Dallas Cowboys: Joe Thomas

Dallas Cowboys Preseason Live

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
Welcome to Dallas Cowboys training camp! ESPN.com Cowboys reporters Todd Archer and Tim MacMahon have live updates and the latest news from Oxnard, California.
IRVING, Texas -- Much of the contract talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys these days has surrounded wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Bryant is entering the final year of his contract and his agent, Eugene Parker, has had dialogue with the Cowboys about an extension. The Cowboys have made it known they want to keep Bryant with a long-term contract as well.

They also want to keep left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys recently picked up the fifth-year option, which guarantees he will be with the team in 2015, but the Cowboys want to lock up their Pro Bowl left tackle as well.

"Not really focused on that at all," Smith said from the Cowboys' annual sponsors' golf tournament. "Just focused on this one year right now."

Smith is on the books for $10.039 million in 2015 thanks to the option. He is in the final year of a four-year deal he signed in 2011 as the first-round pick, worth $12.49 million.

"I'm happy they picked up my fifth year and just glad I get to stay in Dallas," Smith said. "I love it out here and it's a great town. The fans are great too."

Whenever the Cowboys and Smith come to a deal, it will be a huge one.

Seven offensive linemen carry cap figures of $10 million or more in 2014. Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has the highest per-year salary average at $11.5 million. The Washington Redskins guaranteed left tackle Trent Williams $36.75 million in 2010 with a $10 million a year average. Thomas was guaranteed $29.5 million by the Browns in 2011.

In 2012, the New York Jets re-signed D'Brickashaw Ferguson to a deal that included $32.4 million guaranteed.

Smith has time on his side. He does not turn 24 until December. In fact, he is younger than the Cowboys' last two first-round picks, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.
Johnny ManzielRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesIs Tony Romo's back enough of a concern for the Dallas Cowboys that they'd take a flier on the media circus that would come with drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel?

IRVING, Texas -- Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing player in this draft, so naturally people believe he will end up with the Dallas Cowboys, the most polarizing team in the NFL.

With the first round coming fast, ESPNDallas writers take a roundtable look at what a union of the Cowboys and Manziel would mean.


Should the Cowboys take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick if he falls to them?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,137)

Todd Archer: Let's make an huge assumption here that Manziel will be available at No. 16 when the Cowboys pick in the first round. I ask this question first: Should the Cowboys pick the Texas A&M quarterback? We'll get to "Would the Cowboys pick him?" in a second.

My take is, yes, the Cowboys should take him, and I'm not even thinking about the marketing opportunities and off-field stuff that Jerry Jones thinks about. From a football standpoint, I'd argue it would be a great value pick. There is no way the Green Bay Packers thought they would get Aaron Rodgers in 2005 late in the first round, but they took him even when Brett Favre was playing well. Tony Romo is 34 and coming off two back surgeries. I think he'll be fine and return to form, but what happens if he doesn't or he takes a big hit in Week 8 and is down for the year?

Jerry always tried to find a quarterback on the cheap after Troy Aikman retired and he never found a guy until Romo. And that was lucky. I think he'd be lucky again if Manziel were there at No. 16.

Calvin Watkins: I don't believe the Cowboys should take him. No. 1, I don't believe he'll fall to No. 16 or even out of the top 10. If he does fall to No. 16, the Cowboys should either bypass him or trade down. This team has bigger holes to address such as secondary and defensive line before quarterback. There are quarterbacks later, such as Aaron Murray from Georgia, who can be taken in the second or third round. Yeah, I know Romo is coming off back surgery and he's 34 and all of that. It's a back injury and you never know about backs. However, getting Manziel at No. 16 isn't worth it to me. You can find a good quarterback to groom in the later rounds.

Tim MacMahon: Heck, yes. If you can get a guy you feel is a franchise quarterback in the middle of the first round, you do it, especially when the fate of your franchise rests on a 34-year-old back that has been operated on twice in the past year. This isn't about trying to run Romo out of town. It would be a chance to extend the window of having a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback another decade or so, an opportunity the Cowboys shouldn't pass up after navigating that rickety bridge from Aikman to Romo. It would be complicated for a couple of years because of Romo's massive contract and the potential chemistry issues that Roger Staubach mentioned, but it would be well worth it if Manziel can make plays in the NFL like he did in the SEC.

Jean-Jacques Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team has way too many holes to draft a quarterback in the first round to sit behind Romo for at least three years. That makes absolutely no sense. When Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers and let him sit, they were a contender. They could afford to do it. There's a good chance Jason Garrett gets fired at the end of next season if he's not in the playoffs. Do you think he wants to take a first-round pick and stash him for the next coach? Heck, no. This was the worst defense in the universe last year. Are they really going to miss out on a chance to help it to draft a quarterback who may or may not be a star?

Archer: OK, let’s move on to the second part of the question: Would the Cowboys take Manziel if he is there at No. 16?

I believe they would. We always talk about how the Cowboys should draft a quarterback every year, so now when they could do it, we’re going to say, "No, not that guy?" I don’t think the next Cowboys quarterback will be developed by this team. In other words, a middle-round pick who sits for a few years and takes over. Almost all of the top quarterbacks come from the first or second round. The Cowboys would have Manziel ready to go without the burden of having to carry the franchise early on. He is skilled. He has ability. And he is a draw. I do think it would be incumbent on the coaches to manage this thing the right way because the second Romo throws a poor pass, fans will be calling for Manziel. You can't operate that way.

Watkins: Say the Cowboys do take him, which I doubt, can you imagine if Romo has a bad game? He has been known to have them from time to time. Garrett would be under pressure to send Manziel into the game when he's not ready. Then if he does use Manziel, you've got a media and fan circus. The Cowboys have endured their own type of drama from Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Romo's own issues, Jerry Jones and how he runs the franchise among other things, but a quarterback drama isn't fun for anybody. Having Manziel around isn't fun. But if Jerry drafted him he wouldn't care, it would be about the business of marketing and not the business of football.

MacMahon: Well, that might depend on who gets the last word in with GM Jerry. I can’t imagine Garrett, a head coach fighting to keep his job as he enters the last season of his contract, would be thrilled with the idea of using a first-round pick on a guy who might be holding a clipboard and still drawing a media horde as a rookie. But Stephen Jones seems just as enamored with Johnny Football as his father is. I don't think Jerry could help himself if Manziel were available when the Cowboys are on the clock. A strong football argument can be made for Manziel as a fit, and it’d be a home run for the marketing department. And we all know the Cowboys' GM cares about marketing almost as much as he does about football.

Taylor: Jerry loves collecting baubles. We know this. Dez Bryant was a bauble. So was Terrell Owens. And Rocket Ismail. He loves any marketing aspect that added more cash to the family treasure trove. I can absolutely see Jerry using the force of his personality to persuade Garrett and vice president Stephen Jones the right move to make is adding Johnny Football to the roster, even though he's going to sit for multiple seasons and wouldn't make an impact on the team unless Romo was hurt. Hey, at least the preseason games would be sold out.

Archer: Let's be honest, he won't be there at No. 16 and I think we all believe it would cost too much to trade up to get him, so who takes Manziel and why is he a better fit there than with the Cowboys?

I’m going with Jacksonville. They need a quarterback and they need a draw. It’s probably not the most sound football decision to think of it like that, but the Jaguars have no juice. Manziel would give them some juice. And the Cowboys will see him at Wembley in November. Perfect.

Watkins: It's interesting, but when I read Ourlads' mock draft, it didn't have Manziel going until No. 26 to Cleveland. But when I look at the top 10, I can see six teams taking him. I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4, but you have to wonder about the weather in the AFC North. Manziel hasn't played in that on a regular basis in college. Can he produce in cold weather in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in November and December? Oakland seems logical as well at No. 5. Matt Schaub should start in 2014 and Manziel would get his chance the following year. It's just no easy place for him to go. Houston, I don't believe, thinks Manziel is better than the two defensive players. So, I guess to answer this question, I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4.

MacMahon: I think the Browns take him at No. 4. The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since cutting Bernie Kosar, and drafting Manziel would fire up a rabid fan base desperately searching for a reason to be optimistic. Strange as it sounds, I also see Cleveland as a team that would give Manziel a chance to succeed early in his NFL career. Josh Gordon just led the NFL in receiving yards as a 22-year-old despite dealing with a QB rotation. Tight end Jordan Cameron is coming off a Pro Bowl season as a 25-year-old. The Browns have two Pro Bowl offensive linemen -- left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack -- who are in their prime. And Cleveland addressed its need for a running back by signing Ben Tate. Add an electrifying quarterback, and the Browns might actually have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

Taylor: On the surface, Jacksonville should be really intrigued by Johnny Football because they need a quarterback and they need someone to put butts in seats. They're going to be bad again, so they need a playmaker on offense. That said, coach Gus Bradley is a defense-minded dude, so he'll probably go defense and take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. That leaves Johnny Football to Cleveland. The Browns have a really good, young defense. They have a young star in receiver Josh Gordon. What they need is a triggerman. Since 2002, the Browns have had 10 different players lead them in passing, which is not a positive. If he's the star some project, Johnny Football will turn that franchise around and he'll own the city.

Who gets paid first, Smith or Bryant?

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
IRVING, Texas -- There is no way the Dallas Cowboys will let Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant see free agency.

The Cowboys will exercise the fifth-year option on Smith’s contract by May 2, guaranteeing he will be with the Cowboys in 2015. The Cowboys could also use the franchise tag on Bryant in 2015 if they are unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal.

Ask yourself this question: Who is the last guy the Cowboys wanted to sign to a long-term deal and couldn’t? I can’t think of one.

But for this exercise, let’s ask another question: Who would you pay first?

To me the answer is Smith, and it’s not a knock on Bryant.

Smith is young. He doesn’t turn 24 until December. He could very well have two cracks at the big-money apple in his career. He played in his first Pro Bowl in January. He had his best season and has quickly become one of the best left tackles in the NFL.

Have I mentioned he’s young? The Cleveland Browns signed Joe Thomas to a seven-year deal worth $84 million a few years ago with more than $40 million guaranteed. Thomas was a Pro Bowler in his first four seasons before the new deal, and a two-time All-Pro. So Smith doesn’t quite have those credentials, but have I mentioned he’s young?


Which player should the Cowboys lock up to a long-term deal first?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,585)

Left tackle is a more crucial spot than wide receiver, even for a receiver as good as Bryant. We see teams get by without receivers as dominant as Bryant, but you don’t see very many get by with a substandard left tackle. When a team has a left tackle, they keep him.

Smith might want a shorter-term deal than what the Cowboys want to pay. My guess is the team would like the seven-year structure just to help with the salary cap down the road. Smith might want to go shorter so he’s not yet 30 by the time he hits the market for a second time.

As for Bryant, he has answered all of the critics on and off the field. He appears to have put his troubles behind him, although Jerry Jones said at the Owners’ Meetings that Bryant must keep his guard up. There has to be a little concern about Bryant’s back, which has cost him mostly practice time the past two seasons, but Jones is not worried about the long-term effects.

The structure of Bryant’s deal will be important. Do the Cowboys try to give him higher base salaries in his guarantees rather than an overloaded signing bonus? They did it with Terrell Owens in his first contract after what Owens went through with the Philadelphia Eagles. A similar structure would seem to work for Bryant as well.

Bryant is a force in the red zone, but he can score from anywhere on the field. He has developed his all-around game, but there is more work to do. He is the veteran of the receiver room now with Miles Austin gone, so the younger receivers will be paying attention to him.

The bottom line is Smith and Bryant will be Cowboys for as long as the Cowboys want them, but if you’re picking a guy to pay first, Smith is the answer.

Tyron Smith will cash in big time

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Peters already had the highest average-per-year salary for left tackles before signing a four-year extension with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.

Entering the final year of his deal, Peters will now earn $51.3 million over the next five years with $19.55 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

What does it mean for Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith?

Not as much as you would think, in my opinion.

Smith's deal should be much bigger than this whenever the Cowboys decide to sign their Pro Bowl left tackle to an extension. The Cowboys hold a fifth-year option on Smith's contract, which they must exercise by this spring.

The option is new to the collective bargaining agreement and will bring a whole slew of questions for teams and agents as they attempt to work out new deals.

The contract that Smith might be closer to matching is the seven-year, $84 million deal Joe Thomas received from the Cleveland Browns in 2011. That deal included $44 million in guaranteed money. Thomas, who many consider the best tackle in football, was 26 when he signed.

Smith does not turn 24 until Dec. 12. He is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He had his best season. He has fully acclimated to the left tackle spot after playing right tackle as a rookie in 2011. It is rare to find a player of Smith's age and ability who is closing in on free agency. He was 20 when the Cowboys picked him ninth overall.

Smith could be so good that he cashes in twice. Peters is 32 and received an extension that averages $10.26 million. Depending on the length of the deal Smith signs with the Cowboys, he could receive a second bite at the free-agent apple in his early 30s. Tackles can play well into their 30s. Flozell Adams was making Pro Bowls in his 30s while with the Cowboys.

Tyron Smith named second-team All-Pro

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
IRVING, Texas -- Last week Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. On Friday, he was named second-team All Pro by the Associated Press.

Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns and Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles were named to the first team. San Francisco’s Joe Staley was the other second-team tackle.

Smith was playing as well as any tackle in football late in the season. He allowed only one sack all season and the Cowboys averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 53 runs behind their left tackle, which was seventh-best in the NFL.

A first-round pick in 2011, Smith has missed only one game in his career. He is signed through 2014, however, the Cowboys have an option for 2015 they need to exercise by the spring. The Cowboys want to sign him to a long-term contract at some point.

The Cowboys have not had a first-team All-Pro offensive lineman since Leonard Davis and Flozell Adams in 2007.

Only 23 years old, Smith still has plenty of chances to make the first team.

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys are hoping Travis Frederick will continue a tradition set forth by Wisconsin offensive linemen in recent years.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who coached Travis Frederick at Wisconsin, joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what kind of player the Cowboys got with their first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Listen Listen
Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz have been high picks in recent years and have had different degrees of success.

“I think that having that tradition helps continue that tradition,” Frederick said. “That tradition is one of the reasons why I chose to go to Wisconsin, just knowing that such great offensive linemen have come out of there and would probably or hopefully give me the opportunity if I worked as hard as I could to be in the situation that I’m in today. I’m excited to join that long line.”

The Cowboys’ recent history with Badgers offensive linemen isn’t so good.

In 2003, the Cowboys drafted Al Johnson in the second round, and they took Bill Nagy in the seventh round in 2011. Johnson missed his rookie year because of a knee injury that subsequently cut his career short. Nagy won a starting job in part by default, but he suffered an ankle injury and was cut during training camp last summer.

“You certainly go case by case and evaluate the player,” coach Jason Garrett said, “but there is no question there is a tradition of offensive linemen coming out of Wisconsin. There is a long-standing tradition, but there is also a recent tradition. What that does is allow you to talk to people that know these guys well and compare them to people, ‘Hey, compare him to this guy, compare him to that guy. You had him two years ago, how does he stack up?’ Those conversations are real because guys who’ve been around these guys day after day after day can make great evaluations.”

Witten wins best award of the night

February, 2, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- A big night continued for the NFC East when Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year. The award is the only one of the night that honors a player's off-field contributions, and Witten beat out fellow finalists Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona and Joe Thomas of Cleveland.

I wrote about Witten and this award a couple of days ago, and it suffices to say that I'm more impressed with this than I am even with Robert Griffin III's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award or any of the other football-based honors being handed out at the NFL Honors show here tonight. Nothing against any of those guys or the remarkable things they accomplish on the football field, but take a moment to realize why Witten's being honored.

Witten is being honored because he helps fund, establish and improve battered women's shelters in Texas and Tennessee. Himself a childhood victim of domestic violence, Witten's SCORE foundation works to install positive male role models in these shelters whose job it is to demonstrate appropriate adult behavior to the children who are growing up in them. This is a guy using his status as a football hero to make the world better. And he's doing that in a real, on-the-ground way -- not just flinging money at a problem.

And yes, there are players all across the NFL and other sports who do this, too, in their own way, including Fitzgerald and Thomas. I just think it's a great thing the NFL does to incorporate this award into its annual awards show and elevate it to the status of the MVP and other awards on which people spend so much time and attention. Football is great, and we all enjoy it very much, but it's just a game. The work Witten's doing is about real life. And that's why I think he won the best award of the night.

Jason Witten says change was inevitable

February, 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was upset that his position coach, John Garrett, lost his job amid the team's coaching staff changes this offseason. But the 10-year NFL veteran says he knew something was bound to happen after a second consecutive 8-8 finish.

"Ultimately, we know it's a bottom-line business and the results have got to be there," Witten said Friday morning. "Any time you don't make it, these things go on. But we trust [head coach] Jason Garrett and we trust what's going on. The foundation's being laid and we believe in what the team is doing."

The Cowboys have replaced their defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and special teams coach since the end of the season, and they're still looking for a tight ends coach to replace John Garrett (who is Jason's brother) and a running backs coach to replace Skip Peete. It's a fair amount of upheaval for a team that appeared to be making good strides before losing the final two games of the season, but as Witten said, the bottom line is that 8-8 isn't good enough. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided changes needed to be made.

"The best thing about playing for Mr. Jones is you know he's going to try and do anything he can to make the situation better and try and make it happen," Witten said.

Witten was speaking at a news conference introducing him as one of three finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Witten's SCORE foundation, aimed at preventing domestic violence by helping provide positive male role models for children in the battered women's shelters he funds in Dallas and Tennessee, is the main reason he's up for the award. Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals and Joe Thomas of the Browns are the other two finalists. The award will be announced Saturday as part of the NFL Honors show.

Jason Witten humbled by Payton nomination

January, 31, 2013
IRVING, Texas – After 10 years with the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten continues to wait for the most important on-field success a player can have -- winning a Super Bowl. On Saturday he could take home one of the NFL’s most important off-field awards.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Kyle Terada/US PresswireEight-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which honors a player's community activism, as well as on-field success.
Witten is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which honors a player’s community activism, as well as on-field success. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland’s Joe Thomas are the other finalists.

On Friday Witten will collect the Bart Starr Award, which is given by Athletes in Action to the player who best exemplifies the same commitment to family, teammates and community as Starr, a Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame quarterback.

Witten just played in his eighth Pro Bowl after catching 110 passes in 2012, a single-season NFL record for a tight end, in addition to becoming the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver. Off the field, Witten and his wife, Michelle, run the SCORE Foundation and he is active in the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, as well as the team’s partnership with the Salvation Army.

Chris Mortensen joins Galloway & Company to talk about the Cowboys' offseason changes, Roger Goodell and the distractions facing the Ravens.

Listen Listen
“When you think about what Walter Payton represented as a player on and off the field, it means a lot,” said Witten, who was a finalist for the award in 2007. “There are a lot of great players in this league doing great things, so you’re just humbled to be a part of that.”

Growing up, Witten saw the effects of domestic violence first hand and his foundation focuses on the recovery of victims of abuse and breaking the cycle of violence through education and mentoring.

The SCOREkeepers program places full-time, trained male mentors in six women's shelters across Texas for children to see positive male behavior. Three years ago he launched the “Coaching Boys Into Men” program, which trains coaches to educate players on the dangers of dating violence.

The Wittens also funded an emergency waiting room at The Children’s Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center not far from his hometown, Elizabethton, Tenn. He also runs football camps locally and back in his hometown that attract more than 1,200 youngsters.

“You never do it (for publicity), you do it to try to make a small influence in young people’s lives,” Witten said. “Obviously my story is unique and people came into my life and helped pave the way for me and gave me the opportunity to chase my dream. That’s what we want to do with young kids’ lives. I’ve read all about what Walter Payton did, and what he represented is what the NFL shield is all about. To be up for this type of award with his name on it, it’s up there.”

The Cowboys have had three Man of the Year Award winners: Roger Staubach (1978), Tom Landry (1981) and Troy Aikman (1997).

Jason Witten named Walter Payton finalist

January, 20, 2013
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was named a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, along with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

The award recognzies community service as well as on-field excellence. Witten was also a finalist in 2007.

the winner will be named Feb. 2 during the NFL Honors from New Orelans, site of Super Bowl XLVII.

Witten set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end in 2012 with 110 and also became the Cowboys' all-time leader in receptions, of which he has 806. He was tabbed to play in his eighth Pro Bowl next week.

The Jason Witten SCORE Foundation helps raise awareness of domestic violence in North Texas and in Tennessee.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 7, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Don't let them in the game: The Philadelphia Eagles should have no trouble with the Browns in Cleveland, but to a certain extent that appears to be up to them. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Eagles ranked second in the league last year with 84 offensive plays of 20 or more yards, fourth in the league in total yards and fifth in yards per play. They were also eighth in total defense. So why were they 8-8? Their 38 turnovers were the second-most in the NFL. And nine of those turnovers were in the red zone. No other team in the league had more than five red-zone turnovers. If you want to lose to inferior teams, turnovers are the surest way. Watch the turnovers in Cleveland. If the Eagles commit a lot of them, the game could be much closer than most expect it to be. Working in Philadelphia's favor is that the Browns forced only 20 turnovers in 2011. Only seven teams forced fewer.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelIf Trent Cole outplays Joe Thomas, the Eagles will be well positioned
to defeat the Browns on Sunday.
Marquee matchup: One of the Cleveland Browns' strengths is left tackle Joe Thomas, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He'll go up against Eagles defensive end Trent Cole, who has the third-most sacks in the NFL (63) since 2006, in a matchup that could go a long way toward deciding the game.

Road favorites? The Eagles should not be at a disadvantage just because the Browns are the home team in Sunday's game. Since this new incarnation of the Browns entered the league in 1999, it is 1-12 in season-opening games. The second-worst record in season openers over that same period of time is 4-9, shared by the Raiders and Chiefs.

Blowing in the Brees: If the Washington Redskins can hold New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees without a touchdown pass, they'll have pulled off some trick. Brees has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his previous 43 games. That's the second-longest streak in NFL history behind the 47-game streak authored by Johnny Unitas from 1956-60. The Redskins will play this game without starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who is out with a knee injury, and safety Tanard Jackson, who is suspended for the year for violating the league's drug policy. They would do well to find a way to get some pressure on Brees.

Dome sweet dome: The Redskins are 6-1 all-time at the Louisiana Superdome, and while their most recent game there was in 2006, that record stands as a testament to the fact that the Redskins used to be one of the league's best teams and the Saints one of the league's worst. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Washington's .857 winning percentage at the Superdome is the highest in history for any team that has played at least five games there. Something has got to give, though. The Saints were 8-0 at home last year, and their 41.1 points per game and 492.6 yards per game there were the second-highest such home totals in NFL history.

Power Rankings: Top 10 left tackles

June, 14, 2011
Power Rankings Left TacklesESPN.com IllustrationOur bloggers say Joe Thomas and Jake Long are the NFL's best left tackles by a wide margin.
ESPN.com ranks the NFL’s top 10 at left tackle, one of the most important positions in the league. Next week: Top up-and-coming assistants.

Take a quarter out of your pocket and look at its width. That’s basically the difference between the top two left tackles in the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

Cleveland’s Joe Thomas received 76 points from our eight-person panel of voters. Miami’s Jake Long received 75. That put them way ahead of the rest of our top 10 list of the NFL's best blindside pass protectors.

Our panel of division bloggers gave Thomas five first-place votes, and Long received three.

“It was pretty much a coin flip for me,’’ said NFC East blogger Dan Graziano.

If Graziano’s quarter had landed on the other side, we might have had a different outcome. I think the same can be said for some of the other voters. I gave Thomas my top vote only after some strong consideration for Long.

But let’s cut to the chase and point out the man who ultimately decided this election. It’s AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. Every other voter had Thomas and Long in the top two spots. Kuharsky threw things off a bit by putting Long at No. 1 and Tennessee’s Michael Roos at No. 2. He had Thomas at No. 3.

Let’s turn to Kuharsky for his rationale.

“I've seen Long more, which helped him,’’ Kuharsky said. “Also, frankly, I knew there could be close to a consensus for Thomas. He's very good. But we're not talking Orlando Pace or Jonathan Ogden. The groundswell for Thomas as top left tackle is, in my eyes, more a media creation than the view of players, scouts and coaches. I wanted to note and reflect that.’’

Point taken, and I agree that we’re not talking the same level as Pace and Ogden -- at least not yet. Thomas and Long are young and it’s too early to put them in the category of surefire Hall of Famers. But, aided largely by Kuharsky, Roos did finish No. 6 overall.

Ryan Clady, Jordan Gross and D'Brickashaw Ferguson rounded out our top five at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 respectively. After Roos, the rest of the top 10 was filled out by Jason Peters (No. 7), Marcus McNeill and Donald Penn, who tied for No. 8, and Matt Light at No. 10.

Let’s work our way back toward the top, with one more quick stop at Roos. I had him at No. 8 on my ballot, and James Walker and Kevin Seifert didn’t even vote for him. I’ve had a couple of scouts tell me Roos is a good left tackle, but seemed to take a step backward last season.

Kuharsky heard otherwise.

“I've had a coach and two scouts tell me Roos is as good or better than Thomas and Long,’’ Kuharsky said. “I obviously see Roos a lot and think he's quite good, certainly better than he wound up here.’’

Roos or ruse? Take your pick, but let’s head right back to the top of the voting and back to the argument between Thomas and Long. They were drafted one year apart with Thomas entering the league in 2007 and Long coming in for the 2008 season. Each has made it to the Pro Bowl in every season played.

Kuharsky mentioned the “media creation’’ about Thomas. In Cleveland? That’s not where you usually turn to find guys to top Power Rankings, so our vote has to say something pretty strong about Thomas. Let’s turn to the guy who covers Thomas.

"Thomas has always been focused on doing his job,’’ Walker said. “You can't tell whether the Browns are 16-0 or 0-16 with the way he plays, and that's why he's been to four straight Pro Bowls. The NFL has gone the way of speed pass-rushers, and Thomas is the prototype to combat that. He’s lean with very good feet and agility, but still strong enough to dominate in the running game. There’s really no weakness in his game.”

None of our panelists saw a weakness in Long’s game.

“I thought Long's run-blocking ability put him a little bit ahead of Thomas,’’ Grazianzo said. “I think he's shown improvement every year and is likely to pass Thomas soon if he hasn't already (and for me, these lists are about which guy I'd pick right now, so a guy I think is going to get better is going to get a long look from me). And he earned a bonus point or two from me for playing the last six games of 2010 in a shoulder harness and still being incredible.’’

The best news is, these guys are so young we can have this same argument every year for the next decade. Now, let’s move on to some other notes about the voting in the Power Rankings for left tackles.

Turn off the Light. As we mentioned, Light came in at No. 10. That surprised me a bit because he’s a big name with three Super Bowl championships and three Pro Bowl selections. I had Light at No. 6 and Walker had him at No. 4. But Light didn’t even appear on four ballots, including the one from AFC East representative Tim Graham.

“Matt Light is a quality player, but Stats Inc. blamed him for 10 sacks allowed and four penalties last season, more in each category than his previous two seasons combined,’’ Graham said. “I've always thought Light got more recognition simply from being Tom Brady's left tackle. Once you name the three or four elite tackles and you rack your brain for the next group, it's easy to understand people sorting through the great quarterbacks and asking, 'Who is so-and-so's left tackle?' Light made the Pro Bowl last year, but as an alternate. Light's reputation also is enhanced by his involvement in the union and being a truly rare species: the gregarious Patriot.’’

Also-rans. Andrew Whitworth, Chad Clifton, Doug Free, Russell Okung and Jeff Backus didn’t make the top 10, but each received votes.

“I don't think there are 10 elite or even complete left tackles in the NFL,’’ NFC West blogger Mike Sando said. “I list Okung on a very short list of players with the talent and makeup to be elite at that position. Okung hasn't played enough to this point, but I think he'll join that group this season. Listing someone with considerably less ability was the alternative.’’

The longest shot. Somewhere, former Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen and coach Jon Gruden are smiling at Penn’s name appearing on this list. It’s true, they headed the regime that signed Penn as a free agent in 2007 after he was cut by Minnesota in 2006. Then again, they were also the ones who signed Luke Petitgout, and Penn only got a chance to play because Petitgout turned out to be washed up. I used to subscribe to the theory that you needed to use a first-round pick to get a good left tackle. But Penn has shown that’s not necessary. In his case, he simply made the most of his shot at playing time and turned it into a $48 million contract as training camp started last year.

Colombo was the most improved Cowboy

March, 26, 2010
Profootballfocus.com released its 2009 all-improved team and Cowboys right tackle Marc Colombo was listed as the most improved right tackle in the game.

Colombo, who played nine games last season for a total of 544 regular season snaps, received a rating of 2.7 overall. Colombo was credited with allowing just one quarterback sack, three quarterback hits and 13 quarterback pressures. Among all the tackles in the game, Colombo was the highest ranked Cowboys linemen coming in at 20. In 2008, Colombo was the highest ranked Cowboys but finished 62nd overall with a -12.2 rating.

Doug Free, the man who replaced Colombo, while he recovered from leg injuries in 2009, ranked 22nd with a 2.1 rating. Flozell Adams, who many think won't be here in 2010, finished 51st among tackles with a -8.8 rating.

Adams gave up 34 pressures in the 2009 season according to Profootballfocus. Jake Long of Miami and Joe Thomas of Cleveland allowed a combined 14 quarterback pressures.

Does Campbell's 40 time matter much?

February, 27, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Maryland's Bruce Campbell, the 6-6, 314-pound left tackle with a Zeus-like physique, continues to be the buzz of the combine.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus believes Campbell's 40 time, which was officially clocked at 4.85, vaults him into the top 10 in the draft.

There's no doubt that Campbell is an amazing athlete, but how often do offensive linemen actually run 40 yards? Folks raved about Doug Free's downfield block on Felix Jones' touchdown run against the Eagles because it was so rare to see a tackle in that territory.

FootballOutsiders.com compiled a list of offensive tackles who ran sub-5.0 40s at the combine. It's a mixed bag. Maybe Campbell could develop into another Joe Thomas, but Allen Barbre's 4.84 40 hasn't helped him succeed in the NFL.