NFL Nation: brandon weeden

The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be focused on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told SI.com that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

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

QUARTERBACKS (2)

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

RUNNING BACKS (4)


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

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


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

TIGHT ENDS (3)


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

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

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

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

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

LINEBACKER (7)

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

CORNERBACK (5)


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

SAFETY (5)

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

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
IRVING, Texas – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

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

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

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

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

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

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”
IRVING, Texas – Most of the time when Kyle Orton’s absence was discussed in the offseason, Brandon Weeden was mentioned as the biggest beneficiary.

Hanie
While true, Caleb Hanie also benefited.

With Orton staying away, the Dallas Cowboys had to sign Hanie, a Forney, Texas, native. With Orton skipping all of the organized team activities and mandatory June minicamp and Tony Romo staying out of competitive drills, Hanie took most of the backup snaps behind Weeden.

“He knows how to play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s one of the things we were attracted to when we signed him in the spring. Get a guy in here who can handle the huddle and handle situations at the line of scrimmage. He’s seen defenses in this league. He’s started games. He’s been in playoff games.”

He has a 0-4 record as a starter he completed 59 of 116 passes for 679 yards with three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2011 and spent parts of the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys struck out on their first attempt to sign Hanie. In 2008, he chose to sign with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent, despite a full-court press from the Cowboys.

“I felt it was a better opportunity for me in Chicago with the guys they had up there,” Hanie said. “At the time Tony was planted as the starter and I think Brad Johnson was on the roster then. It would’ve been a little uphill battle for me to get on the roster. It was tough turning them down, I can tell you that much, being the hometown team.”

Last December Hanie was among a handful of quarterbacks the Cowboys worked out after Romo got hurt. They eventually signed Jon Kitna for the final week of the season.

In April, Hanie and the Cowboys finally got together.

“It’s kind of come full circle now,” he said.

The Cowboys expect Orton to show up at training camp, but they also expected him to show up for the minicamp. The fines for skipping training camp practices are much more severe ($30,000 per day).

“If he’s here, I’ll notice,” Hanie said. “If he’s not, I don’t worry about that. I just worry about what I can do and control and see how it goes from here.”

Hanie had some solid moments in the offseason. He connected on a touchdown with Cole Beasley in the slot, splitting the cornerback and linebacker on a throw to the slot. Hanie pumped his fist as he went to the sideline.

“I think it’s gone well,” Hanie said. “Obviously you want to be perfect in everything you do, every check and throw and with 100 percent accuracy, but it’s just not realistic sometimes. You’ve just got to let things go and try to improve every way you can and take as much coaching as you can while you have the opportunity.”
IRVING, Texas -- How much does Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo want to practice during this week’s minicamp? He went so far as to snag Caleb Hanie’s practice jersey and sneak into the huddle during Tuesday’s practice.

“It was pretty obvious that the jersey was a little snug on him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s when I looked and said, ‘Get him out of the huddle.’ He’s a competitive guy. He wants to play. He wants to be out there. We have the conversation every morning about how many reps he’s going to get and the answer is the same. We’re going to get through the minicamp. He’s going to continue to do what he’s been doing, do the walkthrough-type stuff, do the individual work and then once we get to training camp we think he’s going to be more ready to go.”

Romo
The Cowboys have followed the plan that was laid out after Romo underwent a discectomy last December, his second back surgery in less than 12 months. They report to Oxnard, California, for training camp on July 22 and will have their first practice July 24.

“We won’t run him up the middle drill several times,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said, “but other than that he should be ready to do the things you’d expect him to do.”

Even though Romo has not taken a snap with the team in competitive drills, he believes the offseason has been a success. Last year Romo missed the entire offseason after having a cyst removed from his back and took part in every training camp practice.

He arrived in Southern California last summer before the Cowboys to work on his conditioning. Jones said Romo spent time, “uniquely running mountains.” Romo said he would probably go through a similar pre-training camp before reporting to camp.

“Miles ahead of last year,” Romo said of his conditioning. “I don’t think they’re comparable. I think last year I was just starting around this point so this year I’ve had whatever [number of] months to kind of get myself into feeling like I can go. Now it’s going to be more perfecting as opposed to just trying to hammer everything out in four weeks, three weeks.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is not pleased backup quarterback Kyle Orton is missing this week’s mandatory minicamp, but he is taking a broader view of the quarterback situation.

“Well, I think candidly the way I look at it is it has really given us an opportunity, which we really needed to do, and that’s evaluate young quarterbacks or quarterbacks that might could fit in the picture for several years to come,” Jones said. “So I think that’s going to give us a chance to do that.”

Orton
Brandon Weeden has taken the first-team snaps the entire offseason with starter Tony Romo limited by December back surgery and Orton’s absence, and he has impressed the coaches and front office with his work.

But is it enough to where the Cowboys would feel comfortable with him as Romo’s backup and not the more tested Orton?

Jones would not discuss whether the Cowboys have told Orton’s agent that the team does not plan to cut the quarterback. If the Cowboys cut him, then they would not be able to recoup $3.4 million in signing bonus money. If Orton retires, then he would have to repay the Cowboys the bonus money from the deal he signed in 2012.

Jones said he has not had direct conversations with Orton, but the team has spoken with Orton’s agent, David Dunn, who also represents head coach Jason Garrett and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan.

Orton missed Monday’s physical, which subjects him to a fine of $10,930. By missing Tuesday’s workout he could be fined $11,575. If he misses all three days, then he would be fined $69,455. If he doesn’t show up for training camp, then he would be fined $30,000 for each day he misses. A $75,000 de-escalator has already kicked in Orton's contract for missing the workouts. With the fines and de-escalator, Orton's $3.25 million base salary would be reduced to $3.09 million if he plays.

“The bottom line is we’re just playing this as we move along on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis,” Jones said.

It has turned into a game of chicken between the sides. The next deadline comes when the Cowboys travel to Oxnard, California, for training camp on July 22. According to the collective bargaining agreement, if Orton misses the first six days of training camp, he would have to forfeit up to 15 percent of his yearly signing bonus proration. After six days, he would forfeit 1 percent of the proration for each day, maxing out at 25 percent. There are further penalties if he continues to sit into the regular season.

“As you know this game is for sure one thing, and that is when somebody is not here, somebody else steps up,” Jones said, “and that’s what we’ll be doing with our roster.”
IRVING, Texas -- Since joining the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent, Brandon Weeden is sure he has started to annoy Tony Romo -- in a good way -- with all the questions he is asking.

Romo
Weeden
"But I'm just trying to get a feel for what he thinks, why he does certain things," Weeden said. "He's an extremely successful quarterback and a very smart guy. I'd be crazy not to take everything I can from him."

But Weeden also realizes he can't take everything from Romo and implement it into his own game. They play the same position but they play it differently.

"He's done it for so long that he's found what works for him, whether it's footwork or types of throws or reads or whatever it may be," Weeden said. "He's got a feel for what he's good at. I just pick and choose what IU think may work for me. One thing about me, I'm going to be an aggressive thrower. I'm going to stretch the field vertically and I'm going to throw the ball aggressively. Sometimes I may get myself in trouble but I think being smart aggressive vs. being dumb aggressive is two different things.

"I've watched every game of his last year and I think what he does in the pocket, moving around the pocket, those things you really can't teach them, so I'm not sitting back there trying to do those spin moves and crazy stuff he does. But he's one of the best. Him and Ben Roethlisberger are the best I've ever seen at extending plays. That's not really my skill set. That's something I'm not going to take from him."

Weeden is getting to work with the first team during the organized team activities because Romo is recovering from back surgery and Kyle Orton is absent. He views this as an audition to show the coaches he can be the backup if needed.

Orton's status remains unsolved, but the club anticipates he will take part in the June 17-19 mandatory minicamp.

"That was one of things I talked to coach Garrett about when I came in before I signed," Weeden said. "I said, ‘I want an opportunity to come in and compete and get some reps and show that I can play.' He assured me that I was going to. So coming in Day 1, I think it's kind of what I expected. I think it's my job now to take advantage of each rep, especially going with the ones. I'm out there with guys who are perennial Pro Bowlers like Jason Witten and Dez (Bryant) and all these guys who are just the best at what they do. It's made it nice. It's been a good transition. Tony has been helping me a lot. It's been good for the first four days."
IRVING, Texas -- For all of the talk about the Dallas Cowboys drafting a quarterback, they never really considered selecting one.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoThe Dallas Cowboys are viewing 30-year-old backup Brandon Weeden as their "developmental quarterback."
After the first round, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said picking Johnny Manziel, "wasn't even a thought," despite loving the former Texas A&M quarterback who ended up with the Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys liked several lower-round quarterbacks, such as Tom Savage, but passed on all of them. The Cowboys have not drafted a quarterback since taking Stephen McGee in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Since 1989, the Cowboys have drafted only four quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Bill Musgrave, Quincy Carter and McGee. Steve Walsh was taken in the first round of the 1989 supplemental draft.

With Tony Romo coming off his second back surgery and Kyle Orton's future in question, many thought the Cowboys would take a shot at a quarterback.

"We feel in signing Brandon Weeden, he can be viewed as that developmental guy," coach Jason Garrett said. "A first-round pick a couple of years ago, coming from a baseball background, has all the physical tools you want. We view him as in that role right now, so we wanted to be selective about anybody else we wanted to bring in here."

So no Savage, no Aaron Murray, no AJ McCarron. The Cowboys did sign Dustin Vaughan as an undrafted free agent and he was on their draft board.

At quarterback, "the best players who play typically come from the top rounds," Garrett said. "I do think with how the league has changed, there is a demand to play those guys earlier and that changes the dynamic of taking your time to develop guys year after year and they play in years four and five. The thing you’re concerned about is developing them for somebody else. You develop them for two, three, four years and he goes and plays for another football team. We don’t think that’s a worthwhile thing. There’s been a theory around the league, teams like Green Bay for years always took a guy late and if that player develops into something that was a good thing for their team or to trade to somebody else. There were some examples of them doing that. It’s a philosophy a lot of teams, they agree with that. But when you have other issues on your team I think it becomes a little bit of a luxury to do that. When you feel good about your starter and you feel good about your backups, we feel it’s better to take a position player, a guy we know can contribute on special teams, instead of trying to develop that guy [quarterback]."
IRVING, Texas -- What will determine a successful draft for the Dallas Cowboys?

The need for defense is obvious, so finding two or three players to make an immediate impact would be more than beneficial.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, however, is looking at it differently.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesOwner Jerry Jones says the Cowboys won't let positional needs dictate their draft this weekend.
“I would hope we could find defensive players at the right value,” Jones said. “I would hope that we could. If we don't, that means there (was) some real value over on the offensive side of the ball and that could result in a heck of a draft. To say it another way: if you got somebody that shouldn't have been within 20 picks of you that was there and you add that value to the team -- and we have needs on the offensive side of the ball as well -- you could have a lot of success. There's no secret we've had a lot of attrition in our defensive front this year. What is obvious is if you want to start at the need, you can start right there. (But) we shouldn’t go overboard and be influenced to the point where we pass up great opportunity to have a great draft otherwise.”

The Cowboys took a sensible approach in free agency, eschewing the high-priced veterans like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers after letting DeMarcus Ware go and seeing Jason Hatcher leave. They added Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton to team-friendly, low-risk deals. They re-signed Anthony Spencer to a one-year deal. They signed quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal with no guaranteed money.

Like all teams, the Cowboys would prefer to take the best player available.

“We certainly have needs, every team has needs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s been mentioned here a number of times in this press conference that we’re going to look at the draft board and take the best players, guys that can help our football team. You target guys at certain positions, but the worst mistake you can make is over-drafting for need and leaving really, really good players on the board. We try to have discipline that way just like every team in this league does, and we’ll do that with our defensive front, all across our defense and throughout our team.”

If Zack Martin is the highest graded player, then they should take him at No. 16. Or if it’s a wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee, they should take either one. The same should hold true if it’s a quarterback.

It always sounds good to say you would take the best player available, but needs have to be filled. If grades are close, the Cowboys could lean defensively. Maybe they should lean defensively. They have 11 picks over the next three days. They will have plenty of chances after the first round to help the defense.

Most importantly, however, they need to find players that can help this year and in the future regardless of position.
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys officials met with reporters on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming NFL draft, but there were some questions regarding backup quarterback Kyle Orton.

He still hasn't worked out with the team since the voluntary offseason program started on April 21.

Orton
But team officials don't seemed too concerned that Orton isn't around as the offseason program enters its second phase this week.

"We expect Kyle to be here at some point in the offseason," coach Jason Garrett said. "These are not mandatory workouts and meetings that we're involved in right now. There's a mandatory minicamp (June 17) toward the end of the offseason program and we anticipate him and all of our players to be there for that."

Garrett wouldn't get into specifics regarding his conversations with Orton, other than to call them, "good." But Orton's agent, David Dunn said at the NFL owners meetings his client would play this year.

Yet, Orton hasn't arrived at Valley Ranch for workouts and is a healthy scratch if you will. He is thinking of retirement and if he chooses that option he might have to repay the Cowboys close to $3 million in bonus money. Orton is scheduled to make a base salary of $3.25 million this season. So Orton would forfeit the base salary and repay some signing bonus money if he retired.

Jerry Jones said Orton's status doesn't change how the Cowboys would draft. He almost dismissed the notion the team would select a quarterback at all. It seems Jones doesn't want to rebuild with a rookie quarterback because he feels Tony Romo is in his prime.

The Cowboys, however, don't have their No. 2 quarterback in the offseason program.

Romo is recovering from back surgery and his throwing is limited during workouts. Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie are the other quarterbacks participating in the offseason program.

"We like to have all of our players here," Garrett said. "Every coach in this league will tell you the same thing, understanding the nature of what the offseason program is. We can't mandate that to anybody. Some players choose not to be here. We anticipate him being here for the mandatory portion of minicamp and being with our football team."
The weekend signing of defensive end Anthony Spencer is the latest example of how the Cowboys are trying to upgrade their roster even though they have little salary-cap room.

When the free-agency period started, the Cowboys were near the bottom of the league in available salary-cap space with roughly $2 million.

After they released DeMarcus Ware and restructured some contracts, the money didn’t flow, it just opened up slightly and allowed Jerry Jones -- yes, Jerry Jones the general manager -- and executive vice president Stephen Jones to make smart decisions.

Spencer’s signing came on the cheap, a team-friendly deal for a player coming off microfracture surgery with no guarantees he’ll be ready for training camp.

Spencer didn’t receive a signing bonus and his base salary will be $1.25 million. The deal jumps to as much as $3.5 million with incentives.

So basically, Spencer has to earn his money.

The highlight of the free-agent class is defensive end Henry Melton, who is also recovering from an injury. Melton played in just three games last season before tearing his ACL. Melton is on the road to recovery and Cowboys officials are confident he’ll participate in the first training camp practice in late July.

Melton basically got a one-year deal worth $2.25 million which can increase if certain incentives are met.

However, Melton also can make nearly $29 million over the next four seasons if he’s on the roster by the start of the league year in 2015.

If Melton struggles in 2014, the Cowboys can get out of it having spent probably no more than $3.5 million on him.

The Joneses made other smart decisions in free agency this spring.

They needed a backup quarterback, and coach Jason Garrett liked Brandon Weeden, a 30-year old quarterback who's still inexperienced when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL.

So the Cowboys signed him to a two-year deal worth $1.23 million with no signing bonus. And with Kyle Orton deciding to take an extended vacation while he contemplates his future, adding Weeden and another backup quarterback, Caleb Hanie, to a one-year deal was an intelligent move by a franchise looking to reach the postseason.

With the defensive line having depth issues, the Cowboys signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. Mincey got $500,000 to sign with the Cowboys and will get a base salary of $1 million this season.

Terrell McClain was also signed as a quality defensive tackle to provide depth. McClain’s three-year deal is worth $3.05 million. McClain got $300,000 to sign and will get a base salary of $750,000.

The financial commitment is small in most if not all of these deals, and outside of the Melton signing, none of these players wow you with the expectations they will provide the difference between reaching the playoffs or not.

But when you don’t have a lot of money to play with, you need to make smart decisions and this spring the Cowboys did that.
The Dallas Cowboys have done two things this offseason, add to the defensive line and to the quarterback position.

On Wednesday afternoon, the team signed Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract to become the fourth quarterback on the roster. Hanie's signing is insurance if Kyle Orton, the current No. 2, retires or forces the team to release him.

Hanie
Orton has missed the early stages of the offseason program, which started on Monday. While those programs are voluntary, the quarterback should always be at these affairs. Tony Romo, recovering from back surgery, was in full attendance at Valley Ranch on Monday and has been around the facility most of the offseason.

Financially, it just doesn't make sense for Orton to leave the Cowboys. He loses $3.2 million in base salary should he retire, and he could be forced to pay back roughly $3 million in bonuses. However, Orton might just be forced to repay $510,000, which is the signing bonus he picked up last year from a re-negotiated contract from last March.

However the financials work out, losing Orton in any way, means the team's quarterback position gets weaker behind Romo.

Orton was a solid backup and worth the money the Cowboys were paying him to support Romo. But if he's gone, the options are limited.

Brandon Weeden played two seasons in Cleveland and despite his age (30), he's still relatively young in NFL years.

Hanie, a Forney, Texas native, didn't play last season in Cleveland, yet in 2011 he went 0-4 as a starter for the Chicago Bears with three touchdown passes and nine interceptions thrown. When Romo injured his back and the Cowboys worked out a gaggle of quarterbacks last December, Hanie looked very good during his visit.

But the Cowboys went with Jon Kitna instead because he was familiar with Jason Garrett's offense.

Now, after another workout on Wednesday, Hanie looked sharp again and this time he was signed to the one-year deal.

Of course, Hanie, Weeden and Orton might not be here, if at all in 2014, should the Cowboys select a quarterback in the early rounds of next month's draft. We're not even going into the Johnny Manziel talk because it's doubtful he'll fall to No. 16 overall.

The Cowboys have greater needs for their team -- especially on defense, which finished last overall in 2013. Getting a defensive end and maybe a right tackle are priorities. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the offseason work, in terms of signing three defensive linemen, has prompted the team to draft for the best player available, instead of forcing to draft for a need.

Hanie gives the Cowboys flexibility as a No. 2 quarterback -- if he can beat out Weeden.

It's amazing how the Cowboys' backup quarterback, the same player, who almost beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 regular-season finale, has turned the offseason upside down with his indecision to play.

But the Cowboys made the right decision on Wednesday in getting Hanie, because there's nothing wrong with a little insurance.
IRVING, Texas -- Before people get carried away with Kyle Orton's absence from the Dallas Cowboys' offseason program, two factors need to be put out there: the workouts are voluntary and he missed just one day.

But the Cowboys should not look at Orton's absence as a one-day deal. They should take a worst-case scenario look at it. They need to determine whether Orton really wants to play football in 2014, despite what they heard from the player's agent and the fact Orton would be walking away from $3.25 million.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGiven some of the current uncertainty surrounding backup Kyle Orton, should the Cowboys look to select a quarterback in next month's draft?
It could be as simple as him not wanting to play anymore. He is the second-highest paid backup quarterback in the NFL behind Matt Moore ($4 million) of the Miami Dolphins, so money wouldn't seem to be an issue. He has been content in his role as a backup to Tony Romo, so opportunity wouldn't seem to be an issue.

Undoubtedly the Cowboys have spoken directly to Orton this offseason with the whispers of him thinking about retirement. What was discussed is not known. Did he tell them he would play or not play?

Orton holds the cards here because he does not have to show up until the mandatory June minicamp. If he does not report for that, then he would face fines up to close to $70,000. If he does report, what kind of condition is he in?

The Cowboys can trade him or release him. What kind of return would they get for a player who may or may not report to a new team? If they release him, then they would forfeit the right to pick up $3 million of the $5 million signing bonus he received in 2011. After the Jeremiah Ratliff fiasco, you would think the Cowboys would be more vigilant in these kinds of cases.

They could keep him and hope he arrives at the June minicamp in good shape and is ready to go when the team reports to Oxnard, Calif., for training camp. Hope, however, should not be their strategy.

Yet there is a more immediate question raised from Orton's absence. Does it push quarterback up the ladder when it comes to the draft?

The Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal in the offseason with no signing bonus. They liked him coming into the 2012 draft, but not as much as the Cleveland Browns liked him. He had more interceptions than touchdown passes, but the Cowboys have taken a no-risk look at him.

What can they learn about Weeden before the draft? Not much. Coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until Phase 2 of the offseason program, which comes the week of the draft.

The Cowboys attended Aaron Murray's workout at Georgia last week. They talked with Jimmy Garoppolo and David Fales at the NFL scouting combine. They had a number of quarterbacks at their Dallas Day workouts last week in Garrett Gilbert, Casey Pachall and James Franklin, but they did not have a quarterback among their national visitors.

The Cowboys aren't exactly being held hostage by Orton, but his decision (or indecision) could go a long way in how they plan to attack the draft.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • What I would do with the 16th pick in the draft if I was the general manager.
  • What about a quarterback in the second round?
  • What about Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne?
  • What about the salary-cap implications of letting Kyle Orton go?

Away we go:
 
As of now, the Dallas Cowboys don't have plans to visit with some of the top quarterbacks coming out for the NFL draft.

You can view this in several ways:

  • The Cowboys are not tipping their hand on which quarterbacks they actually like.
  • Maybe the Cowboys don't like any of the quarterbacks in this draft.
  • The Cowboys are comfortable with the three quarterbacks on their roster -- Tony Romo, Kyle Orton and Brandon Weeden.

Since 2000, the Cowboys have drafted three quarterbacks -- Quincy Carter (2001), Isaiah Stanback (2007) and Stephen McGee (2009).

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Jerry jones
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsJerry Jones seems to be squeezing as much as he can out of Tony Romo, but the quarterback's title window may already be shut.
Carter became the starter, but his off-field problems knocked him out of the league. Stanback was moved to receiver, and McGee never developed.

In free agency this offseason the Cowboys snagged 2012 first-round pick Weeden, a 30-year-old quarterback whose pro baseball career enabled him to play college football at a later age. The Cowboys like Weeden's mental maturity and feel they can improve his skill set with help from head coach Jason Garrett and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, among others.

It's a good plan because Romo, who is coming off back surgery, can't play forever. But if you listen to owner and general manager Jerry Jones sometimes, you can come away thinking that he will.

Jones said you can't rebuild with Romo as the starter. Based on Jones' thoughts, the time to win a championship with Romo is now. However, he's been chasing a title with Romo since he became the full-time starter in 2006.

Windows open and close in the NFL all the time, so it's interesting to note, Romo's. In 2006, he came on like gangbusters for Drew Bledsoe and led the Cowboys to the No. 1 seed in the NFC the next season. After a playoff win in 2009, however, the franchise has been stuck in mediocrity. Three consecutive 8-8 seasons span from 2011-13.

Regardless of whether Romo is still a quality quarterback, the window for him to win a championship might be closed.

He's had all the pieces in place the last few years and still hasn't won a title. Just look at the talent base on offense. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode, Miles Austin, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray all earned Pro Bowl berths with Romo under center.

Some of the names have changed at some positions: Bryant for Owens, Murray for Barber, Smith for Adams. But Romo remains.

The Cowboys don't want to waste a first-round pick on a quarterback, but it would be nice to see Jimmy Garoppolo selected at No. 16 next month. At some point, the Cowboys have to think about the future.

Not bringing in Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or even Johnny Manziel for a visit to Valley Ranch isn't the end of the world. Manziel and Garoppolo met with team officials during the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. But the lack of personal visits and workouts, which are readily available with the draft pushed to early May, is disappointing.

The secondary is a need this draft. So is tin he defensive line, despite what the Cowboys did in free agency. If you can find an upgrade at quarterback, don't you need to do it?

The answer seems obvious depending on your point of view.

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