Dallas Cowboys: Mike Wallace

Jimmy Graham deal Dez Bryant's baseline?

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
IRVING, Texas -- Jimmy Graham was unable to declare himself a wide receiver in an arbitration case, but the New Orleans Saints tight end did fairly well with his reported four-year, $40 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Dez Bryant look for ways to come to an agreement on a long-term deal so they can avoid any franchise-tag hassle next offseason, can Graham’s deal be something of a barometer for Bryant?

Graham argued he was a receiver because he lined up mostly off the line. It was an argument that was eventually denied by an arbiter, but there is some truth to what he was saying. Graham is not a tight end in the way Jason Witten is a tight end. But that is his position. Bryant will never be asked to put his hand on the ground to block somebody the way Graham is asked to do at least part of the time for the Saints.

But I digress. Let’s just look at the statistical comparisons of Bryant and Graham. Both players were selected in the 2010 draft. Bryant was a first-round pick, so he has an extra year on his rookie deal. Graham was a third-round pick.

In the past three seasons their numbers are fairly similar.

Bryant: 248 catches, 3,543 yards, 34 touchdowns.
Graham: 270 catches, 3,507 yards, 36 touchdowns.

Any discussions between the Cowboys and Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, have been kept under wraps for the most part. Most of the figures thrown around have been by the media. There are seven wide receivers with an average annual value of at least $10 million: Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson.

Marshall, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Bowe and Jackson have at least $20 million in guaranteed money in their deals, as does Andre Johnson, who is threatening a holdout from the Houston Texans' training camp.

Graham’s contract puts him in line with receivers if not with the top-paid guys like Johnson ($16.2 million), Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). Harvin ($12.9 million) and Wallace ($12 million) who cashed in during free agency. Bowe averages $11.2 million. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million deal that included $16 million guaranteed in the offseason.

So where does Bryant fit in? Should he get Graham’s $10 million average or play out the season and possibly get tagged (that was $12.3 million in 2014)?

There is some middle ground in which both sides can compromise, but Graham's deal could help define just where that ground is, even if he is a tight end (wink, wink).

On Miles Austin's value

May, 30, 2013
I get a lot of questions about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin. It seems every time a receiver of any note is potentially available, fans want to know whether the Cowboys will or should sign him to replace Austin. I usually respond with a question, specifically, "What does everybody dislike so much about Miles Austin?"

Todd Archer feels the same way, and has this piece on ESPNDallas.com to remind everyone of how valuable Austin still is to the Cowboys' offense, even with the emergence of Dez Bryant as a star and the drafting of Terrance Williams in the third round in April:
Dig deeper into what Austin did last year when he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns.

He outperformed the leading wide receivers on 16 other teams in catches, yards or touchdowns, including pass-catchers in Arizona (Larry Fitzgerald), Baltimore (Anquan Boldin), Seattle (Sidney Rice), Washington (Josh Morgan) and Pittsburgh (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown). Aside from Arizona, there is not a poor quarterback throwing to anyone in that bunch.

In a division with Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, Austin had the fourth-most catches and touchdowns and was third in yards. And he put up those numbers on an offense that had Jason Witten set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end (110) and Bryant explode for 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The knocks on Austin seem to be that he's always got some kind of nagging injury that either keeps him from playing or limits his production, and that he hasn't lived up to his brilliant 2009 numbers. Valid points both, but sometimes I think we have to step back and think about what our expectations for these guys really are and what they should be. Austin remains one of the Cowboys' starting wide receivers. Even if Williams comes quickly, the best arrangement for the Dallas offense when it goes to three wide receivers will be Bryant and deep-threat Williams on the outside with the versatile Austin moving inside to play the slot. Austin can play anywhere, and produces better than your average No. 2 wide receiver. I think it's probably a good idea for fans to remember he is still a very valuable guy, and stop rushing to get rid of him.

We have talked a lot on here about the contract situation of New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who wants to get paid based on his No. 1 wide receiver production of the past two seasons, while his team wants to pay him as the top slot receiver in the league. We don't know how that situation will ultimately resolve itself, but once it does, it could have a ripple effect throughout the league for other wide receivers looking for contracts.

To that end, Calvin Watkins examines the possible impact Cruz's deal could have on Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose contract expires after 2014 and is coming off a year in which he established himself as one of the most dangerous all-around wide receivers in the league:
The Cowboys need to be cautious what they pay Bryant because of his questionable decisions off the field -- which, in fairness, don't seem to be an issue anymore -- and what the top receivers make.

Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million), Calvin Johnson ($15.6 million), Andre Johnson ($14.4 million), Mike Wallace ($12 million) and Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million) are at the top of the average salaries per seasons for wide receivers.

Does Cruz belong at that level? What about Bryant?

Whatever Cruz gets, Bryant's agent, Eugene Parker, will look at and make sure he tells Jerry and Stephen Jones to take care of his client from a financial standpoint.

I think it's impossible to make a prediction about Bryant's deal until we see at least one more year of Bryant. If he continues to show that he's got his off-field life together, and if he continues to play the way he did in 2012, he will indeed be able to ask for at least what Wallace and Bowe received, and likely more. If he slips up again off the field, or his play is inconsistent in 2013, or if he gets hurt, then old questions arise. I don't see Cruz cracking that top five Calvin listed here even if he gets every dollar he's asking for, so the only way he becomes a benchmark for Bryant is if Bryant does not continue to perform at that elite level over the next year or two. But I think 2012 was just the start for Bryant, who has the talent to become one of the very best in the entire league at his position.
When you look at some of the younger wide receivers in the NFL, finances are a major part of the discussion.

Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss potential past conflicts between Jason Garrett and Tony Romo regarding Romo's involvement in the offense and what changes will be made in the 2013 season.

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Which brings us to what the New York Giants' Victor Cruz is looking for from his team and what Dez Bryant could potentially demand from the Dallas Cowboys.

Cruz was tendered by the Giants at $2.8 million but wants a long-term deal averaging close to $10 million a season. The Giants want him to average less than that.

What does this mean for Bryant?

The young receiver is signed through 2014 and will make base salaries of $1.5 million in 2013 and $1.7 million in 2014. He's also slated to make $500,000 in workout bonuses the next two seasons.

Bryant is coming off a career season where he had 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's emerged as Tony Romo's main target in the passing game and might become the emotional leader of the offense if he continues on his current path.

The Cowboys need to be cautious what they pay Bryant because of his questionable decisions off the field -- which, in fairness, don't seem to be an issue anymore -- and what the top receivers make.

Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million), Calvin Johnson ($15.6 million), Andre Johnson ($14.4 million), Mike Wallace ($12 million) and Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million) are at the top of the average salaries per seasons for wide receivers.

Does Cruz belong at that level? What about Bryant?

Whatever Cruz gets, Bryant's agent, Eugene Parker, will look at and make sure he tells Jerry and Stephen Jones to take care of his client from a financial standpoint.
Done with Day 2 of free agency and on to Day 3. We have some observations.

Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest free-agency moves going on around the NFL.

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Dez Bryant looks at Mike Wallace's contract: Wide receiver Mike Wallace left the Pittsburgh Steelers and singed a five-year $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed with the Miami Dolphins. Wallace is just 26 years old and becomes the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL. What does it all mean? Well, the Cowboys have an emerging young talent in Dez Bryant, who is 24, and coming off his first 1,000 yard season. Bryant is signed through 2014, and who knows what the market will look like then given the money Wallace got this week. Bryant needs to stay out of trouble, which he's done so far this offseason, and if he continues to produce, a big money contract awaits him. Should the Cowboys let Bryant get to the final year of his contract? Or do the Cowboys make sure after the 2013 season, he gets an extension?

Cowboys send three to Alabama: Coach Jason Garrett didn't attend Alabama's Pro Day on Wednesday, however, two scouts and Tom Ciskowski, the director of college and pro scouting, watched the talent. Former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus, who works for the Dallas Cowboys web site offers these thoughts on Alabama's Pro Day here. Jeff Reynolds of NFL Draft Scout send in this report of what went down. Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's NFL Draft expert, has the Cowboys taking guard Chance Warmack with the No. 18th overall pick next month.

Remember when Danny Amendola was a Cowboy?: It seems like years ago, but it was just 2008 when wide receiver Danny Amendola was in Cowboys training camp trying to make the roster. Amendola was trying to make the 53-man roster that had Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton, Terry Glenn, Sam Hurd, Terrell Owens and Isaiah Stanback on the roster as well. Amendola didn't make the roster, he was cut that summer, but later added to the practice squad, but in 2009 he played in 14 games for the St. Louis Rams after being signed from the Eagles practice squad. Wednesday, Amendola signed a five-year deal worth $31 million with $10 million guaranteed with the New England Patriots. He's come a long way from trying to surpass Austin and Hurd, who were then at the bottom of the receiving depth chart. Amendola has been injury prone of late, but is an excellent receiver in the slot, and because he's younger than Wes Welker, it's probably one of the reasons he's with the Pats. ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss gives his take on the Patriots signing.

Overtime: S Gerald Sensabaugh is getting interest from Arizona and Tennessee. He visited the Titans on Wednesday. ... No word yet on CB Mike Jenkins visits. ... The Cowboys saw Bennett twice last year with the Giants and they'll see him again when they visit Solider Field. The Cowboys, however, won't see Percy Harvin when they host Minnesota. Harvin is now with Seattle.

Look Back: Kudos to Rob Ryan

December, 18, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Rob Ryan has taken heat for some of the issues that have cropped up with the Cowboys’ defense this season.

Maybe some of it is not entirely fair because of the injuries, but everybody at Valley Ranch has said you cannot use injuries as an excuse.


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In Sunday’s 27-24 win against Pittsburgh, Ryan did a great job of mixing up looks, coverages and blitzes. In this week’s Look Back, Ryan brought pressure (five or more) 12 times, which does not sound like a lot considering his background but it was more than he had been bringing in recent weeks.

Despite the call for more blitzes, Ryan has been correct to rely on his four man pressure most of the time. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 15 of 26 against the Cowboys four-man looks. He was sacked once and his interception in overtime came against four-man pressure.

His first touchdown of the game came against a three-man look. He completed two of three passes against three-man pressure, but was sacked once (Marcus Spears).

Against five- and six-man pressures Roethlisberger was seven of 11 with a touchdown (the slot throw to Antonio Brown) but Ryan’s five-man pressure call led to a split sack by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and his only six-man call of the game led to the sack by Sean Lissemore.

The Steelers had to be confused because Lissemore came unblocked between the guard and tackle and was able to smother Roethlisberger. Again, it was the only time Ryan brought six games in the game.

Let’s look at Brandon Carr’s interception that was the signature play of the game. As the Steelers lined up Carr was three yards off Mike Wallace but by the time of the snap Carr backed off to seven yards. All the while his eyes were on Roethlisberger.

At the snap he pedals back and keeps inside leverage. In the fourth quarter Wallace was able to get him on a stop route. This time he ran an out route, but it’s almost as if Roethlisberger might have been thinking Wallace would run another stop because the throw was to the inside, allowing Carr to break on the pass.

Carr made the athletic pick and was able to get down to the Pittsburgh 1 to set up the game-winning field goal.

An interesting note on that play, the Steelers chose to double Spencer with the tight end and the running back on the strong side and leave left tackle Max Starks alone on Ware.

How did the Steelers block Ware during the game?

Starks had him one-on-one on 18 pass plays, according to my count. Ware’s half sack came on a one-on-one battle. They double-teamed Ware eight times, had a tight end block him three times, but two came on quick throws to the outside. He dropped into coverage three times, went unblocked once and three times the Steelers had their guards block him by sliding the tackle down.

On to the offense …

Let’s look at Jason Witten’s touchdown first. What struck me most was Tony Romo’s fake on the play action. He and DeMarco Murray did a great job selling the run, especially with guard Nate Livings pulling. That forced linebacker Lawrence Timmons to suck up toward the line and allowed Witten to get down the field after he was untouched at the line.

It was an easy throw and catch that was set up by the run action. Since Murray’s return the Cowboys have done a lot more running out of 11 personnel with the guard pulling. Film study had them thinking it was a run on first-and-10 from their 17 but the Cowboys were able to take their shot.

On four occasions the Cowboys faced third and 1. It’s not been a kind down and distance in recent years and they were only two of four in those situations vs. the Steelers.

On the first third-and-1, Murray gained eight yards thanks to some solid work from Witten and Tyron Smith, who sealed the weakside edge, and Lawrence Vickers, who took care of the defensive back. Murray was able to fend off Larry Foote to get the extra yards with a stiff arm (or a face mask?).

On the second third-and-1, the Cowboys went with their goal line package with tackle Jermey Parnell as their third tight end. Once again Vickers did a nice job and John Phillips and Witten were able to do enough for Murray to run through Timmons for the first down.

So far so good, but to open the third quarter the Cowboys were stopped on third and 1. Once again they went with Parnell as the extra tight end, but Vickers could not get Keenan Lewis out of the way and it looked as if Mackenzy Bernadeau could not close the back side, which allowed Timmons to come through for the tackle.

The fourth third-and-1 play – a Romo bootleg - was there had Parnell and Smith blocked it correctly. On the first three plays the Steelers crashed down inside on the runs, so the Cowboys figured they would bite again and they did. But Smith and Parnell were unable to keep Harrison under control, and he made the tackle for loss.

In 2010, the Cowboys ran a similar play against Detroit in which Jon Kitna scampered home for a long touchdown.

Overall, however, the offensive line was excellent against a good Steelers front.
A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ defenders in the team’s 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while analyzing what it means:

S Gerald Sensabaugh: 60 of 60
CB Mike Jenkins: 60 of 60
CB Brandon Carr: 59 of 60
OLB Anthony Spencer: 58 of 60
OLB DeMarcus Ware: 52 of 60
DE Jason Hatcher: 50 of 60

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ILB Alex Albright: 49 of 60
S Danny McCray: 41 of 60
ILB Dan Connor: 38 of 60
CB Sterling Moore: 37 of 60
S Eric Frampton: 29 of 60
DL Sean Lissemore: 29 of 60
DE Marcus Spears: 27 of 60
DE Tyrone Crawford: 22 of 60
OLB Victor Butler: 13 of 60
CB Michael Coe: 10 of 60
DE Brian Schaefering: 10 of 60
NT Robert Callaway: 6 of 60
LB Ernie Sims: 5 of 60

Taylor's Takes: CB Sterling Moore, NT Robert Callaway, CB Michael Coe and DE Brian Schaefering combined for 63 plays. So defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deserves considerable credit for getting his unit to play well with a bunch of no-name, new-to-the-team guys. ... Eric Frampton replaced Danny McCray in some situations in the nickel and dime because McCray was struggling. He couldn’t cover TE Heath Miller in the first half and receiver Mike Wallace ran past him for a 60-yard gain in the third quarter. ... LB Alex Albright played a season-high 49 snaps and finished with five tackles -- none bigger than his third-down stop in the second quarter.

5 Wonders: Tony Romo's extension

December, 18, 2012
IRVING, Texas – It’s Tuesday so it’s on to Five Wonders and I’m wondering just how far the Cowboys can take this hot streak.

Sunday’s game against New Orleans will be the biggest test yet for this re-made defense. We’ll see.

Quarterback Tony Romo talks about the Cowboys' overtime win against the Steelers and three-game winning streak.

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On to the Wonders:

** So what do you think about the Cowboys willingness to give Tony Romo a contract extension now? I wonder Romo’s play the last seven weeks will do for the negotiations that will take place after the season. I’m on record as saying Romo will get a five-year extension worth somewhere in the $85 million range with $50 million or so guaranteed. Romo’s play of late has been elite. He has 13 touchdown passes and three picks and is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. The Cowboys are 3-0 in December and are in contention with two weeks to go. That did not seem possible not too long ago. When he was struggling earlier in the season, I wonder if there were some inside Valley Ranch that might have been willing to let Romo play out the final year of his deal in 2013 and have him count $16.8 million against the cap. I’m sure that changes now and the Cowboys will need to get Romo signed to an extension in the offseason to bring that cap number down so they can get under the projected cap limit and possibly add some big-time players in free agency.

** I wonder if people understand just how hard it is for Sterling Moore to do what he has done since coming to the Cowboys. He played a couple of snaps against Philadelphia two days after the Cowboys picked him up off New England’s practice squad. He has played outside cornerback in the nickel package and moved to a safety role in the dime package on Sunday against Pittsburgh. That is a lot to learn in a short amount of time. His time with the Patriots probably helped ease his transition to the Cowboys. Because of all the different looks Bill Belichick will throw out, Moore has had to learn multiple positions on the fly. Rob Ryan believes the Cowboys might have found a player here that can be a solid contributor in the future. He’s shown he is a quick study. Now he has to show he has staying power.


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** From all appearances the Cowboys appear comfortable with James Hanna, the rookie tight end from Flower Mound. As the season has gone on he has seen more action and it is not just as a receiver, although that is where his most recent notice is coming. Hanna has speed most tight ends do not possess, but his blocking has been better than some in the organization believed it would be. It has me wondering if the Cowboys believe so much in Hanna that they will not pursue a veteran in the free agent market next offseason and perhaps draft one in the middle to late rounds. It is a projection, but the coaches have cut into the playing time of John Phillips, a favorite of the staff because of his versatility, to get Hanna on the field.

** I wonder how much the Cowboys miss Charlie Peprah. No, seriously. And that’s an indication of what kind of season it has been with the injuries. Peprah has missed the last three games with a foot injury and I wonder if he can provide more than Danny McCray in the base and sub packages. McCray appears to be running out of gas the more he has to play. The Steelers targeted him repeatedly in coverage. He saw Mike Wallace run by him for a deep catch. He was unable to stay with tight end Heath Miller. McCray is the new version of Keith Davis. A few years ago Davis made his name as a special teams threat and became a starter almost out of default. It was not the right role. He was a special teamer and that’s not meant as a slight. It’s not to slight McCray either. He is what he is. He plays hurt. He plays tough. He’s one of those “right kind of guys” Jason Garrett talks about. But Peprah’s experience as an every down player might be more of a help on the back end with two games left in the season and so much on the line.

**I wonder if there is something to continuity on the offensive line. Well, sort of, since the line has played better the last two weeks with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell rotating series at right tackle. But the play of guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings and center Ryan Cook has been better. Not great, mind you, but better. Since they had no offseason together and had to learn on the fly after the Cowboys acquired Cook the week before the season started, it has taken time. At tackle the job can be a little easier: you block the outside pass rusher. On the inside there is a lot of communication. Bernadeau, Livings and Cook did not know each other. Cook was new to the scheme and the scheme was only a few months old for Bernadeau and Livings, who arrived in March as free agents. Time helps players gain unspoken communication. There remain issues on the interior and nothing is solved, but the more they have played together the better they have become.

Stats & Info: So much on line for Cowboys, Steelers

December, 14, 2012
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys square off Sunday, each with an eye toward keeping their playoff hopes intact.

Even with a loss Sunday, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with wins in their final two games against the Bengals (Week 16) and Browns (Week 17), which would put Pittsburgh at 9-7. The Steelers would win a potential tiebreaker for second place in the AFC North if they finish a season sweep of the Bengals next week. The Cowboys’ playoff hopes have been boosted as they have won four of their last five games following a 3-5 start.

Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:
  • Rushing woes have beset the Cowboys on both sides of the ball this season. Offensively, the Cowboys are last in the NFL with 3.45 yards per rush this season. That would be the second lowest total in team history behind 1960, the Cowboys’ first season. The Steelers have allowed 3.69 yards per rush this season, fourth best in the NFL. Over the last three weeks, the Cowboys rank 28th in run defense, allowing 159.3 rush yards per game. The Cowboys have allowed at least 140 rushing yards in three straight games for the first time since 2000 and most of those yards have come between the tackles. Of the 478 rushing yards the Cowboys have allowed the past three games, 308 have been between the tackles, including 131 yards after contact.
  • The Steelers are 2-4 this season when sending five-plus pass rushers on more than 40 percent of the opposing quarterbacks’ dropbacks. When the Steelers defense relies more on a standard pass rush of four or fewer defenders, the Steelers have gone 5-2. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has faced five or more pass rushers on 31 percent of his dropbacks this season. The Steelers have allowed just one touchdown pass, 3.5 yards per pass attempt and a Total QBR of 17.6 when they send five or more pass rushers on less than 40 percent of opponent dropbacks.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been throwing short more often, but when he has gone deep this season, he has struggled with such throws. Roethlisberger is 30th in completion percentage (25.0) on throws more than 20 yards downfield, including just 4 of 15 targeting wide receiver Mike Wallace. The Cowboys, however, have allowed half of 20-plus yard attempts to be completed this season, worst in the NFL. The Cowboys are also one of three teams that allowed at least five touchdowns on such passes without recording an interception.
  • Other Side: Ed Bouchette, Pitt. Post-Gazette

    December, 13, 2012
    AM ET
    IRVING, Texas – To get up to date with the Pittsburgh Steelers, we talk to Ed Bouchette, the long-time beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    Todd Archer - What's the state of the mind of this team after the loss to San Diego?

    Ed Bouchette - Don't know because I'm no psychologist. Brett Keisel did say after Sunday's loss to San Diego that the team wasn't ready to play and on Tuesday Mike Tomlin agreed with him.

    TA - Is Ben Roethlisberger OK and is it just a matter of him getting used to playing again?

    EB - He's fine. If Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown had hung onto a few deep passes, he would have had over 300 yards and 4 or 5 TDs instead of 3. He also was a yard from being their leading rusher with 31 yards on 5 scrambles.

    TA - How big of a loss is Rashard Mendenhall? He's been hurt. They have other backs. Is he being phased out?

    EB - He's been hurt, rehabbing from ACL for the first three games and then after playing in two, hurt his Achilles. As you know, he's suspended for this game because he did not show up for last Sunday after they told him he would be inactive. He's a big loss but only in the sense they could use the Mendenhall of 2009 or 2010.

    TA - The defense is still at the top of the league, but it just seems different this year. Am I wrong? Still feared?

    EB - They don't sack anyone or create turnovers, and that's been an issue since the start of 2011. They had just 15 turnovers last season and this one they have 12 (although one fumble came on a muffed punt). Injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley hurt this year and last.

    TA - Todd Haley was a Dallas assistant for a few years so we know his, ummm, intensity. How are things going for him as the Steelers OC and how is the relationship with Roethlisberger?

    EB - There's been not one hint of trouble and Haley is on the sideline for games. If he did not have that reputation, no one in Pittsburgh would know anything about it based on his behavior and relationships since he's been here.

    Dez Bryant needs to take over games

    September, 5, 2012
    AM ET
    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The issues regarding Dez Bryant off the field don’t matter now.

    He’s got a pending domestic violence case hanging over him and rules he must follow to help stay out of trouble.

    What matters now for Bryant is on-the-field stuff.

    Every time you ask Jason Garrett about Bryant’s work as a professional football player, he says it’s been outstanding.

    The Cowboys visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium. These are the games Bryant likes to play in.

    National television.

    Something on the line.

    As talented as Bryant is, elite receiver isn’t something you can place on his resume. In reality, other players drafted or signed in 2009 or 2010 have become more accomplished.

    Take the lead receiver for the Giants: Hakeem Nicks. In three NFL seasons, he’s got two 1,000-yard seasons. Bryant, a first-round pick in 2010, has yet to reach that milestone once.

    How about Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers? In three NFL seasons, Wallace has two 1,000-yard seasons and 24 touchdowns. Another Steelers receiver, Antonio Brown, caught 69 passes for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. He was drafted the same year as Bryant, who has yet to catch more than 63 passes in a single-season.

    Injuries and playing alongside targets Miles Austin and Jason Witten are some of the reasons why Bryant hasn't accumulated big numbers yet.

    When you round up his off-the-field stuff and the fact he hasn't taken over, it makes you wonder if he’s worth all this trouble.

    "I think he’s more focused," wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "I think he’s more intent on really improving. That speaks of a more mature young man."

    As Bryant enters his third NFL season, he has a firm command of the offense and has a zen-like focus on the field. Some NFL experts tell you that wide receivers begin to show major improvements during Year 3.

    The Cowboys believe at some point Bryant will take over games. It’s not about getting 100-yard games, though Bryant has just one on his resume. It’s about becoming a dominant force in the passing game.

    We’re still waiting for Bryant's moment.

    "But obviously, we’ve got to get the ball to him more to go over 100 yards," Robinson said. "That’s part of our job as coaches, to try to get the ball to the playmakers. He’s one of our key playmakers. That doesn’t mean we’re going to force the ball to him, because we’ve got a lot of playmakers. He’s got to hold up his end of that in terms of getting open, win on those one-on-one situations where we feel like he should win."

    Wednesday night against the Giants would be a good start.
    OXNARD, Calif. -- Rob Ryan is talking really big about Brandon Carr, the Cowboys’ new $50 million cornerback.

    “He was the best player in free agency by far, not even close,” Ryan said.

    Yes, Ryan clarified, the best player in free agency. Not just the best corner.

    That means Ryan considers Carr, who hopes to make his first Pro Bowl in his fifth NFL season, a better player than Peyton Manning, Mario Williams, Carl Nicks and Mike Wallace among others.

    Of course, Ryan’s boasts about his personnel should be taken with a whole salt shaker after last year, when he bragged about having the best defensive talent in the NFL and delivered mediocre results. There is no question, however, that the Cowboys like what they’ve seen from Carr in his first five practices after signing a five-year deal.

    “This guy has been everything we expected,” Ryan said. “He’s a leader, he helps the other guys around him and the other thing is he’s a tough kid. He’s given us everything we wanted as a team. We need smart and tough, and that’s exactly what he is, and he’s competitive. You see him knocking receivers off the line of scrimmage.

    “This guy’s not nervous about playing under the big lights. He’s here in Dallas. It is a different world here. Everything you do is scrutinized, but this guy won’t flinch. I can promise you that.”

    Ryan suddenly flipped the politically correct switch when asked whether Carr ranked among the best corners in the league, saying he doesn’t see every corner. Ryan also didn’t bite when asked whether Carr is the best corner he coached, which would put Carr above big-dollar Eagles corner Nnamdi Asomugha.

    “I don’t like comparing everybody else, because all I do is get ripped on anyways,” said Ryan, still smarting from the backlash of bragging that Dallas had two receivers better than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson a couple days before Megatron scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Lions’ comeback at Cowboys Stadium. “(Expletive), I thought our receivers were better than somebody’s.

    “I’m not going to say that, but I know one thing: He’s a great football player. So whatever great is, he’s just as great as anybody else’s.”

    Random Thoughts: Does Tony Sparano return?

    January, 9, 2012
    AM ET
    After the first week of the postseason we have some random thoughts on it means for the Cowboys.

    1. There are reports that former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has some interest in returning to the Cowboys as an offensive line coach. Hudson Houck still has that job, and while his contract will end soon, he hasn't been told he will not be back. Sparano was a solid and popular coach when he was in Dallas. The issue is whether or not Sparano doesn't mind not calling plays. I don't see Jason Garrett giving up those duties to Sparano. I'm also not sure if Sparano wants to return as the offensive line/running game coordinator after spending a couple of seasons as head coach. Money is also a factor. If Jerry Jones can pay Houck a $1 million a season to coach the line, there's no telling what might pay Sparano to return.

    2. Tom Ciskowski, the Cowboys assistant director of player personnel, interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts over the weekend for the vacant general manager's job. If Ciskowski gets the gig, his replacement most likely will come from within. Jerry Jones could promote any number of people from Chris Hall, college scouting coordinator, Drew Fabianich, national scout, Judd Garrett, director of pro scouting, and Will McClay, director of football research to replace Ciskowski.

    3. It's funny how Tony Romo gets so much criticism for not winning any big games, and come to find out Matt Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason, and while Eli Manning has won a Super Bowl, just picked up his first home playoff win on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. Romo has at least one playoff win, coming in 2009 vs. Philadelphia. Romo has won some big games, but when you look back on the Cowboys season, especially the last month, you can't blame Romo for the issues.

    4. Denver Broncos rookie cornerback Chris Harris finished with five tackles on Sunday in the AFC wild card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harris was the fifth cornerback in the dime package the Broncos employed against the Steelers. We talk about Harris today because several teams, including the Cowboys, passed up on drafting or signing him. Harris didn't have a draftable grade coming out of Kansas and some thought he was more of a free safety. But he started four regular season games for the Broncos with six pass breakups and one interception. But there was Harris playing very physical on Sunday which included a hard hit on Steelers wideout Mike Wallace. Think the Cowboys could have used a physical corner in the secondary?

    5. You can't replace everybody on the team, and while the Cowboys made numerous changes before the 2011 season, expect some new faces in 2012 again. The offensive line, linebacker corps and secondary could get two new starters each. The only sure thing is quarterback, running back, tight end and wide receiver.

    Dez Bryant: Cowboys have NFL's best WR corps

    December, 16, 2011
    PM ET
    It wasn’t enough to win, but the Cowboys’ wide receiving corps provided a glimpse of how potent it can be against the Giants.

    With Miles Austin back in the mix, the Cowboys’ wide receivers accounted for 250 yards and three touchdowns, with Austin, Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant each scoring once.

    Austin is a two-time Pro Bowler with a $54 million contract, but he’s been the Cowboys’ third most productive wide receiver this season, in large part because he’s missed six games due to hamstring injuries. Robinson and Bryant both have chances to finish with 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown seasons.

    “I feel like without a doubt that we are the best receiving corps in the league,” Bryant said.

    That’s debatable. There are other receiving corps that can make the same claim, including the one that won Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. But the Cowboys’ trio is at least in the conversation if Austin can stay healthy.

    Here’s how the Cowboys’ wideouts compare to the other elite receiving corps in the league:

    Laurent Robinson – 46 catches, 763 yards, 8 TD
    Dez Bryant – 47 catches, 756 yards, 8 TD
    Miles Austin – 32 catches, 466 yards, 5 TD

    Victor Cruz – 68 catches, 1,150 yards, 7 TD
    Hakeem Nicks – 65 catches, 1,023 yards, 6 TD
    Mario Manningham -- 36 catches, 466 yards, 4 TD

    Mike Wallace – 62 catches, 1,034 yards, 8 TD
    Antonio Brown – 55 catches, 925 yards, 2 TD
    Hines Ward – 37 catches, 325 yards, 2 TD

    Jordy Nelson – 51 catches, 957 yards, 10 TD
    Greg Jennings – 67 catches, 949 yards, 9 TD
    James Jones – 26 catches, 479 yards, 5 TD
    Donald Driver – 31 catches, 357 yards, 4 TD