NFC East: Gavin Escobar

IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna
Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
SEATTLE -- The fireworks some thought would occur in the matchup between Dez Bryant and Richard Sherman didn’t materialize Sunday.

Bryant, the talented Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, lined up against Sherman, the Seahawks' All-Pro cornerback, unofficially 48 times.

Of those snaps, 26 were running plays. Quarterback Tony Romo directed six passes toward Bryant with Sherman covering him.

He completed two, a 23-yard reception in which Sherman was penalized for tripping and a 16-yard back shoulder fade in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDez Bryant made four catches Sunday, held in check somewhat by Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Bryant finished with four catches -- one in the second half -- and Sherman was penalized twice and had zero pass breakups, but was strong in the run game as he made eight tackles.

“One of the best, arguably the best, and I had to bring my A-game today,” Bryant said of Sherman. “And I made some plays and he made some plays, but at the end of the day, we got the W.”

The Cowboys didn’t need much of Bryant to win on Sunday, however. Seattle’s game plan had him covered often by cornerback Byron Maxwell.

When Maxwell went out with an ankle sprain in the first quarter, everything changed. Seattle didn’t want to use second-year cornerback Marcus Burley on Bryant, so Sherman shifted from staying at left corner to a player who followed Bryant all over the field.

“You didn’t want to put the young guy in that situation, and that’s what you got to do sometimes in games like that,” Sherman said. “He’s a great receiver and you don’t want to give him the matchup they desire and you switch things up on him.”

Sherman played Bryant in a variety of ways, but mainly in man-to-man. There were times when Bryant tried stop-and-go routes but nothing worked on a consistent basis.

“Well, it’s interesting, because I had yet to see them move Sherman around, and so they kind of ended up having to, and I know they had the corner hurt,” Romo said. “But they tracked Dez and they hadn’t done that before. I don’t think they necessarily changed their defense, but that was a little out of character for them.”

Romo didn’t throw any passes in Bryant’s direction with Sherman lined up on him on first-and-goal at the 5 late in the first quarter.

Romo directed two passes at tight end Gavin Escobar and the Cowboys ran with DeMarco Murray. Maxwell almost picked off a Romo pass at the goal line. Romo went back to Escobar on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown pass, the Cowboys’ first score of the game.

The Cowboys' big plays on offense came from second-year receiver Terrance Williams (two receptions, 70 yards) and, of course, Murray, who rushed for 115 yards.

Bryant was a good decoy at times, but for all the hype about this special matchup, nothing magical happened, just mutual respect between elite players.

“I knew me and Sherman would be going against each other a lot,” Bryant said. “Like I said, I knew I had to bring my A-game. I feel like I could have done a lot better job, [but] we got the W, so that’s all that matters.”
IRVING, Texas -- Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar has become a forgotten man in the Dallas Cowboys' run-oriented offense the first five weeks of the season. While running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with his torrid pace, Escobar, a pass-catching tight end, sits.

Escobar
Escobar, a 2013 second-round pick, played just four snaps in last week's victory over the Houston Texans, the second fewest of his career.

"I guess it's tough to be patient," Escobar said. "You got to take advantage of your opportunities when your name is called, and that’s what I’m trying to do."

Escobar said he was surprised by the lack of playing time this season, but it's attributed to several things: Jason Witten is the starter and an elite tight end, Murray has had success on the ground and Escobar has struggled as a run blocker.

Tight end James Hanna gets more playing time than Escobar because he's a better blocker.

"We have a lot of plays and packages for him to get out there," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Escobar. "Sometimes you get a chance to call those things. Other times you are doing different things to try to win the games. So he's ready. He is getting better. He is healthier than he has been. He did a good job fighting through his injury. Hopefully he will get some chances as we go here."

Escobar was dealing with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder and a sprained MCL in his left knee that slowed his development. But now he's healthy and continues to wait for his chance.

"There are some things we think he does better than James Hanna," Garrett said. "There are some things James Hanna does better than he does. We try to give those guys opportunities to do what they do best when they are in those two-tight-end packages. We have done some three-tight-end stuff up to this point. He is a good player and he is getting better. And he is working hard at it. He will get opportunities as we go forward."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 4 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone.

Claiborne
First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.

It was the first time since he arrived that we’ve seen that type of feistiness from Claiborne.

Hey, whatever it takes. He’s been the epitome of a bust his first two seasons, allowing 70 completions in 117 attempts with only two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

For a guy who was supposed to be the best defensive player in the 2012 draft that’s not nearly good enough.

Jason Garrett said he’s improved significantly during the offseason. It’s time for him to take it to the field.

Better secondary play is the fastest way for this defense to improve, since their pass rush remains suspect.

Smith
2) The Cowboys are moving closer to a long-term agreement with left tackle Tyron Smith, who’s going to deserve every nickel of whatever he gets.

Smith is man-handling the defensive ends on this roster, the way DeMarcus Ware used to destroy tackles, including Smith, during training camp.

Smith is only 23, so don’t be surprised if he signs a deal that’s nine or 10 years long. When he does, it’ll be interesting to see if Dez Bryant can continue to ignore his contract situation and play well.

After all, the club has already taken care of Sean Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Bryant was the Cowboys’ first-round pick.

3) Kyle Wilber spent his first two seasons bouncing around between outside linebacker in the 3-4 and weakside defensive end.

Injuries last season created some playing time for him at strongside linebacker and the Cowboys suddenly found a player.

Wilber has the strength to hold the edge and consistently force running plays inside, in part because of the time he spent at defensive end, and he made several important plays for the Cowboys last season.

He finished the season with 44 tackles and two sacks, while starting six games.

34

The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer.

Their sack total was 10 fewer than the average 2013 playoff team.

Teams that don’t get many sacks often say they’re overrated. Well, they’re not. Pressure is good, but sacks are a momentum-changer and usually result in a punt at the end of the drive.

You must rush the passer and put quarterbacks under duress, or it’s hard to force turnovers and win games.

The Cowboys are counting on defensive Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games with a torn ACL, to provide pressure up the middle. He has been a terrific pass-rusher, and they need him to command double teams to help other players get to the quarterback.

Player to Watch: Gavin Escobar

The Cowboys wasted Escobar’s rookie season. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

It’s dumb to ask a tight end who should excel at working from the slot and creating mismatches with his size to be the same type of player as Jason Witten.

Escobar can help this team by making plays downfield and giving Tony Romo one more vertical threat.

He caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He can be a playmaker, if Scott Linehan gives him a chance to do it. If not, he’ll be a wasted pick.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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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 – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' decision to part ways with backup quarterback Kyle Orton has opened up a spot on the 90-man roster for training camp.

Orton
Josh Brent's name has come up as a possible fill-in, but sources say there is nothing new on that front. Brent remains at a treatment facility after he was released from county jail for his involvement in a 2012 car accident that killed his friend and teammate Jerry Brown.

The Cowboys have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing Brent if he wants to re-start his NFL career, but they have more pressing needs to fill with training camp starting next week.

At this point in the summer, finding players is difficult. With teams carrying 90 players, there are only so many available. The pool is not filled with stars. It’s filled mostly with guys you hope can get you through a few days of practice, limit the amount of snaps you give your regulars and perhaps develop into contributors.

Tight end remains a position of need. The Cowboys have Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna and Jordan Najvar. They need more of a blocker in the group, not only on the 90-man roster but perhaps the 53-man roster.

The Cowboys like to carry a high number of receivers and corners because of the amount of running they do in training camp. They have 10 receivers and eight cornerbacks under contract. Again, the idea isn’t to sign a name veteran to make the masses happy at this point. It’s about practice (said in best Allen Iverson voice).

The Cowboys could also gain a spot if Amobi Okoye is not fully cleared for drills. He spent most of the offseason with the team, working out, but he did not take the field as he attempts a return from a personal medical issue. Including Okoye, the Cowboys have 16 defensive linemen on the roster.
IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys are to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, they will need younger players to grow up in 2014.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has two candidates for breakout seasons -- Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams -- in his annual list.

Frederick
Williams
Williams
The Cowboys were one of four teams with more than one player. The San Diego Chargers had three: D.J. Fluker, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen. The New Orleans Saints (Kenny Vaccaro, Akiem Hicks) and Denver Broncos (Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams) also had two.

Here’s what Prisco said about Frederick and Williams:
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys -- When the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were snickers. But it was the right move. He showed last season as a 16-game starter that he has a chance to be a really good center. He is smart and athletic, two musts for the position these days.

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys -- With Miles Austin now gone, this second-year player takes over as the starter opposite Dez Bryant. That should mean a lot of single coverage and a chance for big plays. Look for his numbers to go up dramatically from his 44 catches a year ago.

Defining how Frederick breaks out is tougher than Williams just because of the nature of his position. The Cowboys were stronger up the middle in 2013 than they had been in recent years because of Frederick. He did not miss a game as a rookie and carried himself as a veteran from the first day he arrived.

(As an aside, there is a similar feeling when it comes to this year’s first-round pick, Zack Martin.)

For Williams, it can be a little easier to define because his statistics will be there for everybody to see. He caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

With Austin gone, Williams will be the starter opposite Bryant in 2014. The Cowboys have no reservations about Williams. They believe he will slide into that role without any issues. In coach parlance, they don’t believe the game is too big for him.

He will get opportunities. Bryant will be the focal point of opposing defenses.

With Bryant catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver in 16 games in 2012. The Cowboys would live with those numbers from Williams.

Cowboys' quarterbacks had 375 completions last year.

Pencil in Bryant for another 90-plus catch season. Jason Witten will catch 75-80 passes. The running backs will combine for 80. Cole Beasley should figure in that 35-45 catch range. Dwayne Harris and Gavin Escobar will have more than the 18 they combined for last year. Devin Street will be in that 20-30 range if things go well as well.

There will be opportunities for Williams to show 2014 will be a breakout season.
IRVING, Texas -- The commonly held perception is that a player makes his biggest jump in the NFL between his rookie season and second year.

Escobar
With that in mind, ESPN Insider Field Yates rates Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar as one of 10 breakout players from the 2013 draft.

To read the full story, you need to be an Insider Insider, but here's what he said about Escobar:
Nine catches for Escobar probably wasn't the production the Cowboys had in mind for him as a rookie second-rounder, but there's plenty of reason for optimism. Some scouts believed Escobar had a ceiling as a pass-catcher that came close to Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, and that's something Dallas will work to tap into in 2014. Escobar is still clearly a reserve to Jason Witten and must improve as a blocker, but his length and catch radius project to increased development with a full offseason at his disposal.


The Cowboys made a surprise move in picking Escobar in the second round in 2013. He was the third second-round tight end the Cowboys picked since 2006, joining Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. They found more success after leaving the Cowboys. Escobar is in Witten's shadow, but he should be given more chances in 2014.

New tight ends coach Mike Pope, who has developed a number of tight ends for the better part of three decades, told Jason Garrett the Giants had Escobar in a similar spot on their draft board.

"When you have a new coach come in from a different team, I'm always interested in hearing what they thought of a player when they were coming out," Garrett said. "Was our evaluation similar to their evaluation? What round did they have him in? It's always fun to get that impression and then get that impression from afar and the impression from up close when he gets a chance to meet with him and work with him.

"I think he sees probably a lot of the same things we see: a very talented, pass-catching tight end. He has to grow and get stronger as a blocker but he has a lot of skills we want to work with."

Garrett said Escobar has gotten stronger in the offseason, "but it's not something that happens overnight." His playing time figures to grow if the Cowboys are more married to the two-tight end personnel in which Escobar works essentially as a wide receiver working the slot.

If he does, then Yates' prediction could come true.
IRVING, Texas -- With the draft finally within site, unless there is some sort of rain delay, it’s time for Five Wonders to return.

We’ll keep them focused on the draft.

** I wonder if the Cowboys are in never-never land with the 16th pick when it comes to first-round defensive linemen. That’s what an 8-8 finish will do for you. You’re stuck right in the middle and have to do too much to move up significantly and won’t get enough (some of the time) to move down big either. After Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, there is a drop-off on right defensive ends. Anthony Barr is a project and somebody I believe the Cowboys would pick at No. 16. Will he be there at No. 16? The rest of the options available, like a Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton, Kareem Martin or Demarcus Lawrence look more like second-round picks. That’s why I think if the Cowboys move up it’s only a couple of spots for a specific player. The more likely option is to move back where they’d have better choices at the right value. Now if only some team would be willing to move up.

** I wonder what the reaction of people who live in the best-player-available world would be if the Cowboys took North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round. If Ebron is there at No. 16 and is the best player, then the Cowboys must take him, right? If you live in the best-player-available world in which there is no gray area, then Ebron is your guy. Hooray. But after taking Gavin Escobar in the second round last year and seeing Jason Witten make another Pro Bowl in 2013, do the Cowboys need a first-round tight end? You might hate the word “need” but I don’t. Need has become the four-letter word in draft circles. If they take Ebron, they are saying the Escobar pick was a mistake and Witten is on his final legs. Ebron is a terrific talent, but the Cowboys can’t pick him. I do think, however, the Cowboys would take a tight end (more of a blocker than receiver) later on in the draft.

** I wonder how much scheme versatility will factor into the Cowboys’ decision making Thursday-Saturday. The elephant in the room is that Jason Garrett must win now. He is in the final year of his contract. If he doesn’t win, then Jerry Jones doesn’t have to fire him. He just needs to pick a new coach. But let’s say Jerry falls in love with a coach who has a 3-4 background or an offensive coach who wants to bring in a 3-4 coordinator. Can the Cowboys make the switch again? They felt they had the tools to move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 somewhat seamlessly and we saw how that worked in 2013. If the Cowboys picked Aaron Donald in the first round, then would he fit in a 3-4 scheme next year? He doesn’t look like a 3-4 player. It is a fatalistic view to have going into a draft, but the Cowboys could find some defensive prospects that offer versatility in a 3-4 or 4-3, like Barr, Ealy, Lawrence and possibly Ryan Shazier.

SportsNation

Which position should the Cowboys address first in the draft?

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    4%
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**I wonder if third round is the area in which the Cowboys target an offensive lineman. Of the linemen not named Zack Martin who visited Valley Ranch before the draft, almost all of them are in that Rounds 3-4 neighborhood like Gabe Jackson, Trai Turner, Jack Mewhort and Billy Turner. To be clear, in just about every mock I’ve been asked to participate in, I have the Cowboys taking Martin at No. 16. If they go offense there, I think they need (there’s that word again) to go defense with the second- and third-round picks, provided the grades match up. I’m breaking all ties in the defense’s favor. I’ll add this note: The last middle-round (Rounds 3-5) offensive lineman to pan out for the Cowboys was Doug Free (fourth round) back in 2007. And it took him well into his third season to get on the field. Since then the Cowboys have missed on Robert Brewster (third, 2009) and David Arkin (fourth, 2011). I’ll give them partial credit for Sam Young (sixth, 2010) since he’s still in the league. Their best middle-round offensive lineman in the last 10 years has been Stephen Peterman (third, 2004) and his playing time came with the Detroit Lions after he was cut.

**I wonder if the extra time in the draft has led teams to overanalyze things. The New Orleans Saints attempted to bust up the boredom by spending some time in Las Vegas. Some other teams took a week’s break earlier in the process. The Cowboys altered their schedule some but not that much. Too often we hear teams talk about the importance of watching the players play and not putting as much stock into the combine or pro days. And every year there are guys that come out of nowhere, like Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, and small-school gems, like Pierre Desir. Maybe they will be great finds. Who knows really? The extra time served up plenty of interest, which the NFL craves, and allowed for more mock drafts than ever before, but did it really serve the teams well? We’ll find out in a couple of years.
The St. Louis Rams are looking to trade the No. 2 overall pick in next month's draft.

Don't count the Cowboys as an interested party.

Multiple sources have said the Cowboys aren't trying to move up from No. 16 to No. 2.

However, the sources did say the Cowboys would be willing to make a move up if it were able to obtain an elite player who can fill an immediate hole.

The last time the Cowboys moved into the top 10 via trade was 2012 when they moved eight spots to No. 6 and selected LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

At the time, Cowboys' officials said Claiborne graded out as high as Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

With the No. 16 pick overall, there appears to be just one player worth moving up into the top five and that's South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. There are some good quarterbacks in the draft, including Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, but team officials don't project them being worth worth a move with Tony Romo locked up for the future.

The Cowboys have needs on defense, after finishing No. 32 last season, but the team signed three defensive linemen in free agency, headlined by tackle Henry Melton.

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner/general manager, said the team is open to picking a defensive player in the first round.

"Yeah and it's because I think we're in better shape to compete position wise on offense, our skill position, frankly our offensive line," Jones said. "Last year, we drafted a player like (tight end Gavin) Escobar. Escobar will and needs to become an important part of our offense. That's an example and we saw in (wide receiver Dwayne) Harris and we saw the playmaking ability and got the benefit of the playmaking ability that he has. We've got some playmakers, we got skill players. We got a good sound offensive line. We're in good shape on the offensive line is the best way to say it. The defense, is obvious. We need players and there's only two ways to go get them, that's through free agency, that's bring them in the different types of free agents that you have and the draft and that's what we're doing."
IRVING, Texas -- Earlier today my guy, Calvin Watkins, brought you a post that says the Dallas Cowboys are rebuilding.

I don’t want to say Calvin is wrong, but, well, um, well, I don’t agree with that premise.

Romo
It’s not a rebuild the Cowboys are going through. And if you want to call it a rebuilding job, what exactly are they rebuilding from? They have won one playoff game since 1996. Teams that rebuild at least go to conference title games or Super Bowls -- and win Super Bowls.

I just don’t think you rebuild when you have a franchise quarterback that will turn 34 in April and is only in the second year of a six-year extension.

What the Cowboys have done the last few years -- and I wrote about it -- is re-tool. The departures of DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher are more evidence that the Cowboys are re-tooling. With Tony Romo, the Cowboys still need to win now. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said as much at the NFL scouting combine.

SportsNation

Should the Cowboys be in rebuilding mode?

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He doesn’t have time to wait three or four years to rebuild with Romo as his quarterback.

What the Cowboys are doing is changing their core. While Romo and Jason Witten are still the focal points of the team because of their play, status and production, the core of the team has moved on from guys like Ware, Jeremiah Ratliff, Austin, Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Bradie James and Terence Newman in recent years to newer players.

The core now is Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and Barry Church. They would love guys like Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Gavin Escobar to join this list but they have not proven they can play yet.

The Cowboys have to maximize what they have left with Romo and Witten but not to the point where they are left in salary-cap shambles for when the “new guard” is in their prime.

Rebuilding, to me, is starting over. The Cowboys aren’t going to start over with Romo and Witten and they’re not exactly moving back to ground zero either.

What they are doing does not guarantee success or even something better than 8-8, but they are in the process of passing the torch, so to speak.
DeMarcus WareMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsIt might be time for the Cowboys to let aging defensive end DeMarcus Ware go.

The Dallas Cowboys have a chance to start over.

It’s not an ideal situation, but in the big picture, this is the perfect time.

The Cowboys are talking with Pat Dye, the agent for defensive end DeMarcus Ware, about a reduction in salary.

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Ware has been the Cowboys’ best defensive player for roughly seven consecutive seasons. But last year was different. Ware battled elbow, back, quad and a stinger in 2013.

His health betrayed him and he finished with just six sacks in the 2013 season. You could say health was the reason for his declining play or that he’s just getting old.

The reality is Ware is still a good player, not a player worth taking $16 million of your salary cap, but maybe half that.

The Cowboys have basically told him to take a pay cut or find another team.

I don’t believe they should keep him though because although Ware is still a productive player, if the team is trying to forge ahead and stop the mediocrity of the franchise, then letting him go is the best thing possible.

Rebuild.

If Ware is off the books, it saves $7.4 million.

On June 1, you get another $5.5 million in savings when your rid yourself of Miles Austin’s contract.

That’s close to $13 million in savings from two veteran players who are battling health issues as they move to the backstage of their careers. Sure some other NFL team will sign them, that’s life in the NFL.

The Cowboys need to get younger, like yesterday. If Jason Garrett wants a contract extension he should tell Jerry Jones, let’s get younger.

It’s time to end the way the franchise has kept players around for too long and move toward the future. It’s time for the Cowboys to draft the best players on their board and clean up the communication mess of the last few years in the war room.

(Read full post)

IRVING, Texas -- As Jerry Jones spoke on his bus from the NFL scouting combine recently, you could hear the Dallas Cowboys' owner and general manager go through a checklist when talking about draft needs.

He said drafting a corner “could be stacking it up,” too much with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. He said tight end would not be a position of need with Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar. He said “not necessarily” wide receiver, either. The Cowboys like DeMarco Murray a lot, but “that doesn’t mean we won’t bring in another potentially very competitive running back in at all.” He said a strongside linebacker would not be much of a need because of its lack of importance in the 4-3. He mentioned liking what they have at safety but would not rule out a draft pick.

What does it all mean in early March? Not much.

The question was about drafting solely defensive players considering how much help the Cowboys need on that side of the ball.

“We’ve got to be careful foregoing a really top offensive lineman,” Jones said. “I’d head scratch about that, all things equal, same quality.”

The follow-up question was specifically about defensive line help.

“It’s certainly where we were almost bankrupt last year in terms of what we had personnel wise,” Jones said. “As you’ve noted and I’ve mentioned, I thought that was our strength going into the season. And by the way, I was up here talking to Monte Kiffin earlier and Monte was talking about how [Anthony] Spencer, how we were doing with [Jay] Ratliff not out there, but how well we were playing at Oxnard in that defensive front. That was without Tyrone Crawford, who got hurt the first day. Still we were creating some havoc out there and we, of course, really lost that. But that is certainly an area of need. I’m not being evasive, but don’t discount a good offensive lineman that is high on your board.”

That was twice Jones mentioned an offensive lineman. The Cowboys have hit on their past two first-round picks on the offensive line in Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick after not previously drafting one in the first round in the Jones era.

Just something to note.
IRVING, Texas -- One of the Dallas Cowboys’ homework assignments in the offseason has been to figure out a way to avoid hamstring injuries.

Twelve players suffered strains of varying levels and missed either game or practice time in 2013: Miles Austin, Morris Claiborne, Sean Lee, Justin Durant, Dwayne Harris, Bruce Carter, Danny McCray, Barry Church, Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar, Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams.

The shortened offseason conditioning program could play a factor in the increase in injuries, but it has not affected every team. The Cowboys have studied other teams’ approaches and injury numbers to come up with a solution.

Coach Jason Garrett said one possibility is cutting back on the time spent on the field, especially early in the offseason.

“It is valuable to do the football stuff. We don’t feel like there’s a lot of football stuff right now,” Garrett said. “We want to be careful about how much we take away from that. But there’s a couple weeks prior to all that stuff starting. We’ve talked about tweaking the daily schedule and what we’re doing those first couple weeks as we start to lay the foundation for the offseason.”

While many players train on their own before the official offseason program starts in April, there is only a two-week period of training before players get on the field for teaching sessions.

“[Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik] I know is certainly not happy with it,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “[Athletic trainers] Jim Maurer and Britt Brown0 are not happy. I know Jason’s not happy with it and I damn sure know Jerry [Jones] and I are not happy with it. So we’re looking at ways to try to work on that.”

One way might be doing less instead of more.

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