Dallas Cowboys: Sam Hurd

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

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

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

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:

Barry Church to pick up Ed Block Award

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
IRVING, Texas -- Safety Barry Church will be recognized Monday at the Ed Block Courage Award dinner as the Dallas Cowboys' winner of the annual award named after the former Baltimore Colts trainer.

Church returned to start every game in 2013 and led the Cowboys in tackles after missing 13 games in 2013 because of a torn Achilles. Church finished with 135 total tackles (107 solo) to go with five tackles for loss, one interception, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He returned the fumble 27 yards for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

The award is voted on by the players and is given to the player who exemplifies inspiration, sportsmanship and courage.

Jason Witten (2012), Tony Romo (2011), Sam Hurd (2010), Kyle Kosier and Joe DeCamillis (2009) have been the most recent winners.

Recapping the Cowboys' week

November, 16, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Coming off a 49-17 loss, it was not a dull week for the Dallas Cowboys.

A lot of the talk was about whether Jason Garrett would (or could) take the playcalling over again. A lot of the talk dealt with Monte Kiffin’s porous defense.

Here’s this week’s recap:

Jean-Jacques Taylor wants to see Garrett take the playcalling duties back.

The Cowboys have to get Dez Bryant and Jason Witten more involved.

The return of a healthy Miles Austin would be a boost to the offense. Seriously.

Monte Kiffin’s defense is not very good. He knows it has to be better.

Bryant with some good deeds on the bye week.

Gavin Escobar’s rookie season has gotten off to a slow start, but Garrett is preaching patience with the tight end.

The cautionary tale of Sam Hurd.

Sam Hurd a cautionary tale

November, 14, 2013
IRVING, Texas – I’m not going to pretend I knew Sam Hurd well.

The news of his arrest two years ago was shocking. Reading the back story on The MMQB of what ultimately led to his 15-year sentencing in federal prison on Wednesday was jaw-dropping.

[+] EnlargeSam Hurd
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSam Hurd's reputation in Valley Ranch was as an engaging, upbeat player.
Never once would I have looked at Hurd as a drug kingpin. Nobody at Valley Ranch did. Since Hurd’s arrest, so many people on staff said he would have been the last person they would have suspected to be involved in drug dealing.

Our time with the players is limited during the week. We get roughly 45 minutes a day in the locker room and most of the time we are left talking to ourselves or circling the outer ring of the locker room looking for players to interview.

The questions are mostly about football, but you try and sprinkle in other questions in casual conversations about family or other interests or people you know that they might know. You’re trying to build up a trust so that the player will believe you will be fair with them.

But you don’t really get to know them the way you would know your good friends. Five- or 10-minute conversations don’t lead to much depth. Our dealings with the players are mostly superficial. You get to know a handful of them well, but it is always on an arm’s length basis. That’s just part of the deal.

When I did talk to Hurd, he was always upbeat. He was engaging. He thanked and praised God in a lot of his answers. He was a frequent visitor to the Cowboys’ various charity endeavors, unafraid to talk to a sick child or offer a word of encouragement. During training camp, he would be one of the last players to leave the field, almost always making sure he would catch extra passes off the Jugs machine.

That he smoked marijuana with 20-25 teammates, as the story said, does not surprise me. Maybe I should be shocked. Maybe I’m too cynical.

Only eight players remain with the Cowboys from when Hurd was on the team. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is one of them.

“At the end of the day, you got to have a soft place in your heart for a guy like that with family, kids,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher said it was a sad situation. He’s right. It is sad. Hurd threw away a chance to change the circumstances of his family for generations. He will pay a price for his wrongdoing. One day he will be released from prison hopefully a changed man.

Right now Hurd is a cautionary tale for everybody.

First-round bust runs mouth about Romo

August, 13, 2013
OXNARD, Calif. – A mostly irrelevant former NFL defensive tackle found a way to get some attention.

Travis Johnson ripped Tony Romo on TV, saying a bunch of inflammatory things during a CSN Houston roundtable discussion.

“Tony Romo has not earned a dollar he’s been given in this league,” Johnson declared. He later added: “He’s a thief; he needs to be brought up on federal charges.”

Even the harshest Romo critic who has at least one rational brain cell would have to admit that the $10,000 signing bonus the Cowboys gave him when he was an undrafted rookie was one heck of an investment. And the six-year, $67 million deal that was set to expire after this season looks like a pretty good bargain when you compare Romo’s production to David Garrard’s in Jacksonville and Marc Bulger’s in St. Louis, to pick a pair of quarterbacks who signed similar extensions around the same time.

The Cowboys certainly got much better bang for their buck with Romo than the Houston Texans did with Johnson, who got $7.7 million guaranteed in his rookie contract after being selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Johnson’s totals during his Texans tenure: two sacks, zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries. He lasted four seasons in Houston, which dumped him before the final year of his rookie deal, just in case any more evidence was needed that Johnson was a big-time first-round bust.

Johnson did manage to make one more sack during his two-season stint in San Diego. Then he was out of the league when he should have been hitting his prime.

Good thing for Johnson that being an overpaid NFL player isn’t a federal crime. He might be Sam Hurd’s cellmate if that was the case.

The sad case of Sam Hurd

April, 12, 2013
It was kind of shocking to see former Cowboys wide receiver Sam Hurd in a federal courtroom in Dallas and hear him say, "I'm sorry for everything I've done."

Hurd pled guilty to trying to buy cocaine and marijuana to set up a drug-distribution network.

Hurd now faces a minimum 10-year sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine and marijuana with the intent to distribute. His arrest in December 2011 shocked many who knew him with the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears.

At the time of his arrest, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett stopped in his tracks and expressed shock. Several former teammates went silent or expressed disappointment.

But the overall consensus was this: Who really is Sam Hurd?

In 2006, the undrafted free agent from San Antonio was try to everything possible to make the Cowboys roster. He told me he wanted to do everything Terrell Owens did: Eat, drink, even work out the same way.

Hurd made amazing leaping catches in training camp practices and preseason games. For two seasons, Hurd and Miles Austin were on the bottom of the depth chart looking up at Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton and T.O.

Hurd showed flashes that he could be a productive player. His first career touchdown was a 51-yarder against the New York Giants in 2007. Eventually, Austin surpassed Hurd on the depth chart, Owens was released, Roy Williams was acquired in a trade and Dez Bryant was drafted.

Dez's arrival marked the end of Hurd's time with the Cowboys as Hurd's agent, Ian Greengross, requested a trade. He was released on July 25, 2011.

Hurd was remembered as a quiet player who talked about God and tried to stay humble. He was a likable player in the Cowboys locker room and seemed to need a fresh start.

He got just that when he was signed by the Chicago Bears. But even there, Hurd never could become what he wanted to be -- an elite NFL wide receiver.

In December 2011, Hurd's secret life moved to the forefront when he was arrested outside a Chicago-area steakhouse after allegedly accepting a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover officer. Prosecutors alleged Hurd told the officer and an informant at the steakhouse that he wanted to purchase up to 10 kilograms of cocaine a week for $25,000 per kilogram.

Somehow, Hurd's goals of becoming a solid NFL player went way off track as a new desire took over.

To see Hurd now is sad. His story shouldn't have ended this way because he had so many people rooting for his success.

But in the end, all Hurd could do is apologize for his actions, as terrible as they may be.

Jerry Jones: Cowboys knew nothing about Hurd

December, 19, 2011
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he was surprised that former wide receiver Sam Hurd was arrested on drug charges last week in Chicago.

"I really tell you there wasn't anybody, anywhere -- including our league reps or anybody they knew in law enforcement -- that had any inkling about this. Until his arrest, no one," Jones said after Saturday's victory over Tampa Bay.

"Anytime that we have any player ... that have an issue, then I worry," Jones said. "Obviously I don't know any facts, and I know the quality of person that I thought and know Sam to be."

Jones, along with every other NFL team, conducts expansive background checks on players prior to drafting or signing them as free agents.

The Cowboys have been known to take risks on players with character issues but utilize their excellent player development program to help.

"I can't tell you how thorough we are," Jones said. "Very through. Extremely thorough. And I'm satisfied that we're extremely thorough. Now I do have firsthand input, and I'm aware and know how the league [operates] and what we do as a team, and it doesn't make me think about our thoroughness."

Unlucky 13: Crazy losses for Cowboys

December, 12, 2011

IRVING, Texas -- If you regularly come back to the thought that, 'Man, the Cowboys sure come up with some inventive ways to lose games,' you're right.

Since 2005, I have come up with 13 head-scratching losses that seem to define this franchise. And that does not include the humiliating 44-6 defeat at Philadelphia to close the 2008 season, which knocked the Cowboys out of a playoff spot.

Three of those losses have come this year. Three came last year. Two each in ’09, ’08 and ’06, and the one that kicked it off came on Sept. 19, 2005 (against Washington), when the Triplets – Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith - were inducted into the Ring of Honor.

It has been quite a roller-coaster ride, but without the fun part.

Sept. 19, 2005 – Washington, 14-13.

The Cowboys lead, 13-0, with 6:01 to play, and the 65,207 in attendance, the largest crowd at Texas Stadium at the time following the 1985 renovations, was enjoying the moment. The Triplets were inducted into the Ring of Honor. The defense was dominating.

Then Santana Moss happened.

Moss caught touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards in the final 3:46, bringing to light Roy Williams’ deficiencies in coverage. The second touchdown came with 2:35 to play. Oh, by the way, the Cowboys missed the playoffs by a game that year.

Nov. 5, 2006 – Washington, 22-19

Tony Romo’s second start was about to end with a fourth-quarter drive for a game-winning field goal, but Troy Vincent blocked Mike Vanderjagt’s 35-yard try. Sean Taylor scooped up the loose ball and returned it 30 yards. Another 15 yards was added because of a Kyle Kosier facemask penalty.

With no time on the clock, Nick Novak kicked a 47-yarder to beat the Cowboys.

Jan. 6, 2007 – Seattle, 21-20

Tony Romo
AP Photo/John FroschauerTony Romo bobbled the snap for the game-winning field goal versus the Seahawks, preventing Martin Gramatica from making the 19-yard attempt.
This one was the most heartbreaking because it was in the wild-card round of the playoffs. It was also Bill Parcells’ final game as a head coach. The Cowboys maintain to this day that had they won that game, they could have gone to the Super Bowl.

Instead L.P. LaDouceur’s snap for a 19-yard field goal try slipped through Romo’s hands. Conspiracy theorists point to the slippery "K-ball" that was put in play before the snap. Others point to a Jason Witten first down that was overturned by the replay official, which negated the possibility to run the clock out or score a touchdown.

Oct. 12, 2008 – Arizona, 30-24 (OT)

The Cowboys somehow tied this game at the end of regulation on a 52-yard field goal by Nick Folk, but on the opening series of overtime, they lost Tony Romo to a broken pinky finger and punter Mat McBriar to a broken foot. On the play in which McBriar broke his foot, Sean Morey blocked his punt and Monty Beisel fell on the ball for a touchdown. The game started with a special teams touchdown (a 93-yard kick return) for the Cardinals, and ended with one.

Dec. 20, 2008 – Baltimore, 33-24

In what was a struggle for the offense for most of the game, twice the Cowboys pulled to within two points of the Ravens. Terrell Owens made the score 19-17 by scoring with 3:50 to play. Baltimore answered with a 77-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. Jason Witten cut the gap again with a TD grab with 1:36 to play. Le'Ron McClain answered with an 80-yard touchdown run.

It was not the way Jerry Jones wanted to see Texas Stadium close.

Sept. 20, 2009 – NY Giants, 33-31

Steve Smith, Mario Manningham
Tim Heitman/US PresswireMario Manningham, left, and Steve Smith, right, combined for 20 catches and 284 yards in the Cowboys Stadium opener.
If Jones didn’t want to see Texas Stadium close that way, he didn’t want to see Cowboys Stadium open this way. Felix Jones gave the Cowboys a 31-30 lead with a touchdown run with 3:40 to play.

Then Eli Manning happened.

Manning completed 7-of-9 passes for 64 yards, helping the Giants overcome a 1st-and-20 situation from their 15 and leading to a 37-yard game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes with no time left.

Oct. 4, 2009 – Denver, 17-10

The Cowboys blew a 10-0 lead when Broncos wide receiver caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton with 1:46 to play. However, Romo had the Cowboys in position to tie the game after a 53-yard completion to Sam Hurd.

At the Denver 2-yard line with nine seconds to play, Romo went to Hurd (unsuccessfully) on back-to-back plays while the wideout was defended by Pro Bowler Champ Bailey.

Cowboys Pro Bowler Jason Witten did not even run a route.

Sept. 12, 2010 – Washington, 13-7

The Cowboys dominated defensively, but were done in by Jason Garrett’s decision to call a play with four seconds left in the first half and a mile away from the Redskins’ end zone. Romo flipped the ball to Tashard Choice, who fumbled while fighting for extra yards. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall scooped up the loose ball and ran it back for a 32-yard touchdown. It was the Redskins' only touchdown of the game.

In position to win the game, Alex Barron happened.

With three seconds left, Romo hit Roy Williams for an apparent game-tying touchdown with the point-after attempt being the difference in a win. Not so fast. Barron, starting in place of an injured Marc Colombo, was called for holding Brian Orakpo on the touchdown pass, wiping out the comeback.

Nov. 25, 2010 – New Orleans, 30-27

The Cowboys were not in the playoff chase, but they were fighting under Garrett, who took over for Wade Phillips as the interim coach. They led 27-23 and were in position to salt the game away as Roy Williams raced down the field toward the Saints end zone. As he switched the ball to his left hand away from a New Orleans defender, he allowed Michael Jenkins to strip it away for the turnover.

Five plays and 89 yards later, Drew Brees hit Lance Moore with the game-winning touchdown pass.

Dec. 25, 2010 – Arizona, 27-26

Stephen McGee was shaping up as the hero, filling in for an injured Jon Kitna. He hit Miles Austin with a 37-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 to play to give the Cowboys the lead. Unfortunately David Buehler missed the PAT, giving Arizona hope.

John Skelton converted a 4th-and-15 with a 26-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald, and Jay Feely won the game with a 48-yard field goal.

Sept. 11, 2011 – NY Jets, 27-24

Mark Brunell, Nick Folk
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireNick Folk kicked the go-ahead 50-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the 2011 opener.
The Cowboys led, 24-10, two plays into the fourth quarter following a Felix Jones touchdown. They were in position to answer a Jets touchdown with at least a field goal when Romo fumbled while diving to the New York goal line for his first of two fourth-quarter turnovers.

On the Cowboys’ next series, Joe McKnight blocked McBriar’s punt and Isaiah Trufant returned it 18 yards for the tying touchdown.

Late in regulation, Romo was intercepted by Darrelle Revis on a poor throw to Dez Bryant. That was turned into a game-winning field goal by former Cowboy Nick Folk.

Dec. 4, 2011 – Arizona, 19-13 (OT)

Sensing a trend with Arizona here?

Tied at 13-13, Romo put the Cowboys in position to win the game with another Dan Bailey field goal. His 15-yard completion to Bryant had the Cowboys at the Cardinals' 31-yard line. Yet with two timeouts and roughly 25 seconds to go, the Cowboys did not stop the clock until Romo spiked the ball with seven seconds to play.

As Bailey lined up for the game-winner, Garrett called a timeout because the play clock was running out. Bailey’s second attempt fell short, and in overtime the Cowboys would never get the ball.

LaRod Stephens-Howling raced 52 yards on a short flip from Kevin Kolb for the game-winner.

Dec. 11, 2011 – NY Giants, 37-34

Bryant’s 50-yard touchdown pass gave the Cowboys a 34-22 lead with 5:41 to play. All seemed well with the world.

Then Eli Manning happened. Again.

He shredded the Dallas defense on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a Jake Ballard touchdown catch and then directed New York on a six-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a Brandon Jacobs touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion gave the Giants a three-point cushion.

During the second drive, Garrett let crucial seconds go off the clock again by failing to call a timeout until 1:00 remained.

Despite all that, two Romo-to-Miles Austin completions had the Cowboys at the New York 29-yard line with six seconds to play.

Before Bailey went in for the game-tying 47-yard try, Giants coach Tom Coughlin called a timeout, negating what turned out to be a good kick. Bailey’s second attempt wasn't close to going through the uprights.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul pushed between LaDouceur and Montrae Holland and deflected Bailey’s kick.

Roy Williams taking heat in Chicago

August, 24, 2011
ARLINGTON -- When Roy Williams played with the Cowboys, he was always under the gun. It could be the drops. It could be his route running. It could be his conditioning.

Whatever it was, Williams was always fighting for his rep with the fans and media.

He needed a fresh start, but it seems after two drops in Monday's preseason game with the Chicago Bears, things have started all over again.

Here's a story from ESPNChicago about Williams' struggles in training camp.

In other former Cowboys' receiver news, Sam Hurd is wearing a walking boot due to a sprained ankle.

Sam Hurd signs with the Chicago Bears

July, 29, 2011
SAN ANTONIO -- Wide receiver Sam Hurd has agreed to terms on a contact to play for the Chicago Bears.

The Cowboys signed Hurd as an undrafted free agent in 2006 from Northern Illinois.

Hurd, a San Antonio native, always had a goal of being a receiver, but he made his mark with the Cowboys on special teams.

A special teams captain last year, Hurd finished second on the team with 21 tackles. In 2009, Hurd led the Cowboys with 19 special teams tackles.

"I'm excited about this, no hard feelings towards Dallas," Hurd told ESPNDallas. "It's a job and it had nothing to do with the Cowboys. I would love to play for the Cowboys but I've always loved the city of Chicago and what the Bears stood for."

Hurd brings speed and experience to the Bears receiving corps. When Hurd signed with the Cowboys he was tutored on how to run routes, catch passes and be a professional from Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. In later years he learned how to get better from Roy Williams.

Still, Hurd couldn't surpass, Patrick Crayton and eventually Miles Austin on the depth chart. Last season when the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant, it was the writing on the wall for several players including Crayton, who was eventually traded to San Diego. Hurd asked for a trade as well, but it didn't happen. Kevin Ogletree's emergence also complicated things for Hurd, who couldn't get enough playing time on offense.

The Cowboys did make Hurd an offer to stay, but the Bears made a commitment to make him a wide receiver.

"I hear great things about Chicago," Hurd said. "I know Lovie is a great mind and I hear great things about Mike Martz. I'm excited and my mind and heart is open and I get a chance to play receiver. That's all I can ask for. If the other guy is better than me, hey, I'm all about team and I'm happy for that guy. But if I can compete for a spot I will do that."

Should Cowboys add veteran WR?

July, 27, 2011

SAN ANTONIO -- With Roy Williams gone, the Cowboys appear to be short in their wide receiver depth after Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

Kevin Ogletree will get a chance to be the No. 3 wide receiver. Sam Hurd could be an option to return. They took Dwayne Harris late in the draft and they have Jesse Holley, Manny Johnson, Troy Bergeron, Teddy Williams and some other guys in camp.

Should the Cowboys go out and get a No. 3 wide receiver?

The biggest question is Bryant’s health. He missed most of his rookie training camp and all of the preseason with an ankle injury. He broke his ankle at Indianapolis with four games to go. He always seemed to have some nagging injury.

To me, that would be the only reason to get a No. 3 wide out; insurance for Bryant.

But if you’re wanting the Cowboys to get a No. 3 wide out because you’re not sure about Ogletree, Hurd and so many others, then I think you’re off base.

With Austin, Bryant, Jason Witten and Felix Jones, you’re looking at roughly 285-300 receptions among them. A No. 3 wide receiver would get about 30 catches, maybe. Economically speaking, to me, it would not make much sense to go grab a veteran, like a Lance Moore, Steve Breaston or Derrick Mason, for that type of production.

And, yes, I say all this realizing it is a big gamble to rely on Bryant.

Sam Hurd an option to return now

July, 26, 2011
SAN ANTONIO -- The Cowboys' decision to part ways with Roy Williams could open the door for the return of Sam Hurd. However, there could be some competition for the veteran wide receiver.

According to a source, Hurd received interest from a few teams Tuesday in addition to the Cowboys.

Hurd is looking for a chance to earn playing time as a wide receiver after spending most of his time with the Cowboys as a No. 4 or 5 wide receiver and special teams stalwart. Had Williams returned, Hurd almost assuredly would have signed somewhere else.

With Williams out of the picture, the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver spot behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant is currently a battle between Kevin Ogletree and rookie Dwayne Harris. Hurd has 45 catches for 630 yards and two touchdowns in his career but has never had more than 19 catches in a season. He finished second on the team with 21 special teams tackles.

Hurd knows the offense and all three wide receiver spots, which could make him more attractive to the Cowboys should they not look for another wideout on the open market.

Ranking free agents Cowboys must keep

July, 21, 2011
Once the lockout is lifted, the free-agency frenzy begins. The Cowboys will need to add at least one starting safety, but the majority of their work will consist of creating cap space and re-signing their own free agents.

It isn't likely that the Cowboys will keep all of their notable free agents. We know Jerry Jones has been busy with labor negotiations, so here's a little help for the owner/GM: a list prioritizing the free agents the Cowboys need to try to keep.

LT Doug Free: Free, 27, has a strong season as the starting left tackle under his belt and couldn’t have much better leverage. The Cowboys don’t have a decent plan to replace him. First-round pick Tyron Smith has potential to be a left tackle, but it’s asking too much of a 20-year-old rookie to expect him to learn the playbook on the fly while figuring out how to play on the opposite side that he played at USC. To lock up Free to a long-term deal, the Cowboys will probably have to pay more than they want. Proven left tackles just entering their prime are hot commodities on the open market.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Jody Gomez/US PresswireFree agent DE Stephen Bowen had 1.5 sacks and 22 tackles last season for the Cowboys.
DE Stephen Bowen: Bowen, who had developed a reputation as a nice interior nickel pass-rusher, proved in the second half of last season that he can be a solid starter. The Cowboys will certainly have competition for the 27-year-old's services. The Redskins, who are more than $10 million under the salary cap, are a 3-4 team expected to make a run at Bowen.

SS Gerald Sensabaugh: When the Cowboys didn’t draft a safety, they ensured that Sensabaugh -- who had five interceptions last season after struggling for the first eight games -- would have a lot of leverage. Safety is the biggest hole on the roster. If the Cowboys don’t re-sign Sensabaugh, they’ll have to find two starting safeties in free agency. However, count on the Cowboys to be cautious about overpaying Sensabaugh, considering they regretted giving safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin lucrative deals. Sensabaugh wants a significant raise and a long-term deal after making $1.8 million last season. It’d be surprising if he agreed to a deal before testing the open market.

LG Kyle Kosier: Kosier, a good technician who makes many of the Cowboys’ line calls, has been Dallas’ most underrated lineman for years. Based purely on contributions, he would rank at least one spot higher on this list. But Montrae Holland has significant
starting experience and would be at least a decent left guard if Kosier departed.

DE Marcus Spears: He gets judged harshly around here because he’s a former first-round pick who hasn’t put up impressive numbers. However, Spears is a solid run-stuffer with high character. If the price is right, there is certainly room for him in a defensive end rotation with Igor Olshansky and (hopefully) Bowen. If the Cowboys can’t keep Bowen, Spears might become a priority.

DE Jason Hatcher: He’s had ample opportunity to earn more playing time. It hasn’t happened. He’s a decent backup but the most expendable of the Cowboys’ three unrestricted free-agent defensive ends.

WR Sam Hurd: He’s been the Cowboys’ best special-teams player over the last few years, but Hurd wants a chance to be in a receiver rotation. That’s not going to happen with the Cowboys. If Hurd signs with another team, sixth-round pick Dwayne Harris should take his spot on the roster.

Doug Free could have a lot of leverage

June, 21, 2011
One item in ESPN.com’s report about the progress in NFL labor discussions should be of particular interest to Dallas Cowboys fans.

According to sources, the collective bargaining agreement being pitched to NFL owners on Tuesday would require players to have only four years of service before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

That would affect four Dallas free agents who would have been restricted under the 2010 system: left tackle Doug Free, defensive end Stephen Bowen, defensive end Jason Hatcher and receiver/special teams captain Sam Hurd.

Free’s status would be especially concerning to the Cowboys. They put the highest restricted tender (first- and third-round picks) on Free in March, determined to keep him after the 27-year-old performed well in his first full campaign as a starter. They’ve long planned to reach a long-term deal with Free after the lockout ended.

“He’ll be our No. 1 priority when things start up,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said the week of the draft. “We want to sign Doug back.”

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones acknowledged before the draft that it would be significantly more difficult to keep Free if four-year veterans were allowed to become unrestricted free agents.

"Under one set of circumstances, we've got to sign Free," Jones said. "Under another set, we may not be able to keep him. We'll see where we are."

The Cowboys drafted USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick, selecting an offensive lineman in the first round for the first time during Jones’ 22-year ownership tenure. While Smith has the potential to play left tackle, the Cowboys drafted him to pair with Free, not replace the youngest member of the Dallas offensive line.

It could also cause the Cowboys problems if Bowen and Hatcher are unrestricted. They did not address their need for a defensive end in the draft. Marcus Spears, the starter until a midseason injury, is an unrestricted free agent. Bowen started the remainder of the season.

The Cowboys placed the second-round tender on Bowen and Hatcher, a strong sign they intended to keep both of them.

The Cowboys took a risk by not placing the franchise or transition tag on Free, who could have a lot of leverage when the lockout is lifted.

What the tender offers mean

March, 2, 2011
Several agents don't believe some of the tender contract offers NFL teams gave to players in the last few days will mean anything.

The uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement, with the deadline to get one completed on March 3 fast approaching, is raising questions.

Will players with four years experience go back to restricted free agent status or become unrestricted? What about players with five years experience?

Even the franchise tags that are placed. Will they mean anything?

So many questions.

The Cowboys, like most teams, had to make some decisions regarding their free agents and we review some of them.

Doug Free.

The Cowboys placed a first-and-third round tender on Free, meaning an opposing team would give up two draft picks for the left tackle. The Cowboys did this last year with wide receiver Miles Austin. In a mini-protest if you will, he missed the first few days of the offseason workouts and didn't sign the tender until just before the deadline.

Austin said it wasn't a protest, but the team worked out a long-term deal with him that made everybody happy. The Cowboys have held preliminary talks with Free's agent, Jimmy Sexton, about a new deal, and have until March 3 to work something out.

The tender on Free is a cheaper move for the organization. A franchise tag would give Free a $10.1 million salary instead of the $3.5 million he's going to receive in 2011.

Sam Hurd

The Cowboys didn't do anything with the wide receiver and this is a good thing. While Hurd was a strong special teams player, his request for a trade after the team drafted Dez Bryant and his inability to progress as a wide receiver meant it was time to move on. Hurd was a good locker room guy and helped the younger players understand how important special teams is. But there appears to be more upside with Kevin Ogletree than Hurd and if the team keeps Roy Williams another season, it means fewer snaps for Hurd.

Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen

The two backup defensive ends received second-round tenders giving each a salary of $1.934 million. It's a safe play for Bowen because there's a strong chance the Cowboys draft a defensive end with the ninth pick of the draft. If that's the case, Bowen can either backup the rookie or come in on some nickel packages. Hatcher has never caught on here and if anything he's insurance in the event the Cowboys don't get that defensive end.

Alan Ball

The starting free safety struggled last season. Ball received the original round tender of about $1.4 million. A team would have to give up a seventh-round pick for Ball and that appears doubtful. Ball was originally drafted as a cornerback and should return to that role where his athletic ability allows him to make more plays when covering somebody. He did get better at reacting to the ball as the season progressed, but it was too late.