NFL Nation: George Selvie

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
AM ET
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 -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys entered 2014 knowing they had to drastically improve their defensive line.

A better defensive line means a better Cowboys defense.

Garrett
Garrett
"This defensive scheme has been at its best when they’ve had good defensive lines," coach Jason Garrett said. "Last year we felt the effects of the injuries we had. We were decimated up there, and it affected how we played defense all the way back through the linebackers and the secondary, and felt like we had to address it and get it right.”

The Cowboys played 20 different defensive linemen in 2013. Some of them practiced for the first time on a Wednesday and played on a Sunday. The defense never received a down from Tyrone Crawford and Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff. They received 34 snaps from Anthony Spencer. DeMarcus Ware missed the first three games of his career and had just six sacks. Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks, missed one game.

Ware was cut and has signed with the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys made no real effort to keep Hatcher, who joined the Washington Redskins.

After the draft and college free agency, the Cowboys have 17 defensive linemen on the roster, and they might cut that number down soon. Last year, they did not draft a defensive lineman or add one as an undrafted free agent. Call this a market correction, if you want.

They signed Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton in free agency. They re-signed Spencer to a one-year deal. They gave up their third-round pick to draft Demarcus Lawrence in the second round. In the seventh round, they added Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop.

“The obvious is the obvious,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We were trying to emphasize defense in terms of numbers. We think that one of the ways to mitigate some of the big challenge that we have in our defensive front is numbers. Actual numbers on the field.”

Melton
The Cowboys love what George Selvie, a training camp pickup last summer, did in 2013 (seven sacks). They think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps. They love what Nick Hayden did as a starter in 2013, but they think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps.

While the Cowboys have thrown numbers at the D-line, they have not thrown cost. Melton carries the biggest cap number at $1.734 million.

But are the Cowboys better on the line? Spencer and Melton are not guaranteed to be ready for the start of training camp; both are recovering from knee injuries. McClain and Mincey have been complementary players. Selvie has to prove he is more than a one-year wonder. Crawford is coming off a torn Achilles. Lawrence will be making a big adjustment to the NFL.

A year ago at this time, on paper, Jones believed the Cowboys were stocked to make the switch to the 4-3. Then the season happened and the Cowboys were “a team that just flat was bankrupt in the defensive line last year,” Jones said. "We’re much better than what we played with."

Now, at least the Cowboys have given defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli options.

“We certainly know that is Rod’s goal, having those players biting at each other’s heels, fighting and competing," Jones said. "Our plan is to get numbers on the field.”


IRVING, Texas -- The pick: Demarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Boise State


My take: With many people upset the Dallas Cowboys did not help their defense in the first round Thursday, they made sure they got their guy in the second round by trading up with the Washington Redskins, of all teams.

Lawrence is a pure right defensive end. He had 20 sacks in two seasons at Boise State and he had 20.5 tackles for loss last season. With the loss of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys needed a right defensive end. They just turned to another Demarcus. Lawrence has speed. He has long arms. He can get around the edge, and he should benefit greatly from the coaching of Rod Marinelli.

Before adding Lawrence the Cowboys had plenty of left defensive end types in George Selvie, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford.

Lawrence had three separate one-game suspensions, but the Cowboys met with him at Valley Ranch before the draft and were able to get a handle on him.

Love the Broncos: In 2008, the Cowboys drafted Orlando Scandrick out of Boise State in the fifth round. In 2012, they drafted Crawford in the third round out of Boise State. Now they have gone with Lawrence.

There is a chip-on-the-shoulder type attitude that most Boise State players carry and the Cowboys like that, especially in Scandrick. If there has been a complaint about the Cowboys' defense with Ware as the best player it is that it has been too nice. Lawrence will bring attitude.

What’s next: By giving up their second-round (No. 47) and third-round picks (No. 78), the Cowboys are done until Saturday unless they trade back into the third. The Cowboys have eight picks Saturday with six coming in the seventh round.
Will McClayAP Photo/James D SmithAssistant director of player personnel Will McClay, 47, will be an asset to the Cowboys in May's draft.
IRVING, Texas -- There is a Herm Edwards story that keeps coming back to Will McClay, especially now.

The story is from more than 10 years ago, when Edwards was coach of the New York Jets. As a boy, Edwards' father made him sweep the back patio of their house. When Edwards was done, his father went out back, saw the pile his son made and immediately went to the corners. They were untouched.

The message that stuck with McClay when he first heard the story was simple: Details matter.

In his current job as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, McClay is sweeping the corners.

In this case, sweeping the corners is looking anywhere and everywhere for a player to help the Cowboys in next month's draft. This is McClay's first as the Cowboys' highest-ranked personnel chief not named Jones.

"He's there night and day," said McClay's former Arena Football League assistant and confidante Terry Gray. "He's got a relentless passion to provide Mr. [Jerry] Jones and Stephen [Jones] the very best product available within the means and the parameters of what he's able to work with. He's nonstop. Nonstop. He doesn't sleep a whole lot."

There will be time to sleep after the draft. Maybe McClay, 47, can sneak in a little bit in June after the minicamp ends but before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., begins in late July.

For now, sleep can wait. McClay, whom the Cowboys declined to make available for this story, is in charge of putting the Cowboys' draft room together. It is a painstaking process that takes months to go through but picks up its pace in the final few weeks before the Cowboys pick No. 16 overall in the first round on May 8.

This week, nearly 30 players from across the country will visit Valley Ranch, wrapping up on Wednesday. On Thursday, the club will host its Dallas Day workouts for the local draft prospects. When it is all over, McClay and the scouting department will be back in the office grinding away, sweeping the corners.

McClay's rise to this current position has taken him through the Arena Football League as a player and coach, the defunct XFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Cowboys organization in 2002 as defensive coordinator of the AFL's Dallas Desperados and became the head coach in 2004. He also served as a pro scout for the Cowboys, and in 2012 he was named the director of football research. Last spring he was promoted to his current title.

"Everything equates in looking at talent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us. I commend him on the job he did finding guys like [George] Selvie and [Nick] Hayden, people like that. People that everybody had a shot at, but he brought them in."

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have found several prizes in street free agency in Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Selvie, who had seven sacks last season. The Cowboys dressed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013.

McClay spent most of the season sweeping the corners for defensive linemen. And he was doing it long before he ever heard Edwards' tale. He did it at Houston Marian Christian, playing wide receiver as a freshman and quarterback as a senior to win Class 3A state titles in the Texas Christian Interscholastic League in 1981 and ‘84.

His high school coach, Mike Treybig, remembers walking into his office only to see McClay feeding the 16-millimeter film into the projector.

"

He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us.

" -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on assistant director of player personnel William McClay
"William liked watching tape," Treybig said. "I would imagine he would've loved it if we let him call his own plays. I know there were times we allowed him to do that. He was definitely a student of the game. We didn't have to worry about a lot of stuff when it came to William. We knew he did his homework and would take care of things to give us the best chance to win on that Friday."

McClay could have gone to Nebraska, but he chose Rice instead to stay close to home and played defensive back. He was recruited there by Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Tyrone Willingham, the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford, was the receivers coach at the time.

He remembers questions from McClay about what receivers looked for, searching for ways to get better as a defender even if the wins did not come as much as the Owls would have liked. Willingham and McClay remain close to this day.

"I'm personally excited for the individual, but I'm more excited for the organization because they did not let talent, for one reason or another, slip through the cracks," Willingham said. "That, to me, is so important because when you have talent you want to let it rise to the top to better everyone else in the organization."

Clint Dolezel played two years at East Texas State, throwing for 3,152 yards and 22 touchdown passes. McClay was defensive coordinator with a hand in personnel for the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995 when Dolezel was recommended and eventually signed.

By the time Dolezel retired in 2008 with the Desperados with McClay as his head coach, he threw for 44,563 yards and 931 touchdowns.

"So many scouts get caught up in the fact, ‘Well, we want him because he went to this big school,'" said Dolezel, now the head coach of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul. "And a lot of times they're right, but those are the no-brainers that no one is pointing a finger at if he doesn't pan out. Hey, he had the pedigree because he went to Texas or Oklahoma or Florida State or Alabama. The good ones find the ones at East Texas State and schools like that."

In his interview with the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin had McClay research a particular free-agent cornerback the team was high on and wanted to sign. McClay watched the tape and concluded that the player would not be worth the money or fit in the system. Coughlin briefly objected, but McClay held firm. He got the job, and the Jaguars did not sign the player.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

There always will be corners to sweep.

Rod Marinelli a difference-maker

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:21
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IRVING, Texas -- In Rod Marinelli, the Dallas Cowboys believe they have one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL.

He might be a pretty good recruiter, too.

The Cowboys' ability to land free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton was a lot about the contract, a lot about Melton possibly wanting to play at home and a lot about Marinelli.

Marinelli
Melton
"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod [Marinelli] and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins.

Melton developed into a Pro Bowl defensive tackle under Marinelli with the Chicago Bears from 2010-12. Melton had 15.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl after a six-sack season in 2012. He also had 71 tackles and nine tackles for loss with Marinelli as his mentor.

He might talk softly, but Marinelli has a way of forging relationships with defensive linemen. He did it with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did it with Melton and Julius Peppers with the Bears. He did it with Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys were forced to use 20 defensive linemen in 2013 and were one game away from making the playoffs. Marinelli was able to make it work to a certain degree with guys such as George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Jarius Wynn, Corvey Irvin and Frank Kearse.

He never had Jay Ratliff or Tyrone Crawford. He had Anthony Spencer for 34 snaps in one game. He was without Ware for three games and Hatcher for one.

Melton becomes the third defensive linemen to join the Cowboys as a free agent. Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys last week.

Mincey was unable to meet face to face with Marinelli because of the coach’s schedule, but they were able to talk on the phone. Mincey was coached with the Jacksonville Jaguars by Joe Cullen, who coached under Marinelli with the Detroit Lions.

"Genuine and a believer," Mincey said last week. "He believes in what I believe: going out there and giving your all and trusting the process and seeing what happens. You never know what’s going to happen, especially with a bunch of guys who are hungry, who are dedicated and motivated for a larger purpose."

The job is not over. The Cowboys concluded a visit with Jared Allen on Tuesday, and the veteran could be the next one added to the Marinelli mix.

IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware, their all-time leader in sacks, they must figure out a way to replace his production and more than just the six sacks he recorded in 2013.

The Cowboys will gain $7.4 million in salary-cap space by releasing Ware, which will give them enough room to add whomever they want to add on a defense that is in need of even more help without Ware.

As a point of reference, the Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2012 and his first-year cap number was $3.2 million.

The best way to replace Ware is with a number of players. The key to the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme is sustained pressure with their front four. Bringing those players in waves is what works best. With Ware scheduled to make $12.75 million in base salary and offseason workouts in 2014, the Cowboys have to reconfigure that money to multiple players.

The chances of re-signing Jason Hatcher have improved, but he will receive interest from other teams and will want to check out what others have to say.

If the Cowboys can get a veteran pass-rusher at the price that teams paid Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora a year ago (two years, a little more than $4 million annually), then that is a route they will go.

If they want to spend a little more, then keep an eye on Willie Young of the Detroit Lions. He is something of a forgotten man on the Lions' defensive line, but he has had his moments against the Cowboys.

This point, however, has to be perfectly clear: The defensive line has gone from a need to a must for the Cowboys.

It is quite possible George Selvie will be their top returning defensive lineman in 2013, and he did not join the roster until training camp started.
IRVING, Texas -- In this copycat league that is the NFL, all of a sudden everybody needs tall and long conerbacks like Seattle’s Richard Sherman. One problem, there aren’t that many of those kinds of guys around.

Plus from a Dallas Cowboys’ perspective, they have already allocated their cornerback resources in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. So scratch that possible remodel.

Where the Cowboys can attempt to emulate the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks is with their defensive line.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithFor years, Dallas has relied on DeMarcus Ware to provide a pass rush. Adding depth to the defensive line could be a priority this offseason.
The Seahawks do what Rod Marinelli wants to do with the Cowboys. He just did not have enough quality players, rolling through 20 defensive linemen in 2013 because of injuries and poor play.

Seattle’s defensive line accounted for 33.5 sacks from eight players. The Cowboys defensive line had 28 sacks from six players.

Michael Bennett led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks. Fellow free-agent pickup, Cliff Avril, was second with eight. Clinton McDonald had 5.5, and Chris Clemons had 4.5

Jason Hatcher led the Cowboys with 11, followed by George Selvie with seven and DeMarcus Ware with six. Kyle Wilber had two sacks from his defensive end spot before he was switched to outside linebacker later in the season. Everette Brown and and Jarius Wynn each had one sack.

The Cowboys want to rotate defensive linemen as much as possible to keep them fresh. That is a great approach when you have players worthy of being in the rotation. In the Super Bowl win against the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks had four linemen take at least 41 of 69 snaps, led by Bennett, who played 47. In the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four linemen take at least 31 of 55 snaps. In the divisional-round win against the New Orleans Saints, they had five linemen take at least 43 snaps.

That rotation kept opposing quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees under pressure. The pressure could come from the inside or the outside. And it would come with mostly just four rushers, which allowed that back seven to be even more aggressive.

For far too long the Cowboys’ pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. This past season it was Hatcher, and sometimes Selvie and Ware. The Cowboys hope Tyrone Crawford can develop after missing last season with an Achilles injury, but the defensive line needs a ton of help.

For the Cowboys to make a jump in the defensive rankings -- forget being a top-five or 10 unit -- they need a better pass rush. For a better pass rush, they need better players. To get better players in free agency they need to hope the defensive line market is as slow as it was in 2013 when Bennett received a one-year, $5 million deal, and Avril received two years and $15 million from the Seahawks. That could allow Dallas to either keep Hatcher (unlikely), or get lucky with some other prove-it type deals. The easier way to get better players is the draft, but will the right players be available at the right time?

If the Cowboys get a better pass rush, their secondary will look a lot better.

The next big thing: Cowboys

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Since the Dallas Cowboys' season ended with their NFC East championship game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, they have had plenty of time to figure out what to do next.

So far they have stood pat with the coaching staff, but they can't do that when it comes to players.

The biggest in-house personnel decision the Cowboys will make this offseason will be DeMarcus Ware’s future. He is set to count $16.003 million against the salary cap. That’s too much for just about any player, let alone a defensive end coming off a six-sack season in which he played 55 percent of the snaps. The Cowboys have to determine how they lower that cap figure with either a restructure, pay cut or re-work with incentives.

The Cowboys can’t be big players in free agency, which means Jason Hatcher will likely play elsewhere in 2014. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find cheap upgrades to help on either side of the ball.

When it comes to the draft, the Cowboys have to find defensive players ready to contribute immediately. They need help at every level of the defense, but especially along the line where George Selvie and Nick Hayden could be the only returning starters depending on the futures of Ware and Hatcher.
IRVING, Texas -- Free DeMarcus Ware?

Sounds strange, doesn't it? For all of the Pro Bowls, for all of the sacks, for all of the goodwill he earned in his first eight seasons, one poor season has Ware in the cross hairs.

He is on the wrong side of 30. He missed the first three games of his career. He had a career-low 40 tackles. More importantly he had a career-low six sacks.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware had just six sacks in 2013 and turns 32 in July.
With the Cowboys needing to clear salary-cap space, Ware, who is set to count $16.003 million against the 2014 cap, is one of the obvious targets for creating that room. The question is how they do it. The Cowboys can simply cut him and save $7.4 million in space. They can have him take a pay cut but offer a way to earn back some of that money through incentives. They can restructure his contract like they have the last few years.

Cutting him sounds the easiest but then you have to ask who would replace him? If you think he's done, then that's an easy question. But Ware dominated Tyron Smith every day in Oxnard, Calif. He had four sacks in his first three games before stinger, back and quadriceps injuries took their toll. The Cowboys do not have somebody who can roll out of bed and get six sacks let alone the nearly 14 a year he put up on average in his first eight seasons.

Ware already said he would not take a pay cut, amending his feelings a day after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Offering incentives could be a last resort type of move. Ware and his agent would have to see what kind of market would be out there for a defensive end coming off a down season and turns 32 in July. Osi Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons last year with $5 million guaranteed. He had 7.5 sacks in 2013. John Abraham signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals that included a $1 million signing bonus. He had 11.5 sacks.

Restructuring Ware's contract again would add to his already large cap figures in 2015-17. The last two years of the deal will void if he is on the roster 23 days before the 2016 league year begins. If the Cowboys restructure Ware's deal, then they could save close to $9 million against the cap but add $2.82 million to his cap number in the final three years.

Is it worth it? It might be. For the sake of this argument, let's say the Cowboys choose this route again. They can cut him after the 2014 season and save roughly $6.5 million against the cap. If they would rather make him a June 1, 2015 cut, then they could save about $14 million against the cap with $7.7 million in dead money carrying over to the 2016 cap.

Finding pass-rushers is difficult. The Cowboys have not exactly been adept at finding anybody but Ware. Anthony Spencer was a first-round pick in 2007 and had one double-digit sack season. Greg Ellis was a first-rounder in 1998 and he did not max out until Ware arrived. Bobby Carpenter, drafted in the first round in 2006 to play outside linebacker opposite Ware, did not pan out.

The chances of Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in 2013, re-signing are slim. Spencer's price tag will be low because of a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season but is he damaged goods? Can you bank on another seven sack season from George Selvie? Can Tyrone Crawford come back from his Achilles tear?

There is no doubt that the Cowboys would be taking a gamble by restructuring Ware's contract and pushing more money into the future.

It would be more of a gamble to not have Ware at all.

Dallas Cowboys season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 17
Preseason power ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: The Dallas Cowboys did not believe they could have a worse defense than the one they fielded in 2012. They were wrong.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lost his job after the Cowboys finished the year ranked 19th in defense and allowed 400 points. The Cowboys not only switched defensive coordinators, they switched philosophies, bringing in Monte Kiffin to run a 4-3 scheme.

It never worked.

The Cowboys allowed 6,645 yards, 432 points and failed to deliver most of the time. They were hit by injuries, just as Ryan’s defense was, and poor play from big-name players such as DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Sean Lee was having a Pro Bowl-type season but hamstring and neck injuries forced him to miss most of the final seven games. Only Jason Hatcher, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church had representative seasons.

Biggest disappointment: It’s hard not to go with Ware, who had a career-low six sacks. For the first time he did not play in every game in a season, missing three games with a quadriceps strain. He also played with injuries to both elbows, a back strain and stinger. But the pick will be Miles Austin. Like Ware, he suffered through injury. He missed five games with a hamstring injury and was held without a catch in two games as he attempted to play through the strain. He finished the season with 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fewest catches he had since 2008 when he was a bit player and first time since 2007 he did not score a touchdown. The Cowboys hoped for a late-season boost when he returned but it never came.

Biggest need: The easy answer is to say upgrade the entire defense. They need help at linebacker and safety. The defensive line needs an overhaul. We talked about Ware’s status, but Hatcher, who had a career-high 11 sacks, and Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, are set to be unrestricted free agents. The Cowboys used 19 defensive linemen during the year and found solid contributions from players such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden, but optimally they play in reserve roles. The hits on the line started in April when the Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd, their fifth-ranked player, at No. 18 and traded down and continued when Tyrone Crawford tore his Achilles on the first day of camp. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in the offseason the defensive line was a strength. There is no way he can say that now.

Team MVP: By process of elimination it cannot be a defensive player because the unit was the worst in the NFL. DeMarco Murray would get votes for a second-half MVP. The contest comes down to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Romo missed the final game because of back surgery, but threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted only 10 times while throwing for 3,828 yards. Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth and finished with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. They made big plays at big moments. They had mistakes at big moments, too. As a result, they split the award.

Film theory: Saints could copy Dallas

December, 31, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Rob Ryan's old team gave Eagles quarterback Nick Foles trouble in his two games against them. Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys sacked Foles five times, forced an intentional grounding penalty and generally shut down the Eagles' passing game in the second half.

Whether or not the Cowboys have Foles' number is a matter for 2014. Ryan, now the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, has already burned holes through Sunday's game film with his eyes.

[+] Enlarge Nick Foles
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Dallas Cowboys sacked Nick Foles five times on Sunday.
The Eagles can expect Ryan to try some similar tactics, with some wrinkles of his own mixed in.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said his offense experienced a "combination" of problems.

"A tackle may have stepped in the wrong direction, back didn't hit the hole at the right time, receiver didn't get off the jam properly," Kelly said. "There's not one thing that's, aha, fix it and move on. It was just a combination of not all 11 guys clicking on the same team."

Focusing on the third quarter, it was apparent that Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin found a few ways to confound the Eagles' offensive line.

On the very first play of the quarter, DeMarcus Ware bull-rushed to the inside of left tackle Jason Peters. Running back LeSean McCoy stepped up to help with Ware. That left the outside open for linebacker DeVonte Holloman to blitz. He dropped Foles for a 9-yard loss.

"LeSean got stuck inside running into the twist on the D-line but didn't come off on the linebacker," Kelly said.

The Cowboys didn't blitz all that much, though. Instead they used stunts or twists, sending one of their defensive linemen around an otherwise engaged blocker. Usually, that blocker was rookie right tackle Lane Johnson. It often looked as if Johnson was being beaten one-on-one, but he was frequently leaving one defender too late to get in the way of one he didn't know was coming.

Example: On the play that resulted in Foles' fumble, defensive end George Selvie rushed to the inside of Johnson, forcing right guard Todd Herremans to help out. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden looped around to his left and past Johnson. Meanwhile, Ware and Jason Hatcher ran a similar stunt on the other side.

Hayden pressured Foles into stepping to his left. Hatcher hit the quarterback from behind, knocking the ball free.

While all that chaos was unfolding, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce were more or less alone, with no one to block. The defensive maneuvering put all the pressure on the tackles.

Foles held the ball too long at times. Other times, the coverage was very good.

"Sometimes there was a guy open, he probably could have gotten it out of his hand a little quicker," Kelly said. "There were some other times where he's waiting for guys to get open and they didn't come out of the jam."

That's something else Ryan will surely pick up on. When defensive backs get physical with DeSean Jackson, he can be slowed down. The NBC cameras caught cornerback Brandon Carr holding Jackson back on a go route down the right sideline. Foles' throw was too deep, but that's because it was timed for Jackson to be running at full speed, not dragging a cornerback with him.

Much of the focus this week will be on the Saints' explosive offense and the Eagles' defensive challenges. But there's a good chance Foles and the offense will have to keep pace. To do that, they're probably going to have to fix the flaws exposed by the Cowboys, as well as the ones Ryan finds on his own.

How did Dallas D dominate Eagles?

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the NFL season.

How did this Dallas defense dominate that Philadelphia Eagles' offense? How did Monte Kiffin’s vulnerable bunch shut down Chip Kelly’s explosive group?

The Cowboys rank last in defense, allowing an average of 418.6 yards per game. The Eagles average 420.7 yards of offense, ranking second in the league. Kelly’s Oregon offenses put up an average of 601 yards and 50 points in three Pac-12 matchups against Kiffin’s USC defenses.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys were able to contain LeSean McCoy in their first meeting with the Eagles this season.
But the Cowboys limited the Eagles to 278 yards and a field goal Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, keying a 17-3 Dallas win that was critical to making Sunday night’s rematch a win-or-go-home affair.

“We hustled and just really played well that day,” Kiffin said. “We have to do it again. They’re better now.”

The Cowboys defense, to put it kindly, is not better now. Middle linebacker Sean Lee, whose outstanding performance against the Eagles earned him NFC defensive player of the week honors, is sidelined with a strained neck. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher hasn’t recently resembled the dominant force who wreaked havoc that afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who frustrated Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson (three catches, 21 yards), has been struggling.

The Eagles offense, on the other hand, is better than ever, coming off a 54-point explosion in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears.

It appeared on Oct. 20 that Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles, who was still considered Michael Vick’s backup at the time, was exposed. However, his poor performance (11-of-29 for 80 yards) turned out to be the exception.

Foles has the NFL’s highest passer rating (118.8) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions, putting him in position to set the league record for touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has averaged a league-high 10.0 yards per attempt since looking so bad against the Cowboys, leading to some speculation about when he actually suffered the concussion that caused him to leave that game in the third quarter.

“I felt like he just missed a couple of throws that game,” said Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who repeatedly referred to the Eagles offense as an “extreme challenge.”

To the credit of the Cowboys’ front four, it affected Foles frequently that afternoon despite DeMarcus Ware missing the first game of his NFL career. But the Cowboys haven’t been able to generate a consistent pass rush often, ranking 31st in the league in sacks (29) and last in sack percentage (4.5).

Defensive end George Selvie had two sacks in that Week 7 win. He’s had two sacks since.

Hatcher had seven tackles, a sack and four pressures in that game. He has a total of seven tackles, zero sacks and five pressures in the Cowboys’ past four games.

The consensus opinion among the Cowboys is that containing LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher, was the key to their defensive dominance in Philadelphia. McCoy gained only 55 yards on 18 carries, about half his average in the rest of the Eagles’ games this season.

“We just ran and hit and got to the football,” Hatcher said. “There’s nothing different. We’re just going to go and get after the football, contain 25 and affect the quarterback.”

The Dallas defense did that miraculously well in Philadelphia. We’ll find out Sunday night whether that was a fluke.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys24-23 win against the Washington Redskins.

Up for the challenge: For the third straight season and fourth time in the past six years, the Cowboys find themselves in a win-and-get-in scenario in Week 17. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, they would win the NFC East and host a playoff game on wild-card weekend. If they lose, they would finish 8-8 for the third year in a row. The only two recent seasons in which they did not face this situation came in 2009, when they had clinched a postseason berth but needed to beat the Eagles to win the division, and in 2010, when they finished 6-10.

Romo
They lost the finale in 2008 (Eagles), 2011 (Giants) and 2012 (Redskins).

“I know in some ways we’ve gotten hit with the fact of losing the last couple of years in that final game, but I think we’re the only team that keeps getting itself in position to win the NFC East every year,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “That’s a credit. That’s also a negative in the fact we didn’t do it the last couple of years. You just have to keep getting yourself there. When your team is good enough you’ll knock down that door.”

Back to the run: After the game, Jason Garrett praised the coaches’ ability to stay with the run in the fourth quarter when they were trailing by nine points. He seemed to forget the three-and-out the Cowboys had after Washington took a 20-14 lead. Dez Bryant dropped a slant. Romo threw the ball away on second down and then was sacked on third down. The drive totaled 50 seconds. The Redskins answered with a field goal to go up 23-14.

“We were just committed to saying, ‘Let’s stay after them. Let’s continue to try to drive the ball by running it, throwing it,’” Garrett said. “We had to make some big third downs. When you’re running the ball on first and second down you get into those third-and-3s and those third-and-4s and I thought our guys did a great job stepping up. Tony made some great throws. Guys made some great conversions and that was really important to sustain those drives. But balance was going to be importance for us throughout this game.”

A look back: The Cowboys’ defense has not played a better game than the one it had on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles. The Cowboys held Philadelphia to three points and allowed only 278 yards. Nick Foles threw for only 80 yards and Matt Barkley was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter. LeSean McCoy was held to 55 yards rushing. So much of the talk leading into that game was how Chip Kelly dominated Monte Kiffin while he was at Oregon and Kiffin was at USC. The Cowboys could get a boost from the returns of Sean Lee (neck) and Morris Claiborne (hamstring), but even when healthy -- or closer to healthy -- the defense has not played up to par.

No pressure: Try as they might to spin the good work done by Rod Marinelli’s rushers, the Cowboys did not record a sack of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Jeff Heath forced an early throw on a blitz as he planted Cousins on the ground, but DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and George Selvie did not do enough to affect the quarterback. That can’t be the case Sunday against the Eagles with the way Foles has played. In October the Cowboys sacked Philadelphia’s quarterback three times. They have not had a three-sack game since then, and have just nine sacks in their past eight games.

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