NFC East: Will Smith
The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Tyron Smith
- Mackenzy Bernadeau
- Travis Frederick
- Zack Martin
- Doug Free
- Ronald Leary
- Jermey Parnell
- Darrion Weems
- Brian Clarke
The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
- George Selvie
- Henry Melton
- Terrell McClain
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Jeremy Mincey
- Tyrone Crawford
- Ben Gardner
- Davon Coleman
- Ken Bishop
- Martez Wilson
I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.
Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.
Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.
Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.
Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
DeVonte Holloman, Joseph Randle and B.W. Webb in a five-day span in May. The entire draft class was signed by the end of June.
The Cowboys kick off a two-day minicamp Friday and could look to wrap up deals with picks in Rounds 4-7: Anthony Hitchens, Devin Street, Ben Gardner, Will Smith, Ahmad Dixon, Ken Bishop and Terrance Mitchell.
With the new collective bargaining agreement there is little negotiating involved, making the deals easy to reach conclusions. The late-round picks will receive base salaries of $420,000, $510,000, $600,000 and $690,000 on their four-year deals. All of the draft picks will receive four-year deals but the Cowboys will hold a fifth-year option on first rounder Zack Martin.
The Cowboys have $5.5 million in salary-cap space and will gain another $5.5 million in salary-cap space when Miles Austin's contract comes off the books June 2.
The extra space could help the Cowboys in securing long-term deals for Dez Bryant or Tyron Smith over the summer. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said during the draft the teams hopes to start talks with Smith's agent, "sooner rather than later."
IRVING, Texas – A wrap-up of the Dallas Cowboys draft. Click here for a full list of Cowboys' draftees.
Washington Redskins their second (47th) and third (78) picks in order to move to the 34th pick to take Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. With how the draft fell, they had a chance to stick at their picks and take defensive linemen anyway, but none with the elite talent they believe Lawrence has to affect the quarterback. Moving up is always dangerous. The last time the Cowboys moved up significantly in a round was in 2012 when they took Morris Claiborne in the first round. Through his first two seasons, the Claiborne move has not paid off.
Most surprising move: Most of the draft experts had linebacker Anthony Hitchens as a late-round pick, but the Cowboys took him in the fourth round, No. 119 overall. He was Iowa’s defensive MVP in 2013 and led the team in tackles for two seasons with 112. He could play inside linebacker as Sean Lee’s backup and be a special teams stalwart early on. The Cowboys defense is predicated on speed and he ran a 4.7 at the scouting combine. But he was productive. He had an eye-catching 13.5 tackles for loss as a senior.
File it away: The Cowboys came into the draft needing to find help for a defense that finished last in the NFL in 2013. The Cowboys ended up with nine picks and took seven defenders to potentially help Rod Marinelli make over the unit in 2014. Five of those picks came in the seventh round, so some expectations need to be tempered, but the Cowboys were able to find a defensive end in Ben Gardner, a linebacker in Will Smith, a safety in Ahmad Dixon, a defensive tackle in Ken Bishop and defensive back Terrance Mitchell. If the Cowboys can find three players to fill roles out of that group, they should be happy.
“Til it’s time to get under the cap,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.
Teams do not need to be compliant with the salary cap until March 11, but some teams have already started cutting players to create cap savings, like the Detroit Lions did last week in cutting Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson and the New Orleans Saints with Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer.
In addition to using the time at this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis to look at draft prospects, the Cowboys will use the time to discuss the futures of players like DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and how they want to pare their salary cap by $20 million-$25 million before the first day of the league year.
Several others could have their contracts restructured, like Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Jason Witten, and others could be cut, like Justin Durant, to make room.
“We continue to look at them and we continue to look at what’s available out there, what’s going to be available out there, and we’re looking at a lot of tape with [assistant director of player personnel] Will [McClay] and the pro guys are looking at the tape on all those guys and what’s likely to be available in the draft,” Jones said. “All these things affect the decision.”
This all assumes that these suspensions hold up, and we have yet to hear from the NFLPA, which has been arguing for weeks that the league had insufficient evidence to support claims that the players were complicit in administering the bounty programs or that they acted on bounty offers during the games in question. But assuming Vilma and Smith are suspended at all, that's a nice little break for the Washington Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who are scheduled to open the 2012 regular season against the Saints in New Orleans on Sept. 9. While a road game in New Orleans remains a difficult challenge for anyone, especially a rookie quarterback, the Saints' defense obviously becomes somewhat less fearsome if Vilma and Smith aren't on the field.
The other three teams in the NFC East also play the Saints this year, though all are scheduled to do so after Smith's suspension expires. The Eagles open their season Sept. 9 in Cleveland against the Browns, who will be without Fujita if his suspension is upheld.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Saints (6-6) will lose Charles Grant, Will Smith and Deuce McAllister for the final four games of the regular season. The Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles were hoping for some help from the Saints, who host both the Falcons (8-4) and Panthers (9-3) in the final four games.
The Falcons hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys (8-4) at this point because of a better conference record. The Saints were in position to get themselves back in the playoff race with a win over Tampa Bay (9-3), but they couldn't pull off the upset Sunday.
McAllister's impact is minimal at this point in his career and Grant is already on injured reserve with a triceps injury. But the loss of Smith certainly hurts their chances of running the table to finish the season. The NFC East teams have to be wondering whether the Saints will keep bringing it every week now that they're virtually out of the playoff race and have lost three players.
This might be a good time for Jerry Jones to leave an encouraging voicemail on his former assistant Sean Payton's voicemail. If the Giants are the only NFC East team to make the playoffs, remember the day this suspensions came down.
After the first game of the season, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo pulled off the road late on a Sunday night and helped out a stranded motorist. On Tuesday, he walked up to a movie theater and noticed that a homeless man was cashing in change. Romo bought the man a ticket to see "Role Model" and then invited him to sit with he and his buddy.
I'll let Tim MacMahon of the Cowboys Blog tell the rest of the story:
Romo, who confirmed the story but didn't want to elaborate, waved [the homeless man] Doc over to sit by him and his buddy. Doc sheepishly mentioned that he hadn't showered in a few days.
"Don't worry about that," Romo said. "I'm used to locker rooms."
And so the $67 million quarterback and a man who doesn't have $6.70 to his name sat next to each other and shared laughs for 90 minutes or so.
Pretty cool story. Earlier in the day, Romo stopped by my neighborhood with actor Will Smith to participate in a pep rally for the Lake Highlands volleyball and football teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Start your mid-morning off right with headlines from around the division. Here's what's happening in the Beast today:
- Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News addresses the Pacman situation in his weekly newsletter.
- Clarence E. Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram thinks the 2008 Cowboys have more intestinal fortitude than the 2007 team -- based on one game.
- Jason Witten says his ribs are feeling better -- and Adam "Pacman" Jones' attorney is hoping Roger Goodell looks at the "totality of the circumstances."
- Wide receiver Miles Austin could be out 2 to 4 weeks with a knee injury.
- Goose Gosselin thinks 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis could slow down Marion Barber.
- Will Smith and Tony Romo make an appearance together -- two blocks from my house in Lake Highlands.
- Calvin Watkins talks to former Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat about how his reduced role in the early 1990s extended his career. It's hard to convince Greg Ellis of that right now.
- Star-Telegram beat writer Rick Herrin has some good background on the Cowboys-49ers series.
- Les Bowen takes a long look at what's ailing the running game. It looks like Brian Westbrook is still affected by the high ankle sprain and knee injury.
- Joe Flacco is looking forward to facing his childhood team.
- Bob Brookover has a story on John Harbaugh's relationship with Andy Reid.
- Ben Roethlisberger has rushed to Donovan McNabb's defense.
- Big Ben won't appreciate this Bob Ford column poking fun at McNabb.
- Ralph Vacchiano talks about Brandon Jacobs' status for Sunday's game against Arizona. Jacobs told ESPN's "First Take" that he would probably sit the game out.
- Mike Garafolo has more on the topic in the Star-Ledger.
- Tom Rock has an excellent story detailing Brandon Jacbos and Derrick Ward's contract situations.
- Paul Schwartz of the New York Post talks about how well some former Giants quarterbacks are playing.
- Bob Glauber checks in with a column on "The Fumble."
- Jason La Canfora files a report on the Redskins' anemic pass rush.
- Ryan O'Halloran of the Washington Times says that DeAngelo Hall has fit right into the Redskins' locker room.
- Will we see the rookie duo of Malcom Kelly and Devin Thomas at some point this season?
- Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog says the Redskins have successfully made a mockery out of the Pro Bowl voting process.