Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Crayton

IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe put together a story about teams that draft well and poorly with an interesting graphic.

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Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

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    21%
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    49%
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    19%
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    5%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,576)

The Dallas Cowboys are one of six teams not to have a current starter they selected in Rounds 5-7, according to the chart, which means Volin did not count Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) as a starter even though he started most of the 2013 season. If Morris Claiborne performed up to capabilities and was not hurt, he would have been the starter. If you count Scandrick, then the Cowboys would be one of 12 teams to have one starter from Rounds 5-7.

The other five without a starter were the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have had 12 picks in Rounds 5-7 and only Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman remain.

Hitting on late-round picks is guesswork in a lot of ways. In 2004, the Cowboys hit on three seventh-rounders in Nate Jones, Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves. They all had productive NFL careers and earned second contracts.

That’s the goal: find players who can fill roles. The Cowboys kept Crayton for a second contract, but Jones and Reeves left after their rookie deals expired.

Teams build their depth through late-round picks and the Cowboys have not hit enough in the late rounds to fortify their depth. The Seattle Seahawks had an NFL-best five starters from Rounds 5-7 in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles were next with four.

Also in Volin’s chart is a look at undrafted starters. The Cowboys had a league-high five in 2013 with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Barry Church, Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had four apiece to tie for second.

For years the Cowboys have excelled in finding undrafted free agents. In the last three years they have landed Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Chris Jones, Ben Bass, Cole Beasley, Leary, Heath and Cam Lawrence.

They make up for the misses in Rounds 5-7 with hits in undrafted free agency. With three compensatory picks in the seventh round this year, the Cowboys will have the chance to draft what would have been their priority undrafted free agents.

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.

Counting Cowboys' draft picks

January, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- As you get ready for another week of NFL playoffs, just remember the NFL draft is just a short five months away.

Actually a little less than that now.

The draft will be May 8-10.

The Cowboys have eight picks in the draft and will learn if they pick No. 16 or 17 after a coin flip at next month’s NFL Scouting Combine. After the 8-8 finish, they are in a dead heat with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Cowboys have picks in the first five rounds, and three picks in the seventh round. They do not have a sixth-round pick because of their trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for defensive end Edgar Jones. They did pick up the Chiefs’ seventh rounder in return, and will also receive the Chicago Bears’ seventh-round pick as a result of the trade for tight end Dante Rosario.

They could receive a compensatory pick, but those are not released until the NFL Owners meetings in the spring.

The last time the Cowboys used their three seventh-round picks they made out OK. In 2004 they took Nate Jones (No. 205), Patrick Crayton (No. 216) and Jacques Reeves (No. 223).

If you’re just stuck on first-round picks, the Cowboys haven’t taken a player with the 17th overall pick since cornerback Kevin Smith in 1992. In 1990, they did OK with No. 17 when they took Emmitt Smith, who went on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

The only time they ever used the 16th pick in the draft came in 1961 when they selected E.J. Holub in the second round. Holub went on to an outstanding career with the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL.

Ware: Giants always have something to say

November, 21, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul started off the week by saying his team is getting ready to “put it on,” the Dallas Cowboys.

Ware
Ware
On Wednesday, several Giants talked about the do-or-die nature of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium for their chances. Pierre-Paul said, “it’s like a Super Bowl.” Safety Antrel Rolle said this game “is going to determine the outcome of the season.”

Safety Will Hill said the defense will get physical with Dez Bryant because the Cowboys receiver “doesn’t like to be touched, like most receivers in this league. But really him. He doesn’t like to be touched.”

The noise from New York always seems loud when they play against the Cowboys.

“You know they have something to say every time we play them,” DeMarcus Ware said. “They try to put the gas on the fire every time. It’s an NFC East game, that’s what we do.”

The Cowboys mostly do not return fire, especially since Patrick Crayton departed. It’s part of Jason Garrett’s message to the team. He does not want bulletin-board material. He wants the focus to be on the preparation.

But that should not belie the sense of urgency the Cowboys feel going into this game. In a way this is every bit a must-win game for the Cowboys.

“I don’t know there’s a correlation between what you say during the week and you’re intensity during the game,” Garrett said. “We’re getting ourselves ready to play this game. They’re a good football team. We have a great respect for their players, their coaches, their organization, and we’re going to prepare our best this week to play our best on Sunday.”
IRVING, Texas -- It’s on to Week 2 of Five Wonders, and this week we hit on the Cowboys reaping early benefits from some young players:

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** Since this has been an over-reaction week, let’s begin to wonder about Kevin Ogletree's future with the club. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. For the sake of discussion, let’s just say he'll have a season somewhere between Patrick Crayton and Laurent Robinson -- in the area of 40-45 catches, 600 yards and five touchdowns. What do the Cowboys do? What does Ogletree do? He saw Robinson leave for the big bucks in Jacksonville after one great season and it would be difficult to say no to that type of cash. As for the team, they spent four years waiting for the guy to develop and they’d let him walk for nothing? One thing they won’t have to worry about is the ability to re-sign him early if they wanted to. They weren’t able to do that last year with Robinson because of the rules involving the veteran minimum salary benefit contract.

** It’s only one game, but Bruce Carter has me wondering if I missed something in training camp. He was outstanding against the Giants in the opener in his 30 snaps. Dan Connor played only four snaps, so that tells you what the coaches thought of the inside linebacker battle over the summer. Carter was more aggressive in taking on blockers and did a good job in the run game. Sometimes when linebackers get the “athletic” tag, it means they’re run-around guys. Carter wasn’t that against the Giants. There’s still a long way to go, but the Cowboys’
patience with last year’s second-round pick could pay off in a big way this year.

** I wonder if Chris Jones can keep this up. He has punted 12 times in three games over the last two seasons, and the Cowboys have given up just six return yards. Six!!!!! He has had net averages of 43 yards, 38.8 yards and 51.5 yards against the Giants (twice) and Seattle. This week he sees the Seahawks again. Seattle returner Leon Washington is as dangerous as they come, and he had a 52-yard punt return vs. Arizona last week. Jones has done a great job of keeping the ball close to the sidelines in his three games, limiting any opportunity for a return to bust free. Washington is one of many tests of the schedule for the Cowboys’ coverage teams this year.

** This might surprise some people, but here comes praise for Wade Phillips: If a guy showed he could handle a role, Phillips would play him. It wasn’t some reward for being on the team, but a way to keep all 53 guys involved. I wonder if that philosophy is still going on with the Cowboys because the only active player not to play a snap vs. the Giants was backup quarterback Kyle Orton. Safety Mana Silva did a nice job in the “dollar” package in Danny McCray's absence.
Rookie defensive end Tyron Crawford saw second-half snaps. Rookie tight end James Hanna saw first-half snaps and caught a 10-yard pass. Cornerback Mario Butler saw some snaps, and not just when Orlando Scandrick needed an IV. Tackle Jermey Parnell lined up at tight end once in a jumbo package (and missed his fourth-down block). Teams can’t be afraid to use guys. The Cowboys weren’t vs. New York.

** I wonder (really I hope, but the title of this post is Five Wonders) if the NFL will adjust how it works the opening game of the season. The Cowboys were put in an unfair position of playing the last preseason game of Week 1 at Oakland, and therefore were joined by the Raiders as the last teams to report to camp. The Giants had three extra days of practice on the Cowboys. That’s an unfair advantage. The Cowboys could have started camp earlier with an exemption, but the NFLPA would not go along. Executive vice president Stephen Jones has said he'd like to see the reporting dates for training camp relate to the regular-season opener, not the preseason opener. It almost seems to make too much sense, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t just the reporting time that made it difficult to prepare. There were many issues involving waivers and claims and when they could get on the practice field. The Cowboys beat the Giants, which made some of the headaches disappear, but there’s no way the league should put teams in such a bind in the future.

Ranking Tony Romo's best performances

September, 8, 2012
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I’ll respectfully disagree with the take from NBC’s Cris Collinsworth that Tony Romo played the best game of his career Wednesday night.

In fact, it arguably wasn’t the best game Romo has played against the Giants in the last 10 months.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the five most impressive performances of Romo’s career:

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Jean-Jacques Taylor, Tim MacMahon and Ted Emrich hold off on Kevin Ogletree's Ring of Honor induction, debate if the season opener was Tony Romo's best performance, break down the negatives for the Cowboys after Week 1 and discuss what it would take for Jerry Jones to get credit.

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1. Cowboys 27, 49ers 24 (Sept. 18, 2011): It’s impressive any time a quarterback leads a late rally from a double-digit deficit to defeat one of the league’s top defensive teams. It’s especially amazing when that quarterback does so after breaking a couple of ribs and puncturing his lungs early in that game. That was the case at Candlestick Park with Romo, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime, essentially sealing the win by hitting reality show-winning receiver Jesse Holley for a 77-yard gain. Romo, who had been ripped all week after committing two late turnovers in a season-opening loss to the New York Jets, finished the game with 345 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-33 passing.

2. Cowboys 37, Packers 27 (Nov. 29, 2007): Want high stakes? The NFC’s top seed was on the line, and Romo’s boyhood idol Brett Favre was on the opposing sideline. Romo responded with 309 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing. His lone interception could have been another score, but Terrell Owens bobbled the ball in the end zone to allow Green Bay’s Al Harris to get his hands on it. Romo also put the ball on the money twice to Miles Austin on deep balls, drawing 42- and 40-yard pass interference penalties. This was a masterful performance in a game with major playoff implications.

3. Giants 37, Cowboys 34 (Dec. 11, 2011): The Cowboys didn’t win, but you’d have to have a football IQ lower than Romo’s jersey number to blame this loss on him. In fact, his 141.3 passer rating in this game was the highest in NFL history by any quarterback who threw for at least 300 yards in a loss. Romo completed 21 of 31 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns. His stats would have been even more impressive -- and the Cowboys would have won the game -- if Austin didn’t lose a deep ball in the lights on what should have been a dagger touchdown.

4. Cowboys 37, Falcons 21 (Oct. 25, 2009): Austin hogged the headlines, following up his franchise-record 250-yard performance in his first start the previous week by torching Atlanta for 171 yards and two scores on six catches. Of course, Romo had a lot to do with that. No. 9 was simply sensational after a slow start. He didn’t have a completion in the first quarter, scrambling for the Cowboys’ lone first down in the opening 15 minutes, but Romo finished with 311 yards and three TDs on 21-of-29 passing. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton on the final snap of the first half was Romo at his finest. He avoided a sack by spinning away from three Falcons before firing a strike to a wide-open Crayton in the end zone, giving the Cowboys a double-digit lead

5. Cowboys 24, Giants 17 (Sept. 5, 2012): Romo had to overcome an awful performance by the offensive line to beat the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-29 passing despite being pressured by Jason Pierre-Paul and Co. all night. Most quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to get rid of the ball on his two touchdowns to Kevin Ogletree. Romo used his mobility to make the biggest plays in what could be a statement game at the site where Dallas’ 2011 season died.

Cowboys not after veteran WRs

August, 4, 2012
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OXNARD, Calif. – As visions of Plaxico Burress, Terrell Owens or even Patrick Crayton dance in the minds of Cowboys fans aching for a veteran wide receiver, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said no.

The Cowboys will search for wide receivers with injuries (Miles Austin, Saalim Hakim) and defections (Cole Beasley), but not any name receivers.

“It’s not like the offense line,” Jones said, referring to the additions of veterans Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper. “We’re looking more for guys to come in maybe compete and get on the practice squad or something. But we’re not looking at veteran guys at this point.”

The search is made a little more difficult by the fact that teams are allowed 90 players at training camp after being limited to 80 in recent years.

“It’s hard to find guys, especially guys who you want and who are in shape and can be productive,” Jones said. “It’s not easy.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Every Wednesday we’ll be bringing you Five Wonders, with today being the official training camp debut of the award-winning fixture. And by award-winning I mean the gold star my children put on my computer a long time ago.

With no further ado, here we go:

* Jason Garrett likes to say his receivers need to run, run and then run some more. As a group they have to be in the best physical condition of any players on a team. But I wonder if the Cowboys should monitor how much work they give Miles Austin. He missed six games last year because of hamstring injuries to both legs, and the offense missed him. Given Dez Bryant’s issues, the Cowboys need Austin more than ever, so it might be wise to limit Austin some. It’s a balance Garrett has to find of getting players ready for a season while not taxing them so much that they become susceptible to injury. And while I wonder about this, I don’t believe the Cowboys are wondering about it at all.

* I wonder if this is the year defensive end Clifton Geathers gets into the mix. He has been with the Cowboys for parts of the last two seasons, playing in five games last season and garnering five tackles. At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, he is definitely a candidate for the All-Airport team. He just looks like a player. And he’s also cheaper than Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears. Coleman has a $1.9 million salary. Spears is set to make $2 million. Geathers is set to make $540,000. You can’t discount the financials in these decisions. The Cowboys jettisoned their veteran offensive linemen last year and they chose not to sign Mat McBriar over $300,000. The Cowboys are getting younger and cheaper, and if Geathers can show he can handle more of a role he could slide two veterans out of the mix.

* Last year the Cowboys hit on several veteran free agent finds during the season, from Laurent Robinson to Tony Fiammetta to Montrae Holland to Sammy Morris. I don’t have to wonder too much if they have confidence in the pro scouting department to find help again in 2012. For all of the fans wanting the Cowboys to sign a veteran wide receiver like Plaxico Burress or at least Patrick Crayton, I’d say the team is being patient when it comes to the receiver group. And remember the money. Robinson signed for the minimum salary benefit last year before blowing up as the No. 3 receiver. The Cowboys didn’t look for a veteran last year at wide receiver, and their decisions to look into Josh Gordon and Dezmon Briscoe seems to indicate they will do the same this year.

* I wonder why there is not more concern over the foot injury of nose tackle Jay Ratliff. He was not able to take part in any on-field football work during the offseason because of plantar fasciitis and he can only go through the walkthrough practices early in camp. The Cowboys don’t want Ratliff to aggravate the injury in camp, but this is something that has been problematic for at least three months. While a difficult nose tackle to block because of how active he is, he needs his feet to help with leverage. Without leverage Ratliff is just another guy. And let’s not forget that his sack total has decreased in each of the last four seasons from 7.5 to six to 3.5 to two.

* I wonder if Saalim Hakim can get into this wide receiver mix. I cannot believe I typed that after the performance Hakim put forward in the rookie minicamp after the draft, because as a receiver he showed a remarkable ability to not catch the ball. But now Hakim, who is the younger brother of Az-Zahir Hakim, the former St. Louis wideout from the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf days, is in much better shape and is catching the football. Hakim made his way on to the Cowboys’ radar with his work on special teams for Jim Fassel in the UFL. Hakim’s speed should make him a factor on special teams here, but he had an eye-popping run after catch on Monday that had one defender groan, "That (expletive) is fast." It was almost as if Hakim glided above the ground as he sped down the sideline.


All due respect to Amani Toomer, but you can’t make a rational case right now that Tony Romo is a better quarterback than Eli Manning.

Not as long as Manning has more Super Bowl rings than Romo has playoff wins.

Romo has said repeatedly in recent years that quarterbacks are ultimately judged by championships. He’s right.

But that doesn’t mean that Dan Marino should be excluded in conversations about the all-time greats, but his lack of titles can certainly be used as a tiebreaker when comparing him to his peers. As is the case in the Romo-Eli debate, even though the same logic doesn’t apply when comparing, say, DeMarcus Ware and Justin Tuck.

Just don’t make the case that Manning is far superior to Romo, who has the edge in the majority of statistical categories. It’s really a matter of inches.

Take a look at two plays in particular, a couple of crucial Romo incompletions that Manning watched from the sideline. Manning might be perceived as a choker, not praised as a champion, if Romo’s receivers executed properly on these plays.

What if Patrick Crayton doesn’t hesitate at the top of his route on a throw to the end zone late in the top-seeded Cowboys’ 2007 playoff loss to the Giants? If Crayton catches that pass – and he did have a critical third-down drop earlier in the game – Manning’s season would have ended in Texas Stadium instead of with a Super Bowl upset of the previously undefeated Patriots.

What if Miles Austin bent his route inside as much as he should have on a potential dagger deep ball against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium last season? The Cowboys would have won the NFC East, meaning the Giants would have missed the playoffs instead of making a stunning run to their second Super Bowl title in five years.

Of course, those plays didn’t go the Cowboys’ way. Romo wasn’t to blame in either case, but that doesn’t change the results.

Manning has the rings. He has to get the nod as the NFC East’s best quarterback. But a couple of plays could have completely changed the conversation.

Cowboys' Dallas Day crop looks strong

June, 24, 2012
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DeSoto’s Patrick Crayton is the biggest success story from the Cowboys’ Dallas Day workouts, which are held before each day for prospects who attended local colleges or high schools. Dallas Kimball’s Phillip Tanner is an example on the current roster of a player who caught the Cowboys’ eye on Dallas Day and kept impressing after signing as an undrafted free agent.

This year’s Dallas Day netted a pretty intriguing haul. The Cowboys signed four undrafted players from those workouts who appear to have legitimate chances to stick, whether it’s on the practice squad or 53-man roster. A look at the rookies with local roots:

[+] EnlargeLance Dunbar
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezLance Dunbar could force his way onto the Cowboys as a fourth running back and kick returner.
OLB Adrian Hamilton: He took a twisted path from Dallas Carter High to Prairie View A&M, signing with Oklahoma State, playing briefly for Texas Tech and spending some time at a community college, but Hamilton had one the most prolific pass-rushing season in SWAC history last year. His 22 sacks broke the conference record held by Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. The knack for getting to the quarterback gives Hamilton a chance to make the team.

CB Isaac Madison: The 5-foot-10, 173-pound Madison, another Carter High product, started the last three seasons at Arkansas. He performed well enough during offseason workouts to earn some reps with the first-team nickel package with Mike Jenkins and Morris Claiborne unavailable. Madison will be fighting for the fifth cornerback job during training camp and the preseason and can help his cause by proving he can contribute on special teams.

WR Cole Beasley: The son of his high school coach at Little Elm, the SMU product is the stereotypical short, quick slot receiver. Beasley won’t earn high marks on any eye tests, but coaches can’t help but notice his tendency to get open and catch the ball. The Cowboys didn’t have a pure slot receiver on the roster last season, moving Miles Austin inside in multi-receiver formations. Beasley, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at SMU, could give them another option.

RB Lance Dunbar: He’s a 5-foot-8, 191-pound scatback who broke North Texas' all-time records for rushing yards (4,224), all-purpose yards (5,375) and touchdowns (49). It will be tough for Dunbar to beat out Tanner for the third running back job, but the Cowboys kept four running backs at the beginning of last season. Dunbar, a Haltom High product, will have a chance to impress on kickoff returns.

5 Wonders: Tony Romo back shoulder throws

June, 20, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- We’ve got about five weeks to go before quarterbacks, first-year players, injured players and rookies report to Valley Ranch for workouts before the team flies to Oxnard, Calif., so there are plenty of things to wonder about.

Here is the latest installment of Five Wonders:

** I wonder if we’ll see the back-shoulder throw be a big part of the Cowboys' offense in 2012. Two years ago it certainly looked that way given the way Tony Romo was throwing them in training camp with Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton in camp. Then the season started and we didn’t really see it much before Romo suffered a season-ending collarbone injury. To me, the back shoulder throw is impossible for a cornerback to defend. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers might be the best at it in the league with his receivers and Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham might be the best quarterback-tight end combo. It takes time for the quarterback, tight ends and receivers to become comfortable in reading the defenders’ alignments for such a throw. With Dez Bryant entering his third year, Austin healthy and Witten able to push the middle of the field, Romo should be in position to make more back-shoulder throws this year. We saw hints of those throws in the OTAs and mini-camp.

** The Cowboys have five tight ends on the 90-man roster, but only Jason Witten would be considered a top blocker. John Phillips could be an overall upgrade from Martellus Bennett as the No. 2 tight end, but in-line blocking is not his strong suit. The others are James Hanna, Andrew Szczerba and newly claimed John Nalbone. Szczerba might be the best blocker. I wonder if the team’s approach to the tight end position could mean the addition of Pat McQuistan is more than just a camp filler. They will not waste Witten as a blocker because of what he means to the passing game. McQuistan served as a tight end in jumbo packages for New Orleans last year and the Saints managed to throw out of that formation as well. I also wonder if it means the team could keep two fullbacks on the 53-man roster with Lawrence Vickers and Shaun Chapas, but I think it’s more of a McQuistan thing than a fullback thing.

**The Cowboys signed Brodney Pool early in free agency, but he received only a $100,000 signing bonus to go with a $1 million base salary. He took most of the first-team reps in the organized team activities and mini-camp, but I wonder if he is a lock to make the final roster. Some inside Valley Ranch wanted Pool over another Rob Ryan guy, Abe Elam, last year, but the Cowboys went with Elam instead. In the OTAs and minicamp practices that were open to the media, Pool was hardly noticeable. Maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know. Maybe things will change when the pads come on. But we heard raves about Barry Church and Matt Johnson, one of their fourth-round picks last April, and Danny McCray is their best special teamer. Add Gerald Sensabaugh to the mix and you’re talking about five safeties, including Pool. At some point, it might be a numbers game or the team’s willingness to pay a guaranteed $1 million for a veteran once he’s on the opening week roster. And there’s this: Mana Silva, who was signed late last season, might be a name to watch when camp opens, too.

** I wonder if the Cowboys will bring in more competition for Dan Bailey. Not to take the kicker's job, mind you, but simply to keep some pressure on him. Bailey had a tremendous rookie season, making 32 of 37 field goal attempts and winning four games with late kicks. His kickoffs were better than they thought too. Jason Garrett mentioned at the close of the offseason that Bailey has added strength in 2012. The Cowboys have Delbert Alvarado on the roster, but he is also working as a punter. Bailey might be better served to have another leg in camp. It’s not that he can’t handle it. He showed last year he doesn’t mind the competition. Some kickers don’t like it. Nick Folk did not like it when the team drafted David Buehler in 2009.

** Bruce Carter earned a lot of raves before a hamstring strain kept him out of the final two days of minicamp. I wonder if people were/are jumping the gun on him. Like Pool, I just didn’t see him make plays in the passing game. I’ll give him a pass in the running game because without pads on it’s hard to evaluate just about anything. But Carter’s strength is his ability to run and cover, and I can’t remember a pass breakup during the team and seven-on-seven periods that I charted. Now, covering Witten is difficult for every linebacker in football, I get that. But, as Bill Parcells used to say, I’m not getting the anointing oils out just yet. My belief is that Dan Connor will be the “starter,” which means he will play running downs, and Carter will play passing downs, which means he will play a higher percentage of snaps in 2012.
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have youth at the wide receiver, center and running back spots.

Receivers who are on the market -- such as Patrick Crayton, Plaxico Burress or Jerheme Urban -- could make for good No. 3s.

Available veteran running backs who could be of interest include Patrick Cobbs and Cedric Benson.

The market for a center seems weak with Jason Brown and Scott Mruczkowski being the best of the bunch.

Don't expect the Cowboys to sign any one of those players any time soon.

"I don’t know at this time until we see where we are at these OTAs and minicamp and see where we are at training camp," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "I like what I see, and we’re going to get what we bargained for with our free agents and our veteran free agents in the offensive line."

The Cowboys have signed veteran players this offseason: Brandon Carr, Brodney Pool, Nate Livings, Dan Connor and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

Carr received the biggest contract, $50.1 million over five seasons. Livings and Bernadeau signed for a combined $30 million.

The center position might be an issue if Phil Costa, last year's starter, struggles, but the Cowboys are impressed with him thus far.

"I know just the initial work, and that’s questionable without pads on, (offensive line coach) Bill (Callahan) likes what Costa is showing us out there at center and that’s important to me," Jones said. "I think some of the things that we’ve done with the potential coming-on of (offensive lineman David) Arkin and the way these young guys are looking. All of that looks like that we may have found some answers there in the middle for us that when we ended the season, I wasn’t so quite sure about. So I think all of that if it continues to come together from my perspective will make me quit looking other places."
The NFL announced recently that teams can have up to 90 players on their roster heading into training camp.

With the Cowboys adding cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on Tuesday, they have 88 players on their roster and more are on the way as the team is expected to sign some players who tried out last weekend at Valley Ranch.

But the free-agency period is still ongoing and it begs a question: Should the Cowboys sign a veteran free agent?

We look at three positions that could use a veteran.

Wide receiver: The starters are Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, talented and explosive players. The No. 3 receiver is uncertain. There's a gaggle of players battling for the final three receiver spots, leading with the underachieving Kevin Ogletree, but the Cowboys drafted Danny Coale from Virginia Tech in the fifth round as a possible slot receiver. Signing a veteran could help bolster this unit, considering how Bryant and Austin battled injuries last season. Patrick Crayton comes to mind, but it's doubtful the Cowboys would go back to the talkative receiver, especially after he asked for a trade when Bryant was drafted. Jerheme Urban is another possibility but it's not known if the Cowboys like his skill set.

Running back: This position, like wide receiver, is a strength for the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones are a solid 1-2 punch. Phillip Tanner can play special teams and get some snaps as a No. 3 runner, but all three running backs were injured at some point last year. Murray didn't finish the season, needing surgery to repair a broken ankle. You can't have four running backs on the roster, yet signing someone such as Patrick Cobbs (North Texas) to mainly play special teams and become an insurance policy might be a good move. Ronnie Brown, a former first-round pick, while he might not play special teams, is someone to look at too.

Punter: Chris Jones is the favorite to win the job, but Mat McBriar, who is a free agent, is recovering from leg surgery. There's some uncertainty regarding McBriar's availability for teams, because some might want him to prove he can punt after recovering from surgery. McBriar should be ready to kick in training camp. Daniel Sepulveda (Baylor) punted with Pittsburgh last season and in eight games had a 40.6 net average. If Jones struggles and McBriar is unavailable due to health or signing with another team, getting a veteran such as Sepulveda might be worthwhile.

How to find Laurent Robinson's worth

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
11:25
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IRVING, Texas – The negotiations between the Cowboys and wide receiver Laurent Robinson figure to be interesting because determining market value will be difficult.

Robinson had a career year in 2011 with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. He and Tony Romo clicked instantly and he helped a passing game that was missing a No. 3 wide receiver when the season started after Kevin Ogletree failed to corral the opportunity.

With Miles Austin missing six games and Dez Bryant banged up at different times, the Cowboys were able to count on Robinson.

But that’s the first time Robinson has been healthy for his career and produced. His two best years prior to 2011 came in 2007 with Atlanta and 2010 with St. Louis when he combined for 781 yards on 71 catches and three touchdowns.

In his five years he has played in only 52 of 80 possible games.

Can you pay Robinson significant money when he has missed so much time? Can the Cowboys afford to not pay him considering the injury histories of Austin and Bryant?

When Patrick Crayton was the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver, he was signed to a four-year, $14 million deal. By 2010 the team had Austin, Bryant and Roy Williams, and Crayton’s $2.5 million salary became too expensive and he was traded to San Diego.

Some possible contracts to look at as barometers for Robinson: Chicago’s Earl Bennett signed a five-year deal worth $18.55 million last year. Jacksonville’s Mike Thomas is on a five-year, $19 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.

Bennett has 124 catches for 1,659 yards and six touchdowns in four seasons. Thomas has 158 catches for 1,688 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons. Robinson has 143 catches for 1,858 yards and 15 touchdowns in five seasons.

There is a framework there from which to work, but all it takes is for one team to blow that up.

Four ex-Cowboys part of Super Bowl XLVI

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
3:02
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- For the 16th straight year the Dallas Cowboys will be represented at the Super Bowl by former players.

Four ex-Cowboys will be on the sidelines Sunday when New England plays the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Defensive back Nate Jones and fullback Lousaka Polite play for the Patriots, while defensive tackle Chris Canty and wide receiver Isaiah Stanback are on the Giants.

Canty starts for the Giants, while Jones and Polite are backups for the Patriots. Stanback is on the Giants’ practice squad.

Canty was a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2005. Jones was a seventh-rounder in 2004 in the same round that produced Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves, which is a great job by the scouting department to have three keepers that late. Stanback was a fourth-round pick in 2007 but his conversion from college quarterback to wide receiver was slowed by a foot injury.

The four had some memorable moments:

Canty seemed to play his best against the Giants, which could have led to his six-year, $42 million deal he signed with New York in 2008, but his most memorable moment as a Cowboy came in 2007 when he blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota and saw safety Patrick Watkins return it for a touchdown. The Cowboys won, 24-14.

Jones’ most memorable moment came in 2007 as well when the Cowboys all-but clinched homefield advantage in the NFC. He can also be credited for hastening the Aaron Rodgers’ Era in Green Bay because he knocked Brett Favre out of the Nov. 29 meeting by hitting the quarterback’s arm on a blitz off the edge. Rodgers played well in Favre’s absence and became the Packers’ starter the next year.

Polite joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2004. I guess his most memorable moment came in 2006 when Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Tyson Thompson scored rushing touchdowns in a 45-14 win at Tennessee. Others might remember that as Vince Young’s first career start. Polite’s better moments came when he followed Bill Parcells’ & Co. to Miami.

Stanback’s moment was a 58-yard kickoff return against Seattle in 2008. Unfortunately the Cowboys did not score on that drive and he caught all of two passes before he was released before the 2009 season began.

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