Dallas Cowboys: Julius Peppers

IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

Cowboys' front seven ranked last

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
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IRVING, Texas -- Last week, Pro Football Focus rated the Dallas Cowboys' roster at No. 18 in the league and that's in large part because of the projected starters on offense.

On defense, the only starter with a “good” tag is defensive tackle Henry Melton, and he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Three projected starters were listed as below average, and six were projected as average.

None of this is really new, but to show just how stacked it might seem against new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is this review of the Cowboys' front seven from Mike Tanier from Sports on Earth.

Tanier puts the Cowboys dead last in his front seven rankings.

Here's what he wrote:
32. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and (in the saddest, most ridiculous minicamp story of the year) Sean Lee from a defense that allowed 2,056 rushing yards and recorded just 36 sacks last year. Henry Melton arrives as a younger, more system-suited replacement for Hatcher, but everything else is a shambles. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman form the most anonymous linebacker corps in the league, and only Carter has any significant starting experience. Anthony Spencer may start the season on the PUP list as he battles back from microfracture surgery on his knee. And of course, the Cowboys are so cap-stressed that they wouldn't be able to sign a veteran reinforcement, even if one becomes available this late in the offseason.

The wisest thing the Cowboys could do is insert rookies Demarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens into the rotation quickly and let them learn on the job. The Cowboys did not get into this predicament by doing the wise thing. But they are so thin and talent-poor that they may not have a choice.

One quibble I would make is that they could have attempted to keep Ware, signed Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or pick a veteran in free agency if they wanted to by doing more poorly structured deals that affected their ability to do business in the future. They chose not to go that route and likely won't do it for a Lee replacement, be it either Jonathan Vilma or Brian Urlacher.

And if a veteran of some substance becomes available later, they could always find room by restructuring the contracts of Jason Witten or Brandon Carr. Money wouldn't be an issue, in my opinion.

Marinelli did a great job with the Bears in part because he had a younger and healthier Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Peppers and Melton in the front seven and solid role players such as Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije, Stephen Paea and Nick Roach.

From the looks of the Dallas defense right now, the Cowboys will be asking a lot of role players to play prominent parts, especially on the front seven. Marinelli has to turn a defense that is built on "maybes" and "hope so's" into one that can be competitive.
IRVING, Texas -- Don’t buy that Brian Urlacher, Jonathan Vilma or insert-veteran-linebacker-here jersey just yet.

Before the Dallas Cowboys look outside the building for MLB Sean Lee’s replacement, they want to see what Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens can do.

SportsNation

Which Cowboy has the best chance at replacing Sean Lee?

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    30%
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    27%
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    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,200)

“We have some young guys we feel good about, so we want to give those guys every opportunity,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have some veteran players who weren't completely healthy all last year, so we want to make sure they have an opportunity to work at some of those spots inside and just see who on our football team right now rises to the occasion. We've got to make sure we give them every opportunity. We’re always looking at the landscape of players -- free agents on the street, trade opportunities, anybody who we think can help our football team at any position. We’re always doing that. But we like the guys we have right now and the competition we have going.”

Durant took the first-team snaps at middle linebacker during Monday's organized team activities. He started one game at middle linebacker last year when Lee was out with a hamstring issue. Holloman started two games last year after Lee suffered a neck injury.

Garrett has yet to rule Lee out for the season, saying only that Lee has a “serious knee injury.” Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on May 27 in the first OTA. Garrett said the team is still developing a plan for Lee. The team generally waits a few weeks to perform a surgery so the swelling goes down.

In the offseason, the Cowboys cut veteran DE DeMarcus Ware and veteran WR Miles Austin and opted to not re-sign veteran DT Jason Hatcher. The Cowboys passed on free-agent DEs Jared Allen and Julius Peppers and did not look at veteran safeties.

Last year, the Cowboys signed offensive lineman Brian Waters the week before the season started. He had not played in 2012, but in 2013 he played in seven games for Dallas (with five starts) before he tore his triceps.

“If you look at our team, we have a really young roster,” Garrett said. “If you go position by position on both sides of the ball, there aren't many guys who have played that long in the National Football League, and we think that’s good. Some of our best players are guys that have been around a little bit, and we think that’s good, too. We’re always looking for a combination of veteran guys who have been around a little bit and younger guys who are developing into their prime, and then you have to have some role players, as well. You start with 90 and then you try to make the best decisions you can with the players you have. And then if there’s a reason to go outside at some point, you go ahead and do that.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • When Dez Bryant might sign an extension.
  • Lance Dunbar’s roster spot with the addition of Ryan Williams.
  • The team’s best free-agent pickup
  • The state of the defensive line.
  • The best of the undrafted receivers.

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:

Cowboys offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Dallas Cowboys' offseason moves.

Best move: The Cowboys could not make big splashes in free agency and their 8-8 record kept them in the middle of the pack in the draft as well, so the best move was not one regarding personnel. It was coaching. Elevating Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator after the Cowboys finished last in the league in 2013 was their best move. With the Chicago Bears, Marinelli had a difference-making defense that could create turnovers at will. He also had Pro Bowl-quality players such as Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. He does not have that in bountiful supply in Dallas, unless Sean Lee can stay healthy or Henry Melton returns to form from injury.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellWill the Dallas Cowboys regret not re-signing DeMarcus Ware?
Riskiest move: DeMarcus Ware put up 119 sacks with the Cowboys from 2005-13, but the club believed it was time to move on after Ware had just six in 2013. A quadriceps injury forced Ware to miss the first three games of his career in 2013 and he was slowed by other maladies. The Cowboys did not make an attempt to offer Ware a reduced contract and simply cut him. Within 24 hours he was signed to a three-year deal by the Denver Broncos with $20 million guaranteed. For this 4-3 scheme to work, there must be an accomplished right defensive end. The Cowboys believed Ware’s time as a dominant pass-rusher was over but did not pick up his replacement until the second round of the draft, selecting DeMarcus Lawrence.

Most surprising move: With the 16th pick in the first round, the Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel to be Tony Romo’s eventual successor. It seemed to be a perfect marriage of the attention Jerry Jones seeks and the spotlight Johnny Football enjoys. Jones passed on Manziel, recommitting his faith in Romo, who signed a six-year, $108 million extension last season, and making a smart move in picking up Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He will be a Day 1 starter and give the Cowboys three first-round picks on their offensive line, which will help Romo and potentially help a defense if the Cowboys can control the clock.

Numbers game: The emphasis of the Cowboys’ offseason has been about the defense, but they have taken a quantity-over-quality look. They had some interest in Peppers and Jared Allen after releasing Ware, but only at a reduced rate. The Cowboys signed Melton, who is coming off an ACL injury, to a one-year deal with an option for three more years if he plays at a high level. They signed Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to low-risk deals. They kept Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, on a one-year deal. They even signed Amobi Okoye, who did not play last season due to personal medical issues, in hopes a reunion with Marinelli will rejuvenate him. The flashiest addition might be Lawrence, and it is difficult to expect rookies to hit the league running.
IRVING, Texas -- What will determine a successful draft for the Dallas Cowboys?

The need for defense is obvious, so finding two or three players to make an immediate impact would be more than beneficial.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, however, is looking at it differently.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesOwner Jerry Jones says the Cowboys won't let positional needs dictate their draft this weekend.
“I would hope we could find defensive players at the right value,” Jones said. “I would hope that we could. If we don't, that means there (was) some real value over on the offensive side of the ball and that could result in a heck of a draft. To say it another way: if you got somebody that shouldn't have been within 20 picks of you that was there and you add that value to the team -- and we have needs on the offensive side of the ball as well -- you could have a lot of success. There's no secret we've had a lot of attrition in our defensive front this year. What is obvious is if you want to start at the need, you can start right there. (But) we shouldn’t go overboard and be influenced to the point where we pass up great opportunity to have a great draft otherwise.”

The Cowboys took a sensible approach in free agency, eschewing the high-priced veterans like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers after letting DeMarcus Ware go and seeing Jason Hatcher leave. They added Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton to team-friendly, low-risk deals. They re-signed Anthony Spencer to a one-year deal. They signed quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal with no guaranteed money.

Like all teams, the Cowboys would prefer to take the best player available.

“We certainly have needs, every team has needs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s been mentioned here a number of times in this press conference that we’re going to look at the draft board and take the best players, guys that can help our football team. You target guys at certain positions, but the worst mistake you can make is over-drafting for need and leaving really, really good players on the board. We try to have discipline that way just like every team in this league does, and we’ll do that with our defensive front, all across our defense and throughout our team.”

If Zack Martin is the highest graded player, then they should take him at No. 16. Or if it’s a wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee, they should take either one. The same should hold true if it’s a quarterback.

It always sounds good to say you would take the best player available, but needs have to be filled. If grades are close, the Cowboys could lean defensively. Maybe they should lean defensively. They have 11 picks over the next three days. They will have plenty of chances after the first round to help the defense.

Most importantly, however, they need to find players that can help this year and in the future regardless of position.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
1:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the Cowboys possibly taking a safety in the first round, why Caleb Hanie was brought in, drafting a cornerback in the first round, Rod Marinelli’s ability to adapt and Tony Romo as a free agent.

Part 2 of the mailbag will be delivered on Saturday. If you have a question, fire one off to me via Twitter (@toddarcher).

Away we go:

.

McShay's 2nd round fits for Cowboys

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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IRVING, Texas -- In his mock drafts, ESPN Insider Todd McShay has had the Dallas Cowboys sticking on the defensive side of the ball.

In his four mock drafts, he has had Timmy Jernigan (twice), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Stephon Tuitt going to the Cowboys in the first round.

In his most recent Insider piece on ESPN.com Insider, McShay mentioned prospects that might be the best fit with a team. After listing eight fits, which includes defensive tackle Aaron Donald going to the Chicago Bears (which might upset some Cowboys fans), he has pass rushers Dee Ford and Jeremiah Attaochu, as fits for the Cowboys in the second round.

The Cowboys need pass-rushers. Ford had quite a push at the Senior Bowl and has speed to burn. Attaochu had 32 sacks at Georgia Tech.

They are also something of tweeners. Ford is 6-2, 240 pounds. Attaochu is 6-3, 252 pounds. That is light even for the right defensive end spots in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. They could be pass-rush specialists as rookies and grow into full-time roles later as they pack on more weight.

But Marinelli’s better right defensive ends have been Simeon Rice and Julius Peppers. Rice was 6-5, 268 pounds. Peppers, who was courted by the Cowboys as a free agent to a small degree, is 6-6, 283 pounds. They are the prototypes and special talents.

In the second round, the Cowboys could take a chance on players that might not fit the prototype but can do one thing exceptionally well.

Ford and Attaochu could also be part of the future if the Cowboys make wholesale coaching and scheme changes after the 2014 season.

Insiders not high on Cowboys' work so far

March, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The guys over on ESPN Insiders are not fans Insider of what the Dallas Cowboys have -- or have not -- done in free agency so far this offseason, giving them a D grade.

The only team with a worse grade is the Oakland Raiders, who earned an F.

The grade had more to do with the losses of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin, than the signings of Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Brandon Weeden. I understand that line of thinking. I don’t know how the Cowboys can expect Melton, who is coming back from a torn ACL, and Mincey (or any combination of the defensive ends on the roster) to be better than Hatcher and Ware.

But where I disagree to an extent is how much the cap held them back.

The Cowboys could have restructured Ware’s deal without any problem. They could have fit Hatcher’s deal under the cap. They could have signed Julius Peppers or Jared Allen once Ware left. They could have signed just about anybody they wanted.

To me, they chose not to. They chose to get out of the game where they pushed more money into the future. They chose to not pay thirtysomethings large amounts of cash.

So what I wonder is if the Cowboys did those things with Ware and Hatcher or signed a Peppers or an Allen, wouldn’t the argument have been the Cowboys are doing the same old thing?

If the grade is about the personnel, then I can understand it, but it’s too easy to just pick apart the cap mismanagement as a reason why they didn’t (or haven’t) gone after higher-priced free agents.

No surprise Cowboys didn't land Allen

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
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IRVING, Texas -- That Jared Allen did not end up with the Dallas Cowboys is not a surprise.

If the Cowboys were not going to make a sizeable investment in DeMarcus Ware, and they did not make a sizeable investment in Julius Peppers, then they were not going to do the same for Allen, who has 128.5 sacks in his career.

The Cowboys knew Ware better than anybody. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had insider knowledge on Peppers from their time together with the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys got to know Allen on a free-agent visit, but the hope was he would come in at their price, not at the price the Bears have paid.

Allen could receive up to $32 million on the four-year deal with the Bears, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, which includes $15.5 million in guaranteed money.

The Cowboys could have done a deal like that just as they could have done it for Ware or Peppers, but they want to hold the line on signing aging players to big-money deals. The big-money deal they gave Henry Melton last week is really a one-year, $3.5 million deal that could become a four-year, $29.5 million deal if he hits on all of his incentives. Melton is only 27.

There is no doubt Allen would have filled a need. The Cowboys do not have a right defensive end of note on the roster yet. They have what looks to be serviceable left defensive ends in George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford. They could play on the right side if needed, but the Cowboys could look in the draft for the more athletic, prototypical right defensive end.

If they can’t, they will throw numbers at the position and hope that eases the loss of Ware and the non-signings of Peppers and Allen.

Time will tell if the Cowboys are employing the right strategy, but at least they are sticking to their plan.

Cowboys open to signing older players

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cowboys let two starting defensive linemen go in free agency -- DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher -- who will each be 32 years of age when the 2014 season starts in September.

There's a thought that the Cowboys moved on from extending the contracts of players in their 30s.

With Ware and Hatcher gone, the Cowboys signed three defensive linemen as replacements: Henry Melton (27), Terrell McClain (25) and Jeremy Mincey (30).

"I think we've been efficient, and, obviously, up front was a focus because of the unfortunate things we’ve had happen there last season," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "We obviously decided to make some changes there so we brought in some people to fill some holes. But we'll continue to look at that and obviously keep an eye on it in the draft as well. But it allows us not to force the issue with the moves we’ve made."

Jones said the Cowboys are open to signing players in their 30s but it has to make good financial sense. During the free-agency period, the team expressed interest in 34-year old defensive end Julius Peppers before signing Melton and brought 32-year old defensive end Jared Allen to Valley Ranch for a visit.

Peppers signed a three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers and Allen has yet to sign a deal.

Jones said it's difficult to make decisions on good players who are in their 30s. Ware, for instance, was coming off a six-sack season, the first time he finished with fewer than 11 sacks since his rookie year. Ware also missed three games with a quad injury, the first of his career, and he was either limited or missed practice for an assortment of health issues.

The Cowboys had to look at whether Ware's decline was based on health or age. The team offered Ware a pay cut and he declined, so the team released him and 24 hours later he signed with Denver.

The Cowboys gave contract extensions to defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and left tackle Flozell Adams when the pair were in their 30s and each player was released before his contract expired.

"It's always hard. Historically we've obviously been that way but we’ve obviously been bit by it," Jones said. "So we took a long hard look at that and made some decisions not to go in that direction this time."

Asked about signing a player in his 30s again, Jones said, "We wouldn’t rule it out. I think each situation stands on its own."

Jared Allen option not likely now

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
9:15
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Allen
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for defensive line help is not over with the addition of Henry Melton, but their push for Jared Allen will not be quite as intense, according to sources.

Allen wrapped up a visit with the Cowboys on Tuesday before they agreed to a deal with Melton.

Allen would be the Cowboys’ best defensive end, but at what price? He has had seven straight seasons with at least 11 sacks, but he turns 32 in April and the Cowboys were not willing to pay a hefty price for DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers.

With Ware and Jason Hatcher gone, George Selvie is the leading returning sacker from 2013 with seven. Jeremy Mincey, who signed a two-year deal worth a maximum of $4.5 million last week, had two sacks with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos in 2013. Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Bruce Carter and Orlando Scandrick had two sacks apiece for the Cowboys.

Allen has also visited with the Seattle Seahawks.

Rod Marinelli a difference-maker

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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IRVING, Texas -- In Rod Marinelli, the Dallas Cowboys believe they have one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL.

He might be a pretty good recruiter, too.

The Cowboys' ability to land free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton was a lot about the contract, a lot about Melton possibly wanting to play at home and a lot about Marinelli.

Marinelli
Melton
"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod [Marinelli] and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins.

Melton developed into a Pro Bowl defensive tackle under Marinelli with the Chicago Bears from 2010-12. Melton had 15.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl after a six-sack season in 2012. He also had 71 tackles and nine tackles for loss with Marinelli as his mentor.

He might talk softly, but Marinelli has a way of forging relationships with defensive linemen. He did it with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did it with Melton and Julius Peppers with the Bears. He did it with Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys were forced to use 20 defensive linemen in 2013 and were one game away from making the playoffs. Marinelli was able to make it work to a certain degree with guys such as George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Jarius Wynn, Corvey Irvin and Frank Kearse.

He never had Jay Ratliff or Tyrone Crawford. He had Anthony Spencer for 34 snaps in one game. He was without Ware for three games and Hatcher for one.

Melton becomes the third defensive linemen to join the Cowboys as a free agent. Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys last week.

Mincey was unable to meet face to face with Marinelli because of the coach’s schedule, but they were able to talk on the phone. Mincey was coached with the Jacksonville Jaguars by Joe Cullen, who coached under Marinelli with the Detroit Lions.

"Genuine and a believer," Mincey said last week. "He believes in what I believe: going out there and giving your all and trusting the process and seeing what happens. You never know what’s going to happen, especially with a bunch of guys who are hungry, who are dedicated and motivated for a larger purpose."

The job is not over. The Cowboys concluded a visit with Jared Allen on Tuesday, and the veteran could be the next one added to the Marinelli mix.

Free-agency review: Cowboys

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
10:56
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» NFC Free-Agency Review | AFC Free-Agency Review

Most significant signing: It has been a slow start to free agency, but defensive end Jeremy Mincey offers the most hope for at least right now as the Cowboys negotiate with Henry Melton and Jared Allen. He signed a two-year deal worth a maximum of $4.5 million and has the ability to play all across the defensive line in passing situations. It’s hard to call the additions of defensive tackle Terrell McClain and quarterback Brandon Weeden significant additions.

[+] EnlargeCowboys' DeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/LM OteroDeMarcus Ware is the Dallas Cowboys' all-time leader in sacks.
Most significant loss: DeMarcus Ware had only six sacks in 2013 and Jason Hatcher led the Cowboys with 11. Both are now gone. The Cowboys released Ware, who has since signed with the Denver Broncos, and Hatcher signed a four-year, $27.5 million deal with the Washington Redskins. Because of what Ware meant to the team for so long -- he is the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks -- he is the more significant loss. Hatcher had one year with more than 4.5 sacks. In a down year, Ware had six. The Broncos are betting Ware has plenty left in the tank by guaranteeing him $20 million over the next three years.

Biggest surprise: It is not really a surprise the Cowboys lost Hatcher, even if it is to a division rival. What is a surprise -- at least so far -- is that the Cowboys have maintained the discipline financially. They were not going to pay Ware or Hatcher the kind of money they received on the market. They were not going to pay Julius Peppers what he got from the Green Bay Packers. What in the name of Jerry Jones is going on around here? Of course, all that could change if they shell out big cash for Melton or Allen.

What’s next? The Cowboys know they must address their defensive line, but it looks as if they will do it at their price. It might cost them in the short run, but help in them in the long run when it comes to being in good shape in the future against the cap. They would like Melton and/or Allen, but if they were not going to go crazy for Ware and Hatcher, they can’t go crazy for those two. As free agency wears on they could look for help at wide receiver or safety, but they will spend most of their time getting ready for the draft.

Will Cowboys make a play for Jared Allen?

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
11:30
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IRVING, Texas -- So far in their chase for veteran pass rushers, we know what the Dallas Cowboys wouldn't do.

Allen
They were not going to re-do DeMarcus Ware’s contract to the point where he would actually make more money in 2014 than he was scheduled to, which is what the Denver Broncos did in signing the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader to a three-year, $30 million deal. Ware will make $13 million this season and is guaranteed $20 million.

They were not going to give Julius Peppers a contract worth a maximum of $30 million over three years and guaranteed him $7.5 million, which is what the Green Bay Packers have reportedly done. Peppers was looking at the Cowboys in part so he could be reunited with Rod Marinelli, but the Packers came in with a solid offer.

So now the Cowboys will look at Allen, who has 128.5 sacks in his career.

Two questions: How far will they go in trying to sign him? How far should they go in trying to sign him?

In Ware and Peppers, the Cowboys had players they knew. Ware was a Cowboy for nine years. Peppers played for Marinelli with the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys only know Allen from afar.

Desperation can do funny things to teams. Are the Cowboys desperate for a pass rusher now? Would they pay him the Peppers’ deal or something close to it?

The model I had been working off on what the Cowboys would do with a veteran pass rusher was based off what Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney and John Abraham got from the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.

Freeney got a two-year deal worth $8.75 million. Umenyiora got two years and $8.5 million. Abraham got two years at a max value of $6 million. Abraham had 11.5 sacks last year. Umenyiora had 7.5. Freeney had a half sack but played in only four games.

If the Cowboys can get Allen, who turns 32 in April, at their price, that would be a good move. He has had at least 11 sacks in seven straight seasons, but he was fairly pedestrian against the Cowboys last season.

If the Cowboys are forced to sign Allen at a big price, then they should have kept Ware or made a larger play for Peppers. It is always better to sign a player you know than a player you don’t.

The Cowboys did not let Ware go and not make a harder for Peppers because of a lack of cap space. They can sign anybody they want and make it work against the cap. They let Ware go and did not make a play for Peppers because they weren’t willing to exceed the price they set.

Can they maintain their discipline?

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