’s in Jacksonville and Marc Bulger’s in St. Louis, to pick a pair of quarterbacks who signed similar extensions around the same time.

The Cowboys certainly got much better bang for their buck with Romo than the Houston Texans did with Johnson, who got $7.7 million guaranteed in his rookie contract after being selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Johnson’s totals during his Texans tenure: two sacks, zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries. He lasted four seasons in Houston, which dumped him before the final year of his rookie deal, just in case any more evidence was needed that Johnson was a big-time first-round bust.

Johnson did manage to make one more sack during his two-season stint in San Diego. Then he was out of the league when he should have been hitting his prime.

Good thing for Johnson that being an overpaid NFL player isn’t a federal crime. He might be Sam Hurd’s cellmate if that was the case.

Cowboys have interest in Amobi Okoye

July, 23, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have expressed interest in free agent defensive lineman Amobi Okoye, according to a source.

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Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic preview the 2013 season for the Cowboys in "Two-A-Days." Can Tony Romo and Dallas take the next step?

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Team officials have no plans at the moment to bring in any linemen for a workout, but the team does have one roster spot available on their 90-man roster. The goal is to fill that spot with a defensive lineman.

Okoye played in nine games last season for the Chicago Bears under then-defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who is now the defensive line coach for the Cowboys. Okoye, a 2007 first-round pick by the Houston Texans, has 16 career sacks.

The Cowboys have lost four defensive linemen to injury in the first three days of training camp.

Starting defensive end Anthony Spencer was sent back to Dallas to undergo surgery on his left knee. The recovery time is two to four weeks. Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff hasn't practiced yet because of a hamstring strain and his return date is unknown.

Backup defensive end Tyrone Crawford suffered a torn Achilles injury the first day of training camp and is lost for the season.

Before Tuesday's morning walk-through practice, backup defensive tackle Ike Igbinosun was seen wearing a protective boot on his right leg. His status is unknown.

The Cowboys entered training camp with 14 defensive linemen, but only two of the projected starters -- DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher -- are healthy and practicing. The team is down to 10 D-linemen.

Team officials continue to stress that it's too early to panic regarding the defensive line and that seeing some of the younger linemen is a good thing at this stage.

"Injury provides opportunity," coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday. "There are some young guys that we have we want to see. We want to see a lot more of those guys play. We saw some of them play in the spring. We'll get a chance to see more of them now that we will have the pads on starting (Tuesday). It's just an opportunity to show us what they can do. If they do that, they earn more of our trust and we give them more opportunities."

Eric Winston vs. Tyson Clabo

May, 4, 2013
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The Cowboys could be in the market for a new right tackle.

Doug Free is the current starter, but he's been offered a paycut that if he refuses, will force the team to release him.

The two tackles the Cowboys are interested in are Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo.

We compare:

Winston has played with Houston and Kansas City in his career and hasn't missed a start since 2007. Last season, he allowed six sacks according to Stats Inc. Pro Football Focus recorded Winston allowed six quarterback hits and 25 quarterback hurries. He was the ninth-ranked right tackle last season and was given nine positive grades by PFF.

Clabo has played with Atlanta his entire career and has started every game since 2008. In 2012, Clabo allowed six sacks according to Stats Inc. Pro Football Focus recorded Clabo had given up seven quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries. There were 11 positive grades for Clabo based on the PFF grading system. Clabo is the fifth-rated right tackle in the NFL according to PFF.

Winston and Clabo have drawn interest from the Cowboys but it doesn't mean either player will sign. Money and availability are the major factors.

So between Clabo and Winston who do you like?

Cowboys preseason schedule released

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
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The Dallas Cowboys released their preseason schedule Thursday.

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ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what needs to happen for Romo to lead the Cowboys to a championship.

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The Cowboys will kick off the preseason against the Miami Dolphins in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.

The Oakland Raiders will host the Cowboys in the second preseason game the weekend of Aug. 9-11. The Cowboys will then visit the Arizona Cardinals the weekend of Aug. 16-18.

The first preseason game at Cowboys Stadium will be the weekend of Aug. 23-25 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The finale will most likely be Aug. 29 when the Cowboys host the Houston Texans.

Exact dates and game times haven't been determined. The Cowboys will open training camp in mid-July in Oxnard, Calif.

Texas pro day observations

March, 26, 2013
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AUSTIN -- The University of Texas held its annual pro day Tuesday. Here are some observations from the event:

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Calvin Watkins joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett from the Texas Longhorns' pro day to discuss potential Cowboys draft pick Kenny Vaccaro, Vince Young and if any other pro prospects stood out.

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  • Safety Kenny Vaccaro had an impressive day. He didn't run the 40 because of a hip flexor injury, but he displayed a burst, lateral movement and quickness while performing position drills for Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Vaccaro said he's studied various defenses, including the Tampa 2, and is getting ready for the NFL game from a mental standpoint. Vaccaro said he was disappointed he couldn't run the 40, but indicated that he has run it in the low 4.40s during training. Vaccaro injured the hip while working out but re-injured it during his drill session with the Cowboys last week. After three drills, Vaccaro shut it down so he wouldn't further injure himself. Vacarro said his goal is to be the first safety taken in the draft.

  • Defensive end Alex Okafor needed a solid pro day to prove to NFL scouts that he's healthy and worthy of a Day 2 draft selection. He declined the bench press, standing on his combine numbers of 21 times at 225 pounds, but he ran a 4.88 and a 4.96 in the 40 and was concerned about being too stiff when he worked on his individual drills. Okafor ran through some of the drills smoothly and looked comfortable, but he still needs some work. Okafor said he believes he can play defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4. Weight could be an issue. He came in at 262 pounds and might have to pick up more bulk to play end.

  • Vince Young looked slim and seemed to be in good spirits during his pro day. Most, if not all, of his throws were tight spirals and he displayed good arm strength. It seemed that when he threw to a variety of receivers inside and outside, he didn't have that funky shot-put motion. Young is throwing more traditionally and no longer appears to be dropping his elbow low when he throws.

  • Running back D.J. Moore ran the fastest 40 time of the prospective draft picks in 4.41 and 4.38. One negative: Size. He's listed at 5-foot-9, but he measured at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds. That's not to say little guys can't play in the NFL, but it will be hard for him to get significant playing time at running back unless he impresses an NFL team during training camp. He might be a solid return guy on the next level.

  • Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin measured in at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds -- good size for a slot receiver. He didn't run the 40, however his three tries at the vertical jump were 41, 42 and 42 inches. Goodwin has the speed it seems to make some plays from the slot at the next level. He just needs to make sure he can be a consistent player.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin attended the pro day. The Cowboys had two scouts, and Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Houston, Miami, Kansas City, Oakland, Cleveland, the New York Jets and San Diego also had reps in attendance. ... Texas coach Mack Brown and former running back Ricky Williams were in attendance. ... Most scouts will either go to LSU's pro day Wednesday or SMU's.
  • Cowboys need to steal page from Houston

    October, 24, 2012
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    IRVING, Texas – The easy thing for the Cowboys to do now that they know Sean Lee is done for the season is to pout.

    Jason Garrett will make sure it does not happen -- or attempt to make sure it doesn’t happen -- but losing Lee is a huge blow for the Cowboys’ defense.

    It doesn’t, however, have to be a fatal blow.

    Last year, Houston lost Mario Williams to a torn pectoral muscle after just five games. Williams was a major part of the Texans’ defense, but Houston was able to overcome his loss, make the playoffs and even win a postseason game.

    This year, the Texans are attempting to win without inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who suffered a season-ending knee injury after five games.

    This is how the NFL goes. The New York Giants are trying to win with cornerback Terrell Thomas out for the season and safety Kenny Phillips battling a sprained knee. Washington lost Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season.

    It won’t be easy for the Cowboys. It’s not easy for any team.

    In 2005, Ray Lewis played in only six games because of a hamstring injury and Baltimore finished 6-10. In 2002, the Ravens went 7-9 when Lewis was limited to five games with a shoulder injury. In 2009, Pittsburgh had safety Troy Polamalu for only five games and finished 9-7 but missed the playoffs.

    Lee is the Cowboys’ Lewis and Polamalu in many ways. He is their most productive defender. He fills the stat sheet like no other player.

    The Cowboys, however, have to fight on and not throw a pity party. They need to steal a page from Houston.

    Maybe they can ask Wade Phillips how to do it.


    IRVING, Texas -- You can't go back and re-draft now but just two years into this and the 2011 NFL Draft could be something worth looking at again.

    That year the Cowboys selected USC tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth selection overall. The Cowboys needed to upgrade their offensive line and selecting Smith was the right choice because he was projected as a left tackle.

    But it left Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt on the board and he was picked No. 11 by the Houston Texans.

    In barely two seasons, Watt has 13 career sacks, including 7.5 this season.

    Smith has switched positions, going from right tackle in an impressive rookie season to the left side in 2012. After three weeks, he led the NFL with six penalties.

    What's interesting about this is it appears Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pleaded with the front office to draft Watt over Smith. Or at least that's what his brother, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call with the Houston media in anticipation of Monday night's clash.

    "Well, the first thing, you love the fanatical effort," Rex Ryan said. "The guy plays with his hair on fire and that’s something you notice. But the size, strength, athleticism; it’s rare to find a guy with that kind of combination. I know my brother was wanting him when he was in Dallas. He lost out in that battle. They took that tackle instead. We kept saying, 'You got to get this kid, you got to get this kid.' And sure enough, Houston ends up with him.

    "(Watt) might be the first overall pick if you’re having that draft all over again. He might be the first overall pick. Certainly, he makes a huge difference and an impact. Really, it’s a guy, as a defensive coach all my life, it’s one of those rare guys that comes along once in a long time and he’s doing a tremendous job."

    At the time, the Cowboys didn't really need another pass rusher alongside outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, given their high-praise for outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and the expected emergence of defensive end Jason Hatcher.

    But it's interesting to note the 2012 struggles of Smith and the solid play of Watt. This could all change, and Smith might become a solid tackle for many years, which is what the Cowboys project.

    But to compare the careers of Smith and Watt moving forward is interesting.

    When asked who does Watt remind him of, Rex Ryan said, "I’d say maybe like Dan Hampton. That kind of length and size and power. That’s the kind of guy he reminds me of."

    DeMarco Murray learning Lawrence Vickers

    June, 13, 2012
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    IRVING, Texas --Fullback Tony Fiammetta was a joy for running back DeMarco Murray last season. But Fiammetta is gone, having signed with New England, and the Dallas Cowboys replaced him with Lawrence Vickers, who was released by Houston.

    Vickers blocked for Arian Foster last season and we all know how good he is. Foster rushed for 1,224 yards last season, fifth in the NFL.

    Vickers said he was shocked to be released by the Texans, but it was more about the salary cap than performance. The Cowboys value the fullback position and were of the belief Vickers was a better option than Fiammetta.

    "So far so good," Murray said of his work with Vickers. "I'm loving him and the enthusiasm he brings to the running back group and what he brings to the practice field and what he brings to his team. So I'm excited to see what he's going to do in training camp."

    Last season, Murray rushed for 897 yards, 22nd in the league, with Fiammetta as the primary blocker. Each player has to learn the tendencies of the other. Though Vickers has said he has to be a comfort level for Murray more than anything else.

    Murray said he will watch film with Vickers on a daily basis and point out plays he likes and what he's looking for after he gets the handoff.

    "His eyes are my eyes, and my eyes are his eyes," Murray said. "We're going to continue to work on that and continue to work on the chemistry. It's still early. We've been practicing for only three weeks and we have a lot of time to work."
    IRVING, Texas -- Now that we've gotten over the ants-in-the-pants episode with Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers, we can focus on why the Cowboys signed him and the Houston Texans let him go.

    Texans running back Arian Foster rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns last season behind starting fullback Vickers. Foster had seven games with over 100 rushing yards and three games with 30 or more carries. Foster is an elite running back, having rushed for 2,840 yards with 26 touchdowns the last two seasons.

    Vickers was released by Houston when the season was over. It was an interesting decision by the Texans, given they signed Vickers to a two-year deal after the 2010 season. But salary-cap concerns forced the franchise to make hard decisions, which also included letting star linebacker Mario Williams go in free agency.

    "It was a shocker, I was shocked," Vickers said. "I was shocked. Then by Foster getting his (new) deal I would think there’s more reason you got somebody that’s going to protect him. I guess they just didn’t value the position. I guess that’s what it is."

    It's not like Vickers is a one-hit wonder, either. As Cleveland's fullback in 2010, he led the way for Peyton Hillis to rush for a career-high 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    But Vickers hit the free-agent market and signed with Houston for the two-year deal.

    After 2011 ended, Vickers was placed on the open market and sought a team that valued the fullback position. Enter the Cowboys, who have always employed a fullback on the roster. When DeMarco Murray emerged as a talented force at running back last season, he praised the work of then-fullback Tony Fiammetta.

    There was a thought Fiammetta would return to the Cowboys, but that changed when Vickers became available.

    "That's why I'm here, because they value the position," Vickers said.

    With Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner and Murray as the running backs, Vickers said he has to adjust his game for them and not the other way around. Developing a chemistry with the running back is key to any successful running game when a fullback is involved. Vickers said he has to see the holes just like the running back does, or create one when there's a wall.

    "It's just the same approach, even if I was going to be with the same guy," Vickers said. "You approach it the same way, every year. So it never changes, always approach each year the same way as if we’re just meeting each other and we've got to get on the right page. Chemistry is a must, even being with somebody two or three years, chemistry is still the same. You're going to have different linemen and you're going to be going against different defenses (with) different things going on."

    Health not an issue for Tony Fiammetta

    March, 14, 2012
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    The Cowboys praised the play of fullback Tony Fiammetta last season. But a three-game absence, which led to some tense moments at Valley Ranch, might have sealed his future leading the team to sign fullback Lawrence Vickers on Wednesday.

    Fiammetta missed those games with an undisclosed illness. The team didn't know what was wrong with Fiammetta. At one point, after a news conference, coach Jason Garrett addressed reporters by saying Fiammetta didn't have a concussion.

    The team didn't know what was really wrong.

    Fiammetta was a ghost at Valley Ranch for three weeks. He couldn't even work out.

    Then finally he reappeared. Normally when approached by reporters, he chats, but one day he declined to comment as two reporters walked with him toward the parking lot.

    Fiammetta was later diagnosed with an inner-ear infection which caused balance issues. He did return for the last four games of the season.

    He wasn't the same player. He was a good blocker but he didn't move defenders out of the way as fast as he did early in the season. The Cowboys still valued him, and there was a thought he might get a new contract after he wasn't given a exclusive rights deal Tuesday.

    But enter Vickers, whom ProFootballFocus.com ranked as the 15th best fullback in the league in 2011. Fiammetta was ranked 27th while playing in 227 snaps. Vickers played 235.

    A source said Fiammetta didn't have any new health issues come up when the season ended. So this move is more about Vickers being better than Fiammetta.

    So give the Cowboys credit for upgrading their roster.

    Todd Archer provides more analysis regarding Vickers here.

    What Went Wrong: Defensive mediocrity

    January, 4, 2012
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    This is the second installment in ESPN Dallas' five-part series on things that went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. For more, click here.

    No. 4: Mediocrity from Rob Ryan's defense

    Rob Ryan
    AP Photo/Julio CortezRob Ryan's unit ranked 14th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense, but the blame should fall on the players -- and not entirely on Ryan as he asks it to be.
    Rob Ryan promised greatness from a defense he declared had the most talent in the NFL.

    He delivered mediocrity with a unit that needs to be upgraded at several spots next season.

    The Dallas defense was average as a whole -- 14th in total defense (343.2 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense (21.7 points) -- and dreadful when it mattered most. The New York Giants averaged 34 points and 473.5 yards in two wins over the Cowboys that determined the NFC East title.

    Ryan often enabled his players by insisting that all the blame should be placed on his wide shoulders. There were some grumbles that his three-thick-playbook scheme was too complicated, causing mass confusion and leading him to simplify game plans in the final few weeks.

    PODCAST
    Coop and Nate rank the Cowboys' needs on defense in order, starting with the most important.

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    Of course, Wade Phillips’ scheme was supposedly too simple and predictable, but it worked pretty well this season for the Houston Texans’ second-ranked defense. At some point, the blame needs to be pinned on the players.

    Ryan seemed to realize that in the last couple of weeks, particularly during an angry halftime rant after Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles marched 87 yards in 50 seconds for a touchdown, prompting him to rip the players for poorly executing a good game plan.

    Several defensive starters will be gone next season, starting with longtime left cornerback Terence Newman, a two-time Pro Bowler who was terrible down the stretch. Ryan will return, barring the surprising development of a team wanting him to become its head coach after under-delivering so badly in Dallas.

    Gerald Sensabaugh banking on big raise

    July, 19, 2011
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    Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh can envision returning to Dallas, but only if it comes at a significant cost to the Cowboys.

    It certainly doesn't sound like Sensabaugh intends to settle with the Cowboys during the three-day window teams are expected to have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents.

    PODCAST
    Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh joins Galloway & Company to discuss the questions and concerns of a current NFL free agent.

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    "I’m going to make myself available to all 32 teams, shop myself around and see exactly what happens," Sensabaugh told us Monday on ESPN 103.3's Galloway and Company. "I’m just really excited about my chance to cash in."

    That doesn't necessarily mean that the Cowboys will have to be the highest bidder to re-sign Sensabaugh, who rebounded from early-season struggles to finish with a career-high five interceptions last year. He wants to play for a contender and considers the Cowboys to be in that class despite last season's 6-10 record.

    "I would like to stay in Dallas, but at the end of the day, it’s a business thing. I’ve got to choose what’s best for myself and what situation fits me the best."

    The Cowboys' toughest competition for Sensabaugh could come from an intrastate foe. The Houston Texans have just as big a need at safety as the Cowboys. With Wade Phillips running the Houston defense now, there has been sensible speculation about the Texans pursuing Sensabaugh.

    "I could definitely see that if Dallas doesn’t work out," Sensabaugh said. "Wade’s a good guy, I already know his system and it would be an easy transition for me. I wouldn’t have to learn anything new, and at the same time, I’d be able to help the other guys learn Wade’s system. I could see that becoming an option."

    Senabaugh said he has "a price in my mind that I would take." If more than one team gets in the ballpark, Sensabaugh said he would pick the best fit, even if it's a team that didn't offer the most money.

    Sensabaugh made $1.75 million and $1.82 million over the last two seasons in Dallas. That's not the kind of money he's looking for in the open market.

    "No, no, no, no," Sensabaugh said, laughing. "Not in the same zip code."

    How much will it take to keep Sensabaugh in 75063? We'll probably find out next week.

    Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL helmets

    May, 17, 2011
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    NFL power rankings: HelmetsESPN.com IllustrationOur writers break down NFL team helmets in the latest edition of ESPN.com's Power Rankings.
    As we continue our Power Rankings series, it’s time to look beyond the player and examine what’s wrapped around his head.

    Let’s blow the lid off this NFL helmet caper, shall we?

    The NFL helmet has long been an obsession. Whether it’s the unmistakable star of the Dallas Cowboys, the beyond-the-gridiron meaning in Pittsburgh or the great helmet–change fiasco in San Francisco in the early 1990s, the NFL has been all about the helmet. After all, in football, we don’t look at faces, we look at logos.

    Come on, who hasn’t spent a Saturday afternoon feeding countless quarters into a gumball machine full of worthless plastic all in the name of getting a complete set of NFL helmets?

    So, we put our artistic eyes together (with the courtesy of professional help) and came up with our top 10 NFL helmets. Consensus? No, not even close. In a 2011 Power Rankings record, 26 lids collected votes. Eye of the beholder, folks.

    Interestingly, two of the six teams that got no lid love received kudos from our guest judge. I’d take her word over mine. You should see what I’m wearing right now. Think John Belushi in "Animal House." Then take it down a few notches.

    We’ve had our battles this spring when it came to ranking players, coaches and owners, but this task has to be the most subjective of all. It’s vanilla or chocolate. Or, in this case, purple or red.

    Still, there were several helmets -- traditional teams seemed to catch the imagination -- that received more votes than others.

    Fittingly, the winning helmet is of a team that has been scoring big during this entire series: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The black helmet received 50 voting points, cruising to an easy win. Second-place Indianapolis, and its famous horseshoe, received 41 points.

    AFC North blogger James Walker was the only person to vote for the Steelers, who received top-10 votes from six of eight voters, as the No. 1 helmet. Only NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert (he received big-league redemption -- we’ll explain later) and AFC East blogger Tim Graham shunned the Steelers.

    Walker explained that it was fitting for the Steelers’ helmet to win because it represents a gritty, historic city.

    “Most helmets have a mascot or the team’s name or initials, but Pittsburgh’s helmet actually has in-depth meaning,” Walker said. “The colors of the diamond shapes each represent elements of steel, which was once a major industry in Pittsburgh. Also, Pittsburgh is the only NFL team with its helmet logo on one side. I think the uniqueness and tradition helps separate the Steelers.”

    Here’s the rest of the top-10 list after the Steelers and Colts: Oakland Raiders (my first-place vote -- just look cool, baby), Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers, Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.

    Below are some key aspects of the vote:

    Walking the Runway: We are thrilled to have a celebrity presence this week. Former "Project Runway" contestant Peach Carr, a successful Chicago fashion designer and self-professed sports nut, lent her expertise this week.

    Predictably, her opinion differed greatly from many of us slouches. Hey, sportswriters are rarely accused of being spiffy, snappy, hip or even presentable, so what do you expect?

    The most telling of Carr’s selections was her choice of the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2. They were among the six teams shut out by the rest of us. I’d listen to the Peach, San Francisco.

    Carr went with the hometown Bears as her top choice. The Bears finished ninth in our poll. Major fashion buttons to Seifert. He was the only voter to agree with the professional. Reached for comment, Seifert had this to say: “Yesssssss.”

    Well said, Mr. Blackwell.

    Carr placed the Houston Texans as her No. 6 helmet. It was also one of the six helmets the rest of us neglected.

    You made it work, Peach. Auf Wiedersehen to the rest of us.

    The Lone Vote State: In an upset, the Cowboys’ helmet finished sixth. Graham was the lone blogger to vote Dallas’ helmet first.

    “I was shocked to see nobody else put the Cowboys at the top of their ballots,” Graham said. “That helmet is the most iconic of them all. The lone blue star is known immediately by grandmothers who never watch football. It's a classic look that strikes you whether you're watching from the stands or at home. There's no tiny print to read, no cluttered symbols to decipher. You see it, you know it. And it likely conjures a visceral reaction whether you're a fan or not.”

    Going traditional: In addition to the 49ers and Texans, the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals were the only teams shut out by the eight voters. The 49ers are the only team in the group that has a history-rich franchise. However, the top 10 is dominated by tradition-rich teams.

    NFC West blogger Mike Sando saw a trend.

    “My thought is that success helps a brand become appealing in a lot of cases,” Sando said. “Would the Steelers' helmet really rank first if the team had tanked every year? I do not think so. Look at the Colts, Raiders, Packers, Cowboys, Browns ... all have storied histories.”

    Kicking it old school: If the “throwback” helmets were allowed in the voting, I bet things would be different. My prized possession (probably says more about my collection of stuff than my sentiment) is my complete set of NFL throwback mini helmets. It is proudly displayed in my office.

    There are some beauties in that collection. That’s one of the reasons I went with the New York Jets' helmet as my No. 2 choice. I like the old-style look. My favorite helmet of all time is the old-school New England Patriots helmet. I love me some Patriot Pat and couldn’t get enough of watching the Patriots when the league honored the AFL in 2009.

    Put your thinking helmet on. What do you think is the most fashionable helmet in the NFL? Fill the comments section below with your thoughts.

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