Dallas Cowboys: Phil Costa

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.

Spencer, Hatcher taking visits

March, 13, 2014
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As Day 3 of the free-agency period rolls along, two of the Cowboys' free agents were still on visits Thursday afternoon.

Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher spent his second day in Oakland with officials looking at the facility and quite possibly working on a deal. The Washington Redskins were awaiting Hatcher's arrival on Thursday and the Tennessee Titans were also waiting in the wings.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Spencer
Hatcher's first visit was to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks as a possible replacement for Tony McDaniel. But McDaniel re-signed with the Seahawks, which allowed Hatcher to look for work elsewhere.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is recovering from microfracture surgery, made a visit to Washington on Thursday. The key for Spencer is proving to NFL teams he'll recover in time to start the season. Spencer played in just one game in 2013, a Week 2 loss at Kansas City, and was quite productive in that contest.

The Cowboys have expressed interest in bringing Spencer back if it makes financial sense.

Yet, Spencer's health is a major concern for teams and to finalize any contract his physical will be scrutinized.

In a similar situation, the Raiders weren't happy with the shoulder exam of Rodger Saffold and scuttled their deal with him. But Saffold was able to return to his former team, the St. Louis Rams, and sign a five-year $31.7 million deal.

Backup center Phil Costa, who declined a pay cut from the Cowboys, has already visited Detroit and New England during the free-agency period.

Cowboys free agents: Ryan Cook

February, 24, 2014
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Ryan Cook
Position: Center/guard
Free-agent type: Unrestricted
2013 salary: $1.1 million

Summary: Cook spent the season on injured reserve with a back injury after practicing just a handful of times in training camp. In 2012, he started 11 games at center after he was acquired in a trade from Miami the week before the season opener.

Why keep him: He has position flexibility, which is always a good thing for backup offensive lineman. He has experience, which is another benefit. With Phil Costa set to count $1.75 million against the cap in 2014, Cook would be a cheaper option.

Why let him go: Preferably teams would rather go younger and cheaper on a backup offensive lineman. Costa is younger, if not cheaper. He is also coming off a back surgery. Cook is something of a progress stopper. He might be solid for a handful of games, but he will not be a long-term answer on the offensive line.

Best guess: Cook will have a chance to see what the market will bear for him. The Cowboys could bring him back at a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum salary benefit. Costa might not have the same position flexibility but he is a better fit in this zone blocking scheme than Cook if something were to happen to Travis Frederick.

Increased cap only helps Cowboys a little

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Dallas Cowboys stand to benefit with the NFL’s 2014 salary cap expected to be about $130 million, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, but it won’t change their free agency plan.

The Cowboys would need to trim close to $20 million from their cap by March 11, and executive vice president Stephen Jones said the club has various paths to do the job.

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But in getting to that point, Jones made it sound like the Cowboys will perhaps choose more wisely on what contracts they restructure than they have in the past.

“I think the bigger question is what it does to your future as well in getting there,” Jones said, referring to getting under the cap.

Three players are prime candidates to get their contracts restructured. Tony Romo and Sean Lee will get their contracts done because that is how they were structured. Orlando Scandrick is the other. Those three moves would gain the Cowboys roughly $17.8 million in space.

Age is the biggest factor. Romo turns 34 in April, but the Cowboys cannot get under the cap without re-working his contract. As always, there are different roles for quarterbacks.

“Obviously we’ve got some high-priced players, and anytime you have a high-priced quarterback then you’re going to start getting pressures on your salary cap when you start paying one player a sixth of your salary cap,” Jones said.

Lee turns 28 in July. Scandrick just turned 27 this month.

The Cowboys could gain roughly $5 million in space by re-working the contract of cornerback Brandon Carr. He does not turn 28 until May, but the Cowboys have to decide if it would be worth it. Do they want to push more money out against the cap on Carr, which would make it difficult to cut him in 2015 should he struggle again in 2014.

By re-working the contract of tight end Jason Witten, the Cowboys can gain another $3 million in space, but he is entering the 12th year of his career and turns 32 in May. Is it wise to push money out in the future on him? The same case can be made for quarterback Kyle Orton.

When Jones said Cowboys will be able to do some “efficient” spending in free agency, it means the Cowboys will not be major players in the market. If a player comes to them at their price, then they could look to re-work more contracts later, but they won’t create salary-cap space for the sake of creating salary-cap space.

The Cowboys might be in a “win now” mode, but Jones knows they have to keep their eye on the future when it comes to their salary cap. And they also know spending big in free agency does not guarantee success.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
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IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. Part 2 comes on Saturday.

In this post we talk about if the Dallas Cowboys would really pick Michael Sam, Will McClay's role, drafting a quarterback early and/or a wide receiver early.

Away we go:

 

Wild-card games show Bailey's importance

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
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IRVING, Texas -- Two games on wild-card weekend were decided by field goals.

The New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 on a 32-yard kick by Shayne Graham on Saturday. Lake Highland’s Phil Dawson helped the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers with a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

Bailey
Having a reliable kicker in the NFL nowadays is a must with how close the games are each week.

The Kansas City Chiefs chose to attempt to convert a fourth-and-17 from the Indianapolis Colts 43 instead of giving Ryan Succop a chance to make a 60-yarder. Succop made all three of his attempts Saturday, but did his late-season struggles lead the Chiefs to not even think about the long kick in a dome stadium?

Although a 60-yard try might have been ridiculed, too.

The Cowboys have one of the most reliable in Dan Bailey, who has missed only four of his last 61 field goal attempts the past two seasons. A case could have been made for Bailey to make the Pro Bowl over Justin Tucker or Matt Prater, but there were other kickers with solid arguments as well for a free trip to Hawaii.

Bailey will be a restricted free agent in March, and he is in a good spot.

At the very least the Cowboys will put the second-round tender on Bailey, which would pay him $2.124 million in 2014. Because he was undrafted in 2011, they have no other option. They could opt to put the right-of-first-refusal tender on him worth $1.389 million but would not receive any compensation in return if he signed an offer sheet with another team.

What the Cowboys should do – and can do despite the salary-cap issues – is sign Bailey to a multiyear deal where they would in effect buy out his chance at unrestricted free agency. They did it a few years ago with Jermey Parnell. They did it last year with Barry Church and Phil Costa.

The Chicago Bears signed Robbie Gould to a four-year, $15 million deal that included $9 million guaranteed. Gould is older and has a Pro Bowl to his credit. He was also set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Only once before has owner and general manager Jerry Jones ponied up for a kicker. In 2006, he gave Mike Vanderjagt a three-year, $5.4 million deal that included a $2.5 million signing bonus, and Vanderjagt did not last the season.

Bailey is no Vanderjagt.

He turns 26 later this month and is an ascending player with an immense amount of respect in the locker room. Teammates voted him the special teams’ captain in 2013.

Finding a middle ground should not be a problem for a player Jason Garrett said does his job as well as anybody the Cowboys have.

Rookie report: Travis Frederick

November, 15, 2013
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With the Dallas Cowboys off this week at the bye week, we take a look at how the Cowboys draft picks have fared.

Travis Frederick

Pick: Second round (No. 31 overall)

What he’s done: Since the day Frederick arrived at Valley Ranch, he has been the starting center. Much was made of the Cowboys trade down at the time and the over-drafting of Frederick with the 31st pick, but he has the looks of a building block on the line for many years to come.

Season outlook: There have been no regrets about the move to get Frederick from inside Valley Ranch. It has not gone perfectly for Frederick, who struggled badly in Week 2 versus Dontari Poe, but he has been a stabilizing force on the interior of the offensive line.

Shotgun snaps had been an issue for years with Andre Gurode or Phil Costa snapping to Tony Romo. Despite coming from a run-oriented offense at Wisconsin, Frederick has had few poor snaps. He has a good understanding of when to offer help to his guards in pass protection and he does a good job of sorting through the fronts pre-snap.

He might be a rookie, but Bill Callahan said Frederick is playing like a 10-year veteran.

Doug Free an option as backup guard

October, 30, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – As the Dallas Cowboys wait to make a decision on the future of right guard Brian Waters, they have some options that might not require them to add an offensive lineman immediately.

Waters has a triceps injury that will likely end his season, but he is holding out hope he can return at some points and is delaying surgery.

In the meantime, the Cowboys wait, but who knows for how long.

What can they do if they don’t place Waters on injured reserve and call up David Arkin from the practice squad?

Doug Free started the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at right guard and could move inside if Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau got hurt in a game. Jermey Parnell would take over at right guard.

“That’s an option that we messed around with earlier on in the year, as you guys remember, so we’ll see,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ll figure out the reps as the week goes.”

Another possibility would be to move Travis Frederick from center to guard and insert Phil Costa at center if something happened to Bernadeau or Leary.

Garrett has not ruled Waters out for the season, but acknowledged they will have a decision to make.

“We just want to explore every option with him,” Garrett said. “He has that kind of impact on our football team. When you have a guy like that, you want to check every avenue before you make any definitive comments.”

Cowboys' roster in state of flux

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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IRVING, Texas -- At 4-4, the Dallas Cowboys have issues entering the second half of the season.

The first thing they have to do is figure out the roster.

Injuries will force the Cowboys to manipulate several spots and they won’t have a lot of time to get it right.

Brian Waters is likely done for the season because of a triceps injury. He is holding out hope for a possible return, but the Cowboys might not have time to wait. They need to bring in an offensive lineman, likely David Arkin, just to have another guard available on game day. They could go with Phil Costa at center and move Travis Frederick to guard if something happened to Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau, but they would like to keep Frederick entrenched at center.

The Cowboys are banged up at safety, as well. J.J. Wilcox’s sprained knee is feeling better, but he does not know if he can practice or play Sunday. Barry Church said he will play despite a hamstring strain suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but the Cowboys have been cautious with hamstring strains this season. Danny McCray has toe, hip and hamstring injuries. Jason Garrett called McCray a “warrior,” but he might be too compromised to help. That leaves undrafted free agents Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton as the only healthy safeties, and Heath has a hand/wrist injury he’s dealing with.

Morris Claiborne is looking at a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury, according to a source, and the Cowboys have only three healthy corners on the 53-man roster. It seems they have to make a move at cornerback and at least call up Micah Pellerin from the practice squad.

The Cowboys also have to make a roster move to add defensive end Everette Brown.

Add in the unsure status of DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps), Miles Austin (hamstring) and DeMarco Murray (knee), and the roster is in a state of flux.

Oh, and the trade deadline is today at 3 p.m. Don’t look for any moves, but the Cowboys sure wish they could have more than 53 players on their roster right now.

Cowboys turn to Mackenzy Bernadeau

October, 29, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – With Brian Waters’ season looking all but over because of a triceps injury, the Dallas Cowboys will look to Mackenzy Bernadeau once again.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent last season, Bernadeau started every game in 2012 and the first three games this season. Coach Jason Garrett said Bernadeau did a “good job” with the work Sunday against the Detroit Lions following Waters’ departure.

“Hopefully he's been positively influenced by watching Brian play and just learn from that experience as well,” Garrett said Monday before the team learned of the severity of Waters' injury. “He's played a lot of snaps for us and he's been banged up for the last couple of years and he's played a ton of football for us last year and a lot of football early for us. So hopefully he'll be ready to go and did a nice job getting his first snaps back in there.”

If the Cowboys give Waters the chance to get healthy, they might have to add a guard to the 53-man roster. They re-signed David Arkin to the practice squad on Monday after he was released over the weekend. He has not taken an offensive snap in two-plus seasons. They also have Ray Dominguez on the practice squad.

If they don’t make a move, then center Phil Costa would serve as the backup interior lineman on gameday.

Pondering the 46: Austin a luxury again?

October, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said earlier in the week that he was able to bring receiver Miles Austin to last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles almost as a luxury because of injuries elsewhere on the roster.

The Cowboys might have that option again Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

J.J. Wilcox’s injured knee, however, forced the Cowboys to call up safety Jakar Hamilton from the practice squad, which would be a way to keep Austin on the sideline.

As much as the Cowboys keep hope alive for DeMarcus Ware, I’d look for him to miss his second straight game because of a quadriceps strain. DeVonte Holloman will miss his second straight game because of a neck injury. With David Arkin cut Saturday, the Cowboys only have to de-activate Phil Costa and Darrion Weems. The Cowboys dressed Costa last week but he did not play a snap.

Tight end Andre Smith was active last week for the first time this season but played only two snaps against the Eagles. Just out of numbers, he could be active again.

The guess at the inactives: Ware, Costa, Weems, Wilcox, Holloman, Smith and Austin.

Pondering the 46: Calling all D-linemen

October, 19, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have nine defensive linemen on their 52-man roster now that Jason Vega has been called up from the practice squad and Edgar Jones on short-term injured reserve.

The hunch – and that’s all it is – is that DeMarcus Ware will dress Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but as we Ponder the 46, I think the Cowboys will protect themselves and have all of their available defensive linemen active.

The Cowboys need only six inactives this week with Jones going on short-term injured reserve on Friday and the team choosing not to fill the final spot.

Officially Ware is doubtful, but I think Ware plays even if he is limited to a third-down role.

I don’t have the same hunch that DeMarco Murray will play with his sprained medial collateral ligament. With Lance Dunbar out, that leaves the Cowboys with only two tailbacks in Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner.

Linebacker DeVonte Holloman is out with a neck injury, so that’s another inactive to count.

So in predicting the inactives for the game it is the three injured players: Dunbar, and Holloman, who have been ruled out already, Murray, who is doubtful, and two offensive linemen: Darrion Weems and David Arkin.

Kyle Bosworth shows position flex

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Kyle Bosworth had to go back to his junior or senior year at Plano West High School for the last time he played fullback in a game before his three plays there in the Dallas Cowboys’ win against the Washington Redskins.

Bosworth
A linebacker by trade, the Cowboys have had Bosworth work as a short-yardage and goal-line fullback in practice, and finally called him into action in the first half when the offense went with a jumbo look with an extra offensive tackle.

The Cowboys converted all three of his snaps into first downs.

Without a true fullback on the roster, the Cowboys went with the next closest thing in a linebacker.

“I know they want me to as versatile as a utility player as possible and it was just the next step in the process,” Bosworth said. “It was real exciting, got three plays and the first one out there I forgot corners don’t really like contact so I had to move at the last minute. It didn’t look so good, but I backed it up on the next couple of plays.”

When active, backup center Phil Costa served as the short-yardage and goal-line fullback, but he was inactive against the Redskins, so Bosworth got the call.

“He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We know that. That’s a positive thing.”

Back when Bill Parcells was coach, the Cowboys converted Oliver Hoyte from linebacker to fullback with some success, but this is more of a part-time gig for Bosworth. He does have, however, his eyes on catching a pass.

“I’ve got great hands, so I mean I know the coach throws me a lot of balls when we’re in scout team and stuff like that and I haven’t dropped one yet, knock on wood,” Bosworth joked. “Progression, you know? I hope it does come because that would just be unbelievable, but I’m good with blocking right now.”

Cowboys LB Justin Durant active

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys strongside linebacker Justin Durant is active for Sunday night's game against the Washington Redskins after missing last week’s game with a groin injury.

Durant
Durant did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and was limited on Friday, which could mean Ernie Sims takes the bulk of the snaps. Bruce Carter will return to his first-team base and nickel defense role after splitting reps in the sub package last week.

The Cowboys have seven linebackers active with Cameron Lawrence getting called up from the practice squad on Friday.

Running back Lance Dunbar, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Edgar Jones, guard David Arkin, center Phil Costa, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith are inactive.

With Costa out, linebacker Kyle Bosworth will serve as the short-yardage and goal-line fullback if the Cowboys go that route.

Pondering the 46: All 5 WRs active

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
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IRVING, Texas -- For only the second time this season the Dallas Cowboys will activate five wide receivers with Miles Austin's return from a two-game absence due to a hamstring strain.

The decision was made somewhat easier by the hamstring injury that will keep running back Lance Dunbar out of Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins, but with the evolution of the offense the Cowboys could figure to go in this direction even if all of the backs are healthy.

As we Ponder the 46 for the Redskins game, the decisions come down to health and reliability. The defensive line needs help if not numbers, but with Justin Durant questionable and Edgar Jones out, Cameron Lawrence, newly added from the practice squad, will be active.

Would the Cowboys rather carry nine defensive linemen (David Carter or Caesar Rayford) or eight offensive linemen (Phil Costa)? They got little from either of the defensive linemen against the Denver Broncos, but with Jason Hatcher battling a stinger and Jones out it might make more sense to keep a defender up over Costa.

So the inactives should be: Jones, Dunbar, Andre Smith, David Arkin, Costa, Darrion Weems and Chris Greenwood.

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