NFC East: Kyle Kosier

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Cowboys are getting younger

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- These are not your father's Dallas Cowboys, so to speak.

Once a team stocked with enough players to field a softball team in an over-30 league, the Cowboys are getting young.

With the releases of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the Cowboys have three starters over 30 years old in Tony Romo, who turns 34 next month, Jason Witten, who turns 32 in May and Doug Free, who turned 30 in January.

The only other thirty-somethings on the roster are backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who is 31, and long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who turns 33 on Thursday.

Not included on the list are free agents Anthony Spencer (30) and Jason Hatcher (31).

Ware turns 32 in July and Austin turns 30 in June.

The Cowboys have refused to use the word "rebuild" over the last three seasons but they have re-tooled their roster moving away from Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo on the offensive line and Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman on the defensive line.

They have made the decision to not restructure the contracts of Witten and Brandon Carr, who turns 28 in May, unless absolutely necessary so they do not push more money into the salary cap in future years.

For years people have called the NFL a young man's game. The Cowboys are moving to a younger man's team.
IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

Tony Romo vs. the undefeated

October, 4, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The last time Tony Romo went against an undefeated Peyton Manning-led team he had only three starts under his belt as the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback.

On Thursday Romo was asked what he remembered about the week leading into the game against the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts.

“Well, Bill (said to) me on Monday, ‘I’m going to turn this game over to you,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Romo said. “… And we ran it 36 times.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Ben MargotTony Romo has some experience leading the Cowboys to victory against unbeaten teams.
Bill would be Bill Parcells, and the Cowboys' coach was not ready to hand the game over to Romo, but the quarterback did complete 19 of 23 passes for 226 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass, but he did complete 10 of his final 11 passes for 130 yards to deliver a 21-14 win at Texas Stadium, ending the Colts’ perfect season.

Manning brings an undefeated Denver Broncos to AT&T Stadium. Romo will be making the 98th regular-season start of his career.

This will be Romo’s fifth start against teams that have started at least 4-0. He beat Manning’s Colts, lost to Tom Brady’s 5-0 New England Patriots in 2007, beat Drew Brees' 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009, and lost to Matt Ryan's 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last year.

“I think what you do is, you do what needs to be done throughout most of the football game, and as the game gets to a certain point in the game and the score dictates what you need to do to help your football team win,” Romo said. “Before then, I just think as a quarterback you need to do what gives you the best chance to be successful on that play. If that’s a deep ball, if that’s a dump off, that’s a handoff, whatever it might entail that gives your team the best chance to move the ball, that’s what you need to do."

The Cowboys beat the Colts by holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds, and running the ball 36 times for 117 yards. On the second play of the game the defense recovered a fumble. On the fifth play, DeMarcus Ware sacked Manning. On the 11th play Jay Ratliff had a sack-fumble. Roy Williams had an interception near the Dallas goal line, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception for a touchdown.

Against the Patriots, the Cowboys were matching Brady, and the defense scored a touchdown on a Jason Hatcher fumble recovery. Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter a fourth-and-1 conversion was overturned by a holding penalty, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots went on to win 48-27.

Against the Saints the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives and took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Mike Jenkins intercepted Brees near the Cowboys’ goal line, and Ware, who was not supposed to play because of a neck injury, had two sacks of Brees and three hurries.

The Cowboys won 24-17, rushing 36 times for 145 yards and converting on eight of 15 third-down opportunities.

Last year at Atlanta, the Cowboys sputtered on their first two possessions inside the red zone and had to settle for two Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead. The Falcons took a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Romo connected with Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown with 5:21 to play to cut the deficit to three points. The defense, however, could not get off the field on the ensuing drive (three third-down conversions) and Atlanta ate up all but 17 seconds on the clock.

“Teams get to 9, 10-0, 12-0 or whatever it might be, and they’ve obviously done a lot of good things right and Denver hasn’t really played in a football game yet,” Romo said. “It’s a testament to their players. They’re playing at a very high level. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. To beat a football team like this you have to play at a very high level, and you have to do a lot of things right. Saying that, there’s a certain recipe and certain way to go about the process, and we’re trying to do that.”
He wasn't the biggest-name free agent the Dallas Cowboys signed this offseason, but guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is a part of the team's plans for the offensive line. So this report from Todd Archer that Bernadeau had hip surgery last weekend and could miss the next 10 to 12 weeks of the offseason program is not good Cowboys news. The Cowboys are projecting Bernadeau as a starter at guard, though their expectation is that the starting guards will emerge from a group that includes him, fellow free-agent signee Nate Livings and second-year men David Arkin, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski. The timetable Todd lays out would put Bernadeau on track to return, assuming no setbacks, around the time preseason games start, and as a result he could be well behind the others in that competition for those starting spots.

Again, no one's going to hear this news and shout, "Oh no! We're doomed without Bernadeau!" But the idea behind the Cowboys' plan to fix the interior of their offensive line is that an abundance of quantity and competition would produce the quality starters for whom they're looking. Not having Bernadeau around for the offseason program reduces their numbers by one and, by definition, weakens the level of competition. If nothing else, it deprives them of a chance to get him into their program and find out whether he actually does have what it takes to start for them.

Jon from Atlanta asked in the mailbag this afternoon whether this meant the Cowboys would or should bring back veteran guard Kyle Kosier, whom they cut. But I'd be surprised. There's nothing to indicate Bernadeau can't return in time for the season, and the main reason Kosier was cut was the team's belief that he could no longer hold up physically anyway. Possible, but I doubt they bring in (or bring back) anyone like that.

NFC East Friday: How was your day?

March, 16, 2012
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I've got to be honest. I'm a little jealous. I'm so used to our division being in the middle of the action, that I almost wish we had a team in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. That's the story getting all of the attention, but our four teams feel good about quarterback, so I just read Williamson and Kuharsky and Sando with blog envy. Ah well. We'll always have Indianapolis.

Anyway, how was your day...

Dallas Cowboys?

"Harmless, so back off!" Hey, hey, hey. It's not me you have to worry about. It's all of these Cowboys fans I keep hearing from on Twitter who feel like everybody their team signs has to be Anthony Munoz or Jerry Rice. No, Nate Livings isn't the best guard in the league. But the Cowboys had next to nothing at guard last season. Is it wrong for them to pick out a couple of veterans they like to mix in with the kids they drafted last year and create some camp competition at those positions? I think the most surprising move of the day was the decision, as reported by Todd Archer, to part ways with veteran guard Kyle Kosier. Yeah, he's getting older and was banged up in 2011. But the Cowboys really valued him as an on-field leader and mentor for the young linemen. Looks like Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, David Arkin and Bill Nagy will fight it out for two starting guard spots (and maybe, if one of them can do it, the starting center spot) come training camp.

And yeah, Kevin Ogletree has had and blown chances to show he can handle the No. 3 wide receiver job. But just because they re-signed him doesn't mean they won't still look to upgrade there or even that he'll be on the 53-man roster come September. He visited the Giants this week, so it's not as though no one else wanted him. Maybe he helps on special teams, maybe things finally click for him in the passing game, maybe not. No real sweat either way, and wide receiver isn't a major need position for Dallas, which likely believes it can find this year's Laurent Robinson in the same bargain aisle in which they found last year's. Their need positions were defensive back, linebacker and guard, and they've addressed all three, along with backup quarterback, by signing eight players in the first four days of free agency.

People have been telling me they wish the Cowboys had signed more recognizable players, but the fact is they've whiffed badly in past years when going for the better-known names. Maybe this time around, the scouts and the coaching staff are targeting specific players for specific reasons without worrying about name recognition. Me, I say that's a good way to go.

Washington Redskins?

"Busy." They agreed to terms with defensive back Cedric Griffin, who might be a candidate for free safety or might be a candidate for nickel cornerback or might just be a guy they think can help deepen the secondary. They restructured the contract of center Will Montgomery to spare themselves about $2 million in cap space. Fred Davis signed his franchise tender, which is what they wanted -- hold one of their best 2011 playmakers for a reasonable price and give him a year to keep himself clean and prove himself reliable. They had a visit from cornerback Aaron Ross, since they're not done addressing the secondary. And since they're still determined to address the offensive line, they also hosted free-agent tackle Demetrius Bell and remain interested in free-agent tackle Eric Winston as well. Winston has been in Kansas City this week, but his scheduled visit to St. Louis was reportedly canceled after the Rams apparently blew their offensive line budget signing center Scott Wells. Lots going on, but still nothing with London Fletcher. That remains a justifiable concern of Redskins fans, but he still hasn't signed anywhere else as of this writing, and the linebacker market has yet to really flower. So, no real reason to panic just yet.

New York Giants?

"Bout the same." The Giants seem to be doing one simple thing each day. Friday's was the signing of punter Steve Weatherford to a five-year contract, which supersedes his franchise-player designation and locks up one of the most quietly valuable pieces of their Super Bowl champion team. There are reports about Mario Manningham negotiating seriously with the Rams, but the Giants have been prepared for some time to lose Manningham, for whom the market is likely to generate more than the Giants want to pay a No. 3 wide receiver. I'm curious to see whether they get involved with one of these right tackle candidates on the market, since they're saying good-bye to Kareem McKenzie. But they have the option of moving David Diehl over there if Will Beatty comes back healthy, so it's not an urgent need. The Giants will keep making the "un-sexy" moves general manager Jerry Reese enjoys so much, and as I've said before, they have earned the benefit of the doubt on this.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Coulda been worse." The best thing that happened for the Eagles on Friday was what didn't happen -- namely, that free-agent guard Evan Mathis didn't sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Mathis is still apparently weighing offers from Baltimore and Philadelphia, and Reuben Frank reports that the Eagles have told Mathis they'll beat the Ravens' offer. So it sounds as though a resolution to this could be on the way shortly. Still nothing on linebacker, but again, not many teams are doing anything at linebacker right now. The Eagles are waiting it out kind of like the Giants are, since they feel decent about the roster they already have. They'll do something, but there is no hurry.

My day? Thanks for asking. It was fine, but I've got to be honest. I'm a little gassed. Going to turn off the laptop now and either go to bed or pass out on the couch watching basketball. No breakfast links tomorrow (we skip them on the weekends, due to concerns about high cholesterol), and I may sleep later than usual. But if something happens, I promise I'll post on it. I give you my word as a Spaniard.

(Anyone know the next line????)

Cowboys to cut their line's leader

March, 16, 2012
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Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com (who's been an absolute animal this week, by the way) is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys plan to cut ties with veteran guard Kyle Kosier:
The move has not been made officially yet. Kosier had started 80 straight games in which he was active since joining the Cowboys as a free agent in 2006. He signed a three-year deal last summer after the lockout ended and started every game.

The move would save the Cowboys $1.55 million in salary cap space and continue the overhaul of the offensive line. Right tackle Doug Free is now the longest-tenured offensive linemen having joined the team in 2007. The second-longest tenured is center Phil Costa, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010.

Kosier earned a $1 million escalator that would have jumped his base salary in 2012 to $2.25 million.

I'm surprised. I know he's 33 years old and had some injury issues in 2011. And I know they drafted two guards last year and signed two guards this week. And yeah, I know the NFL is a tough, cold business. But whenever I was around the Cowboys the past couple of years, I heard someone tell me how important Kosier was as a leader among the offensive linemen. He got a lot of credit for Free's big year at left tackle when he played next to him at left guard in 2010, and he got a lot of credit for Tyron Smith's very quick transition to the pros at right tackle when he played right guard next to him in 2011.

So while they have a new offensive line coach in Dallas, and they have every right to believe they can find two starting interior linemen from the group that now includes Costa, Bill Nagy, David Arkin, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Kevin Kowalski, this can't have been an easy decision for the Cowboys. Whoever else was on the line as they slid guys in and out over the past two seasons benefited from the fact that Kosier was there. And while the move seems to make sense from a business and numbers standpoint, Kosier brought something to the table that they can't be sure anyone in the remaining group does. It's something they could, theoretically, end up missing at some point this season.
Remember, the Dallas Cowboys have a new offensive line coach. They have entrusted the well-regarded Bill Callahan with the job of overhauling one of their biggest and most costly 2011 weaknesses. It's probably safe to assume Callahan is picking out guys he likes, guys he thinks can work in the blocking schemes he plans to run, and that the Cowboys are considering his opinion when drawing up their list of targets.

So before anyone overreacts to the signing of former Bengals guard Nate Livings to a five-year deal that includes $6.2 million in guaranteed money, think about what the Cowboys are trying to do here.

Pro Football Focus doesn't like Livings one bit. Here's their review of the signing:
Livings has the size that Dallas covets on the O-line, but little else positive to bring to the table. -24.0 since he took over as starter for the Bengals in 2009.

I also asked my old friend and colleague LeCharles Bentley, the former NFL player who runs his own offensive line academy in Ohio, about Livings. LeCharles said he's a big, physical guy who can help in the run game and is a good locker room presence. Not a perfect player, but one who can help. And if he clicks with the new line coach, maybe he outplays his résumé.

So here's my thinking on the Cowboys and the guards:

They drafted two guards -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- last year. They felt good enough about Nagy to open the season with him as a starter, and who's to say whether things wouldn't have been different if he'd stayed healthy, developed and gained some strength? Those guys are still on the team, and this time they'll have full offseasons and training camps.

Bringing in Livings and fellow free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, who signed earlier this week, gives the Cowboys depth and coverage at a position that was a real struggle for them in 2011. If Arkin and Nagy take big jumps forward, they have quality utility linemen with experience behind them. If not, they have guys they feel can start right away.

This doesn't mean veteran Kyle Kosier is gone. The Cowboys worry about his health, but they value him as a leader. If he proves himself healthy, he's likely still a starter at one of the guard spots, and there's even been some talk about him maybe moving to center, which was their real problem area last year.

-Speaking of center, they still have Phil Costa, who struggled at the position last year, and Kevin Kowalski, who was an undrafted rookie last year but got good reviews from the coaching staff and could be in the center mix. Arkin and/or Nagy also could be in the center mix, as each got snaps there in practice last training camp. And who knows? Maybe they see one of the new guys as someone who could play center.

What we have here is basically seven players for three interior offensive line spots. And given the difficulties the Cowboys had at those spots last year, that's a good thing. Competition makes people better and creates options for the coaching staff. The problem last year was that, when a guard or center struggled, the Cowboys had nowhere they could turn for a replacement. Now, with a new line coach and a bunch of fresh faces mixed in with the players who were already there, they have given themselves more of a safety net.

So look at the big picture here on the Cowboys' offensive line, not the individual signings. They've added depth and experience, and assuming Callahan knows what he's doing, there's reason to believe they have a better chance to make a successful line out of the current mix than they did out of last year's.
Day 1 of free agency was all about the Redskins around these parts. Day 2 saw the Cowboys get busy and the Eagles make a surprising splash with one of their own players. What does Day 3 hold? All I know is it starts with links.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer offers some examples of reasonable possibilities for Laurent Robinson's replacement, and he barely even scratches the surface. He's right that the Cowboys would have had no business trying to keep Robinson for the money he got in Jacksonville, and his partial list of options proves the key point -- that there will be many names available to the Cowboys as No. 3 receiver options at the level of the market at which they found Robinson a year ago.

The Cowboys signed one guard Wednesday and are bringing in a guy Thursday who's been a regular starter at the position for the past two years. Why two? Well, this post raises the intriguing possibility that Kyle Kosier could move to center, which is where the Cowboys had their biggest problems last season.

New York Giants

Martellus Bennett says he "only played like 30 percent of the snaps while I was in Dallas. I think, in a larger role, I can do so much more. I think the sky is the limit. I don’t think anyone has really seen who I am as a player and what I have to offer." His estimate isn't awful. A quick scan of the ProFootballFocus.com stats shows Bennett played about 42 percent of the Cowboys' offensive snaps over the past four years. His premise, however, is that he can be a great player if he plays more than that. We shall see. Injured tight end Jake Ballard played 75 percent of the Giants' snaps last year, so there's opportunity for Bennett to prove it.

The Giants still might look for another tight end, and old friend Jeremy Shockey wouldn't mind being considered, according to Gary Myers. Hey, don't laugh it off. They brought in Plaxico Burress and tried to sign him last year. Giants management is all about bygones if the value is right.

Philadelphia Eagles

Marcus Hayes writes of the Eagles' efforts over the past few days to lock up their young core long-term, and why it's a rare opportunity they have with a young core that appears ready to win now. His points are all well-reasoned, of course. But a lot of this is going to come down to a 32-year-old quarterback and whether Michael Vick is ready to win now.

Jeff McLane writes that the next big internal move could be a new contract for running back LeSean McCoy. Apparently, talks are under way and have been for a while now, and the sense in Philadelphia is that it could be done in short order. Somebody asked which team in the division is having the best free agency right now. And while I like what all four teams have done so far, you can make a strong case that the answer is the team that's signing its own stars to below-market deals while the market goes bonkers.

Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III says he's not yet willing to concede that he'll be a Redskin for sure. It appears as though he believes he can still convince the Colts to take him with the No. 1 overall pick. Which, good for him. If I were in that situation and had confidence in my ability, I wouldn't be conceding anything to Andrew Luck. It wasn't Luck who won the Heisman Trophy, remember. Anyway, the Redskins surely don't care. If the Colts took Griffin at No. 1 overall, they'd run to the podium to draft Luck with the second pick. That's why they paid so much to move up to No. 2 in the draft -- so they'd be guaranteed to get one of the two guys in the draft who looks like a franchise quarterback.

With their wide receiver pursuits nearly complete, the Redskins have turned their free-agent attention to defensive backs and offensive linemen. According to this story, that includes a pursuit of free-agent guard Ben Grubbs, who's drawing interest from many teams.
Gotta love it when the head coach breaks news in his combine news conference. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on hand in Indianapolis today that the team plans to move Doug Free from left tackle back to right tackle and move Tyron Smith from right tackle to left tackle. This move has been expected, given the brilliant way Smith played as a rookie in 2011 and the fact that Free struggled in his second season on the left side. But Garrett is confirming it, per our man on the scene, Todd Archer:
"The starting point for us next year is Tyron will start at left tackle and Doug will start at right tackle," Garrett said. "The versatility that Tyron had coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we felt like he had the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side."

When the Cowboys drafted Smith last year, they weren't sure whether they were going to lose Free to free agency, and one of the reasons they liked Smith was that they believed he had the ability to play left tackle if they needed one. Once they signed Free, they decided to leave him where he'd played well in 2010 and break in Smith at the position he'd played in college.

But Smith was the Cowboys' best offensive lineman in 2011, and Free struggled, so the Cowboys have decided to use their best tackle on Tony Romo's blindside, which makes sense. A couple of questions linger, though:

1. Where's Kyle Kosier going? He played left guard next to Free during Free's big year in 2010, then moved over to right guard to play next to Smith and help break in the rookie. Was Free's drop-off in play due in any part to Kosier moving to the other side? Will Kosier move back to the left to play next to Smith and help continue his development, or will he stay on the right to help Free? Kosier's a key figure on the Dallas offensive line, as a player and as a leader, and his status is worth monitoring in light of this move.

2. Is Free a good player who had a down year in 2011, or an average player who had a great year in 2010? The sense I get from talking to people around the league is that it's the former -- that Free still shows the skills to be a top-level tackle but just didn't get the job done this past year. The Cowboys expect him to bounce back, and perhaps a move back to the right side will allow him to do that without undue pressure.

3. Will Smith need time to adjust? He didn't play left tackle in college, and there are differences to which he'll have to become accustomed. Smith is thought of as a great enough athlete to make the adjustment. He may well have been the left tackle at USC had he not been on the same team as Matt Kalil. My guess is he won't skip a beat, and that the Cowboys will benefit from this move. Their bigger line problems are at guard and center.

Cowboys offensive line thoughts

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
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The latest in ESPNDallas.com's position-by-position look at the Cowboys is the one for which I've been waiting -- the one about the interior offensive line. Calvin Watkins breaks down who they've got, what they need and what things could look like at guard and center for the Cowboys in 2012. Coupled with Tim MacMahon's installment on the offensive tackles from last week, this addresses one of the most important aspects of the roster:
Jerry Jones said the evaluation process of these two positions needs to get better. The Cowboys overestimated the talent level of the guards after training camp, going with younger players who proved to be inconsistent. The health of three veteran guards raised more questions.
[+] EnlargeCarl Nicks
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSigning a veteran guard like Carl Nicks in free agency would be a good move for the Cowboys.
This is the key, as it is with every team this time of year: self-evaluation. The Cowboys need to make an honest assessment of what they have at guard and center, and whether it's what they need going forward. We seem to have just witnessed a season's worth of evidence that Phil Costa isn't the answer at center, so the question then becomes whether Kevin Kowalski or Bill Nagy or David Arkin can be, and if so, how soon? It seems likely they'll bring back Kyle Kosier, since he's a leader on the line and has, in recent years, been a big part of the development of Tyron Smith and Doug Free, but what of the other guard spot? Can someone from last year's group of rookies slide in and play right away in 2012? Or do they need to find answers on the free-agent market or in the draft.

Personally, if I were the Cowboys, I wouldn't take an interior lineman in the first round. I just feel like there's value to be had at those spots in later rounds (the Eagles, for example, found their starting center in last year's sixth) and Dallas' needs at cornerback and pass-rusher are pressing enough to warrant first-round action.

Once they're done restructuring contracts, the Cowboys could have about $20 million in cap space, and if I were them I'd try and bring in a veteran guard like Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs -- or a center if they feel that's a more pressing need -- and then mix and match with that Arkin/Nagy/Kowalski/Costa group in the offseason to figure out exactly what they have there. It's not unrealistic to believe they have a starting center and potential Kosier replacement in that group, and adding someone like Nicks or Grubbs would reduce the pressure on all of the youngsters to perform right away.

I agree with Tim that they're fine at starting tackle. Smith is a stud, and I think Free is a good player who had a bad season. Whether they keep Free at left tackle and Smith at right or whether they switch them up, they should be okay at those spots. But they need to lock some things down in the middle of that line, where they struggled in 2011. And I think free agency might be the best place to start.

Of the Cowboys' offensive line

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
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All right. You want a break from Giants' stuff -- here you go. Let's talk about the Dallas Cowboys' plans for their offensive line. Let's use this well-detailed post from Blogging the Boys as our jumping-off point. I agree completely with their premise that the biggest problem area for the Cowboys on the line this year was center. I think they'll fix the Doug Free problem by moving him back to right tackle and Tyron Smith to the left side, and they were able to fix guard once they brought back Montrae Holland after Kyle Kosier got a bit more healthy.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCowbys center Phil Costa struggled in 2011, and the team may look to upgrade at the position.
But Phil Costa was a consistent problem at center, and it cost the Cowboys dearly. They need to fix it. BTB looks at the list of potential free-agent centers and concludes, correctly, that there isn't a long-term solution among that aged group. My feeling is that the Cowboys, if you go back four or five months, were hoping they had that long-term solution on their roster already. And I wonder if they still do hold out that hope.

The Cowboys drafted David Arkin and Bill Nagy last year. Nagy got hurt, and Arkin obviously didn't develop in time to be a help this year. They both play guard, but I remember a training camp conversation I had with then-offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who told me both were getting practice snaps at center and that both would have to be able to play it in a pinch if they were to stick around. Houck believed both players -- Nagy in particular -- had what it took to be an NFL center, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to think along those lines and try to find their solution internally from the Arkin/Nagy/Costa group. Costa is also still young, remember, and he does have a year's worth of experience, even if it was a disappointing one.

The Cowboys also have brought in a new offensive line coach, replacing Houck with Bill Callahan. Does Callahan have a guy, or a type of guy, in mind for center? Will he have some say in who the team brings in for the position? Will he be able to coach something out of Costa or Arkin or Nagy that we haven't yet seen? Will the Cowboys pursue someone from BTB's list to hold down the position for a year or two until one of the younger solutions develops? Will they really draft an interior offensive lineman in the middle of the first round?

I think they're likely to find better offensive line value at that No. 15 pick than they are to find value at one of their other need positions -- say, defensive back or pass-rusher. So unless they move up or down to position themselves to take someone at one of those positions, I do think it's reasonable to speculate about a guy like David DeCastro, the Stanford guard who's got a first-round grade. If you believe a talented guard can turn into a solid NFL center, that would add a guy to the mix they already have and produce a great deal of young depth at these interior line positions that clearly need upgrading.

My guess is that the Cowboys continue to think young at these spots, especially with the well respected Callahan in to help develop them now. Does that mean they won't pursue someone from that deep list of veteran free-agent centers? Not necessarily. But I believe their free-agent priorities will lie elsewhere, and that they're more likely to use the draft to address the line.

Chat Wrap: Coughlin on the hot seat?

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
3:46
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We chatted. It was epic, as always. If you missed it, you're beyond my help, but I offer the following highlights if only to taunt you and shame you into coming to next week's chat.

Chris from LA asked whether I thought the Redskins would be willing to trade up in the draft if that's what they had to do to secure one of the top quarterbacks.

Shanahan
Shanahan
Dan Graziano: I do. I think, if the Redskins identified a guy (say, Matt Barkley) as a franchise QB, they would make a move to make sure they could get him. Some of the teams drafting in front of them (Rams, Vikings, etc) took QBs in the first round last year or the year before, so those teams might be looking to trade out. And I've long thought that one of the reasons Mike Shanahan didn't deal picks for a QB last offseason was because he wanted to hold onto them so he could maneuver at or near the top of this year's draft.

Jake from Arkansas asked whether the Cowboys would be wise to rest their starters on Saturday if the Giants win their early game against the Jets, since a Giants' win would guarantee that the Week 17 game between Dallas and New York would decide the division.

DG: Getting this question a lot. There remains an outside chance the Cowboys could still make the playoffs as a 9-7 wild card team if they won this week and lost to the Giants Week 17. So I don't think they're thinking about resting guys.

Dom from NJ asked why I thought Cowboys left tackle Doug Free was playing so much worse this year than he did last year.

DG: Some in Dallas think it says more about Kyle Kosier's impact on the linemen around him. Free doesn't have Kosier next to him this year, as he did last year. They moved Kosier over to RG to help the rookie RT.

lastname
Coughlin
Matt from LA thinks the Giants have shown a tendency to "lay an egg" in so-called "easy" games during Tom Coughlin's time as their head coach and wonders if the latest example (Sunday's loss to the Redskins) will cost Coughlin his job.

DG: I really never thought this Giants team was all that good. It doesn't surprise me when they lose. I don't think they gave Coughlin enough to work with this year, and if he takes the fall for it I think that'd be a shame. However, if they do get rid of him, it'll be because of the accumulation of December disappointments, not just this one.

And Chris from Hoboken asked an "agree or disagree" on whether I think the Eagles CAN be one of the best teams in the league on any given Sunday:

DG: Of course they can. They lost their games because of turnovers and those blown fourth-quarter leads. They have underachieved. They have the talent to play with anyone. They just haven't translated it into sustained success. That's about heart, for me.

Thanks as always for all of you who dropped in and asked questions. I'm always sorry I can't get to all of them. More later, of course, as we roll into these exciting final two weeks in the NFC East.

All-NFC East Team: Week 14 update

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
9:50
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Alert! We're changing quarterbacks again!

After two weeks in the top spot, the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo this week slides ever-so-slightly behind the New York Giants' Eli Manning for the starting quarterback spot on the NFC East All-Division Team. As I have written for many weeks now, the race between Romo and Manning is as close as it can possibly be in almost every single category. But I'm not going to split the vote. I'm going to make a pick. And the Week 13 performances slid Manning slightly back in front of Romo for the season, for me.

The disclaimer that no one will read: This All-Division Team reflects performance for the entire year to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of awards for Week 13 performance. That's why Mitch Petrus isn't on it. Any changes made due to Week 13 results of performance are made because said results or performance, added to the prior 12 weeks' body of work for the players in question, warranted a change.

That's what happened at quarterback, which could very easily swing back and forth between Romo and Manning the rest of the way. It seems to be the king of all NFC East debates -- Romo vs. Manning -- and on it rages. You guys are going to love this week's Hot Button.

But first, this week's All-Division Team, followed by some notes.

Quarterback: Eli Manning, Giants (Last week: Tony Romo)

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (McCoy)

Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Giants (Nicks, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles (Peters)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Kyle Kosier, Cowboys (Danny Watkins)

Right tackle: Tyron Smith, Cowboys (Smith)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Trent Cole, Eagles (Pierre-Paul, Cole)

Defensive tackle: Jay Ratliff, Cowboys; Cullen Jenkins, Eagles (Ratliff, Jenkins)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys; Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins (Ware, Brian Orakpo)

Inside linebacker: London Fletcher, Redskins; Sean Lee, Cowboys (Fletcher, Lee)

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Eagles; Corey Webster, Giants (Samuel, Terence Newman)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Phillips, Sensabaugh)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Steve Weatherford, Giants (Sav Rocca)

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)
  • So you don't have to go back and count, it's eight Cowboys, seven Giants, six Eagles and six Redskins. And no, I don't take that into account or try to make sure it's even. That's just the way it's worked out.
  • Kerrigan moves back in front of Orakpo in the race for that second outside linebacker spot. It's a neck-and-neck race kind of like quarterback is, and I thought Kerrigan was a bit better Sunday. They're both studs, and if Washington is building a defense around its pass-rushing linebackers, it's doing a good job. It's also worth noting that the Cowboys' Anthony Spencer is playing well enough to get into the conversation for that spot alongside teammate Ware.
  • London Fletcher is special. He's on here every week, almost automatically, and therefore never gets mentioned. All he's doing is racking up tackles, playing his guts out on every down and setting the tone for that Redskins defense and all of the young players around him. Someday, if Perry Riley turns out to be great, he's going to look back and be very grateful for the opportunity to learn next to someone like Fletcher.
  • And cornerback remains a wasteland. Nobody's playing it well. I left Newman on there last week and then he went out and played basically his worst game of the year. I have no idea how to pick the cornerbacks for this team and so once again I am leaving it to Pro Football Focus, which grades Samuel as the No. 17 corner in the league and Webster at No. 37 -- the two best rankings among NFC East corners. For Week 13 specifically, it rated Orlando Scandrick and DeAngelo Hall as the best. What can I tell you?
  • Kosier takes the right guard spot from Watkins because he's been healthier and playing better and it's probably pretty important to point out his level of responsibility for Smith's instantaneous and brilliant success as a rookie playing next to him.
  • Finally, Pierre-Paul is an absolute thrill to watch. He's the best defensive end in the division, and along with Orakpo and Kerrigan he makes a case for second-best defensive player in the division behind Ware. He's huge, hyper-athletic and getting better play by play. It's frightening to think how good he can become.

So let me know. What'd I get wrong?

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