NFC East: Anthony Spencer

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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for a possible replacement for Sean Lee has led them to Rolando McClain.

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders made McClain the eighth pick of the NFL draft. It never worked out for him with the Raiders for a variety of reasons, including some of his misdeeds. It never worked out for him in two short stints with the Baltimore Ravens that led to him retiring twice.

But he doesn't turn 25 until July 14.

The Cowboys are looking at a low-risk chance for a high-ceiling talent.

“He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.

McClain
If that holds up, then the Cowboys might have found the guy to man the middle linebacker spot that opened when Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May. The Cowboys mostly worked veteran Justin Durant at Lee's spot in the organized team activities and minicamp, but dabbled with rookie Anthony Hitchens and second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman at the spot.

Durant is an outside linebacker masking as a middle linebacker even if the coaches believe he can play all three linebacker positions. Holloman started two games at middle linebacker last year as a rookie out of desperation. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, has a lot to learn.

McClain comes with a better resume than any of them, but his off-field issues -- a number of arrests since being drafted -- are a concern. The fact that he retired twice is a concern, but Dye's words offer encouragement that McClain, who ended Jason Witten's preseason in 2012 with a hit in a exhibition game that led to a lacerated spleen, knows this might be his last chance.

“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”

Patience will be required. McClain has not played in a game since November 2012, after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. He has not taken part in a full offseason program. He will have to learn a new defense and a new team.

The Cowboys have taken these sorts of chances on former high draft picks before. In 2005, they signed Marc Colombo, who was the Chicago Bears' first-round pick in 2002, after he suffered a serious knee injury. In 2006, Colombo became the Cowboys' starting right tackle and held the spot through 2010.

Asking that of McClain is too much. He's on just a one-year deal and the Cowboys believe Lee will be 100 percent in 2015, but this is a chance worth taking.

And it falls in line with how the Cowboys have conducted their offseason business, spending wisely if not exorbitantly on guys such as Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye.
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."
IRVING, Texas -- Through the organized team activities, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been kept out of competitive drills as well as some individual work as he recovers from December back surgery.

Romo
With the Cowboys' minicamp starting Tuesday, Romo will continue down the same road. Romo has said recently he expects to be 100 percent within a few weeks, but that time frame comes after the Cowboys' offseason is over.

"We'll take him day-by-day like we do with all the other guys," Garrett said last week, "but I don't see it changing dramatically."

Romo has gone through walkthrough drills with the first-team offense and thrown individual routes with wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. He has not taken a snap in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills. He has also sat out of the quarterback's footwork drills as the team attempts to protect him from jarring motions as much as possible.

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Romo will not be the only Cowboy to likely be limited because of injury during the three-day minicamp. Wide receiver L'Damian Washington (shoulder), wide receiver Devin Street (quadriceps bruise), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring), linebacker DeVonte Holloman, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, defensive end Ben Gardner (groin), defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (illness), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee), wide receiver Dwayne Harris (shoulder), defensive end George Selvie (shoulder), defensive end Caesar Rayford (shoulder) have been either slowed by injury during all or part of the offseason program.

Johnson took part in just one OTA before his hamstring tightened up. Because of his history (he missed his rookie season with recurring hamstring injuries) the Cowboys have wanted to protect Johnson. He missed last season because of foot surgery.

He is hoping to take part in the minicamp in some fashion.

"I've just been making sure it's good to go," Johnson said. "I think we're being over-cautious but I feel good."

Cornerback Terrance Mitchell, one of the Cowboys' five seventh-round picks, will take part in team drills for the first time since the rookie minicamp in May. League rules prevented him from showing up before June 13 because Oregon had not graduated.
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

Cowboys offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Dallas Cowboys' offseason moves.

Best move: The Cowboys could not make big splashes in free agency and their 8-8 record kept them in the middle of the pack in the draft as well, so the best move was not one regarding personnel. It was coaching. Elevating Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator after the Cowboys finished last in the league in 2013 was their best move. With the Chicago Bears, Marinelli had a difference-making defense that could create turnovers at will. He also had Pro Bowl-quality players such as Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. He does not have that in bountiful supply in Dallas, unless Sean Lee can stay healthy or Henry Melton returns to form from injury.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellWill the Dallas Cowboys regret not re-signing DeMarcus Ware?
Riskiest move: DeMarcus Ware put up 119 sacks with the Cowboys from 2005-13, but the club believed it was time to move on after Ware had just six in 2013. A quadriceps injury forced Ware to miss the first three games of his career in 2013 and he was slowed by other maladies. The Cowboys did not make an attempt to offer Ware a reduced contract and simply cut him. Within 24 hours he was signed to a three-year deal by the Denver Broncos with $20 million guaranteed. For this 4-3 scheme to work, there must be an accomplished right defensive end. The Cowboys believed Ware’s time as a dominant pass-rusher was over but did not pick up his replacement until the second round of the draft, selecting DeMarcus Lawrence.

Most surprising move: With the 16th pick in the first round, the Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel to be Tony Romo’s eventual successor. It seemed to be a perfect marriage of the attention Jerry Jones seeks and the spotlight Johnny Football enjoys. Jones passed on Manziel, recommitting his faith in Romo, who signed a six-year, $108 million extension last season, and making a smart move in picking up Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He will be a Day 1 starter and give the Cowboys three first-round picks on their offensive line, which will help Romo and potentially help a defense if the Cowboys can control the clock.

Numbers game: The emphasis of the Cowboys’ offseason has been about the defense, but they have taken a quantity-over-quality look. They had some interest in Peppers and Jared Allen after releasing Ware, but only at a reduced rate. The Cowboys signed Melton, who is coming off an ACL injury, to a one-year deal with an option for three more years if he plays at a high level. They signed Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to low-risk deals. They kept Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, on a one-year deal. They even signed Amobi Okoye, who did not play last season due to personal medical issues, in hopes a reunion with Marinelli will rejuvenate him. The flashiest addition might be Lawrence, and it is difficult to expect rookies to hit the league running.
IRVING, Texas -- With a rookie minicamp out of the way and the organized team activities starting next week, it's time for the award-winning Five Wonders.

Away we go:
  1. Free
    When the Cowboys picked Zack Martin in the first round, the assumption was that he would (or could) move to right tackle in 2015 with Doug Free in the final year of his contract. I wonder if the Cowboys look to extend Free's contract this offseason. Free is set to make $3.5 million in 2014 as part of a re-worked deal he signed last year. The final two years of his contract void after this season, which means he will count $3.98 million against the cap if he's not a Cowboy in 2015. That's not a reason to keep him. He rebounded with a decent 2013 season and he just turned 30. The Cowboys need to be sensible with a new deal and we've spent the offseason talking about not paying age, which was part of the reason why they said goodbye to DeMarcus Ware and never really tried to keep Jason Hatcher. But tackles tend to play longer. Flozell Adams played his best after he turned 30. This isn't to predict Pro Bowl success for Free; just an example. As for Martin, it was interesting to hear Jerry Jones reference multiple times the importance of being stout in the middle of the line. Keeping Martin at guard might make sense.

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    Who's the Cowboys' best draft pick in the Jerry Jones era?

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  2. By signing Ryan Williams to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money this week, the Cowboys have opened up the competition behind DeMarco Murray. I wonder if they can keep four tailbacks. They did the last couple of years because Phillip Tanner was able to play on most of the special teams' units. Williams' injury history would seem to keep him away from special teams. Lance Dunbar covered some kicks and punts last year, but he had a difficult time staying healthy. Joseph Randle will have to work to be a special teamer. If the Cowboys don't keep a fourth tailback it would allow them to go heavier at tight end or offensive line or even carry a third quarterback, depending on what Kyle Orton decides to do this year. It would also open up a potential spot on the practice squad for a tailback as well.

  3. The Cowboys have made adding defensive linemen to the mix an offseason priority. They want to throw numbers at the position. The Cowboys want to mix the snaps around to keep players fresh. I wonder if Henry Melton or Anthony Spencer can come even close to cashing in on their playing time incentives. Both players have to get healthy first, but Melton is further along in his rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament than Spencer is in his return from microfracture surgery. Melton and Spencer can earn up to $1.5 million apiece depending on certain play-time percentages. Melton can earn $250,000 for 50 percent play time and up to $750,000 if he reaches 70 percent. He has never played more than 60 percent in a season. Spencer' play-time incentive levels are 65 percent ($250,000), 75 percent ($500,000) and 85 percent ($750,000). If he starts the year on the physically unable to perform list, then he would be lucky to hit on the lowest threshold.

  4. I wonder if Jason Garrett's decision to scale back one day of the rookie minicamp because of the number of players who were hurt or were slowed by dehydration is a sign that he will be more compromising in his practice schedule throughout the year. The Cowboys have studied how other teams go about their practices and have dealt with injuries, but the general conclusion is they are doing the right things. Too many players suffered hamstring injuries the last few years. The Cowboys installed ballet bars outside the locker room to help with stretching pre- and post-practice, but I've maintained Garrett needs to cut back on his practice time. You don't want to leave your best work at Valley Ranch during the season. The Cowboys are one of the teams that use GPS devices on players to measure how much they practice, distances traveled and other pieces of information. If the numbers indicate a player has reached a threshold, then they need to rest that guy so as to not risk it. He can call it an adjustment to the new collective bargaining agreement that has shortened the offseason conditioning program. Who knows, it might just work. And it beats the alternative.

  5. On the list of position battles, punter will rank low on the list, but I wonder if undrafted Cody Mandell can push Chris Jones this summer. Mandell averaged 47.1 yards per punt last season at Alabama with a 42.1-yard net average. He had 14 punts of more than 50 yards and 15 ended up inside the 20. He had six touchbacks. Jones will go to camp as the leader without question. He averaged 45 yards per punt and had a 39-yard net average. He had 30 punts inside the 20 and just six touchbacks. He also developed into a reliable holder for Dan Bailey, which cannot be overlooked. And another aspect gives Jones an edge: he's left-footed.
IRVING, Texas -- These are tough odds Anthony Spencer faces right now.

The Dallas Cowboys' defensive end is recovering from microfracture surgery and has a goal of playing at some point this season.

Spencer
Spencer, who underwent the procedure last year, said he hopes to return by the end of training camp. If that’s the case, Spencer most likely will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list. This news is not a surprise, given the difficultly to return from such a surgery.

Team doctors have given Spencer a timetable on when he can return. But Spencer won’t reveal it, instead he’s just focusing on his rehab.

“This injury it’s really uncommon, you rarely see guys coming back from it,” Spencer said. “So, I’m really not looking at any type of timetable. I’m just on my body schedule; where my body is, that’s where I am.”

The Cowboys have had two players, Al Johnson and Kevin Hardy, return from microfracture surgery. New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston had the procedure in 2009 and Detroit Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus got it done in 2010.

And each returned to the field from their injuries.

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Stephen Bowen underwent microfracture surgery and hopes to return this season.

“There’s guys who come back and other guys who struggle,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “It’s certainly not an impossibility. Sometimes it just takes longer than an ACL or something like that.”

Spencer's recovery had him lay in bed for 15 to 16 hours a day to immobilize the leg, all while his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Once he was able to move around, Spencer needed two crutches for four-to-five months.

Now he’s able to walk on his own, but can’t put too much pressure on his knee during the rehab process.

It’s a slow moving rehab that has had very little setbacks. Spencer has undergone four MRIs since the surgery to make sure his knee is stable.

Which it is. But for how long is the question.

“I have to listen to my body,” Spencer said. “I’ve gotten to where I’m listening to my body in rehabbing and doing the things at the pace of my body. Just try to do that and be as patient as possible. That’s one of the biggest things with the surgery (that) I’ve read (is) just being patient and I’m not pushing it pass that.”
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys entered 2014 knowing they had to drastically improve their defensive line.

A better defensive line means a better Cowboys defense.

Garrett
Garrett
"This defensive scheme has been at its best when they’ve had good defensive lines," coach Jason Garrett said. "Last year we felt the effects of the injuries we had. We were decimated up there, and it affected how we played defense all the way back through the linebackers and the secondary, and felt like we had to address it and get it right.”

The Cowboys played 20 different defensive linemen in 2013. Some of them practiced for the first time on a Wednesday and played on a Sunday. The defense never received a down from Tyrone Crawford and Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff. They received 34 snaps from Anthony Spencer. DeMarcus Ware missed the first three games of his career and had just six sacks. Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks, missed one game.

Ware was cut and has signed with the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys made no real effort to keep Hatcher, who joined the Washington Redskins.

After the draft and college free agency, the Cowboys have 17 defensive linemen on the roster, and they might cut that number down soon. Last year, they did not draft a defensive lineman or add one as an undrafted free agent. Call this a market correction, if you want.

They signed Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton in free agency. They re-signed Spencer to a one-year deal. They gave up their third-round pick to draft Demarcus Lawrence in the second round. In the seventh round, they added Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop.

“The obvious is the obvious,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We were trying to emphasize defense in terms of numbers. We think that one of the ways to mitigate some of the big challenge that we have in our defensive front is numbers. Actual numbers on the field.”

Melton
The Cowboys love what George Selvie, a training camp pickup last summer, did in 2013 (seven sacks). They think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps. They love what Nick Hayden did as a starter in 2013, but they think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps.

While the Cowboys have thrown numbers at the D-line, they have not thrown cost. Melton carries the biggest cap number at $1.734 million.

But are the Cowboys better on the line? Spencer and Melton are not guaranteed to be ready for the start of training camp; both are recovering from knee injuries. McClain and Mincey have been complementary players. Selvie has to prove he is more than a one-year wonder. Crawford is coming off a torn Achilles. Lawrence will be making a big adjustment to the NFL.

A year ago at this time, on paper, Jones believed the Cowboys were stocked to make the switch to the 4-3. Then the season happened and the Cowboys were “a team that just flat was bankrupt in the defensive line last year,” Jones said. "We’re much better than what we played with."

Now, at least the Cowboys have given defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli options.

“We certainly know that is Rod’s goal, having those players biting at each other’s heels, fighting and competing," Jones said. "Our plan is to get numbers on the field.”
IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys giving up the 47th and 78th picks in order to move up to take Demarcus Lawrence with the 34th pick, fans will forever be interested in how Trent Murphy and Spencer Long turn out for the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins took Murphy, a defensive end/outside linebacker, in the second round and Long, a guard, in the third with the picks they acquired from the Cowboys.

The Cowboys acknowledged they might have given up too much to get Lawrence, but the need for a pass rusher was too great.

It was so great that they were willing to make a deal with an NFC East foe. This was the fifth time the Cowboys have made a trade with the Redskins. The last time they made a trade this high in the draft with a division foe came in 2010 when they picked Sean Lee with the 55th pick. In 2007, they made a move into the first round to take Anthony Spencer with the Eagles' top pick.

The Cowboys were not deterred in giving a division foe more picks.

"That can cut both ways and if you have confidence in what you're doing, then you feel like you are helping yourself through your division opponent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "It depends on how you feel about the deal. Obviously you don't do it unless you think you are getting something more than you are giving up."
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IRVING, Texas -- The pick: Demarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Boise State


My take: With many people upset the Dallas Cowboys did not help their defense in the first round Thursday, they made sure they got their guy in the second round by trading up with the Washington Redskins, of all teams.

Lawrence is a pure right defensive end. He had 20 sacks in two seasons at Boise State and he had 20.5 tackles for loss last season. With the loss of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys needed a right defensive end. They just turned to another Demarcus. Lawrence has speed. He has long arms. He can get around the edge, and he should benefit greatly from the coaching of Rod Marinelli.

Before adding Lawrence the Cowboys had plenty of left defensive end types in George Selvie, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford.

Lawrence had three separate one-game suspensions, but the Cowboys met with him at Valley Ranch before the draft and were able to get a handle on him.

Love the Broncos: In 2008, the Cowboys drafted Orlando Scandrick out of Boise State in the fifth round. In 2012, they drafted Crawford in the third round out of Boise State. Now they have gone with Lawrence.

There is a chip-on-the-shoulder type attitude that most Boise State players carry and the Cowboys like that, especially in Scandrick. If there has been a complaint about the Cowboys' defense with Ware as the best player it is that it has been too nice. Lawrence will bring attitude.

What’s next: By giving up their second-round (No. 47) and third-round picks (No. 78), the Cowboys are done until Saturday unless they trade back into the third. The Cowboys have eight picks Saturday with six coming in the seventh round.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys reaffirmed their love of QB Tony Romo on Thursday night when they passed on selecting Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL draft.

In 2007, they made a very similar move.

Romo
Back then, there were questions about Romo even after he took the NFL by storm and lifted the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2006.

Was he truly a franchise quarterback? Would a new coaching staff see him the same way the previous coaching staff saw him? Would there be any aftereffects from the bobbled snap in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

The Cowboys had searched forever, it seemed, for Troy Aikman’s successor. They tried Quincy Carter. They tried baseball players, such as Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They tried veterans, such as Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

In 10 games, Romo threw for 2,903 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He went to the Pro Bowl.

He was also in the final year of his contract. Would the Cowboys make him a mega-offer with such a short track record?

Staring at the Cowboys as they were about make the 22nd pick in the '07 draft was Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Nobody expected him to be there. He was the Cowboys’ highest-rated quarterback. Forgetting what we know now, he had the stamp of approval from Charlie Weis, a coach who worked with Tom Brady. Quinn put up some strong numbers.

On the clock, the Cowboys traded out of the first round when they secured the Browns' second-round choice in 2007 and their first-rounder in 2008. Eventually they moved back into the first round in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to take Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick.

The Cowboys affirmed their love for Romo. Seven games into the 2007 season, they signed him to a six-year, $67.5 million deal that included $30 million guaranteed.

About 14 months ago, the Cowboys reaffirmed their love for Romo with a six-year, $108 million extension that included $55 million.

Like in 2007, he faces some questions in 2014. Some are football-related. He has not led the Cowboys to the playoffs since 2009. He has a 25-28 record since the beginning of the 2010 season. There are a lot of questions about his health because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year. He turned 34 last month.

But just like seven years ago, Jerry Jones backed Romo once again.

“I think that Tony has everything to do with this decision,” Jones said of Dallas' selecting OT Zack Martin over Manziel. “We have a big commitment to Tony. We feel that anything we look at at quarterback would be down the road and in the future in the development of that quarterback. If you look at the difficult dynamic, giving up this player [Martin] that really enhances what we can do on offense and what Tony can do for the future, just on a pretty quick consideration [taking Manziel] didn’t make sense. That was the driving force behind it.”
IRVING, Texas -- Hey, want in on a little secret? Come a little closer, OK? And be quiet.

You ready? Jerry Jones might not be as bad at drafting NFL players as many believe.

If we use Pro Bowl selections as a barometer, which can be dicey, then Jones ranks near the top of the league. Sometimes the Pro Bowl picks are injury replacements and were second-, third- or possibly fourth-alternates depending on whether the first-team picks were injured or playing in the Super Bowl.

That being said, since 2003, the Cowboys have drafted 12 players that earned Pro Bowl berths. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers have more with 13.

Since 2006, the Cowboys have had seven Pro Bowl selections come from their draft room. Only the 49ers (nine), Chiefs (nine), Denver Broncos (eight) and Minnesota Vikings (eight) have more.

Of the 2006-13 group all seven were one-time picks: Anthony Spencer (2012), Nick Folk (2007), Jason Hatcher (2013), DeMarco Murray (2013), Tyron Smith (2013), Dez Bryant (2013) and Mike Jenkins (2009).

Smith and Bryant have the best chance to be perennial Pro Bowlers.

The 2003-13 group consisted of five players and four made multiple Pro Bowl appearances: Terence Newman (two), Jason Witten (nine), DeMarcus Ware (seven), Marion Barber (one) and Jeremiah Ratliff (four).

Assessing a successful draft on Pro Bowls is not the best process, and the high number of Cowboys might show how top-heavy this team has been. Successful drafts are about finding starters in every round, or at least contributors over a four-year period, whether they sign second contracts with the team or not.

The Cowboys have been able to find Pro Bowlers, but Jones has not been good enough in being able to supplement those players with the bulk of their picks.

That’s a big reason why this team has missed the playoffs the past four seasons.
IRVING, Texas -- What will determine a successful draft for the Dallas Cowboys?

The need for defense is obvious, so finding two or three players to make an immediate impact would be more than beneficial.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, however, is looking at it differently.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesOwner Jerry Jones says the Cowboys won't let positional needs dictate their draft this weekend.
“I would hope we could find defensive players at the right value,” Jones said. “I would hope that we could. If we don't, that means there (was) some real value over on the offensive side of the ball and that could result in a heck of a draft. To say it another way: if you got somebody that shouldn't have been within 20 picks of you that was there and you add that value to the team -- and we have needs on the offensive side of the ball as well -- you could have a lot of success. There's no secret we've had a lot of attrition in our defensive front this year. What is obvious is if you want to start at the need, you can start right there. (But) we shouldn’t go overboard and be influenced to the point where we pass up great opportunity to have a great draft otherwise.”

The Cowboys took a sensible approach in free agency, eschewing the high-priced veterans like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers after letting DeMarcus Ware go and seeing Jason Hatcher leave. They added Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton to team-friendly, low-risk deals. They re-signed Anthony Spencer to a one-year deal. They signed quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal with no guaranteed money.

Like all teams, the Cowboys would prefer to take the best player available.

“We certainly have needs, every team has needs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s been mentioned here a number of times in this press conference that we’re going to look at the draft board and take the best players, guys that can help our football team. You target guys at certain positions, but the worst mistake you can make is over-drafting for need and leaving really, really good players on the board. We try to have discipline that way just like every team in this league does, and we’ll do that with our defensive front, all across our defense and throughout our team.”

If Zack Martin is the highest graded player, then they should take him at No. 16. Or if it’s a wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee, they should take either one. The same should hold true if it’s a quarterback.

It always sounds good to say you would take the best player available, but needs have to be filled. If grades are close, the Cowboys could lean defensively. Maybe they should lean defensively. They have 11 picks over the next three days. They will have plenty of chances after the first round to help the defense.

Most importantly, however, they need to find players that can help this year and in the future regardless of position.
IRVING, Texas -- Another lively chat Wednesday with more than 100 questions from you guys wanting to know this, that and everything about the Dallas Cowboys.

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

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In the chat we talked about:

  • The return of Anthony Spencer.
  • The chances of Johnny Manziel coming to the Cowboys.
  • The chances Kony Ealy comes to the Cowboys.
  • The Morris Claiborne "trade" talks. I put quotes around that on purpose.


  • To read the whole chat, click here.

    Let's talk about the whole 'need vs. best player' debate some more:

    Kyle from Virginia asked: With Will McClay playing a bigger role in this draft, do you see Dallas taking the best player available regardless of position more often this year or just filling their needs? I am hoping they are focusing on the long-term, not just the upcoming season.

    Here is my answer: I'm not being a wise guy here, but the answer is: Yes. We always speak in this perfect world of taking the best player available, but you have to factor in need. The key is to not make the need overwhelm the evaluation process so you're inflating a player's worth. I do believe the Cowboys look at the draft as a multi-year deal not specific to one year, but need will always play a part in the process. It just has to. You can't eliminate it.

    To elaborate, much of the draft operates in a gray area. Ideally everything is crystal clear. I'm sure in the past I've said, 'You always take the best player available.' Heck, I probably said it two weeks ago, but I'd like to add two caveats:

    You always take the best player in the first round. You always take the best player when the best player's grade is much higher than the player you are going to take.

    It's clear the Cowboys need defensive line help, though I think the signings they've had in free agency helps steer them away from reaching for a player at No. 16. If they are unable to get one of their top defensive linemen at No. 16, be it Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald or whomever, then don't reach for the next-best defensive linemen if you don't believe he is better than somebody at another position.

    That's why I've had the Cowboys taking Zack Martin in the mock drafts I've been asked about. The Cowboys look to be in no-man's land at No. 16 when it comes to the top defensive linemen. Too low for Donald and Barr. Too high for Ealy or Easley. If they trade back in the first round, then it becomes a little more palatable to take one of the lower-ranked guys.

    In 2009, the Cowboys should have drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round. They had a first-round grade on McCoy but instead of taking him they traded down to get third- and fourth-round picks from the Buffalo Bills.

    At the time the Cowboys had Marion Barber on a big-time deal and drafted Felix Jones in the first round in 2008. They also liked Tashard Choice. They probably thought they were stacking it up at the position if they took McCoy. So what? You had a chance to get a first-round player with a pick in the 50s. Do it.

    We want everything to be black and white when it comes to the draft, but it's not that easy.

    Anthony Spencer glad to be back

    April, 28, 2014
    Apr 28
    4:45
    PM ET

    IRVING, Texas -- For Anthony Spencer, the question is not if he can return from microfracture surgery on his knee, but when.

    “I’m not really thinking about a day,” said Spencer, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys on Saturday. “I’m taking it day by day and hopefully I’ll be back for training camp. I know it’s not going to be the [organized team activities] but camp is what I’m shooting for.”

    The Cowboys are scheduled to fly to Oxnard, Calif., on July 22 with their first practice on July 23.

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    Spencer played in only one game last year, recording two tackles against the Kansas City Chiefs before requiring microfracture surgery on his left knee. He started lifting weights two weeks ago and is doing some light jogging at 65 percent of his body weight on an anti-gravity treadmill.

    “It’s getting there,” Spencer said. “I’ve probably got another month or so. When I had the surgery, they said it was a six- to eight-month recovery. I’m in the five- to seven-month range now. I just need to continue to get it stronger and stronger.”

    Spencer has been rehabbing at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch facility since having surgery. He said his comfort level with the coaches and training staff played a part in his decision to re-sign with the Cowboys.

    “They know me the best,” he said. “They know when I can push it and when I need some rest.”

    If healthy, Spencer should be the team’s left defensive end in 2014. He had 12 sacks in 2012 as an outside linebacker and was in the process of making the transition to full-time defensive end last year. Considering how much time the Cowboys were in their nickel defense when they ran a 3-4 scheme, Spencer said it did not take him long to get adjusted to his hand on the ground.

    He is one of four defensive linemen the Cowboys have signed in free agency, joining Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain.

    “I think it would be pretty important [to have some playing time in training camp] just being out for a year,” Spencer said. “It takes some time to get the footwork down and your hands ready and get everything coordinated again.”

    This is the third straight year Spencer has signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys. He received the franchise tag in 2012 and ’13, earning $19.4 million. The one-year deal he signed this year could be worth as much as $3.5 million if he is on the active roster every week and hits all of his incentives. He did not receive a signing bonus and his base salary is $1.25 million.

    “The last few years I played it was probably better I had a one-year deal rather than having a long-term deal because it’s not guaranteed,” Spencer said. “In a lot of ways you’re always on a one-year deal.”

    While the one-year contract is familiar territory, he is in the unfamiliar position of being the longest-tenured defensive player with the losses of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in the offseason.

    “It is a big change. I was thinking about it today that I really don’t know too many people in here,” Spencer joked. “I’ve got to start getting to know them.”

    Spencer and the Cowboys are hoping he returns to form as a reliable run defender, solid pass-rusher and quality player.

    “I feel like I’m a rookie again with something to prove,” Spencer said. “I’m just trying to get stronger and hopefully be better than I was. That’s the goal.”

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