NFC East: Tank Johnson
As part of our ongoing "Great Debate" series, ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon were asked to discuss the Dallas Cowboys' chances of reaching the Super Bowl. You might have heard that it's being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Will the prospect of becoming the first NFL team to qualify for a hometown Super Bowl give the Cowboys some extra motivation? We're about to find out over the next six months.
Now, let the debate begin:
The most important ingredient is quarterback Tony Romo. I think winning his first playoff game last season against the Eagles was huge for his confidence. I think we both agree that he has the talent to lead a team to the Super Bowl, but he desperately needed to get the Seattle-New York monkey off his back.
In 2009, Romo learned to put his teammates before himself. It was an important lesson for a guy who forged a reputation based on his devil-may-care approach. As backup quarterback Jon Kitna explained it to me last season, Romo realized that decisions he makes on the field affect everyone in the organization. He ended up with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions and was able to strike a nice balance between his improv work and his willingness to throw the ball away. He remembered Bill Parcells bellowing in practice, "The throwaway's a good play!"
Oh wait, I need to take a break and let MacMahon say something.
MacMahon: Glad to see Parcells’ wisdom is still fresh in your mind, Matt. Perhaps you recall his oft-repeated line about putting away the anointing oil in regard to Romo.
You really think one playoff win is proof that Romo is ready to carry the Cowboys to a Super Bowl? What about the next weekend? He failed to get the Cowboys in the end zone during a lopsided loss to the Vikings.
Of course, it’s not all about the quarterback. The Cowboys’ biggest concern appears to be their aging offensive line, which got whipped by the modern-day version of the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters. The Cowboys have to cross their fingers that right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier can come back strong from knee injuries that could sideline them for the season opener and beyond.
It would be wrong to rule out Romo as a potential Super Bowl quarterback, but it’s foolish to consider him the favorite in a conference that features a couple of guys who have done it before and have great supporting casts (New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Minnesota’s Brett Favre). Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is also arguably more likely to be a featured attraction at JerryWorld in February.
Perhaps I should pacify the New York branch of your Beast readership by mentioning Eli Manning, who has as many playoff wins on Texas soil as Romo.
Mosley: Tim, we both know that Wade Phillips let that Vikings playoff game get away from him when he opted for a long field goal attempt from a shaky kicker instead of doing the logical thing and going for it on fourth-and-1. And when Flozell Adams suffered an injury in the second quarter, the game was effectively over. But you're correct in saying the offensive line is a major concern. We've learned to appreciate the work of Kosier when he has been out of the lineup and his backup, Montrae Holland, hasn't exactly been a road-grader in the preseason. But wait, I'm arguing against myself.
As crazy as it might sound to longtime Adams apologists such as yourself, Doug Free will be an upgrade at left tackle. He's had a good preseason and the Cowboys' great offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who mentored future Hall of Famer Larry Allen, raves about Free's work on the left side. Once the season gets rolling, perennial Pro Bowlers Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis will return to form.
You talk about the Saints like they're invincible, but I seem to recall the Cowboys going into the Superdome last December and pushing them around. The Saints won a Super Bowl with someone named Jermon Bushrod playing left tackle. The Cowboys might be long in the tooth along the offensive line, but they have better units than the Eagles and Redskins for sure. The Giants have been just as banged up as the Cowboys throughout training camp, so those offensive lines are pretty close.
Last time I checked, Rodgers hadn't won a playoff game, so I'm not sure why every national pundit suddenly has him in front of Romo. And surely Favre's ankle can't hold a lot more lubricant. Without Sidney Rice in the lineup the first half of the season, Favre will be missing a major weapon. If the Cowboys can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs this time around, I think they'll get a bonus game at their home stadium.
Obviously I'm winning the debate at this point, but I want to give you some more reps. Other than being worried about the offensive line and the talented players on other teams, what's your biggest reason for the Cowboys not going to the Super Bowl?
MacMahon: No wonder you dropped out of Baylor Law School all those years ago. You do a fine job of shooting holes in your own case.
You blame Phillips (1-5 postseason record as a head coach) for making a poor decision in a playoff loss. Does his new contract somehow guarantee that won’t happen again? You mention that the Cowboys had a shaky kicker situation last season. Has that changed? They’re crossing their fingers that David Buehler can get the job done. He’s money on kickoffs and sprints against disappointing draft picks, but he’s never attempted a field goal in the NFL and was erratic at USC.
Of course, you could point out that the Cowboys had no reason to be confident in their short-yardage offense instead of just pointing the finger at Phillips for not going for it on fourth-and-1. After all, your perennial Pro Bowlers couldn’t pave the way for Marion Barber to get a yard on four tries against the Chargers in December. I hate to use actual facts in this debate, but Barber’s conversion percentage on third- and fourth-and-1 ranked among the lowest of backs with at least 10 such opportunities last season.
And you totally lost me with the Flozell Adams turn. You begin by saying how much the Cowboys missed him in the Minnesota massacre and follow it up by declaring that Doug Free is a significant upgrade. Sort of a false start, which is fitting.
Free is certainly an upgrade, but Jared Allen was far from the biggest problem for the Cowboys in the playoff loss. That was Ray Edwards, the Vikings’ other end, who wreaked havoc from the first time that annoying horn blew. Which gets us back to whether Colombo can get completely healthy.
But the biggest reason I’m skeptical about the Cowboys’ Super Bowl aspirations? Because I remember what happened when they were supposed to be Super Bowl front-runners a couple of years ago. I can’t just hop back on the bandwagon. I’ve got to see it to believe it.
With those players "safely" in Cincinnati now, the Cowboys have a completely different team. The arrival of Keith Brooking in '09 via free agency was a huge thing for this team. He's an excellent linebacker, but more important, he's a tremendous leader. He and safety Gerald Sensabaugh were big-time additions to this defense.
The Cowboys had one of the top defenses in the league last season, and they have a chance to be better in 2010. The other three NFC East teams have major questions. And I think the Saints are about to go through a Super Bowl hangover season. Which NFC East team has a better defense than the Cowboys?
Which NFC team has a better quarterback than the Cowboys -- outside of the Saints? You could make an argument for Favre, but all that lubricant in his ankle is going to bring him down at some point. And Rodgers has more pressure on him than Romo, because the Packers have a suspect defense.
You're making a passionate case against the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl, but in your heart of hearts, you know they have an excellent chance. I'm going to give you a shot at a closing argument here. To this point, all of your statements have been summarily defeated by a man with half a law degree. Time to sound the retreat, sir.
MacMahon: The Cowboys’ cheerleading team has clearly lowered their standards to let you join the squad.
I’ll grant you that this is a much more mature team than the band of misfits that melted down in 2008. The Brooking-T.O. swap certainly worked chemistry wonders, and guys such as Romo and Jay Ratliff have grown into good leaders.
The Cowboys should certainly be considered NFC East favorites, having won the division two of the past three seasons and adding Dez Bryant to their talented core. They merit consideration as Super Bowl contenders, but with their difficult schedule, I don’t see the Cowboys claiming home-field advantage. And I wouldn’t bet on them winning a playoff game in Green Bay, Minnesota or New Orleans.
You declare that the Cowboys have an excellent chance to play a home Super Bowl. I’d downgrade that to a decent chance. Go ahead and crack the anointing oil if you wish. I’m keeping the lid on my bottle until February.
Zimmer, who still owns a home in Dallas, knows that Williams functions much better in a 4-3 scheme and he does a nice job of keeping him out of one-on-one coverage situations. Johnson flamed out with the Cowboys, but he's become a mainstay in Zimmer's defense. In Dallas, Johnson tried to freelance too much and gave up big plays in the middle of the field. Plus, it wasn't like he was going to play much behind Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff.
In an unrelated note, I had a chance to visit with Saints defensive assistant Adam Zimmer on Thursday. He's in Dallas celebrating a Super Bowl win with his father. Considering what the Zimmer family has been through this season, they seem to be in remarkably good spirits.
I've talked to enough people within the Cowboys' organization to know that Jones' son, Stephen, is the one who finally got through to his father. Jones, who wasn't inclined to release T.O. at the end of the '08 season, listened to several voices. But I'm told that Stephen stubbornly fought to convince his father that Romo couldn't flourish until T.O. was extracted from the locker room. And once T.O., Tank Johnson and Adam "Pacman" Jones were gone, the owner introduced us to his catchphrase of the offseason, a "Romo-friendly offense."
Against all odds and conventional wisdom, Jones retained Wade Phillips in the aftermath of a 44-6 beatdown in Philly. He soon announced that Phillips would be adding "defensive coordinator" to his job title, which is probably the way it should have been in the first place. Phillips made too many excuses for his players during his first two seasons and didn't hold them accountable at crucial moments along the way. But no one ever doubted the man's credentials as a defensive coach. Phillips' hands are all over a defense that has been dominant over the past four games and held opponents to 250 points during the regular-season, the second-lowest total in the league.
He also helped himself in the personnel department when he spoke on behalf of free-agent linebacker Keith Brooking, a player he coached when he was with the Falcons. The Falcons had a great young linebacker in Curtis Lofton and decided to move forward without the 33-year-old Brooking. The Cowboys' scouting department knew that Brooking was bigger than Zach Thomas and thought he'd be a much better fit at inside linebacker.
Thomas played well for the first six or seven games of '08, but his production started to fall off midway through the season. He never felt comfortable in Phillips' 3-4 and both parties were ready to move on. Brooking showed up for the Cowboys' offseason program and immediately started turning heads. Phillips said the linebacker tried to win every single sprint during conditioning drills and younger players such as Anthony Spencer and Bobby Carpenter began to notice Brooking's uncommon work ethic.
The Cowboys also added former Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh during free agency. He solidified an area that had been in a state of flux since Darren Woodson retired because of a back injury in 2004. Sensabaugh has been a better player than Pro Bowler Ken Hamlin, who hasn't lived up to his big contract.
"When all hell breaks loose, you want Sensabaugh on your side," said one highly ranked member of the organization who asked not to be identified. "He's highly, highly respected by pretty much everyone in the organization. There's a toughness and a swagger to his approach that other guys just feed off of."
Of course, one of the biggest changes this season was the meteoric rise of Miles Austin. He's a younger, faster version of Owens -- without all the drama. And if you ever hear a scout say they knew Austin could be this good, they're lying.
Even when Romo was moving the ball down the field last season, it was always in the back of his mind that he needed to keep T.O. happy. I'm not sure that any quarterback can have long-term success with that type of scenario, and Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia would probably have my back on that statement.
With his words, Jerry Jones will still tell you that locker room chemistry is overrated. But his actions say something else.
On Tuesday at Valley Ranch, Jones sat down with reporters and talked about the pain he felt following last season's 44-6 loss to the Eagles and how it led to sweeping changes within his organization. Here's the most interesting portion of Philadelphia Inquirer writer Ashley Fox's story:
"My confidence was shaken," Jones said. He paused, stammered a bit, cleared his throat, apologized for doing so, then rambled on about being routinely criticized for not having a layer of management between himself and the head coach, but saying that's the best way to do business in the National Football League.
"Because of that kind of self-designed structure that we have here, and hearing it for 20 years, then it was pounding in my head pretty good when we left Philadelphia."
It's rare to hear a man capable of building a $1.1 billion monument to his own legacy express any level of doubt. But I think he was truly hurt after watching his players go belly-up in the season finale against a hated rival. As Fox points out, Jones responded by sacking Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson. He retained Wade Phillips, not based on anything Phillips had done as head coach. He kept him because he still felt like Phillips was one of the best defensive coordinators in the league -- and that's why he gave him the additional title.
The Cowboys also fired special teams coach Bruce Read and hired Joe DeCamillis, which turned out to be one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. The fiery DeCamillis was exactly what this coaching staff needed. Phillips is more of the nurturing type and DeCamillis became his hammer. It's not something you'll see many folks writing about this week, but it's definitely something that has inspired this team.
"When you don't have success or you have really tangible setbacks, then it will shake you," said Jones. "It's completely the way I've lived my life and professionally. It invites big bumps and bruises. ... Since I'm past this past weekend, I'm worried about the bruise or the bump coming."
And make no mistake, a loss to the Eagles on Saturday night could sting just as much as the one at the end of last season. I think the Cowboys have already shown that they can handle adversity this season. Tony Romo has exorcised his late-season demons and is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. And two consecutive shutout wins shows you that Phillips is doing a superb job.
But will this season still be viewed as a failure if the Cowboys lose Saturday night at home? Absolutely.
Any thoughts from you guys?
Update: Here's another good take on Jones from ESPNDallas.com's own Calvin Watkins.
Unfortunately, though, they don't hand out Lombardi trophies based on improved locker room chemistry. For the '09 Cowboys to be truly different from the teams that have spent the past 13 years dealing with playoff futility, we knew they had to exorcise their December demons and then win a couple of games in January. The arrival of blue-collar players such as linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Igor Olshansky via free agency seemed to suggest a different approach. From the start of training camp, the sense of entitlement that was captured on film by HBO's "Hard Knocks" heading into the '08 season seemed to disappear.
The Sultans of September seemed better equipped to hold up during the harsh winter months (I know it's Dallas, but just go with me). Brooking, whose successful run with the Falcons came to an abrupt halt, bristled at any mention of the Cowboys' past failures and seemed to convince his teammates to focus only on the present. But a team that surged into December with an 8-3 record suffered back-to-back losses to the Giants and Chargers, and once again they were hounded by questions. What happened next could end up being the turning point in this organization's dubious playoff winless streak.
Special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who has become the hammer that the cuddly Wade Phillips so desperately needed, showed the team a clip of Tony Dungy saying the Cowboys had "no chance" of beating the Saints in New Orleans. For whatever reason, the thought that a former NFL head coach would show them absolutely no respect angered the Cowboys to the point where they wanted to shut everyone up. The Cowboys scored 14 points on the previously unbeaten Saints before Sean Payton knew what hit him, and their confidence began to grow. It was certainly the biggest win of the Phillips era and it sent a message that the Cowboys might be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
In trying to identify what makes this Cowboys team better-equipped for a successful playoff run than some of the talented teams of the past ('07), I think you have to point first to quarterback Tony Romo and then to Phillips' defense. Romo is playing as well if not better than any quarterback in the NFC right now. And it's a good sign that he elevated his game when the stakes became higher in December.
For all his gaudy numbers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has fallen off over the past month. And the same goes for Brett Favre, though he certainly made some huge plays in the second half of the loss against the Bears. Donovan McNabb and Aaron Rodgers are also operating at a high level, but neither of those quarterbacks has protected the ball as well as Romo.
You could attribute Romo's December failures in '06 and '07 to a lack of experience, but last season he simply didn't give his team a chance to win games down the stretch. And his infamous postgame news conference following a season-ending 44-6 loss to the Eagles made some Cowboys fans wonder whether he truly hated losing enough to make some much-needed changes.
When he threw three interceptions in a Week 2 loss to the Giants this season, Romo became the symbol for all that was wrong with the team. But while he took heavy criticism from both the media and fans, Romo stuck with a plan that he brought into the season.
He focused on becoming a better game manager and the following week he didn't have a turnover in a 21-7 win over the Panthers. Had we just met Tony the bus driver? But as his numbers reflect, Romo never stopped using his rare improvisational skills to create big plays. Heading into Sunday's NFC East showdown with the Eagles, Romo has played nine games in which he hasn't thrown an interception, and he's lost only four fumbles.
In '08, he threw at least one interception in 10 of the 13 games he started and lost seven fumbles. He did not trust offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and he felt the need to take unnecessary chances because the Cowboys' defense gave up too many points. Bill Parcells had left word that Romo needed to be coached all the way through games because of his habit of trying to do too much on his own. Although I don't think Romo would admit this publicly, I think he stopped listening to the coaches once Parcells and former quarterbacks coach David Lee left the building.
Honestly, I'm not sure it was a coach who finally got through to Romo this season. I think he finally came to the conclusion that the only way the Cowboys could be successful was for him to strike a proper balance between protecting the football and using his ability to make big plays in the passing game. Romo has been coy about the actual changes that he made heading into this season, but backup quarterback Jon Kitna has his own opinions.
"I think he came to the understanding that with every decision he makes, 52 other guys on the roster have to live with that decision," Kitna said Wednesday. "I think that's why he's been more willing to take a sack this season and not try to do everything on his own."
And here's where the defense ties into Romo's development as a quarterback. His willingness to throw the ball away or take the occasional sack has a lot to do with his trust that Phillips' defense will do its job. Earlier in the season, the Cowboys' defense played well for three quarters and then surrendered late leads. That hasn't been the case in recent games -- as evidenced by the defense's ability to end the Saints' frantic rally in a 24-17 win.
Only the Jets and Ravens have surrendered fewer points than the Cowboys (250), and remember that those teams don't face as many high-powered offenses on a regular basis. I remember late in '06, Romo felt like he had to make a play on every possession in order to give the Cowboys a chance to win. That Cowboys defense was getting lit up by teams such as the Lions who already had been eliminated from the playoffs. Now the quarterback of that Lions team is watching Romo take some very important steps.
"He's done a great job protecting the football," said Kitna. "His ball-handling skills in the pocket are excellent and you can see him tucking it away a lot more. More than anything, he doesn't feel the pressure to constantly make a play."
And that's why I think the Cowboys are poised to win their first playoff game in 13 seasons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
We begin today's column with a simple question: What in the world has happened to the Dallas Cowboys?
In one offseason, they've gone from being the most compelling locker room in professional sports to the most mundane. After watching a couple episodes of "Hard Knocks," I've even looked at real estate in the greater Cincinnati area. Last season, more than 50 reporters would show up at Valley Ranch on days when quarterback Tony Romo and Terrell Owens held dueling news conferences. On Wednesday, I walked into the locker room and noticed a dozen reporters milling around looking for scraps.
With the Cowboys' version of the Rat Pack -- T.O., Pacman and Tank -- gone, the locker room has taken on an entirely different vibe. Romo remains the headliner, but he has disappointed the editors of US Weekly and People with at least one recent decision. Before the Cowboys' quarterback made his weekly appearance Wednesday, reporters flocked to hear what former fifth-round cornerback Orlando Scandrick had to say. Just think what it will be like if Scandrick becomes a starter.
Meanwhile, the rest of the division is in turmoil. In the Meadowlands, Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora vanished without a trace after new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan reportedly had the audacity to criticize him during a film session Monday. In an embarrassing scene, the ultimate disciplinarian, Tom Coughlin, could only tell reporters that his missing defensive end had been found via text. Umenyiora quickly returned to the property and apologized, but it was still an episode that would've fit better at Valley Ranch in '08.
In Philly, the Eagles continue to deliver the "nothing to see here" message as Michael Vick prepares to be the backup to the most insecure star quarterback in the league. Donovan McNabb was complaining Monday that Vick's six snaps interrupted the offense's rhythm in a preseason game against the Jaguars. And in my opinion, that's simply a precursor to Vick interrupting McNabb's hold on the starting job at some point this season. People who think that Vick will be satisfied with a handful of Wildcat plays (and there are plenty in the national media) haven't followed the man's career. He's one of the game's most fierce competitors and he hasn't been shy about stating his goal to become a starter again.
And it's not as if everything was going smoothly in Eagles camp before Vick arrived. The death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson certainly took an emotional toll on the team, but the impact could also show up on the field. By all accounts, 35-year-old Sean McDermott is a worthy successor to Johnson, but so far the results haven't been there in the preseason.
For their part, the Redskins have spent the past month attempting to restore faith in starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Judging by the actions of owner Dan Snyder and his trusty sidekick Vinny Cerrato, I think it's fair to say that coach Jim Zorn's and Campbell's jobs are both on the line this season. It's playoffs or bust for these two, which is a dicey proposition in what is arguably the most competitive division in the league. Right now, the Redskins are dealing with another adversary: The Washington Post. A story in Thursday's newspaper provides details of how the club has sued more than 100 season-ticket holders who asked to be released from multiyear contracts over the past five years. The Redskins fired off a preemptive press release attacking the story's credibility Wednesday evening.
So what's going on in Dallas? Other than punters aiming for Jerry Jones' gigantic big screen, everything's pretty quiet. Jones thinks the biggest motivating factor in '09 will be his new $1.2 billion stadium. In his annual state-of-the-team address on the opening day of training camp, Jones said he thought his team would "play to the level of the stadium."
And after last year's drama that included allegations of Romo and road-trip roomie Jason Witten having pillow talk behind T.O.' s back, this appears to be the most stable locker room in the division. When I broached that subject with wide receiver Miles Austin on Wednesday, he started laughing.
"It's sort of nice not to have our names in the papers for all that stuff right now," Austin said. "I don't know about all the other locker rooms because I'm only in this one. But this locker room has a much different feel right now. I think guys are all about football, and that's a good thing."
We all remember how the '08 season ended for Romo. He tried to lend some perspective to a loss (to the Eagles) that didn't deserve any, and he's still paying for those comments. But he looked like a different quarterback during training camp in San Antonio. He still played with the same carefree spirit that energized the club in '06, but he also was willing to hold his teammates accountable. Players such as Austin and Patrick Crayton were a little taken aback when Romo got in their face, but they know it's a positive sign. And like Austin, Romo's relishing the fact the Cowboys are flying under the radar -- by their standards.
"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," Romo said recently. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard."
After what the Cowboys went through last season, I think the peace and quiet in the locker room could serve them very well.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Caught up in the euphoria of opening night at the new Cowboys Stadium, owner Jerry Jones apparently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill on Saturday that he hasn't closed the door on a reunion with troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. Surely Jerry was simply making a bad joke.
After all, we've spent so much time this offseason talking about how Jones has gotten rid of all the locker-room drama caused by players such as Pacman, Tank Johnson and Terrell Owens. Now it sounds like Jerry is having second thoughts.
"Would you beat me up too bad if I brought back Adam?" Jones said to the Star-Telegram.
Jerry said bringing back Pacman is still a long shot, but I'm not sure why it's even a consideration. The cornerback played in only nine games and didn't have a single interception. I've heard all this talk about how he graded out better than the other Cowboys cornerbacks, but that's more of an indictment of them than some sort of tribute to Pacman. And honestly, that sounds like typical Jerry Jones hyperbole to me.
Again, why would he choose opening night at his palace in Arlington to drop this bit of news? Because he can't help himself. He got caught up in the moment and thought it might be fun to grab another headline.
Pacman was supposed to help this team return punts. How can we forget the scenes from HBO's "Hard Knocks" of an astonished Wade Phillips watching Pacman field a punt while already holding five footballs in his arms? Unfortunately, that's not a skill that comes in handy during the regular season. Pacman was awful on punt returns, averaging 4.5 yards per return on 21 opportunities.
I called Valley Ranch this morning to see what the reaction was to Jones' statement. Doesn't sound like anyone's taking the comments too seriously. The Cowboys have second-year players Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick involved in a nice little competition for the other cornerback spot. And they're hoping to have a healthy Terence Newman ready to go this season. Pacman would only serve as a reminder of the past -- and the Cowboys can't afford to keep looking back.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Former Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson has agreed to a one-year contract with the Bengals. The Bengals are hoping that Johnson will have the same type success he once had in the Bears' 4-3 defense. He'll play the three-technique for former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
He never was a good fit in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. Coaches told me he tried to guess way too much and wasn't good about maintaining his gap responsibilities.
Posted by the ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I know it's about time to close the NFC Beast book on Plaxico Burress, but aren't you still curious to see where he ends up? Carol Slezak of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks Chicago would be a good fit, in part because the team doesn't have a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the roster.
Some of her other reasons were somewhat faulty, noting the Bears' willingness to harbor players with character issues in the past. The club allowed players such as Tank Johnson and Cedric Benson to embarrass the franchise, so you'd like to think the Bears may have learned from their mistakes.
"I understand the arguments against bringing Burress to town," writes Slezak. "He was stupid enough to carry a concealed weapon and accidentally shoot himself in the leg. He also supposedly was chronically late for meetings with the New York Giants, which didn't sit well with the chronically early Tom Coughlin. And he reportedly cursed out a cop during a recent traffic stop. He has issues -- I get it. But this is the NFL we're talking about. Half the league has issues. As we've seen time and again, all that matters is whether a guy can play."
So there you go. Half the league has issues, so Burress should be a nice fit for the Bears. After seeing Burress interact with Michigan State fans at Ford Field the last few days, I'm thinking the Lions might be a better fit. The Eagles have reportedly denied any interest in Burress, although it's still fun to imagine him lining up with Donovan McNabb against the Giants.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Dallas Cowboys agreed to a one-year deal with unrestricted free-agent safety Gerald Sensabaugh on Tuesday. The former North Carolina player spent the past four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and had four interceptions and eight pass deflections in 2008.
During the second day of the 2005 draft, I was standing near the Cowboys' scouting department offices when an assistant coach told me the team was hoping Sensabaugh would still be available in the sixth round. The Jags instead took him in the fifth with the 157th pick overall, and the Cowboys ended up selecting Ball State safety Justin Beriault -- a devastating hitter who quickly suffered a career-ending knee injury.
Now Sensabaugh will compete for the starting safety position opposite Ken Hamlin. And like they did with Hamlin, the Cowboys elected to go with the one-year deal. If he has a nice season, the Cowboys can try to lock him up with a long-term deal. If not, he can try his hand in free agency again.
Sensabaugh is known as a big hitter who has limited cover skills. Hmm, doesn't that remind you of someone else who recently left Dallas? Actually, I think Sensabaugh's an upgrade over Roy Williams.
He didn't help himself with his arrest last month for driving with a suspended license. But at least the police let Sensabaugh finish his haircut before cuffing him. With the likely departure of Tank Johnson, the Cowboys will be able to replace him with another player who appears to have a fascination with guns -- especially the loaded kind.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Speaking on behalf of Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper's family, former Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson is pleading to the public for someone to come forward and continue searching for Cooper and two other boaters who've been missing since Saturday. The fourth member of the fishing expedition off Florida's Gulf Coast, Nick Schuyler, was rescued Monday.
Johnson and Cooper were childhood friends and played football together at the University of Washington. Johnson made his request in front of several TV cameras after the Coast Guard called off its search for the three men at 6:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
"What we are asking for is experienced aviation pilots who are interested in helping us find the remains, if not Marquis, floating on the water and Corey and the other gentleman," Johnson told reporters.
"Anything can happen, stranger things have happened and we still have faith. If nothing else, get the remains back so we can have our family service and move on with closure in our life and that chapter. But these are people who we love dearly."
The Coast Guard has discouraged the families from launching their own search, but you can imagine the mixture of desperation and grief that they're dealing with at this time. Actually, most of us can't imagine what that feels like.
Finding Schuyler clinging to the capsized boat Monday was a miraculous thing and I'm sure it offered hope to the other three families. Now, the grim reality has set in.
ESPN's Sal Paolantonio has done a remarkable job covering this story. His Naval background gives him a unique perspective and he's handled the tragic situation with proper restraint and sensitivity. I just wish he had better news to report today.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of all four of these men.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
In case you missed it, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have informed soon-to-be 39-year-old Jeff Garcia that they're moving on without him. Garcia led the Bucs to a 14-10 record over the past two regular-seasons and he's not quite ready to hang it up.
|The best moments from Jeff Garcia in 2008.|
And at the risk of (heaven forbid) stirring something up, I think the Cowboys would be wise to sign him on the first day of free agency. For three games, this team was held hostage by the poor play of Brad Johnson. Garcia would be a huge upgrade over Johnson, who would've been released during the season if the Cowboys had another option at holder.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett did the team a major disservice by convincing owner Jerry Jones to stick with Johnson as the backup in '08. During a stretch that included games against the lowly Rams, Bucs and Giants, a player of Garcia's ilk would've led the team to a 2-1 record. The Cowboys went 1-2 with Johnson -- and missed the playoffs by one game.
Try to forget that Johnson's only win came against a Garcia-led Bucs team. The Cowboys won in spite of Johnson in that game because of a heroic defensive effort. Garcia would not challenge for the starting job, but he'd at least give Tony Romo someone to think about. With Johnson and Brooks Bollinger on campus, Romo knew that he'd never be pulled from a game.
I think the presence of a legitimate starter would actually sharpen Romo's focus. The Cowboys were lulled to sleep regarding the backup spot in 2008 because no one has missed significant time due to injury since Bill Parcells took over in '03. And when the Cowboys released Quincy Carter during the '04 training camp, Parcells had veteran Vinny Testaverde waiting in the wings.
Yes, I realize the prospect of T.O. and Garcia sharing a locker room could be a bit awkward considering their past, but honestly, who cares?
First of all, there's still a chance Jones does the right thing and releases T.O. And even if he doesn't, it's not like this locker room could be any worse than last year. They've already cut ties with cornerback Pacman Jones and defensive tackle Tank Johnson is next.
The Cowboys can't afford to head into another season without a viable backup. The Giants have David Carr, the Redskins Todd Collins and the Eagles have former second-round pick Kevin Kolb. The Cowboys don't have anyone.
And for those of you who think Garcia's still looking for a starting job, check out what he told the St. Petersburg Times:
"I do feel like I have football life in me," Garcia said. "I feel I can still contribute. I'm not sure what my role will be with another team. I'm not looking at it like I need to start and be the man ... Hopefully, I'll have some opportunities out there. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something out there for me."
If Garcia signs with the Cowboys early in free agency, it might be an indication that Jones is ready to part ways with T.O. Either way, it's definitely a move the Cowboys should consider. The club blew off the backup position last season. I don't think Jones will let that happen again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I've known Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for eight years now, so it seemed a bit out of character for him to send Adam "Pacman" Jones packing Wednesday afternoon. He'd treated the troubled player like a son over the past eight months, and it kept him from noticing that Pacman wasn't really accomplishing much on the field. The dangerous return man that we'd heard rumors about never materialized and it was one of his silly penalties that helped lead to the debacle in Philly.
Now we know that it took an ESPN "Outside the Lines" report, which will air Sunday, to finally force the owner's hand. The report will detail allegations stemming from a July 2007 shooting incident. It's too bad it had to come to this. From the start, Pacman was never worth all the fuss. His on-field talent wasn't enough to overcome his prolific off-field behavior.
Randy Galloway, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist and my daily radio partner on 103.3 ESPN, summed it up pretty well Thursday:
"Still being a tool for the fool, Jerry has no gripe coming, since he's the same guy who ordered Pacman to be reinstated to the roster in December after he had already flunked the first probationary period after a fight with his bodyguard at a Dallas hotel. Six weeks of league suspension, and despite ample knowledge that Pacman had been mocking both him and commissioner Roger Goodell with his off-the-field visitation of banned establishments, and Jerry still allowed the guy to return.
"The original acquisition of Pacman was questionable (do note I agreed with it in print at the time), but there was no reason to bring him back in December, other than the Cowboys have an owner who won't admit a blunder and a head coach who is silly putty in that owner's hands."
So, who's next? Tank Johnson will most likely leave in free agency. I don't see Jones releasing Terrell Owens -- unless John Barr has something else up his sleeve. I'm anxious to hear what you guys think.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
With a two-line press release Wednesday, the Dallas Cowboys ended their relationship with cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. The laughter you're hearing is coming from the Tennessee Titans' practice facility, where they're preparing for a divisional playoff game against the Ravens.
|James D. Smith/Icon SMI|
|The Cowboys released Adam "Pacman" Jones after the team learned of new allegations against the cornerback from 2007.|
This transaction won't be made official until Feb. 9 because of league rules. ESPN's Ed Werder is reporting that Jones' release was prompted by the club finding out about an upcoming "Outside the Lines" report that provides details on new allegations against the player during his time with the Titans. The NFL apparently knew about the allegations, which occurred two months after Jones was suspended for a year by the league, but charges were never brought against Jones.
Of course, the Cowboys should've cut their losses with Pacman following his Oct. 7 fight with a member of his own security detail in a posh hotel bathroom. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones brought Pacman back into the locker room after he served a six-game suspension. Jerry has maintained that team chemistry is overrated, and that's why he looked the other way while Pacman, Tank Johnson and T.O. were busy dividing his locker room.
According to a high-ranking club source, some members of the defense were stunned when Pacman leapfrogged rookie Mike Jenkins in his first game back after the suspension against the Steelers in December. He was injured in that game after muffing a punt.
After his team's embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Eagles, head coach Wade Phillips indicated there might be some personnel changes. But the only reason this news seems significant is because Pacman is such a controversial figure. He didn't do enough on the field to make up for all the negative attention he brought the team. It's too bad it took a report on a shooting incident that took place in July 2007 to finally make Jerry Jones do something.
The Cowboys' home for wayward players will also lose another resident when Johnson hits the free-agent market. Johnson was nothing more than a loud-mouthed backup, and he joined T.O. in constantly complaining behind the scenes.
Now, we can focus on the bigger offseason story line for the Cowboys: Will T.O. be back next season?
Jones has been telling everyone that releasing T.O. would hamper the club's ability to sign Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware to a contract extension. That sounds like a good reason to keep the controversial wide receiver, but I think Jerry's using fuzzy numbers and logic. Experts at Valley Ranch have said the Cowboys wouldn't take a huge salary-cap hit if T.O. were released this offseason.
So far, the Cowboys have changed special-teams coaches and released Pacman Jones. It's a decent place to start, but they should keep going. As I've written before, T.O. might be one of the most divisive players in the history of the league.
Other than firing Wade Phillips and replacing him with Mike Shanahan, releasing T.O. is the best move Jones could make. Something tells me, however, Jones isn't going to go that route.
Bidding goodbye to players such as Pacman and Tank is just window-dressing. It remains to be seen whether Jones will make any meaningful changes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- As he walked off the field Sunday, Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson crowed about being a free agent. Never mind that Jerry Jones was the one owner willing to take a chance on the trouble-maker who wore out his welcome in Chicago.
Inside linebacker Zach Thomas was far more gracious with his potential exit. He doesn't see himself re-signing with the Cowboys because he hasn't been at his natural middle linebacker spot.
"It's hard to do something for 12 years, play a position and then change and try to make it work," he said."I'm a little outside my comfort zone switching positions. But when you've got a guy like Bradie James at Mike who's All Pro and had a great year...I just feel like I gotta be fair to myself. I don't regret any of it."