PHILADELPHIA – LeSean McCoy's body tells him one thing. His contract may be saying something else.

There has been a lot of speculation that McCoy’s future with the Philadelphia Eagles could be in doubt because of his contract. McCoy is due to make $9.75 million in 2015, with a salary cap hit of $11.95 million. His cap number drops by $3 million in 2016.

In a conversation with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, broadcast on NBC Sports Radio, McCoy said he didn’t expect the contract to spur the Eagles to release him.

“I don’t feel like that,” McCoy told Florio. “I really don’t. The type of player that I am, the teammate, how I feel about my franchise and what I mean to them -- I’ve got a great relationship with my coaches and teammates. That’s not in my mindset that it would happen to me. But it’s a business. Anything can happen.”

The Eagles and McCoy could restructure the deal to lower the cap charge. But if there is reason to release a 26-year-old running back, that means it’s a poorly conceived contract. And the Eagles were half responsible for that.

McCoy won’t turn 27 until July. He led the NFL in rushing in 2013. His numbers were down in 2014, but that was largely due to injuries along the Eagles’ offensive line. McCoy still finished third in the NFL with 1,319 rushing yards.

“When the standards are really high,” McCoy said, “when you set the mark at a certain level, I can understand (the perception that he had a down year). I like it like that. Next year, when I do it again, they’ll be back on me.”

McCoy said he had a “little knee injury” from the season finale against the Giants. It kept him from the Pro Bowl but is not bothering him now, he said.
Florio asked how many more seasons McCoy has in him.

“I think I’ve got a good four dominant years like I’ve been playing, production-wise,” McCoy said. “But we’ll see.”

McCoy’s contract runs through 2017. It pays him $6.9 million in 2016 and $7.6 million in 2017.
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles has heard the talk. While he was working out in Philadelphia, it would have been impossible for Foles to avoid the speculation that the Eagles covet Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“I just don’t think about it,” Foles said Thursday in an appearance on "Pro Football Talk Live" on NBC Radio. “It’s definitely going to be brought up. It’s been brought to my attention many times, because that’s just part of it. You’re going to have family members see it; you’re going to be asked about it. I haven’t heard anything otherwise. I expect to be back in Philly and leading my teammates.”

Foles did the Radio Row rounds in Phoenix. He told PFT host Mike Florio that his recovery from a broken collarbone was going well.

“Feels great,” Foles said. “I’ve really been training hard. Rehab was going great in Philly. I’m just continuing to progress. I have to wait a little while to be back on the field because it’s the offseason for us. But I can’t wait to be out there and ready to go.”

That echoes what Foles said in his one news conference with the Philadelphia media after the season ended. He has made a point of stressing that he plans to remain the Eagles’ leader.

But part of the reason for the speculation about Mariota is Foles’ performance in 2014. He earned the starting job by throwing 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 2013. In eight starts in 2014, Foles threw 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

The Eagles went 6-2 in Foles’ starts, however.

“I just wasn’t executing as well,” Foles told Florio. “Each year, teams get more information on you and make it tougher and tougher. I definitely had a few more interceptions than I would like and turnovers, but it comes down to winning the games. No matter what, if you do have interceptions, you can’t let that defeat you. That’s always been my mindset.

“That’s the team’s mindset. If I throw an interception during a game – which did happen – when I come to the sideline, the defense would say, 'I have your back, I’m going to get the ball back.’ They would either stop them or get the ball back for us. We’d go back and score. That’s what team football is all about.”

Cowboys position reviews: LBs

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Under contract: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Dekoda Watson, Kyle Wilber, Cam Lawrence, Keith Smith, Will Smith
Free agents: Bruce Carter, Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, James Anderson

A look back: It started out poorly last May when Lee was lost for the season because of a knee injury. He was their best playmaker on defense and the heart of the unit. It just added a question to a defense full of questions.

Throughout the season, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus mixed and matched his guys because of injuries, but as a group the linebackers performed well.

McClain was picked up in a next-to-nothing trade with the Baltimore Ravens and finished second on the team in tackles despite missing three games. Durant was having his best season before it ended because of injury. Carter was maddening at times, but led the Cowboys with five interceptions and played better down the stretch.

Hitchens proved to be a jack of all trades, starting games at all three linebacker spots. He finished with 100 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown. When he was picked, the Cowboys hoped the fourth-rounder could be a serviceable backup to Lee and play special teams. Wilber also had some moments in spot duty as a strongside linebacker.

A look ahead: Lee will be back in 2015, which is good news, but the rest of the group is in a state of flux because of free agency.

If the Cowboys re-sign McClain, then Lee can play the weakside spot. If not, he will return to his middle linebacker spot. It will be difficult to define how much McClain is worth because this was the first time he has had success at this level. The Cowboys got lucky with him and he might realize this is a good spot for him to remain and not just go to the highest bidder in free agency.

Carter and Durant are also interesting studies. Carter has all the athletic ability in the world, but there are stretches of play where you wonder how much he likes football. Durant was lighting it up but has durability concerns. Carter turns 27 next month. Durant turns 30 in September.

Hitchens showed incredible toughness playing through a high ankle sprain late in the season that earned him points throughout the organization. Is he a full-time starter or a fill-in replacement? What’s his best spot? It might be the Will linebacker, but he has some natural middle linebacker skills, too.

A look out: If they are unable to keep their free agents – or unwilling, depending on price level – the Cowboys have to find help.

Without McClain, Carter or Durant, the starters going into the season would be Lee, Hitchens and Wilber and plenty of questions with the depth. The answers would likely be low-cost free agents, such as Durant two years ago, and the draft, such as Hitchens in 2014. They had better be able to run and rally to the ball. That's what made the group successful in 2014.

McClain was a Pro Bowl alternate. With a full offseason of work and another year in the system, his play should improve. Putting him and Lee on the field together could give the Cowboys their best 4-3 linebacker pairing since Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen.

In Eberflus, the Cowboys have a coach who can develop players and teach new pickups on the fly. He might be a coordinator of the future for another team because he knows the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
PHILADELPHIA -- The danger signs are everywhere. It will be entirely up to Chip Kelly to avoid them and make this new order work in the Philadelphia Eagles' front office.

Kelly convinced Eagles owner Jeff Lurie that he could coach the team and handle all the important duties of a general manager, as well. Lurie shoved GM Howie Roseman aside and handed control of the football operation to Kelly. The first order of business was hiring someone to serve as Kelly’s lead man on personnel.

Kelly will make the big decisions: who to draft, which free agents to go after, which current Eagles to bring back. What he needed was someone to gather and organize all the relevant information and present it in a way Kelly could quickly process and interpret.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesChip Kelly will handle all the important duties of a general manager for the Philadelphia Eagles, and the team has promoted Ed Marynowitz, 30, to serve as Kelly's lead man on personnel decisions.
If Kelly had full control of what to eat for dinner, his new hire had to write the menu every night.

By promoting Ed Marynowitz, who was already working for the team, Kelly minimized some of the risks. A more experienced executive from another team might take a while to get in line with Kelly’s vision for team-building. That can lead to misunderstandings and disagreements, which are always dangerous in such volatile relationships.

On the other hand, Kelly has been in the NFL for all of two years. Last year, he told draft-day stories about himself, making light of his own unfamiliarity with the process. Kelly said he suggested drafting Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart in the third round. Roseman, more familiar with the draft’s inner workings, assured the coach that Hart would be there in the fifth round.

He was. The Eagles took him. Hart was inactive for all 16 games of the 2014 season. He didn’t look like much of a fifth-round pick. He would have been a disastrous third-round selection.

Can Marynowitz fill that role? He has been in the NFL for all of three seasons. At 30, he is young enough to be Kelly’s son. Will he be able to tell the coach he’s about to make a mistake? Will Kelly listen? It is worrisome that the guy who did that last year was no longer able to work with Kelly.

The Eagles went through all of this back in 2001. Tom Modrak was the director of football operations when the team hired Andy Reid as head coach in 1999. After a couple years, Reid sought control of the player personnel decisions. Modrak had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave the team for another job. As a tradeoff, the Eagles were also allowed to dismiss Modrak during the same window.

The Eagles used that option to let Modrak go. They gave Reid full control of the football operation. Sound familiar? Reid hired 33-year-old Tom Heckert to be his top personnel advisor.

The arrangement worked pretty well for a while. With Reid and Heckert collaborating, the Eagles went the NFC Championship Game after the next four seasons. They got to the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.

It worked because Reid trusted Heckert and listened to him. Reid made the final decisions, but he also knew what he didn’t know. Heckert did the groundwork and Reid relied on that to make his decisions.

That explains the quote from Marynowitz that was included in the Eagles’ news release about the move.

"We intend to build a collaborative and competitive work environment with our coaches, one built upon trust and respect with a focus on winning," Marynowitz said. "Our goal as a personnel department will be to develop a detailed process to maximize each segment of the scouting calendar in order to support and execute Chip’s vision."

That is the objective. Marynowitz understands his part in the process. But nothing he does will matter much if Kelly doesn’t trust him and utilize him properly.

Kelly wanted the responsibility of running the football side of the Eagles organization. He has it. Only he can make it work.

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.


Tony Romo in the huddleAP Photo/Alex BrandonDallas is looking to avoid another letdown like the one it experienced after its 2009 season.
IRVING, Texas -- In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East, finished 11-5 and won a playoff game before losing in the divisional round to a team from the NFC North.

Wade Phillips' staff coached the Pro Bowl and everybody had a grand old time in the Fort Lauderdale sun.

The feeling then was that the Cowboys were close to contending for a Super Bowl, that they would make the jump in 2010 after Tony Romo finally got the playoff monkey off his back.

And then 2010 happened.

The Cowboys finished 6-10, Phillips was fired at the midway point and it started a four-year run without the playoffs.

Yes, Romo broke a collarbone and started only six games, but the Cowboys were 1-5 in his starts.

The jump never came and it put the Cowboys on a re-tooling process -- remember, rebuild is a taboo word at Valley Ranch -- that finally paid off in 2014.

In 2014, the Cowboys won the NFC East, finished 12-4 and won a playoff game before losing in the divisional round to a team from the NFC North.

Jason Garrett's staff coached the Pro Bowl and everybody had a grand old time in the Phoenix sun.

The feeling now is that the Cowboys will contend for a Super Bowl in 2015 and make that jump after coming within possibly an overturned Dez Bryant catch of at least making it to the NFC Championship Game.

How do the Cowboys make sure 2015 is not like 2010?

Keep Romo healthy would be a good start, but the makeup of the team is different.

"It's about building," Garrett said. "This is about building, keep building, keep bringing in the right players, keep doing things the right way and building a program. Within that you're building a football team for the 2015 season."

The 2010 Cowboys did not sign an unrestricted free agent. Since the inception of the current system, the Cowboys did not sign an unrestricted free agent in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2010. The 1993 team was so loaded it didn't need much help in winning consecutive Super Bowls. In the other five years, the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs.

Free agency is not the cure all. Teams are never a player away, but the Cowboys can make smart additions in free agency in 2015 to help grow the program.

In 2010, the Cowboys had seven starters 30 or older and three players at least 29. Four of the five starters on the offensive line -- Marc Colombo, Kyle Kosier, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode -- were older than 30. Inside linebacker Keith Brooking was 35. Cornerback Terance Newman was 32.

With players under contract for 2015, the Cowboys have just three starters more than 30 years old: Romo, Jason Witten and Jeremy Mincey. Right tackle Doug Free (31) and fullback Tyler Clutts (30) are free agents to-be and could be re-signed.

The Cowboys will welcome linebacker Sean Lee back in 2015 after he missed last season with a knee injury. He turns 29 in July. They could also bring back defensive end Anthony Spencer (31). DeMarcus Lawrence figures to be a starter in 2015. He's turns 23 in April. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens also turns 23 in June.

Linebackers Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter are free agents as well. They will be 26 and 27 when the new season starts.

Looking back at 2010 with the perspective of what happened, that Cowboys team was one that was hanging on, not building.

"I think we're a better football team right now," Romo said. "At the same point, you've got to start over. To me, you just can't try and just recreate what you had. You're going to be a different team in certain areas. Each guy has to commit himself to being a better version of himself than he was the year before. If everybody does that, you'll come back as a whole better team than you were."
By season’s end it became clear to the offensive coaches: They needed someone devoted only to the quarterbacks. They got that person Wednesday. Washington hired Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach.

Last season, offensive coordinator Sean McVay had that title in addition to his other duties. And head coach Jay Gruden once played the position and worked closely with the quarterbacks while a coordinator in Cincinnati. Both, however, found that because of the demands of their new jobs, having one person dedicated to the job would be beneficial.

Cavanaugh spent the last two seasons as the quarterbacks coach in Chicago, but the Bears’ staff was fired after the season. The Chicago quarterbacks had a strong season in 2013, as Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined for single-season team records in passing yards (4,450), touchdown passes (32) and passer rating (96.9).

Last season, however, Chicago’s quarterbacks (mostly Cutler) finished with an 87.3 rating, 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Cavanaugh also was the New York Jets’ quarterbacks coach from 2009-12. He was Baltimore’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2004, winning a Super Bowl after the 2000 season. He also won Super Bowl rings as a backup quarterback with the 1990 New York Giants and 1984 San Francisco 49ers.

The former second-round pick started 19 career games and appeared in 112. He threw for 4,332 yards and 28 touchdowns while playing for five teams.
IRVING, Texas -- Conventional wisdom holds that the Dallas Cowboys will be better defensively in 2015 mostly because it will be the second year under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

The players will know more about what he does and doesn't want. He will have a better idea about what the players can and cannot do.

But the cast of characters could look vastly different. Of the starters who were in the base defense entering the divisional round of the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers, four are set to be unrestricted free agents: George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Bruce Carter and Rolando McClain. A fifth, Brandon Carr, could be a salary-cap casualty. Two key backups, Anthony Spencer (unrestricted) and Sterling Moore (restricted), could hit the market at varying levels.

[+] EnlargeRod Marinelli
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWill the Cowboys be better defensively in Year 2 under coordinator Rod Marinelli? Or will a tougher schedule cause the defense to dip?
The Cowboys will welcome back Sean Lee from a torn ACL, and Morris Claiborne could be back as well from a torn patellar tendon. There should be growth by younger players, like DeMarcus Lawrence, as well as additions through the draft and free agency that could help absorb losses from a defense that fared better than expected.

The Cowboys finished 19th in yards allowed per game (355.1) and 15th in points allowed per game (22) in 2014.

But there is another factor to consider in how much the defense can improve: the level of opponents.

Using yards and points as the indicator, the Cowboys faced just five offenses that finished in the top half of the league in yards and six in the top half in points in 2014. While predicting success based on past results can be flawed, in 2015 the Cowboys will face 13 offenses that finished in the top half in yards and 10 that finished in the top half in points last season.

During his three-year run as coordinator with the Chicago Bears, the numbers in Marinelli’s second year slipped.

In 2010, the Bears were ninth in yards allowed per game (314.3) and fourth in points allowed per game (17.9). In 2011, they were 17th in yards (350.4) and 14th in points (21.3). In 2012, they rebounded in yards allowed (315.6, which was fifth-best) and points allowed (17.3, third-best).

In 2010, they played seven offenses that finished in the top half in yards and eight in the top half in points. In 2011, they faced 10 offenses that finished in the top half in yards and points. In 2012, there were nine offenses in the top half in yards and eight in the top half in points.

The Cowboys’ 2015 schedule features Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, New England, New Orleans and Miami out of the division. Those offenses are much better than the units the Cowboys faced in 2014 (San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville and Arizona).

The one constant, however, in a Marinelli defense has been the ability to take the ball away.

In 2010, the Bears were tied for third in turnovers forced with 35. They had 31 in 2011 (tied for fifth), and they led the NFL in takeaways in 2012 with 44.

The Cowboys were able to take it away 31 times in 2014, ranked second in the league.

“There are a lot of different ways to measure your defense and a lot of people get caught up in yards and all the different ways that people use numbers in this game, but taking the ball away impacts the game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said when the season ended. “It impacts the game like none other . . . You look at the correlation between takeaways and points scored and it’s a pretty direct correlation and has been for a long time. And points scored relates to winning.”

Redskins thoughts: Perry Fewell

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
Just a few thoughts on the Washington Redskins hiring Perry Fewell Tuesday to coach the secondary (they also hired Mike Clark to be their new strength and conditioning coach):

  • The Redskins interviewed Fewell for their head-coaching job last season, so I talked to a few people at that time about him. It was clear that few, if any, pegged him as a future head coach. Then, he didn't have that X factor that it took to be a head coach (and that was from someone who knew him).
  • As a coordinator, Fewell had mixed results: His four defenses in Buffalo ranked between 10-18 in terms of points allowed and were mostly middle of the pack when it came to yards (except for one 31st place ranking). With New York, Fewell's five defenses again had mixed success, with two top-10 finishes for total yards and three that ranked between 27-31. With points, those units ranked between 12-25. I'm not a big believer on going just off stats, but there's a good sample size here. But he's not coming here to be a coordinator.
  • As a position coach, I've heard good things from those in the game -- and it's what I heard last year, too. Fewell is described as energetic, enthusiastic and professional. I think the defense will benefit from a lot of those qualities -- and there's a definite theme to the Redskins' defensive hires thus far.
  • Whether they work out or not, I don't know. I've seen enough change and every time someone new comes on board, there's always talk about how things will be different under the new guy. And I know the secondary liked departed coach Raheem Morris, who was as energetic as they come. But he was not someone who impressed others in the same manner.
  • I've heard that Fewell was liked by his players in New York. I hear you though: The fans want someone who helps the team win. No, it doesn't matter if they're liked or not, but when you spend this much time together you don't want it to be toxic, either. Ultimately, what players really like is a guy who makes them better.
  • But does that mean Fewell is an upgrade? Don't know. But it will be a different vibe, as it will be with new coordinator Joe Barry. I think a new vibe is most definitely needed on defense. Make it more business-like.
  • One NFL assistant said Fewell is better at preparation -- he's considered more of a teacher than a planner -- than adjusting during a game. That could explain some issues as a defensive coordinator. And the word out of New York was that he'd sometimes make the defenses too complicated and perhaps overthink the game plan a bit.
  • What I remember in the research last year, and it was reiterated Tuesday, is that Fewell would listen to his players when it came to changing the scheme. What this means for him as a position coach? That flexibility always helps, but you also have to earn a level of trust before coming to him with suggestions. It's one thing if veteran linebacker Jon Beason has something to say as opposed to a player in his second or third season.
  • As for Clark, he's entering his 12th season and has worked for Chicago, Kansas City and Seattle (when it lost in Super Bowl XL).
We have spent -- and will continue to spend -- a great deal of time talking about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's contract. At $19.75 million, Manning's is by far the largest salary cap hit on the Giants' 2015 roster at this point, and they'd be wise to extend his contract beyond 2015 to get some relief from that.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Victor Cruz is a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they have some tough decisions to make on a possible salary cut.
But on a separate note, I'm curious to see whether the Giants feel the need to do anything about the second-highest cap hit on their roster -- the $8.125 million number that belongs to wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz signed his long-term deal prior to the 2013 season. He has four years left on that deal at an average salary of $7.5 million per year and an average cap hit of $9 million per year. This year's salary is a palatable $6.15 million. Next year's is a more exorbitant $7.9 million. None of the remaining salary in his deal is guaranteed.

Now, if Cruz produces the way he produced in the two years before he signed the deal -- two years in which he averaged 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns -- these numbers are no problem. However, his production dropped in 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards, 4 touchdowns and missed the final two games due to injury). And in the sixth game of the 2014 season, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and had to have major surgery that ended his season.

There is no guarantee Cruz comes all the way back from the injury, or that he's the same kind of explosive player he was before it happened. The Giants hope he makes a full recovery, and he and they are optimistic he will. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has some creative ways to use Cruz that he didn't get to show much in 2014 before the injury. The team's preference would be to have Cruz all the way back and earning his contract in their new offense for the next four years.

But this is a cold business, this NFL contract business. And with Odell Beckham Jr. having exploded onto the scene as a superstar talent and producer in Cruz's absence, the Giants may well have the leverage they need to seek a reduction in Cruz's salary over the remaining four years of the deal. And it may be in their best salary-cap interest to seek that reduction. They can point out the 12 missed games over the past two years and use Beckham's emergence to help their case and maybe shave a couple of million bucks off of that cap number this year.

Doing this would run the risk of alienating one of the team's best and favorite players. Cruz is a selfless, team-first guy who showed up in 2014 training camp after signing the deal and told the coaches he wanted to work on becoming a better downfield blocker in the run game. He's a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they may decide this isn't a road they want to travel. That contract definitely means something to him, and it may well hurt his pride if they come to him and threaten him with a release while telling him Beckham has passed him -- even if it's just a negotiating tactic.

Cutting Cruz would only save the Giants $2.425 million cap space this year, so assuming they believe he's going to make it all the way back that's not a worthwhile way to go. But given the way things have gone since Cruz signed that deal a year and a half ago, it's not crazy to at least look at making some changes to it.

Cowboys position breakdown: RBs

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Under contract: Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams
Free agents: DeMarco Murray, Tyler Clutts

A look back: In a word, Murray was phenomenal. The Cowboys wanted to be a physical team and Murray allowed that to happen. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards, setting a single-season franchise record. He also scored 13 touchdowns and opened the season with eight straight 100-yard games.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Scott BoehmDeMarco Murray rushed for an NFL-best 1,845 yards this season, nearly 500 yards better than second-place Le'Veon Bell.
He was helped by three first-round picks on the offensive line, but he also saved his best season for a contract season. And he played in every game for the first time in his career, working through a broken left hand that required surgery.

When the MVP and offensive player of the year awards are announced later this week, Murray should be in the conversation.

Because Murray was so good, the Cowboys did not give Randle or Dunbar much work. Randle, however, managed to average 6.7 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on 51 carries. He had runs of 38, 40 and 65 yards. He ran hard and his pace was different than Murray's and caught defenses off guard. Dunbar did a decent job as a third-down back. His opportunities will be lacking just because of the depth of the Cowboys' offense but he has a good feel for setting up screens.

Clutts didn't have a carry during the season and caught just one pass in the regular season. He added his first touchdown in the playoffs. Williams' comeback from injuries was a good story in training camp and he spent the year on the practice squad.

A look ahead: What happens to Murray will be the story of the Cowboys' offseason. Do the Cowboys pay him a nice reward or do they let him walk as a free agent? Depending on the day, hour, minute that answer can change.

Murray has value to the Cowboys for more than just his ability to run the ball. Finding how to come to a financial agreement with all those things considered will be difficult. It won't be impossible. The Cowboys can certainly afford Murray, Dez Bryant and make plays in free agency with their salary cap. If they don't keep Murray, it will be a decision that they don't want to overpay for a running back.

If that happens, then Randle will get a chance to prove he can be effective as a full-time back. There are those at Valley Ranch who believe he can be a 1,400-yard rusher, but they also acknowledge there is more to the position than running the ball.

Clutts could be brought back at a decent price as well.

A look out: If Murray walks, then the Cowboys would figure to be players in the running back market. While everybody wants to connect the dots between the Cowboys and Adrian Peterson, who remains under contract with the Minnesota Vikings, the cost of business with a running back will be a factor. Peterson won't come at a discount and the Cowboys would have already passed on keeping Murray because they didn't want to fork over a lot of cap space to a running back.

The draft would figure to be the more logical spot. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon looks to be a good fit for what the Cowboys want to do in the running game and with the 27th pick in the draft, they might be in a good spot to get value. There will be other runners that will gain attention between now and May as well.

Remember, Murray was a third-round pick.

The series:
IRVING, Texas -- On Sunday, ESPN and Pro Football Focus unveiled a project to determine how close each team not in Super Bowl XLIX is to playing in the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys were deemed to be the closest of the 30 teams not in the Super Bowl. PFF graded the Cowboys with four elite players, eight good players, 16 average players and just two bad players.

But close is a relative term. Thirteen of the 30 players rated by PFF are set to be either restricted or unrestricted free agents. Teams change. Opponents change. What is true today won’t be true in September when the season begins.

[+] EnlargeBryant/Murray
AP Photo/Brandon WadeRe-signing stars Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray will likely help Dallas be a contender again in 2015.
“I think more so now than ever before,” tight end Jason Witten said, “I think we have an identity in which how we play. And I think that’s something that you feel like you’re building and can build upon. Coach [Jason] Garrett did a great job of kind of enforcing that, kind of laying out that as a blueprint week in, week out since April of what’s going to allow us to have success. Having said that, you start over. No team's the same, and so you have to build that again. I think it was good for us to taste that. It was good for guys to get back there.

“But I don’t think that says next year just roll the ball out and we’re going to do it again. No, you’ve got to do it all over again. I do think we’re good at the right positions that will allow us to have a chance to be successful.”

The Cowboys should have the best offensive line in the NFL with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin leading the group. Tony Romo had his best season. Dez Bryant, who is set to be a free agent, is among the best wide receivers, as is Witten among the best tight ends.

But then there’s DeMarco Murray. Like Bryant, he is set to be a free agent but there is no guarantee he will be back. If they have to use the franchise tag, it will be on Bryant.

If Murray leaves, the dynamics of the offense are sure to change. Maybe Joseph Randle can replace Murray. Or maybe Adrian Peterson, in fact, ends up a Cowboy. Or Mark Ingram. Or maybe some rookie. Maybe doesn’t fit into an equation.

And this is where "close to the Super Bowl," talk is not necessarily realistic. Thirteen of the 30 Cowboys graded by PFF are free agents, either restricted or unrestricted.

Eight of those 13 players are on the defensive side of the ball, including the leading tackler (Rolando McClain), leading interceptor (Bruce Carter) and second-leading sacker (Henry Melton). Key contributors like Anthony Spencer, Justin Durant and Sterling Moore (restricted) could hit the market to some degree.

When Garrett’s five-year extension was announced shortly after the Cowboys' season ended, he mentioned the word "build" in his opening statement.

“I think teams make mistakes when they say, ‘OK, we’re one player away,’” Garrett said. “I just think you’re continuing to try and build a football team. If we do that, right guys, the right way, that’s what gives us our best chance.”

The quick fix in free agency is sometimes never quick or a fix because the cost is so prohibitive. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr in 2012 to a five-year, $50 million deal but he has not played to that level and entering his fourth year with the team he is looking at a pay-cut-or-be-cut scenario.

There is also the element of luck. Was it lucky that Tony Romo spun away from J.J. Watt and found Terrance Williams for a touchdown in the overtime win against the Houston Texans? Was it good fortune that the Cowboys were matched up with the dreadful AFC South?

The Cowboys saw a bit of bad luck in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers when Bryant’s catch was overturned.

“Sometimes it’s the way the ball bounces,” Frederick said. “You’re on the sideline and you drop one and it might bounce out of bounds or it might bounce back in and the other team picks it up. There really is a bit of luck in there.”

Each year is a delicate balance of skill, luck, health and chemistry mixed in with a team’s ability.

The 2014 Cowboys were close to contending for the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean the 2015 Cowboys will be close to competing for Super Bowl L.

“One of the things you learn early on in this game is if we brought back the exact same team, the exact same players, the exact same coaches and we got together on April 20 for the start of the offseason program, we have to start all over again,” Garrett said. “So I do believe that you get yourself to a point and the experiences that we’ve had up to this point are real ones and we can benefit from those experiences, actual game experiences, success and adversities and all that, so we start from that point but we have to get back to work.

“We have to put our socks back on and start from the ground floor and do it all over again. That’s an exciting thing.”
It's a headline world, and very few people seem to read beyond them, so all day Monday it was, "Did you hear Odell Beckham Jr. played the whole season with TWO tears in his hamstrings???? OH MY GOD!!!!!!" Someone even asked me on Twitter what New York Giants fans should think of Beckham "playing hurt in the Pro Bowl."


That's not what happened. None of that is what happened. And while I know my plea is likely to fall on deaf ears, I think everybody needs to relax.

One of the most important rules about interviewing professional athletes is to remember that they are not doctors. Beckham can tell the New York Post, if he likes, that he played the whole season with two tears in his hamstrings. He may even technically be correct, because any kind of muscle pull or strain is, in point of fact, a tear of the soft tissue. But all he's doing is using a different word to describe an injury about which everyone already knew. If you go out in the backyard and throw the football around with your kids and you pull your calf or your quad or your hamstring, you will go to work the next day with at least one tear in your muscle. Congrats on toughing that out.

Now, of course, Beckham's job requires him to use his hamstrings to a much more spectacular extent than you or I use them, so the fact that his preseason hamstring injury never fully healed is interesting. But what you have to remember is this: After Beckham pulled his hamstring in the first practice of training camp last summer, and after he pulled it again in a partial practice a couple of weeks later, the Giants sat Beckham out until they were completely sure he could play without risk of reinjuring that muscle. He likely could have played in Week 4 against Washington, but they waited until Week 5 against Atlanta for his debut simply because they wanted to make sure. (And because, if you remember, they only needed Larry Donnell to beat Washington.)

During the season, Beckham would occasionally discuss the hamstring. Once in a while, he would be discussing a particular play or route and say that was one where he felt he might not be able to go full speed because of his hamstring. Wisely, on these occasions, he slowed down so that he might continue playing in the rest of the game. That is the extent to which Beckham's hamstrings affected him after Week 4, and it's possible he could have stretched it out on any or all of those plays and not been affected.

Beckham was absolutely dazzling this season. His 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games are likely to be rewarded Saturday night with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Might he be even better next season if his hamstring is fully healed after an offseason's worth of rest? Sure. A full offseason program, training camp and slate of preseason games are likely to help him as well, as could the return from injury of fellow star wideout Victor Cruz.

But Beckham's accomplishments and ability require no embellishment. They are great enough on their own, and the words he chose to discuss his hamstring issues Sunday night don't mean anything in the big picture of what this young man did or can continue to do going forward.

Cowboys position breakdown: QBs

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Under contract: Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan

A look back: It’s difficult not to call 2014 Romo’s best season. He led the NFL in completion percentage. He led the NFL in quarterback rating and Total QBR. He had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBy many statistical measures, Tony Romo had the best season of his career.
And he did it coming off major back surgery and not being able to practice fully the entire season. After the second week of the season, Romo did not practice on Wednesdays during full practice weeks in order to build up strength in his legs and core.

It worked perfectly. The one time it didn’t was on Thanksgiving, a shorter week, in a 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Romo threw 34 touchdown passes and was intercepted just nine times. Three came in the first half of the season opener. He was more efficient than ever and benefitted from the belief in the running game. But as the running game slowed some late in the season, Romo’s play picked up and the Cowboys closed the regular season with four straight wins. He had 12 touchdowns and one interception. He completed 90 percent of his passes in the win against the Indianapolis Colts. He showed he didn’t need to throw for 300 yards to be successful. He did it just once all season.

And he showed again just how tough he is playing through two transverse process fractures and torn rib cartilage.

Weeden started the 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards. He was picked off twice and threw one touchdown pass. The Cardinals made a lot of quarterbacks look pedestrian during the season. Weeden had a good spring, which helped the Cowboys decide to cut Kyle Orton after the veteran skipped the offseason program, organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp. He had some good moments in the preseason and played well in relief of Romo against the Washington Redskins.

Is he a long-term answer or a stop-gap backup? The Cowboys will give him a chance to show that either way.

Dustin Vaughan made the roster as an undrafted free agent and was active for just one game. He has a big arm and showed potential in training camp and in the preseason, but his presence would not deter the Cowboys from taking a quarterback in the draft this spring.

A look ahead: For the first time since 2012, Romo will have an offseason to be able to perfect his craft. Back surgeries held him out in 2013 and ’14 and while he was able to play at a high level, he has long believed his improvement came in the spring when he tinkered with different things.

Romo turns 35 in April, but the Cowboys believe he is different than most 35-year-old quarterbacks because he didn’t play the first three years of his career. Maybe the back surgeries or hits he has taken eat up some of that clock. But this isn’t about a five-year plan with the Cowboys. There is no reason to think Romo’s about to hit a steep decline in play.

Mentally, he is at his best. Physically, he can still get it done and he has a top offensive line that is a huge benefit.

He is set to count $27.773 million against the cap, which is an astounding number but one that the Cowboys could keep him at with the kind of salary-cap shape they are in. By restructuring his deal, they would only add to how much he will count against the cap in the future.

Weeden is signed through 2015. The Cowboys will have Vaughan's rights through 2017.

A look out: Every spring we wonder if this is the year the Cowboys draft Romo’s successor. The guess now is no, they won’t. Whenever the Cowboys decide to move on from Romo or Romo moves on from the Cowboys, then they will find his successor. The thought of grooming quarterbacks these days seems quaint, like a glass of lemonade on a hot day. Teams mostly draft a guy early and play him.

They could look for a more veteran backup than Weeden, but there’s not a lot available and they still like Weeden’s arm and potential. The same goes with Vaughan.
IRVING, Texas -- According to ESPN Stats & Information, the highest salary-cap figure in the NFL since 2000 has been the $24,752,941 the Washington Redskins heaped on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in 2010.

The Dallas Cowboys could very well break that mark with quarterback Tony Romo in 2015.

Romo is set to count $27.773 million against the cap because of a $17 million base salary and a proration of $10.773 million from his signing bonus in 2013 and restructure in 2014.

At the Senior Bowl last week, Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters it is not a given the Cowboys will restructure Romo’s deal.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo will cost the Cowboys almost $28 million in salary cap space next year.
“Obviously you don’t like to mortgage your future if you can help it,” Jones said. “We started making the move toward being a younger team and going a different direction in terms of pushing money out, so we’d prefer not to do that, but at the same time every situation has ramifications and you have to make tough decisions sometimes. I don’t think there’s an exact science, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it or not do it.’”

The Cowboys don’t want to do it and they probably don’t have to do it either even when it comes to re-signing Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray to long-term deals or even putting the franchise tag (or transition tag) on either player and signing one to a long-term deal.

They can still create about $31 million in space with other moves and have enough to be viable players in free agency, re-sign their key guys and get all of their draft picks signed.

(Let’s get a misnomer out of the way: a restructure is not a re-do. A restructure is simply an accounting tool where the player still gets the same money it’s just counted differently against the cap. A re-do is a player taking less money. And Romo will not be taking less money, nor should he be asked to take less money.)

Last year the Cowboys turned $12.5 million of Romo’s $13.5 million base salary into signing bonus as part of a restructure. It helped the Cowboys get under the cap last year. They don’t need that help this March.

Romo turns 35 in April. The Cowboys have to believe he has three years left at a high level. If they can withstand such an astronomical cap figure, they should do it. Too often in the past they kept kicking the salary-cap can down the road.

The most common practice in restructuring a player’s deal is to turn the difference between his salary and the league minimum into signing bonus and prorate it five years. The Cowboys like round numbers, to a degree, in their capology and could move Romo’s base to $1 million and turn the remaining $16 million into a signing bonus.

Just like that, they create $12.8 million in space against the cap.

They also eat up $3.2 million more in cap space from 2016-2019 by doing so. Romo’s cap numbers in 2016-19 would jump to $20.835 million, $24.7 million, $25.2 million and $23.7 million.

But the cap will be going up in the future, so what’s the big deal? Sure. And Romo’s base salary in 2016 is just $8.5 million (just?). It might be better to turn the restructure trick in 2016 when you don’t have to prorate as much of the salary and don’t inflate the future cap figures too much.

But there is also this to consider when examining Romo’s $27.773 million cap figure in 2015.

The Cowboys can nibble away at that figure by restructuring it as many times as they want in the coming months, taking a bit here and there as they see fit instead of doing the maximum at the start of the league year and perhaps leaving themselves a bit more compromised in the future.

But go back to Jones words last week: The Cowboys don’t have to do it.

They should be more than willing to erase Haynesworth’s record.