NFC East: dan bailey

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dan Bailey didn't want to sound as if he was giving a cliché-type answer.

The Dallas Cowboys kicker couldn't help it because this is how he thinks.

After making 30 consecutive field goals, Bailey was wide left on a 53-yard try at the end of regulation in Sunday's game against Houston.

[+] EnlargeDan Bailey
Tim Sharp/AP PhotoThe Cowboys maintain confidence in place-kicker Dan Bailey, who missed a field goal against the Texans but made the game-winning FG in overtime.
The Cowboys depend on Bailey, who has been just as important as running back DeMarco Murray during this 4-1 start to the season.

Bailey got another chance to redeem himself in overtime and made a 49-yarder to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory.

"The guy's pretty damn good," coach Jason Garrett said.

Yeah, Bailey is. He's missed just three field goals in his last 29 games.

Sunday afternoon Bailey missed what most people wearing stars on their helmets thought was automatic. Holder Chris Jones thought Bailey's 53-yard try was going to be good, likewise for cornerback Brandon Carr.

Bailey pushed it slightly left and he had to wait for another chance.

Bailey said he wasn't happy with himself after missing the kick, his first since last season in a Week 4 game at San Diego, and had to forget about it quickly because that's all you can do.

"I'm not trying to give you a cliche but honestly, you just have to put it behind you," Bailey said of his thoughts between kicks. "It makes it easier and when you have confidence in the guys in front of you, the whole operation."

In overtime, Dez Bryant made this incredible leaping catch for 37 yards to push the Cowboys into Texans' territory. Two runs by Murray and the Cowboys were set for a third-down play.

Bailey doesn't watch the proceedings late in games. He just focuses on his techniques and kicks a ball through the net while the offense drives down the field. If he follows the techniques with his steps toward the ball, twisting his hips and following through with his leg, all is good. He's not part of the discussion in terms of which hash-mark the ball should go on. Before the game, Bailey speaks with special teams coach Rich Bisaccia about which direction he's most comfortable kicking toward.

It's a narrow-minded focus that's allowed Bailey to emerge as one of the best kickers in the NFL.

After the two Murray runs, Garrett could have run another play on third down, but elected to let Bailey win the game.

Bailey knew it was third down but didn't mind because if it's bobbled snap and a few yards are lost, he's got the confidence to make the kick again from a longer distance.

"It's confidence in the whole unit," Bailey said. "During the week, we put a lot of work into it and work on doing the best that we can. We all try to take that one-for-one mentality so if you don't make one put it behind you and go and try to make the next one."

It's kinda like a baseball player who gets four at bats or a shooting guard looking for his shot on 10-to-15 touches a night.

If you miss the first shot, no big deal, wait for another chance.

"Everyone is going to miss," Tony Romo said. "Dan is the best kicker in the league and as great as he is he's going to miss at some point. But the funny part is he's lucky enough and he's going to make the second one. I think we all felt comfortable with that. Most of the time when you miss and have those situations, you lose the game. So it's a great, great feeling to be able to have your miss be there and yet still win the game. Not everyone is afforded that opportunity from quarterbacks to kickers all over the place."

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
IRVING, Texas -- With only $80,362 to spend on rookie free-agent signing bonuses, the Dallas Cowboys have a little advantage over other teams with three compensatory picks in the seventh round.

Instead of having to guarantee portions of a base salary to get around the bonus limit, the Cowboys can target their priority free agents with picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round on Saturday.

Last year the Cowboys guaranteed linebacker Brandon Magee $70,000, and he was among their final cuts, eventually joining the Cleveland Browns. Safety Jakar Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Safety Jeff Heath received $2,000 and became a starter.

Historically the Cowboys have done well in college free agency with Hamilton, Heath and Cam Lawrence earning spots on the 53-man roster at some point in 2013. In 2012, the Cowboys added Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar and Ben Bass as undrafted free agents. Leary is a starter, while Beasley and Dunbar have legitimate offensive roles.

Kicker Dan Bailey was the best undrafted free-agent signing in 2011 and signed a seven-year deal this offseason.

The Cowboys have six seventh-round selections.

“The seventh-round picks historically are throw-ins [in trades],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I don’t know if the league has caught up to what value a seventh-round pick is, in terms of the quote-unquote ‘charts’ that are out there. If you look at what a seventh-round pick can bring you, you start to say the player [in the seventh round] is more valuable than boosting the bottom of the six [round] to five picks, 10 picks up to the middle of the sixth when a lot of times that player will fall to you anyway. A lot of times you see it as thrown-ins. I see it as a great opportunity for us to take six players that can help our football team.”
IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.

Cowboys re-sign Chris Jones

March, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones has signed his exclusive rights tender of $645,000.

The move chews up $150,000 of the roughly $2 million worth of salary-cap space.

Jones averaged 45 yards per punt in his first full season with the Cowboys. He appeared in two games in 2011 as an injury replacement for Mat McBriar and four games in 2012 before a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season.

Jones had a 39.1-yard net average and had 30 of his 77 punts end up inside the opponents’ 20. Teams averaged only 9.2 yards per punt return against the Cowboys in 2013.

Earlier in the offseason the Cowboys signed kicker Dan Bailey to a seven-year extension worth $22.5 million.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

Age not a factor for Cowboys

February, 4, 2014
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Dallas CowboysAP Photo/Tim SharpThe Cowboys have a good core of veterans such as Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Doug Free, but they lack quality backups.


After a third consecutive 8-8 season, you have to say age isn't a factor with the Dallas Cowboys.

The average age for the Cowboys in 2013 was 26.1, and that two veterans who didn't finish the season in Will Allen (31) and Brian Waters (36). In 2012, the Cowboys' average age was 25.9.

Coaching and a lack of quality depth hurt the Cowboys in most cases the last two seasons. You can blame Tony Romo's late interception against Washington in the 2012 regular-season finale or Kyle Orton's pick in the 2013 finale against Philadelphia as other issues.

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But don't say the Cowboys were an old team.

If anything, the Cowboys should rebuild around some young pieces which include Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Dan Bailey and Barry Church.

Core veterans in their 30s such as Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, and other quality vets in their late 20s like Brandon Carr and Doug Free, are worth keeping around.

Finding quality backups is the key for 2014. When you have guys such as Corvey Irvin, Frank Kearse, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown as backups along the defensive line, it doesn't bode well for success.

The Cowboys have to fix their issues with finding undrafted players who can't play consistently, which was the case with safety Jeff Heath, at key backup positions.

Drafting quality players in the middle rounds should also help the Cowboys. It was something Todd Archer pointed out but the reality is age isn't and shouldn't be a factor for this team.

You can worry about Romo and his age -- 34 when 2014 regular season starts -- and health, recovering from back surgery, but the quarterback has young players to help him move the offense.

Coaching is a problem at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys currently have three -- head coach Jason Garrett, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and new play caller Scott Linehan -- who have been head coaches and play callers.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Team officials will say no.

But can these coaches, offense and defense, get the young core of this team to the next level?

If they can't, the numbers of not reaching the postseason will move to five years and counting.

From the start, Dan Bailey has had it

January, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys did not know what they had when they signed Dan Bailey as an undrafted free agent.

They did not know what they had in him with a week to go in the preseason, either. By that time the Cowboys had five kickers on the roster: David Buehler, who held the kicking job in 2010, Bailey, Shayne Graham, Kai Forbath, an undrafted free agent like Bailey but injured, and veteran Dave Rayner.

[+] EnlargeDan Bailey
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDan Bailey has made 88 of 98 field goal attempts in his three seasons.
The Cowboys missed three out of four field goal attempts in the final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins; one from Buehler and two from Rayner.

By not kicking that night, Bailey elevated himself.

About to enter his fourth season, the Cowboys rewarded Bailey last week with a seven-year, $22.5 million deal that makes him among the top 10 highest-paid kickers in the NFL. And for those believing the Cowboys made more of a mess of their salary cap with the signing, Bailey’s cap number in 2014 is less than what it would have been if they had given him the second-round tender as a restricted free agent.

“That was a huge advantage looking back at it now, to go up against guys like Shayne and they brought in Dave Rayner, guys that have been kicking in the league a while and been real successful,” Bailey said. “At the time, I was just trying to keep my head down and do my own things. I think it was invaluable to get that competition early on to nail down the job.”

It taught Bailey that every kick is a new chance. A previous make does not guarantee success. A previous miss does not guarantee failure.

Bailey has made 89 of 98 field goal attempts in his career. He has missed just two kicks in each of the last two seasons. The pressure of winning the job out of a lockout as an undrafted rookie helped prepare Bailey for end-of-game moments. His eight game-winning kicks in three seasons are a franchise record.

“I don’t think it changes too much,” Bailey said of any added pressure because of the contract. “You’re only as good as your last kick. That’s the nature of the league. You have to bring your ‘A’ game every day to practice, to the game, even off the field. You’ve got to do the right things. I don’t think it’ll have too much of an impact. I think I take pride on being mentally strong enough to put that on the back burner and focus on the task at hand.”

Bailey’s leg strength was a question when he arrived, but he had a career-high 52 touchbacks in 2013 after just 54 in his first two seasons. He also made 6 of 7 attempts from 50 yards or more after making only 5 of 9 tries in his first two years from 50 yards or more.

“A lot of it had to do with just improving my leg strength and explosiveness, that stuff I did in the offseason, but just as much as that it was just a mentality,” Bailey said. “We practice a lot of those in camp and in practice and even in the offseason. Just getting back there and kicking long field goals, it was creating more of a comfort level for myself to know those kicks do come up in games.”

For the first time in his career, Bailey will not have Chris Boniol as a kicking coach. Boniol and the Cowboys agreed to part ways in the offseason, leaving Bailey and punter Chris Jones to improve without the watchful eye of an NFL veteran.

“He was a great asset to have,” Bailey said. “He was a guy I looked up to because he’d been literally in the same shoes I’ve been in.”
MOBILE, Ala. -- Dallas Cowboys officials are working on a long-term contract with kicker Dan Bailey.

He is to become a restricted free agent this spring.

Bailey
"I'd say Bailey is restricted, so he's not all (for) practical purposes not going anywhere," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday. "But our goal is to get him signed to a long-term deal. We’re actually in pretty serious talks with him. I'm optimistic with that."

Bailey converted 93.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 2013, and made all 47 of his point-after-attempts. Of the 13 kickers who had double-digit attempts from between 40-47 yards, Bailey was the only one who was perfect, 10-of-10. He also made his last 21 field goal attempts of the season, tying a mark for the fourth-most consecutive field goals made in franchise history.

Bailey will go into the 2014 season trying to break the record of consecutive field goals made, set by former Cowboys' kicker, Chris Boniol, who made 27 straight in 1996.

It's unknown if the Cowboys are willing to make Bailey one of the highest-paid kickers in the league.

Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski has the highest average salary among NFL kickers at $3.77 million per season, followed by Chicago's Robbie Gould at $3.75 million.

Cowboys vs. new coaches in 2014

January, 16, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL's game of musical chairs involving head coaches just about over -- except for the uber-patient Cleveland Browns -- let's look at the effect the new names in new spots will have on the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys will face three teams with new head coaches in 2014: Jay Gruden with the Washington Redskins, Bill O'Brien with the Houston Texans and Ken Whisenhunt with the Tennessee Titans.

In 2013, the Cowboys went 1-4 against teams with new coaches. The lone win was the October meeting against Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, but they returned the favor in the more-important Week 17 rematch that won the NFC East.

The Cowboys also lost to Kansas City's Andy Reid, San Diego's Mike McCoy and Chicago's Marc Trestman.

Gruden and O'Brien will be head coaches for the first time in the NFL. Whisenhunt had a six-year run with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cowboys went 0-3 against Whisenhunt. Two of the losses came in overtime and the third was by a point. And they were three of the strangest losses. In 2008, they lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown in overtime. In 2010 they lost in part because David Buehler missed an extra point. In 2011 they lost in overtime in a game in which many believe Jason Garrett iced Dan Bailey at the end of regulation.

(Personal aside: I don't believe that was the case. The play clock was running down and Garrett called the timeout at the request of special-teams coaches Joe DeCamillis and Chris Boniol. Bailey's first miss of that season at San Francisco came with the operation rushed because of the play clock. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

O'Brien was the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011 when Tom Brady beat the Cowboys on a final-minute touchdown pass 20-16. The Texans have the top pick in the draft and a team that could be in line for a quick turnaround.

Gruden was the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator when Bailey won the game on a last-second field goal after Andy Dalton was limited to 206 yards passing. The Redskins folded under Mike Shanahan and have a ton of needs, but the return of a healthy and motivated Robert Griffin III could change their fortunes quickly.

The Cowboys could have six more games against teams that will lose assistant coaches in 2014.

As of Thursday, the only assistant the Cowboys have lost is Boniol, who oversaw one of the best kickers in the NFL. Maybe that will change too. Maybe.

Cowboys, Chris Boniol part ways

January, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – The first change in the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff for 2014 has happened with assistant special-teams coach Chris Boniol and the club agreeing to part ways.

Boniol’s contract was set to expire after he signed a one-year deal. He will attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and hopes to remain in the NFL.

“It’s been a great time, blessed to have been around some great people and good players,” Boniol said. “And I’m grateful for the opportunity Jason [Garrett], Stephen [Jones] and Jerry [Jones] have given me.”

Boniol joined the Cowboys in 2010 and worked with then special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis for three years. Rich Bisaccia took over as special-teams coordinator in 2013 after DeCamillis left for the Chicago Bears.

Carlos Polk, who was with the Cowboys through the season as an intern, could be made Bisaccia’s assistant. Bisaccia interviewed for the Washington Redskins head coaching vacancy and has been mentioned as a candidate for the Tennessee Titans opening.

Boniol had a three-year run as the Cowboys' kicker, winning a Super Bowl in 1995 while making 81 of 93 field goal attempts. He has coached Dan Bailey to three of the best seasons in team history for a kicker. Bailey has made 89 of 98 attempts in his career and has missed just two in each of the past two seasons.

Punter Chris Jones averaged 45 yards per punt with a 39.1-yard net average in 2013.
“They’re great guys, work their butts off, love those guys like my own,” Boniol said. “Real proud of them and what they’ve accomplished as players and people. It’s been a joy to watch them grow and mature as athletes and young men. It’s people like them that I’ll miss.”

Cowboys coaches are off this week. Last year the Cowboys made two coaching staff changes in running backs coach Skip Peete and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan two weeks after the 2012 regular season ended.
IRVING, Texas -- Now comes the fun part for the Dallas Cowboys.

With their projected salary cap of $127.6 million in 2014, they have to find a smart way to shave nearly $25 million to get under the cap. Preferably they would cut more than that in order to have room to sign players in free agency.

The task might seem daunting, but with a couple of clicks on a computer, they can get that $25 million pretty easily.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithHow to handle DeMarcus Ware's contract looms as a big decision for the Cowboys in the offseason.
The question is how much money do they want to push into the future on veterans?

“We’ll have extensive personnel meetings in regards to (the cap),” coach Jason Garrett said. “When you put that together with the financial part of it, the salary cap part of it, we think it’s really important to do the football evaluation thoroughly independent of that. And then you add that as an element. It’s an element that’s alive and well in the National Football League. Money matters in the salary-cap era we’re in right now. But I do believe the football evaluation is primary, and then you add that element into it, and then you make your best decisions for your team in regards to that player and how he fits in your team.”

The Cowboys will restructure the contracts of Tony Romo and Sean Lee. Those two moves will create about $13.4 million in salary-cap relief, while also increasing the cap numbers on those players in future years. However, when the Cowboys signed these deals, this was their only option.

In the past the Cowboys have restructured DeMarcus Ware's contract with no questions asked. He was putting together Pro Bowl seasons, and it was worth it. Now coming off a six-sack season and turning 32 in July, is it worth it to do it once more?

He is to count $16.003 million against the cap with a $12.25 million base salary. If they simply restructure his contract again, the Cowboys would gain nearly $8.6 million in cap space. But they have to factor in future cost, age and performance when making the move. Ware has said he would restructure, but clarified his “pay cut” stance after the season. If the Cowboys choose to cut Ware, they would free up $7.4 million in room.

The Ware decision looms as the Cowboys’ biggest of the offseason, especially if he does not take a pay cut. They do not have an in-house candidate to take his spot, and could gamble that he returns to form in 2014.

Brandon Carr will have a $12.217 million cap number. Restructuring his deal made sense before the season started, but might be a question now because of how he played in 2013. If they redo his deal like they did in 2013, then they are adding to his cap figures down the road, which would make it harder to release him.

The feeling is they will bite the bullet and re-work the deal, creating about $4.7 million in room.

Restructuring Jason Witten's deal will create $2.6 million in room.

If you look at Romo, Lee, Carr and Witten, that is nearly $21 million in room. The decision on Ware could create as little as $7.4 million, and as much as $8.6 million.

Wide receiver Miles Austin figures to be a June 1 casualty, which will open up $5.5 million in space, but would carry more than $5 million in dead money in 2015. Most of that money will be used to sign the draft picks.

The Cowboys have other avenues to create space (Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Kyle Orton) in varying ways.

Getting under the cap will not be an issue. Getting under the cap enough to be able to make upgrades in free agency is another story.

Teams have to overpay in free agency. Signing Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal two years ago is proof, but that was the going rate for a top cornerback on the market. It is rare to get the on-field value to match the contract in free agency.

The Cowboys would be better served to be bit players in free agency and keep their own, like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey, with longer-term contracts.

Dallas Cowboys season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
1/02/14
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Final power ranking: 17
Preseason power ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: The Dallas Cowboys did not believe they could have a worse defense than the one they fielded in 2012. They were wrong.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lost his job after the Cowboys finished the year ranked 19th in defense and allowed 400 points. The Cowboys not only switched defensive coordinators, they switched philosophies, bringing in Monte Kiffin to run a 4-3 scheme.

It never worked.

The Cowboys allowed 6,645 yards, 432 points and failed to deliver most of the time. They were hit by injuries, just as Ryan’s defense was, and poor play from big-name players such as DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Sean Lee was having a Pro Bowl-type season but hamstring and neck injuries forced him to miss most of the final seven games. Only Jason Hatcher, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church had representative seasons.

Biggest disappointment: It’s hard not to go with Ware, who had a career-low six sacks. For the first time he did not play in every game in a season, missing three games with a quadriceps strain. He also played with injuries to both elbows, a back strain and stinger. But the pick will be Miles Austin. Like Ware, he suffered through injury. He missed five games with a hamstring injury and was held without a catch in two games as he attempted to play through the strain. He finished the season with 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fewest catches he had since 2008 when he was a bit player and first time since 2007 he did not score a touchdown. The Cowboys hoped for a late-season boost when he returned but it never came.

Biggest need: The easy answer is to say upgrade the entire defense. They need help at linebacker and safety. The defensive line needs an overhaul. We talked about Ware’s status, but Hatcher, who had a career-high 11 sacks, and Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, are set to be unrestricted free agents. The Cowboys used 19 defensive linemen during the year and found solid contributions from players such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden, but optimally they play in reserve roles. The hits on the line started in April when the Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd, their fifth-ranked player, at No. 18 and traded down and continued when Tyrone Crawford tore his Achilles on the first day of camp. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in the offseason the defensive line was a strength. There is no way he can say that now.

Team MVP: By process of elimination it cannot be a defensive player because the unit was the worst in the NFL. DeMarco Murray would get votes for a second-half MVP. The contest comes down to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Romo missed the final game because of back surgery, but threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted only 10 times while throwing for 3,828 yards. Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth and finished with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. They made big plays at big moments. They had mistakes at big moments, too. As a result, they split the award.

All-NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

January, 2, 2014
1/02/14
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Teams: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

 
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had eight players on the All-NFC East team with Tony Romo being the biggest snub.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles won the vote of the four NFL Nation bloggers that cover the NFC East. Foles had a terrific season taking over for Michael Vick, finishing with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Romo also had a terrific season with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games before back surgery knocked him out of the finale.

To the victor of the NFC East go the spoils, so Foles got the nod.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Ronald Leary were named to the team. Bryant was dynamic. Witten was Witten but his opportunities were down. Smith might have had the best season of any left tackle in football. Leary’s inclusion might speak to the dearth of good offensive line play in the division. Mackenzy Bernadeau played better.

Normally a case could be made for DeMarco Murray, but not so much in a division with LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

The Cowboys had the worst ranked defense in the NFL and had two players on the division’s defensive squad. Jason Hatcher was one of the two defensive tackles after he finished with a career high 11 sacks. Sean Lee missed five games with hamstring and neck injuries but still showed he was the best middle linebacker in the division. If he can stay healthy he might be able to show he is among the best in the league.

If there is a snub on defense it would be cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He did well versus Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson this year and came up with the biggest play in the win at Washington when he took on Pierre Garcon for a third-down deflection. But he had only two interceptions and missed a few others.

Dan Bailey missed only two field goal attempts on the season and was named the division’s best kicker. There should have been little doubt here. Dwayne Harris averaged 30.6 yards per kick return with a long of 90 yards and 12.8 yards per punt return with an 86-yard TD against the Redskins. He has a great feel for the return game.

Well, the Dallas Cowboys season has ended, thanks to a 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.

With that we have our final Beat Writers Report.

Have fun.

Romo
Back surgery ended Tony Romo's season after 15 games and you can criticize him if you want. But Romo had a wonderful season, where he finished ninth in completion percentage, fifth in touchdowns and eighth in quarterback rating. He went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and should have won, but his interception at the end led to the loss. He threw four touchdowns in both wins against the New York Giants and in his 100th career start at Philadelphia threw for 317 yards, and despite two picks, earned the victory. In wild affair in Detroit the next week, where Dez Bryant was basically ignored, Romo had a quarterback rating of 102.9 and threw three touchdowns. It's easy to complain about the interceptions and the late season swoons, but the reality is Romo is a franchise quarterback without the rings. In the regular season finale, some of those Kyle Orton throws that sailed behind some receivers, including the one to Miles Austin at the end, might have been on target if No. 9 is playing. So while some fans want the Cowboys to draft a quarterback and begin the countdown on Romo's career, cherish what you have.

• According to Pro Football Focus the Cowboys had 32 drops and the biggest offenders were two of the biggest playmakers in the passing game. Bryant had 11 drops tied for fifth in the league and Jason Witten had six drops, fourth in the NFL among tight ends. Drops happen in the passing game. It's not liked but accepted in some fashion because it comes with the territory given the amount of throws attempted. However, 17 drops from Witten and Bryant is unacceptable considering their impact to the offense.

• This year fans want to rid themselves of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Last year it was right tackle Doug Free. Free compromised with a pay cut and he improved his play. With his season finished, Free handled this well at his position. The Cowboys ran 51 plays off right tackle this season and averaged 4.78 yards per attempt, which finished 10th in the league in average. It was a hard offseason for Free, who took the pay cut, withstood a challenge from Jermey Parnell in training camp for his gig and had people question whether he should remain in the starting lineup. While it was easy to say Tyron Smith was the Cowboys' best offensive linemen, Free, in my opinion, was the second-best.

Williams
Williams
• It's real easy to discuss what the Cowboys have done in the early rounds of previous NFL drafts. The middle rounds, three to five, is where the real action begins. The Cowboys drafted four players in those rounds in 2012 and third rounders wide receiver Terrance Williams (74 overall) and safety J.J. Wilcox (80th overall) started games and have bright futures. Fourth round pick, cornerback B.W. Webb (114th overall), looked overmatched. Running back Joseph Randle (fifth round, 151st overall) had a minimal impact this season. In the previous two seasons, only running back DeMarco Murray (third-round pick in 2011) has been a good selection from the middle rounds. The Cowboys, with needs for the defense, must get impact players for 2014 and 2015 if they're going to avoid further 8-8 finishes.

Notes: The Cowboys were one of 11 teams to score at least 400 points this season. The Cowboys scored 439 points, fifth-most in the league. Of the 11 teams, nine reached the postseason. … Romo was one of five quarterbacks with 30-plus touchdowns this season at 31. Romo joined Peyton Manning (55), Drew Brees (39), Andy Dalton (33) and Philip Rivers (32). … An NFL-record 863 field goals were made where kickers converted 86.5 percent of their kicks. Dan Bailey made 93.3 percent of his kicks, fourth best in the league, including his last 20 field goals. … There were 65 interception returns for touchdowns in 2013, second-most in league history. Two Cowboys were part of those totals in Brandon Carr and Sean Lee. Lee by the way, led the league with 174 interception-return yards.

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