Dallas Cowboys: Osi Umenyiora

Will Cowboys make a play for Jared Allen?

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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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?

DE now a 'must' for Cowboys, not a need

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware, their all-time leader in sacks, they must figure out a way to replace his production and more than just the six sacks he recorded in 2013.

The Cowboys will gain $7.4 million in salary cap space by releasing Ware, which will give them enough room to add whoever they want to add on a defense that is in need of even more help without Ware.

As a point of reference, the Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2012 and his first-year cap number was $3.2 million.

The best way to replace Ware is with a number of players. The key to the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme is sustained pressure with their front four. Bringing those players in waves is what works best. With Ware scheduled to make $12.75 million in base salary and offseason workouts in 2014, the Cowboys have to re-configure that money to multiple players.

The chances of re-signing Jason Hatcher have improved, but he will receive interest from other teams and will want to check out what others have to say.

If the Cowboys can get a veteran pass-rusher at the price that teams paid Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora a year ago (two years, a little more than $4 million annually), then that is a route they will go.

If they want to spend a little more, then keep an eye on Willie Young of the Detroit Lions. He is something of a forgotten man on the Lions' defensive line, but he has had his moments against the Cowboys.

This point, however, has to be perfectly clear: the defensive line has gone from a need to a must for the Cowboys.

It is quite possible George Selvie will be their top returning defensive lineman in 2013, and he did not join the roster until training camp started.

Cowboys should give Ware one more year

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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IRVING, Texas -- Free DeMarcus Ware?

Sounds strange, doesn't it? For all of the Pro Bowls, for all of the sacks, for all of the goodwill he earned in his first eight seasons, one poor season has Ware in the cross hairs.

He is on the wrong side of 30. He missed the first three games of his career. He had a career-low 40 tackles. More importantly he had a career-low six sacks.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware had just six sacks in 2013 and turns 32 in July.
With the Cowboys needing to clear salary-cap space, Ware, who is set to count $16.003 million against the 2014 cap, is one of the obvious targets for creating that room. The question is how they do it. The Cowboys can simply cut him and save $7.4 million in space. They can have him take a pay cut but offer a way to earn back some of that money through incentives. They can restructure his contract like they have the last few years.

Cutting him sounds the easiest but then you have to ask who would replace him? If you think he's done, then that's an easy question. But Ware dominated Tyron Smith every day in Oxnard, Calif. He had four sacks in his first three games before stinger, back and quadriceps injuries took their toll. The Cowboys do not have somebody who can roll out of bed and get six sacks let alone the nearly 14 a year he put up on average in his first eight seasons.

Ware already said he would not take a pay cut, amending his feelings a day after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Offering incentives could be a last resort type of move. Ware and his agent would have to see what kind of market would be out there for a defensive end coming off a down season and turns 32 in July. Osi Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons last year with $5 million guaranteed. He had 7.5 sacks in 2013. John Abraham signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals that included a $1 million signing bonus. He had 11.5 sacks.

Restructuring Ware's contract again would add to his already large cap figures in 2015-17. The last two years of the deal will void if he is on the roster 23 days before the 2016 league year begins. If the Cowboys restructure Ware's deal, then they could save close to $9 million against the cap but add $2.82 million to his cap number in the final three years.

Is it worth it? It might be. For the sake of this argument, let's say the Cowboys choose this route again. They can cut him after the 2014 season and save roughly $6.5 million against the cap. If they would rather make him a June 1, 2015 cut, then they could save about $14 million against the cap with $7.7 million in dead money carrying over to the 2016 cap.

Finding pass-rushers is difficult. The Cowboys have not exactly been adept at finding anybody but Ware. Anthony Spencer was a first-round pick in 2007 and had one double-digit sack season. Greg Ellis was a first-rounder in 1998 and he did not max out until Ware arrived. Bobby Carpenter, drafted in the first round in 2006 to play outside linebacker opposite Ware, did not pan out.

The chances of Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in 2013, re-signing are slim. Spencer's price tag will be low because of a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season but is he damaged goods? Can you bank on another seven sack season from George Selvie? Can Tyrone Crawford come back from his Achilles tear?

There is no doubt that the Cowboys would be taking a gamble by restructuring Ware's contract and pushing more money into the future.

It would be more of a gamble to not have Ware at all.

Eight in the Box: Offseason regret

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.

Eight in the Box: Rookie eye-catchers

June, 7, 2013
6/07/13
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A first-year player from each NFC East team who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps.

Dallas Cowboys: Travis Frederick

The team's much-criticized first-round pick is getting first-team reps at center and looks likely to open training camp as the starter at that critical position. I don't know that he's necessarily "turned heads" with his performance in spring workouts, but it says a lot that the team threw him right in at center (the position he played in college) and seems willing to play around more with the guard positions. It's still possible that Phil Costa goes back to center and Frederick either wins one of the guard spots or opens the season as a backup. But given the Cowboys' offensive line issues last year and the fact that they used their first-round pick on Frederick, it's no surprise they want to try to get as much as they can out of him as soon as possible.

New York Giants: Damontre Moore

The Giants drafted Moore because of his collegiate accomplishments as a pass-rusher, thinking the productivity he showed at Texas A&M was a sign he could produce at a high level early on in the NFL. Moore is only 20 years old, but he's shown an ability to get off quickly at the snap, and his instincts for the defensive end position jump out at the coaching staff. Some guys come into the league with an innate ability to get to the quarterback, and Moore could be such a guy for the Giants. Osi Umenyiora is off to Atlanta and Jason Pierre-Paul had back surgery this week. Defensive ends will have opportunities to show what they can do this summer in Giants training camp. The Giants would love to see positive early signs from Moore.

Philadelphia Eagles: Earl Wolff

As we've discussed, it's hard to evaluate the secondary in these noncontact drills, and especially the safeties, for whom hitting is such a big part of the game. But Wolff was running with the first-team defense in Thursday's practices, alongside Patrick Chung at safety and with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher at cornerback. Coach Chip Kelly keeps insisting there's nothing to be read into position groups this time of year, but it's clear that opportunity exists for reps in the Eagles' secondary. Kenny Phillips' knee already has cost him on-field practice time, which means Wolff could get a chance to play his way into a significant role as a first-year player once the pads go on.

Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed

The rookie tight end has been working on the side with quarterback Robert Griffin III and other injured players who can't go through full-team drills so far in OTAs, but multiple reports say his athleticism has stood out when catching Griffin's passes. The Redskins drafted Reed to fill a "move" tight end role, which means he'll be expected to be more of a receiver than a traditional tight end. Although he may need work and time to learn the position and the responsibilities that go along with it at the professional level, the Redskins picked him for his upside, which apparently isn't hard to notice when you watch him run, jump and catch.

Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
11:00
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player entering a contract year on each NFC East team who must deliver in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys: Playing on a one-year franchise player deal for the second season in a row, defensive end Anthony Spencer is key to the Cowboys' transition to a 4-3 defensive front. He and fellow pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware will switch from the 3-4 outside linebacker position they've always played to a 4-3 defensive end position that will put them closer to the offensive line and likely require them to be more physical in their efforts to get to the quarterback. Spencer took a huge step forward in 2012 as a pass-rusher and was, for much of the season, the best player on the Cowboys' defense. He had 11 sacks, and his previous career high had been six. If he can make the transition to his new position and follow his best season with another excellent one, he'll likely be able to get the long-term deal he seeks. If he can't, the Cowboys will be looking for a new pass-rush anchor next offseason.

New York Giants: Sticking with the pass-rush theme, defensive end Justin Tuck is the Giants player under the most pressure this season to perform the way he used to perform. After racking up 11.5 sacks in 2010, Tuck has collected just nine, total, in the past two regular seasons. The Giants' pass rush took a step backward last season and lost Osi Umenyiora to free agency. They'll replace Umenyiora by moving Mathias Kiwanuka back up to the line from the linebacker spot he played the past two seasons, but their pass rush would function best with Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as dominant bookend starters. Another lackluster season could mean the end of Tuck's decorated career with the Giants. A return to early-career form could transform the Giants back into a championship contender.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles' 2009 first-round pick, has averaged 65 receptions, 863 yards and 6.5 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL. His numbers are actually pretty consistent, year to year. But what the Eagles had in mind when they drafted Maclin was a No. 1 wide receiver. And while he's flashed that ability at times, he hasn't been able to maintain that level or develop his game. The Eagles have fellow wideout DeSean Jackson signed long term, but they will have the money and the cap space to sign Maclin next offseason if they choose to do so. Whether they will want to depends on how Maclin plays in the new Chip Kelly offense and, likely, whether he looks as though he can be counted on to carry the load as a true No. 1.

Washington Redskins: I still think it's possible linebacker Brian Orakpo gets his contract extended before the season starts, but if he doesn't, he'll enter the season carrying the pressure of a contract year along with the pressure of having to kick-start the Redskins' pass rush. A pectoral muscle injury in Week 2 ended Orakpo's season, and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan struggled without Orakpo on the other side to draw the attention of opposing blockers. The Redskins' 3-4 defense is designed around the idea of former first-rounders Orakpo and Kerrigan getting to the quarterback. They need Orakpo to stay healthy and to produce like one of the best pass-rushers in the league.
We're going to play the "What If" game for a moment.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer, costing them $10.6 million. If the Cowboys had let Spencer test the free agent market, that's at least 10.6 million that could have gone to another free agent.

There's no telling how much Spencer would have gotten on the market, he would have been the best pass rusher out there coming off a career-high 11 sack season.

If the Cowboys had let Spencer walk there are two players who might have signed with the Cowboys. Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora. Freeney left the Indianapolis Colts and signed a a two-year $8.7 million deal with the San Diego Chargers. Umenyiora left the New York Giants and inked a deal with the Atlanta Falcons for two years and $8.5 million.

Now Freeney and Umenyiora will be one-hit wonders for these teams, because veteran players, unless its a elite quarterback, will not receive big money deals in free agency.

It's easy to second-guess the decision to franchise Spencer. The Cowboys weren't confident enough in Sean Lissemore's abilities to take over at defensive end or move Tyrone Crawford there. The new defensive staff, led by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wants Crawford to play tackle and end in 2013. Kyle Wilber has also been moved to end.

The Cowboys bypassed three quality defensive linemen in the draft to keep the current defensive line intact.

But allowing Spencer to test the market it might have saved the Cowboys some money, and quite possibly, allowed them to get one of the top defensive ends in the NFL draft last month.

Of course, we're just speculating here on a Saturday afternoon, as Freeney and Umenyiora begin playing for new teams and Spencer continues to participate for the one who drafted him in 2007,

The biggest thing against Spencer is sacks. He finally came through on that last season, and now, barring a new contract getting completed, he enters the final year of his contract with the hope of putting up big numbers again.

If Spencer doesn't then you have to play the "What If" game again.

NFC East draft analysis

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
10:30
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The draft started off heavy in the NFC East, as the three teams with first-round picks this year used them on offensive linemen. And while there were a few little surprises and treats along the way, it never really got hot. All four of the division's teams had workmanlike drafts that balanced need and value and didn't stray into any of the juicy storylines. No Manti Te'o, Geno Smith or Tyrann Mathieu for us.

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Chuck Cooperstein, Matt Mosley and Glenn "Stretch" Smith discuss the Cowboys' draft picks and who was influencing Jerry Jones' decisions.

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There was a trade-down in the first round, as the Dallas Cowboys moved out of a No. 18 spot they didn't like and still managed to get their first-round offensive lineman, while adding a third-rounder to the mix. There were two trade-ups in the fourth round, as the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants maneuvered to add quarterbacks in surprising moves. And there were the Washington Redskins, without a first-rounder but fine with it because they have Robert Griffin III, who waited it out and got two talented safeties in the late rounds for a secondary that needs rebuilding.

We'll be breaking this all down for days and weeks and months, but here's a quick early look at the way the 2013 draft went in the NFC East.

BEST MOVE

In the absence of any earth-shaking moves in the early rounds by NFC East teams, I'm going to have to go with the Eagles taking tackle Lane Johnson at No. 4. They probably could have traded down and out of the pick, but this was a draft in which six offensive linemen went in the first 11 picks, and the value of the third-best tackle with the fourth pick was worth hanging in there. After what happened to their offensive line with injuries in 2012, the Eagles were wise to load up there, taking an athletic player who can start at right tackle right away and maybe move to left tackle down the road once Jason Peters is done. It also helps that Johnson is the kind of lineman who can move. If Chip Kelly plans to run a lot of read-option, or even a lot of bubble screens, Johnson's ability to get out and block at the second level is going to be a big help.

Also considered: The Eagles' trade-up for quarterback Matt Barkley at the top of the fourth round. ... The Redskins' getting two quality safeties in the fourth and sixth rounds in Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo. ... The Cowboys trading down in the first round and getting wide receiver Terrance Williams with the third-round pick they added in that deal.

RISKIEST MOVE

[+] Enlarge
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireDamontre Moore put up impressive numbers at Texas A&M, but he has to disspell concerns over his work ethic and attitude at the next level.
There weren't any real big risks taken by NFC East teams with their most valuable picks in the first and second rounds, I didn't think. So I'm going with defensive end Damontre Moore, who went to the Giants in the third round. Moore is a big-time talent with big-time production numbers in college -- 12.5 sacks last year, 26.5 over the past three. But there are good reasons a player as good as he is was still there at pick No. 81, and in Moore's case those reasons include a marijuana bust and a reputation as a young man who struggles with attitude and work ethic.

Now, Moore is just 20 years old, and it's wrong to assume anyone that age will always be what he has been so far. But Moore is the player from this draft whose job it is to bolster the future of the Giants' pass rush with Osi Umenyiora gone and Justin Tuck aging. If he's a solid citizen and produces the way he did at Texas A&M, he's going to be a steal. If he's an attitude case who doesn't take to coaching and causes problems, the Giants are going to have to keep looking for long-term solutions at defensive end in the next several drafts. A third-round pick isn't too much to risk on a player with Moore's potential, but it's a pick with which the Giants could have found help elsewhere. So if he does flop, they will regret it.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

The Eagles pulled the surprise of Day 3, moving up three spots to the top of the fourth round, where they selected USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Most analysts were convinced Kelly would seek a fast, athletic, running quarterback when he finally pulled the trigger on that position, but Barkley was a pro-style pocket passer at USC and doesn't fit the "system" everyone seems to be assuming Kelly is determined to run now that he's in the pros. As you know if you read this blog regularly, I think that's hogwash and that Kelly is smart enough to know that the best way to coach is to find talented players and figure out the best way to coach them -- not come wading in with your own "system" and only look for players who fit it.

Kelly knows Barkley from coaching against him in college, and Barkley is a guy who a year ago was thought of as a possible No. 1 overall pick. If 2012 was just a bad year for him and he ends up being a good NFL quarterback, nobody's going to care that he can't run the read-option. For a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick, which is what it cost the Eagles to move up and take him, it's a worthwhile risk. And it leaves Kelly with a lot of options at the most important position on his team as he begins his first offseason as an NFL coach.

The Giants pulled a surprise of their own later in the round, trading up six picks to select Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to develop behind Eli Manning. The 32-year-old Manning hasn't missed a game since 2004, so it's unlikely Nassib sees the field anytime soon. But the Giants decided it was time to start thinking down the road at the position.

FILE IT AWAY

I liked the Cowboys' first round more than most people did, because I thought they absolutely needed to come out of that round with an offensive lineman, and they did. And while Travis Frederick may have been a reach at 31, reaching for an offensive lineman wasn't a bad move for this particular team in a draft in which eight offensive linemen went in the top 20 picks. They traded down from 18 and got the pick that netted Frederick and the third-round pick that netted wide receiver Terrance Williams, and they like that pair better than they liked what was available to them at 18.

But they won't have to look far to remember what might have been. The Giants took Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh at 19, which means the Cowboys could have stayed put and picked up a better-regarded lineman than Frederick (though, obviously, not also get Williams in the third). If Pugh turns out to be a great player for the Giants and Frederick flops in Dallas, the Cowboys could end up regretting the Day 1 trade-down in the long run.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, minus the arm brace he used at the Super Bowl to help in the healing of a shoulder surgery, was a guest on NBC Sports Network on Friday.

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

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Ware said he tried to recruit then-free agent defensive end Osi Umenyiora to sign with the Cowboys, Umenyiora ended up with the Atlanta Falcons, praised the work of former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, now with the New Orleans Saints, and more importantly said the Cowboys will be better.

"We will not be .500," Ware said. "We will not be .500 like the last two years we’ve been, I can tell you that."

The Cowboys finished the last two seasons at 8-8 and have missed the postseason for three consecutive seasons. Like most veterans on the Cowboys, Ware is tired of being sick and tired of not making the playoffs.

You can blame several people for the lack of recent playoff appearances by the Cowboys, but Ware stopped short of blaming quarterback Tony Romo, who just signed the richest contract in franchise history.

"I think the blame goes on everybody," Ware said. "It's a team sport and everybody has to play up to their potential."
We took last Sunday off, just needed a personal day, and we're back with our Cowboys weekend mailbag.

Here we go:

Q: I know Jerry Jones takes a lot of lip regarding his job as a GM (I've given some myself). Check these names out: Anthony Spencer, Orlando Scandrick, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Tyron Smith and Demarco Murray. All drafted by Jones. Are we not giving him enough credit? Second, if the Boys' stay healthy, do you think they can win a Super Bowl? Robert Smith (Austin)

A: It's the other types of picks, such as Robert Brewster, David Arkin, Felix Jones among others that don't help Jones. Yes, Jones makes the final decision on those picks, but Wade Phillips wanted Spencer drafted. Phillips also liked Chris Johnson over Felix Jones. Lee and Carter were solid second-round picks who fell because of health issues. Bryant is a talented player, but numerous teams passed him because of potential off-the-field problems. Jones should get credit but the Cowboys have won just two playoff games since their last Super Bowl. That's on Jones' ledger. As far as if they stay healthy, any NFL team, if they stay healthy, can win a Super Bowl. I don't think the Cowboys have Super Bowl talent on the roster, but good enough players to make a run in the postseason, should they get there.

Q: Calvin, I have been a Cowboys fan since I was a kid. I feel like this offseason is a catastrophe. Rather than making tough choices on fading or overpriced veterans (Ratliff, Free, Austin) they just pushed out salaries. I'm asking, is their any reason I should feel confident in what this team is doing or should I spend my fall looking for a hobby? Matt Ellison (Chantilly, Va.)

A: Take up a hobby. Seriously. The Cowboys are a mediocre franchise right now. Consecutive 8-8 seasons with no playoff berth the last three seasons back that up. The Cowboys have some good talent to reach the postseason, but for numerous reasons aren't good enough at the right moments of NFL games to do it.

Q: Hello, Mr. Watkins just wondering if the Cowboys should go after free agent Osi Umenyiora now that Marcus Spears is no longer with the team? Javier (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)

A: Spears is a run stopper and Umenyiora is a pass rusher. You can move Spears to the interior of the line and I think he'll produce for you there. Umenyiora is more of an edge player who has dealt with injuries the last few seasons. While I think Umenyiora is a solid player in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, the Cowboys have better edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. I'm not sure if the Cowboys want to pay Umenyiora, though the market for pass rushers is down from a financial standpoint and they don't have the cap space available. Dallas has just $102,000 in cap space. Not enough for Umenyiora.

Q: Why is Dallas in the NFC East? How can Dallas address the offensive line problems with less than $200,000 of cap room?
T. Holloway (Virginia Beach, Va.)


A: I'm not going to breakdown the history of why the Cowboys are in the NFC East. But I do understand your question. The division is getting better and you have to question the Cowboys' abilities of improving. I think the Cowboys can't improve in free agency because of a lack of salary cap space. The Cowboys made significant moves in the past regarding free agents and trades. Now they can't do that because of their cap problems. If you're asking do the Cowboys have good players? Yes. Put DeMarcus Ware, Lee, Carter, Bryant on the open market and opposing teams will sign them up. Injuries along the defense hurt and an inconsistent offensive line were the biggest problems for the Cowboys last season. That can't happen again if the team expects to do anything positive in 2013.

Q: Why do you sports writers and sportcasters think they know more than the coaches who interact with players every day? They see them practice, the effort and more importantly they know about nagging injuries that can undermine confidence and productivity. If you were an athlete you know this. Do think the Cowboys staff can't recognize talent? Moy (Houston)

A: Very few sports writers I know, think they're smarter than the coaches. Same with sportscasters. The Cowboys know how to judge talent, just look at some of the players currently on the roster. However sometimes talented players underachieve and scouts miss out on some players. It's not just with the Cowboys, it's with almost every other NFL team.
PHOENIX -- Some Dallas Cowboys-related news and notes after the first day of the NFL owners meetings.

PODCAST
Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith comments on the proposed rule change that would make it illegal for runners to lower their heads and initiate contact with tacklers.

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Brian Urlacher a Cowboy? Executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked about the possibility of signing veteran free agent linebacker Brian Urlacher. Jones expressed a fondness for Urlacher, calling him a Hall of Famer, but said it was doubtful it would happen. Jones' point is it wouldn't make sense to sign Urlacher to backup Sean Lee, only to cut him after a year. "You don't ever dismiss Hall of Famers in my book," Jones said. "It would be difficult. He obviously plays what Sean plays. To move everything around for a year doesn't really make a lot of sense. But at the same time, you don't ever rule it out."
Jones was also asked about wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who was released by Jacksonville last week. Robinson has lingering concussion and ankle issues that give the Cowboys pause. "We got to look at the big picture with Laurent," Jones said. "He had some injuries that we're going to be doing our homework on and be going from there."

Can you spare a dime? The Cowboys are down to $102,050 in salary cap space. To make any moves, the Cowboys would have to restructure some contracts or release more players. Of course, signing quarterback Tony Romo to a long-term deal, which would lower his 2013 cap number, is a priority and would create some space.

A crazy training camp: With Larry Allen and former coach Bill Parcells getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, the Cowboys have been invited to play in the Hall of Fame Game, which gives them five preseason games. It creates a crazy travel plan for the Cowboys. Camp would start in Oxnard, Calif., then the team would travel to Canton, Ohio. After the game, the Cowboys most likely would travel back to the West Coast. The team would play one or two preseason games before coming back to Dallas to finish the preseason.

Running back rule changes: NFL officials showed reporters video of legal and potential illegal hits used by ball carries with the crown of their helmet as the league is promoting player safety. "I don't think Emmitt (Smith) ever violated it," said Jones, a member of the NFL's competition committee. "When people first hear it they say, 'Oh my God, we can't do that.' Then they see what the league is talking about in terms of really being in the open field and really dropping that head and using your head as a weapon." If a ball carrier uses his head and isn't penalized, he's still subject to a fine if the rule change is passed. "As a runner in this league, you don't last long if you run tall," said St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who added that the NFL wants to bring the shoulder back into the game instead of players leading with their heads.

Financial market for pass rushers down: Some big-name pass rushers -- John Abraham, Osi Umenyiora, Elvis Dumervil and Dwight Freeney -- are still on the free agent market. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett signed with Seattle. It would have been interesting to see what Anthony Spencer would have commanded on the market, which seems slow. "Obviously, whatever happens in the markets affects others," Jones said. "You have to look at those things. But to say how it effects him and get into the details, that’s unfair."

Free-agency series: Defensive ends

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
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Fifth in a a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position-by-position:

Defensive ends


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How will the move to defensive end affect DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer?

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Who’s on the roster: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer (franchise tag), Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass.

Analysis: Ware and Spencer will be moving from outside linebacker to defensive end in Monte Kiffin’s new scheme, but they are not completely unfamiliar spots since they had their hands on the ground as pass rushers in the nickel defenses. The difference will be the play-to-play grind of lining up against tackles, which could wear them down. Crawford showed some promise as a rookie in the 3-4 and plays with an energy that should help him get to the quarterback. The Cowboys have some flexibility with the players on their roster. Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, Crawford and Bass could play tackle and end if needed.

NFL free agents of interest: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney, Israel Idonije, Amobi Okoye.

Need meter: 7. In the 3-4 scheme, a defense can never have enough linebackers. In the 4-3 scheme, you can never have enough pass rushers. New defensive line coach Rod Marinelli worked with Idonije and Okoye in Chicago and might want to bring them to the Cowboys. Neither will be break-the-bank free agents, which makes them a better fit, and they have the ability to get to the passer. Idonije had 7.5 sacks last year for the Bears and also has some position flexibility. Umenyiora and Freeney are situational pass rushers at this point in their careers. If they understand that, then they could be a fit. However, the price tag could be too steep.

NFL scouting combine preview: NFC East

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
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NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Dallas Cowboys: The switch from a 3-4 defensive alignment to a 4-3, and the likelihood of losing Anthony Spencer to free agency, means the Cowboys' greatest need is on the defensive line. Is there a pass-rushing defensive end who will be available with the No. 18 overall pick? Is there a 1-technique nose tackle they could take in the first or second round who would allow them flexibility with other players on that line? Dallas also needs help on the offensive line and will be looking at the top guards. They traded up last year to get cornerback Morris Claiborne. Could they trade up for someone like Alabama guard Chance Warmack?

New York Giants: It's a good year for the Giants to employ their best-player-available philosophy with their No. 19 overall pick, because they have a number of positions of need. Osi Umenyiora has one foot out the door, and you know the Giants like to look at pass-rushers in the first round. But they could also go offensive line, linebacker, cornerback ... any number of ways, really. For the Giants, the combine will be about prioritizing their needs. Perhaps the interview process helps them figure out which player -- rather than which position -- is worthy of their first-round pick.

Philadelphia Eagles: Drafting No. 4 overall, the Eagles need a franchise difference-maker. Their first order of business is finding out whether their quarterback of the future is in this draft. But if guys like Geno Smith and Matt Barkley don't rise to fourth-pick worthiness, the Eagles will need a building-block piece at a vital position. Luke Joeckel at offensive tackle. Star Lotulelei for defensive line. Dee Milliner at cornerback. The Eagles will be able to pick almost anyone they want and probably get a great player as a consolation prize for their terrible season. Though their greatest roster needs right now appear to be on defense, they shouldn't shy away from using that fourth overall pick on a difference-making tackle or even a quarterback if they find one they love. Drafting in the top five isn't about filling an immediate need as much as it's about finding someone around whom you can build for the long term.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins traded their first-round pick in the Robert Griffin III deal and don't pick until No. 51 -- the 19th pick in the second round. This makes their scouting more challenging and their combine itinerary different from that of many other teams. There's no way for them to guess how the first 50 picks will go, so they must cast a wide net as they look for help at safety and cornerback. Fortunately for them, this draft appears deep with talented secondary players. The Redskins' mission this week will be to try to figure out which of the guys they like will still be available for them when it's finally their turn to pick.

Defenses will decide the NFC East

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
11:58
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Robert Griffin IIIBrad Penner/US PresswireNew York's title hopes may depend on Jason Pierre-Paul and a Giants pass rush that has been underwhelming this season.

Can the New York Giants' pass rush perk up and help a Big Blue defense that held the Falcons offense scoreless during the playoffs last season repeat that performance Sunday in Atlanta?

Can the two men the Dallas Cowboys brought in to be shutdown cornerbacks keep the Steelers receivers covered while Ben Roethlisberger scrambles to keep plays alive?

Can the Washington Redskins scheme, adjust and work around their defensive personnel shortages for another week, keeping Trent Richardson in check and daring Brandon Weeden to beat them in Cleveland?

These are the key storylines Sunday as the NFC East race spins into its final weeks. Amend them with different opponents, and they are likely to remain the key storylines in this division the rest of the way. Although the quarterbacks get all the attention in this division and statistically there's not a top-10 defense in the bunch, the team that plays the best defense in these final three games is the one most likely to emerge with the division title.

The NFC East race is a jumble. The defending champion Giants hold a one-game lead, but they have road games the next two weeks in Atlanta and Baltimore and are far from assured of winning out. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home this season and 65-11 the past five. Sure, New York is a defending Super Bowl champion that has shown it can win anywhere, but there's not a team out there that could safely assume it would go 2-0 in those games. The Giants are going to have to play the way they played in January, not the way they've played for most of the past month and a half, if they're going to keep control of the division. To do that, they need to be more ferocious on defense.

The Giants have 31 sacks -- tied for 12th most in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul leads them with 6.5. Osi Umenyiora has six. Justin Tuck has only three.

The numbers are fine, but they're not Giants numbers. This is a pass rush that took out Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady en route to its second Super Bowl title in five years. Unless someone gets more than one sack a game the rest of the way, they're going to finish the regular season without anyone in double figures. That doesn't compute, and it has as much to do with why the Giants haven't already put away this division as anything.

It's possible that seeing Ryan and the Falcons will rekindle memories of how dominant they were up front 11 months ago, and if that's the case, the Giants could be the team that gets on the defensive run that gives them the division title.

The Cowboys sit one game back of the Giants, tied with the Redskins for second place. Statistically fine for much of the season, the defense has endured a brutal rash of injuries. Both starting inside linebackers, a starting safety, a starting defensive lineman and their nickel cornerback are on injured reserve. This week, star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) have already missed practice. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains in doubt, and his backup, Josh Brent, is out because of his well-publicized issues. The Cowboys are running short of players on defense, which could take them right out of this picture if it continues.

But they've made it this far in spite of their deficiencies. They've won four of their past five games. Running back DeMarco Murray is back in the fold, red-hot wide receiver Dez Bryant apparently is determined to play in spite of a broken finger, and the offense is humming.

The defense has to hold it together, and the key is in that secondary. Ware and Anthony Spencer are playing well at outside linebacker, and the defensive line is average and going to stay that way. The defense is counting on Claiborne and fellow corner Brandon Carr to shut down receivers, especially in a game such as this Sunday's against Pittsburgh's receivers. If Claiborne can't go, the responsibility falls to Sterling Moore, who has looked good in his short time in Dallas.

Carr and Claiborne have been occasionally brilliant but generally inconsistent in coverage this season. The price the Cowboys paid for Carr in free-agent money and for Claiborne in draft picks says they're big-time talents who need to play that way. If they can shut down opposing receivers the next three weeks, the Cowboys' chances of coming from behind and stealing this division are a lot better.

In Washington, all eyes are on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has a knee injury and may not play Sunday in Cleveland.

But the Redskins aren't really worried about their offense. They can run the ball with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon can get open down the field for backup Kirk Cousins, and they can score enough points.

Defense has been the Redskins' issue all season. They rank 28th in total defense and 31st against the pass. A secondary that didn't look all that great to begin with is now missing two starting safeties and a starting cornerback. The defense is also missing its best pass-rusher, Brian Orakpo, and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker. It has been a struggle.

Yet the Redskins, which have managed to win their past four games to move within a game of the Giants, have a real chance. They have looked bad on defense for long stretches during the streak -- the second half against Dallas on Thanksgiving, the first half against Baltimore last week -- but they've managed to hold on. Coordinator Jim Haslett is doing an excellent job of changing up the game plan from week to week and half to half to maximize any advantage he can find. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher for a half. DeAngelo Hall can be a decent cover corner for a couple of drives.

They mix, match and patch it together, and so far it's not falling apart. The key will be for the Redskins to keep walking that tightrope, and if they can do it for three more games, they absolutely have a chance.

So if you're trying to make sense of this NFC East race as it hits the home stretch, look not to the big-name quarterbacks and receivers but instead to the defenses. If one of these three teams can do something on defense it hasn't been able to do so far, that could make enough of a difference to decide the division.

Early draft preview: Look to the lines

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
8:00
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Never too early to think about the NFL draft, especially in divisions in which three of the four teams are at least two games under .500 at the midpoint. So here's a link to Mel Kiper Jr.'s Insider piece Insider about what teams need to look for in next year's draft. He believes three of our four teams should pick offensive linemen with their first pick and the Giants should pick a pass-rushing defensive end. Here's the list of the players Mel assigns to each of the NFC East teams, bearing in mind that the Redskins do not have a 2013 first-rounder:

Dallas Cowboys: Dallas Thomas, OT/G, Tennessee. Mel shoots down the idea that they need to be thinking about a Tony Romo replacement and says Romo's biggest problem is what's going on in front of him. I agree.

New York Giants: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon. Because of the assumption that Osi Umenyiora moves on, which is a good assumption. Mel also thinks they'd do well to get a cornerback.

Philadelphia Eagles: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The problem on the offensive line in Philly is that their best linemen are hurt, but even if they all come back healthy they could obviously use depth there. Quarterback is also a possibility if Michael Vick is gone and Nick Foles isn't going to be ready right away.

Washington Redskins: Jonathan Cooper, OT/G, North Carolina. Yes, Mel understands they could use help in the secondary, but he believes the most important thing for the Redskins moving forward is making sure Robert Griffin III stays in one piece, and it's hard to argue.

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