Are Cowboys holding out on PAT change?

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30
12:00
PM ET

IRVING, Texas – From the outside it sure looks like the point-after attempt will change in 2015.

To what and how still has to be worked out and could be at the next owners meetings in San Francisco. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King offered up that 30 of the 32 teams wanted to change the PAT rules at the owners meetings but the opinions on the new rule were “all over the map,” according to one member of the competition committee.

Could the Dallas Cowboys be one of the two teams that did not offer up an opinion?

Coach Jason Garrett was asked about his thoughts on possible changes to the PAT and called himself a traditionalist.

“I don’t know that we should do much with the extra point,” Garrett said. “It seems like there’s an emphasis on that, so we’ll continue to see different options presented to us. I think the game is pretty good. I think the PAT has been almost 100 percent for a long, long time. But I understand the idea that some people view it as a dead play – I get that. So maybe it’s a small tweak that can make it more interesting, make it less of a dead play without really disrupting the tradition of the game.”

Last season 99.6 percent of the PATs were made and those wanting to change the rules want to make the play more competitive. The Cowboys have not missed a PAT since 2010 when David Buehler missed two, including one that ultimately cost them a game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cowboys have missed four PATs since 2000.

“Again, my argument on this is it’s been pretty much a dead play for a long time. And it just seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on it in recent years. The field goal statistics that they shared with us yesterday are dramatically different. I think in 1970, it was 73 percent for a 40-yard field goal or in, now it’s 93 percent – to me that’s a significant difference. To me, the extra point has been in football for a long time and it’s kind of had the same level of certainty for a long time. It’s been good for our game for a long time. I understand the interest to change it, I get that. I just hope they don’t change it too dramatically.”

History of Cowboys' picks at 2015 spots

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30
10:30
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IRVING, Texas -- If there is one thing we have come to know over the years with Jerry Jones as owner and general manager Jerry Jones it's that he loves to wheel and deal on draft day.

The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in the upcoming draft with picks in Rounds 1-5 and two seventh-round picks.

If we go by Jones’ past, it will be very unlikely the Cowboys stand pat with picks Nos. 27, 60, 91, 127, 163, 236 and 243 in the three-day draft.

But just for fun let’s look at who the Cowboys have taken with those selections in their history at each of those spots:

No. 27

1970 OT Bob Asher, Vanderbilt (second round)

1976 DB Aaron Kyle, Wyoming

1979 C Robert Shaw, Tennessee

No. 60

None

No. 91

None

No. 127

1997 WR Macey Brooks, James Madison (compensatory pick)

No. 163

None

No. 236

1966 RB Tom Piggee, San Francisco state

1976 DB Henry Laws, South Carolina

1995 DE Oscar Sturgis, North Carolina

No. 243

1965 DT Martin Amsler, Evansville

1985 LB Scott Strasburger, Nebraska

1996 FB Ryan Wood, Arizona State

1999 OT Kelvin Garmon, Baylor (compensatory pick)

IRVING, Texas -- This week we will start focusing on prospects for the 2015 draft, but first let’s take a look back at the Dallas Cowboys’ 2014 draft.

First round: Zack Martin (16th overall)

Martin was a Day 1 starter at right guard and one of the best picks in the draft. Had Ryan Shazier been available, he would have been the Cowboys’ pick over Martin, but sometimes teams get lucky. Martin was a four-year starter at Notre Dame and made the transition from tackle to guard as smooth as possible. He was named to the Pro Bowl and became the first Cowboys rookie to earn All-Pro honors since 1969.

Second round: DeMarcus Lawrence (34th overall)

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Lawrence
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith Greg Hardy's arrival, DeMarcus Lawrence is looking at a move to left defensive end in 2015.

The Cowboys gave up their third rounder to move up to the 34th pick to take Lawrence, whom they rated as one of the three best right defensive ends in the draft. He missed the first eight games of the season with a broken foot suffered in training camp and did not record a sack in the regular season. He had two sacks in the playoffs, including a game-clinching stop of Matthew Stafford in the wild-card round after he mistakenly tried to return an earlier sack-fumble and fumbled the ball himself. With the addition of Greg Hardy, he is looking at a move to left defensive end in 2015 if he starts.

Fourth round: Anthony Hitchens (119th overall)

Many eyebrows were raised when the Cowboys took Hitchens with the 119th pick and promptly said they hoped he would be a backup to Sean Lee and a special teams stalwart. He ended the season as a starter and the coaches credited him with at 100 tackles. He started a game at every linebacker spot through last season, filling in at the middle, weak and strong sides because of injuries. While he was supposed to be a special teamer when he was picked, he didn’t have a special teams tackle. He more than made up for it with his work on defense.

Fifth round: Devin Street (146th overall)

Street was active for every game but had just two catches for 18 yards. When you’re behind Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley in the pecking order, it’s hard to put up numbers. But the coaches kept him active for a reason. They liked his development even if he didn’t get much action. He is a smooth route runner with some savvy to his game and enters 2015 with a chance to make an impact.

Seventh round: Ben Gardner (231st overall)

Gardner's rookie season was cut short because of reconstructive shoulder surgery. He never really had a chance to show what he can do, but the Cowboys hope he can develop into a jack-of-all-trades lineman with the ability to line up across their front in different situations. But he needs to show early on that he can contribute because there will be competition up front.

Seventh round: Will Smith (238th overall)

Smith was on and off the Cowboys’ practice squad during the season. If he makes the 53-man roster this year, he will have to show up on special teams.

Seventh round: Ahmad Dixon (248th overall)

Dixon made the 53-man roster coming out of training camp, but was cut when the Cowboys signed veteran C.J. Spillman to be the special teamer they hoped Dixon would be. He didn’t help himself with his attitude at times and he was late to a training-camp practice. He was on four different teams in 2014 and is currently on the Minnesota Vikings.

Seventh round: Ken Bishop (251st overall)

Bishop spent the first six weeks of the regular season on the roster, was active for three games and was credited with two tackles. He was cut and signed to the practice squad before getting called up for the playoffs. He played well in the divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers and could find himself in the mix to start this season depending on how his offseason goes.

Seventh round: Terrance Mitchell (254th overall)

Mitchell was competitive and drew the ire of the wide receivers in training camp for being almost too feisty. Jason Garrett praised Mitchell during the summer, but he struggled with technique and the coaches felt he wouldn’t listen to what they were trying to tell him. He passed on a chance to re-sign on the Cowboys’ practice squad and joined the Chicago Bears’ practice squad before getting called up to the active roster midway through the season.

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

March, 28, 2015
Mar 28
12:00
PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:



@toddarcher: When you are around the Cowboys you learn to never rule anything out, so I will not speak absolutely on what could happen between the Cowboys and Peterson. My opinion? I don't see it happening. There are just too many hoops to go through and that "financial discipline," that they were praised for just a few weeks ago would go out the window. It would take premium picks (top three rounds) to get Peterson out of Minnesota, provided the Vikings are even willing to do it. The Cowboys would not be able to fill needs elsewhere by giving up multiple picks. Then there's the cash and cap space. They will restructure Tony Romo's contract just to account for Hardy's roster bonuses, draft picks, injury settlements, practice squad players and the in-season signings. They could designate Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut and free up $8 million but that doesn't cover Peterson's base salary. A restructure of Jason Witten's contract wouldn't give them enough cash either. Plus, they could get a runner in the draft that could do quite well with this offensive line at a fraction of the cost. Again, is it impossible? No, but it's close.





@toddarcher: It's tough to say right now. What if he receives a six-game suspension and is just OK for the 10 games he plays? I don't think they give him the money. If he puts up 10 sacks in those 10 games, then, sure I think they would spend money to keep him, and you would like to think Hardy would be appreciative of the opportunity the Cowboys gave him. Of course, you can be appreciative of that chance and still want the most money. The Cowboys could also have to answer the Bryant question in the 2016 offseason as well. I think it was shrewd of Drew Rosenhaus to put a clause in the deal that prevents the Cowboys from using the franchise or transition tags on Hardy. If he performs well, it puts pressure on the Cowboys to get a deal done before free agency.





@toddarcher: No, I don't see any chance Bryant would be reluctant to try something great again. First -- it was a catch. Second -- the NFL did nothing to really change or clarify the rule with what they did at the owners meetings. Third -- players don't think that way, especially Bryant. A play like that is spontaneous. It's an instinctive mood. In Bryant's mind -- and the mind of people watching the play without a rooting interest -- he caught the ball and was in the process of lunging for the end zone. Bryant can do things only a very few human beings can do. If he was in the same position to do what he did against Green Bay when they meet this year in the regular season, you can be assured he would do the same thing. Did I mention it was a catch?





@toddarcher: I'm not sure how anybody can say he can be The Man. He was OK in the preseason last year, but he has played in five regular-season games and averaged 2.8 yards per carry. I don't think the reason he wasn't on the 53-man roster last year had to do with his pass protection. To the Cowboys, he wasn't better than Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. He will get another chance to show he's better this summer. If he's better, he'll get a chance, but, again, it wasn't his blocking that kept him off the roster. He doesn't cover kicks. He doesn't have kick return abilities. It would be a great story if he makes the team and has a great year, but there is no way the Cowboys can go into the season counting on him to be a difference-maker.





@toddarcher: Yes, I believe they will look for a receiver/returner in the draft. On the current roster, I don't see anybody who can bring the possibilities Dwayne Harris brought in the return game. To me, Dunbar would be a kick return option and Cole Beasley a punt return option. Harris was special in 2013 at both. They don't need special to contend, but they do need to have somebody who can flip field position. One guy that caught my eye during the college season was Kansas State's Tyler Lockett. I'm not about to predict the round he goes in, but he could be a valuable fourth receiver/returner type.

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Jeff Saturday, Sarah Spain and Jorge Sedano discuss Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' comments that not signing RB DeMarco Murray was the best chance for the team to get better.

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo turns 35 on April 21. He might say he has four or five years left to play at a high level, but that's not how the Dallas Cowboys can look at it.

They need to see a quarterback with two back surgeries, who missed a game last season with two transverse process fractures and who had rib cartilage damage, and start wondering about Romo's successor.

[+] EnlargeRomo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesIs now the year the Cowboys begin to worry about drafting a QB as Tony Romo's eventual successor?

"We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "It's starting a time frame where a guy could come in and be a good backup. Look at how Romo evolved into the guy he is today. He did a little time with the clip board."

Of course, the same thoughts were espoused in 2014 and 2013 and probably 2012. And the Cowboys didn't draft a quarterback. Bryce Petty's name has been bandied about, and he is expected to visit Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have other private workouts with quarterbacks coming up, too.

Maybe this is the year they actually take a quarterback in the draft.

But the likelihood of the Cowboys finding Romo's heir in the middle to late rounds is slim. Extremely slim. The odds-aren't-worth-it-slim. There are two starting quarterbacks currently in the NFL who were picked after the third round. Romo is one and he wasn't drafted. Tom Brady is the other and he went in the sixth round.

There are third-round starters, such as Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and, potentially, Ryan Mallett. If Mallett doesn't win the starting job with the Houston Texans, then Brian Hoyer would be the third starter after the third round -- he went undrafted. Josh McCown, who is likely to be the Cleveland Browns starter, has bounced around, but he was a third-round pick.

The Cowboys have selected three quarterbacks since Troy Aikman: Billy Musgrave, Quincy Carter and Stephen McGee. They traded for Drew Henson in 2004 and that didn't work out.

This isn't to say the ghosts of Musgrave, Carter and McGee should prevent the Cowboys from taking a quarterback. But it is to say the level of expectations for taking a quarterback in the middle rounds needs to be ratcheted way down. The Cowboys hoped McGee could develop into a No. 2 quarterback and that didn't happen.

The days of developing a quarterback seem long ago. The Green Bay Packers did it with Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre. Philip Rivers sat for two years behind Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers. Those guys were taken in 2005 and 2004.

Most teams are drafting their guys in the first and second rounds and if not playing them in Week 1 of their rookie seasons, then very soon in their rookie seasons. Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr started as rookies last season.

It sounds quaint, the notion of a quarterback holding a clip board, taking mental notes as he watches. It's just not reality.

Let's say Romo plays another three years through 2017 when he is 37. In 2018, that's when the Cowboys will really need to find his successor.

How many risks will Cowboys take?

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27
10:30
AM ET

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys took a risk when they signed Greg Hardy.

They mitigated the contractual risk to Hardy on the one-year deal by making sure he earned most of his money for each game he is on the 53-man roster. The football risk is mild, considering just about everybody considered him the best pass-rusher available in free agency.

But the off-field risk is great and could affect the on-field production if he is suspended by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

Would the Cowboys be as willing to take a character risk in the upcoming draft? They pour millions into the scouting of players to know all about the player on and off the field. The off-field concerns factor into the grades, and the Cowboys have deemed players undraftable because of it.

"I don't think there's any connection there and to be honest with you, we don't view player acquisition as risks," coach Jason Garrett said. "We don't view this as a risk. We did our due diligence. We did our research on Greg Hardy. We evaluated him as a player, brought him in here, structured a contract in such a way that we think he can help our football team. If we don't think he's going to do that we can move on from him. That was a very important part of this contract, the structure of the contract."

Player acquisition is absolutely a risk. Teams don't truly know what they are getting in players despite how heavily they scout. Every team makes mistakes. The best teams at drafting miss a lot. One of the reasons teams will miss is they underrate or overvalue the character assessments.

Michigan defensive end Frank Clark was dismissed from the team last season after being charged with one count of misdemeanor domestic violence and one count of assault after an incident with his girlfriend. Randy Gregory reportedly failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine that could affect his draft stock. There will be dozens if not more players with off-field transgressions.

The Cowboys have been more than willing to take a public relations hit for signing Hardy. They backed up their decision by talking about their due diligence, going back to Hardy's high school years through his time with the Carolina Panthers. They believe in second chances, they say. They believe a player has a right to return to football after being punished. They have let Joseph Randle stay with the team and re-signed Josh Brent after their legal issues.

Does there ever come a point where it's too much?

"There's no question that Jason [Garrett] wants a team that is made up of the finest character players and the finest talent that you can have," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings. "The real world is that you don't get all that. One of the things that we need to do at all times is be looking toward becoming a better football team. That's all of our jobs."

Dallas Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27
9:00
AM ET

IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

Away we go:

@toddarcher: If we base it on what the NFL has allowed in the past, he will be able to take part in the offseason program, organized team activities and June minicamp as well as training camp and the preseason games provided he is not on the commissioner’s exempt list. Last year Orlando Scandrick was suspended for what turned out to be the first two games of the season, but was able to take part in training camp and the preseason games. When the regular season started, he was not allowed at the facility and had to work out on his own.

@toddarcher: Usually you hear teams say, “You can never have too many cornerbacks.” Well, I would submit for the Cowboys you can’t have too many linebackers either. McClain is a good player. He has issues that coaches and teammates have to deal with, but on Sunday he will play. So if you can get that guy at a good rate, even with a four-game fine and the next failed test leading to a four-game suspension, you try to work something out. Sean Lee has yet to play a full season. Anthony Hitchens had a better-than-expected rookie year. The Cowboys added Jasper Brinkley too. It might seem that they have enough linebackers, but since injuries always pop up, you need extra guys to get through a season.

@toddarcher: I think the odds are very good. I don’t see how there is any way Dallas will pay him $8 million in 2015. Carr’s agent, Ben Dogra, said at the NFL owners meetings that his client would not accept a pay cut. Hey, I wouldn’t give in so easily, either, but there will come a time when job opportunities and cap space elsewhere will be limited. It’s all part of the negotiation. What is Carr worth? At present, his price can remain high, especially when you see the deals some cornerbacks have signed in free agency. In May and June that might not be the case. The Cowboys can afford to slow-play this. If he doesn’t take a pay cut, I think they'll just cut him and gain cap space in 2015 but absorb a hit in 2016.

@toddarcher: If we’re talking about on the field, I would agree. I wondered last year if what RB Joseph Randle did in small doses makes the Cowboys believe he might be as effective with a larger role in 2016; his success might have played into the departure of DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys' lack of faith in Randle isn’t so much what has happened on the field, although they do have pass-protection concerns. Personally, I think we in the media and fans sometimes overrate pass-protection issues as some sort of way to show we “know the game.” Yes, it’s important, especially when you have a quarterback with a bad back, but I don’t think it is too difficult to figure out who to block as a running back if you just pay attention. As much as I was a Murray fan, he wasn’t perfect in pass protection, either. But Randle's two arrests in less than six months play a part in the Cowboys’ apparent lack of faith. He could still be punished by the NFL even if he is not punished legally.

@toddarcher: The easy answer is: Rod Marinelli better have confidence. I do get the sense that Marinelli’s message to the front office is, “I’ll coach up whoever you give me and we’ll be OK.” Now, I do think the Cowboys need to look at the defensive line in the early rounds. The only legit contributor at defensive end under contract for 2016 is DeMarcus Lawrence. I think Ken Bishop has a chance to be a solid part of the rotation along with Terrell McClain. The coaches soured some on Davon Coleman as last season went on, which played a part in why his re-signing took so long. Ben Gardner is coming back from surgery, so it’s hard to expect much from him. We also need to remember that Bishop and Gardner were seventh-round picks and Coleman was undrafted. You like these kinds of success stories, but I’m not sure you should stop looking to get better than those guys, either.

Sam on gay players: 'A lot of us'

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27
7:49
AM ET
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Michael Sam may be the first openly gay player to be selected in the NFL draft, but he said Thursday that there are more gay players in the NFL.

"I am not the only gay person in the NFL," Sam said during a speech and Q&A session in Dallas on Thursday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm just saying there is a lot of us. I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.

"Was it a risky move? Yes. But at that moment, the reason why I came out is I thought it wasn't going to be a big deal. Maybe I was naive. Maybe I thought it was 2014, and people will understand that there's gay NFL players. There's gay athletes everywhere. But I was clearly wrong. It was a huge deal.

"The players who have reached out to me and told me about their sexual orientation, it just means a lot. But I will never say anything about who they are, what teams they are [on]. I'm just saying there's some famous people, and I'm not the only one."

Sam, the former SEC co-defensive player of the year at Missouri, was taken by the Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 draft but didn't make the team. He has been a free agent since the Dallas Cowboys released him from their practice squad Oct. 21 and was one of 105 participants in the league's first veteran combine, where he ran the 40 in 4.99 seconds.


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Cowboys take prudent approach

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
6:04
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys haven't lost a single player this offseason they weren't prepared to lose.

Yes, that includes running back DeMarco Murray.

Thus far, based on what they wanted to accomplish, the Cowboys' offseason is going according to plan.

These Cowboys move deliberately in free agency, eschewing the big-ticket, gaudy purchases for sensible selections from the discount bin. This is the Cowboys' new reality, and it's taking time for some of y'all to accept it, but it's the proper approach for a team trying to build a sustained winner.

Don't forget that last spring the Cowboys cut star DeMarcus Ware and let Jason Hatcher walk after an 11-sack season, and they still found a way to go 12-4, win the NFC East and win a playoff game for the first time since 2009.

Understand, the Cowboys didn't want to lose Murray, but once they allowed him to reach free agency they knew it was a possibility. They took a calculated gamble that the combination of Murray's workload (392 carries), age (27) and price (he wanted $8 million per year) would scare away other teams. It didn't.


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Suit for Hardy evidence on hold

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
5:41
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A hearing scheduled for Tuesday to determine whether the NFL is entitled to evidence from the July 15 domestic violence trial of Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy has been put on hold in an attempt to settle the matter out of court.

The NFL filed suit last week against the state of North Carolina and district attorney Andrew Murray seeking photos of injuries to Nicole Holder, guns in Hardy's Charlotte apartment and other evidence in the trial in which a Mecklenburg County judge found the former Carolina Panthers star guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend in May.

"The hearing was postponed so that we could discuss an amicable resolution of our request for documents," said Charlotte attorney Monroe Whitesides, Jr., who filed the complaint on behalf of the NFL.

Whitesides did not indicate when that resolution might occur.

Hardy's July verdict was set aside under North Carolina law when the player asked for a jury trial. That trial, scheduled for February 9, never occurred. Charges against Hardy were dropped because, according to Murray, Holder refused to cooperate in the investigation after receiving a financial settlement from Hardy.

The NFL then opened its own investigation into whether Hardy, who last week signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys, should be suspended for violating the league's personal conduct code.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the close of the NFL owner's meetings in Phoenix that a ruling was expected soon.


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IRVING, Texas – How do ESPN Insiders Mike Sando, Matt Williamson, Field Yates, Louis Riddick and Bill Polian grade the Dallas Cowboys’ work in free agency so far?

They gave the Cowboys a "B."

The additions have been modest in terms of the salary cap and Greg Hardy stands to be the biggest difference-maker, but Polian isn’t sure how much Hardy will play if the NFL imposes some kind of suspension.

"Adding Hardy looks like a good deal on paper," Polian said in the piece. "What you do not know is what the suspension will be and will there be litigation that follows that? They protected themselves contract-wise, but they do not know how long he will be on the field."

They included Jed Collins, Jasper Brinkley, Darren McFadden, Andrew Gachkar, Keith Rivers and Corey White in their assessment, but did not account for Doug Free or Cole Beasley.

Free keeps the offensive line intact and Beasley is a security blanket for Tony Romo.

The biggest question remains how do they replace DeMarco Murray?

Polian said Murray was a good move for the Eagles after he “fell in their lap." Among the other Cowboys’ departures, Polian called Henry Melton a “great pickup” for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll see if he is better in his second full season off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but he was not a difference-maker for the Cowboys.

Williamson said the Giants paid too much for Dwayne Harris, to which I would agree. Giving $7.1 million guaranteed is a lot, even for a top special-teamer like Harris. Yates called the acquisition of Justin Durant by the Atlanta Falcons a “smart move,” to which I would agree if they didn’t pay him so much money. He has played a full season once. I have a feeling if the Cowboys paid that much money for Durant, the reaction might have been a little bit different.

Riddick isn’t sure if Jermey Parnell will be worth the money the Jacksonville Jaguars are paying him. I believe the Cowboys made the right choice in keeping Free. To give a tackle $14.5 million, you have to expect he would be a transformative player. I’m not sure Parnell is that.

Cowboys signing analysis: Greg Hardy

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
1:45
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Games watched: vs. Cowboys, Week 7, 2012; vs. Atlanta Falcons, Week 17, 2013; vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 1, 2014

Contract: One year, $11.3 million, no guaranteed money. He will make $1.3 million in an offseason workout bonus, $745,000 in base salary and up to $9.25 million in per-game roster bonuses. He also can make an extra $1.8 million in incentives.

What I saw: I chose the three games for a reason. I know the Cowboys the best and wanted to see how Greg Hardy stacked up against Tyron Smith, who was in his first year as a left tackle. Against Atlanta he had four sacks, a career high. The Tampa Bay game was the only one he played last year.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
Bob Leverone/AP PhotoGreg Hardy's power-rushing game should allow the Cowboys to be more versatile on the defensive line.

As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said from the NFL owners meetings, Hardy plays all over the place. The Carolina Panthers used him mostly at right defensive end, but he also played left defensive end and at both defensive tackle spots. He also lined up in a two-point stance at times and would drop into coverage occasionally.

In the 2012 meeting, Smith wasn’t the Smith we know now and Hardy wasn’t the Hardy we know now. They were developing players. For the bulk of the 44 snaps, Smith won the matchup. Only twice by my count did Hardy get into Smith to where he was able to get some pressure on Tony Romo. He exposed his numbers a lot and Smith just locked his arms on him and shut him down. When he was able to get into Smith’s body, he demonstrated some good power. In his one snap vs. tight end James Hanna in the game, he beat him to the inside to make a nice play for a small gain in the run game, but he was not able to do much against Jason Witten.

He was a different player by the time the 2013 season finale rolled around against the Falcons. He was much better at turning power into speed, but to be sure, his main asset is power. He will not dazzle off the edge as a speed rusher. Two of his four sacks came with Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez trying to block him (a running back was teamed with Gonzalez on the second sack). He manhandled Gonzalez the first time and came underneath to drop Matt Ryan the first time. On the second one, he split an ineffective double-team.

He beat left tackle Lamar Holmes with a nifty jab step inside to get Holmes diving inside and went around the corner to get to Ryan. When he gets his foot by the tackle, he closes quickly. He lined up at defensive tackle for his final sack, beating Peter Konz by slapping away the lineman’s hands and pulling his way through.

Rod Marinelli wants to see hustle as much as anything. Hardy showed this a few times by tracking down plays across the field and sprinting to the ball. The Panthers had a first-round bye on the line against the Falcons, and Hardy was active.

In the last game against the Buccaneers, he was again moved around a lot. In his sack of Josh McCown, he beat a double-team of the tight end and left tackle by charging up the field and coming back inside fast to get to the quarterback. Tampa Bay left tackle Anthony Collins struggled early with Hardy and was soon receiving help. At one point, the tight end shoved him and the running back came in for a chip before he could engage with Collins. He never seemed frustrated by the attention.

In fact, the other players on the Panthers line were able to take advantage of the attention Hardy received. A safety came free on a delayed blitz because the guard and tackle had their eyes on Hardy. At one point he dropped in coverage almost as a spy on the quarterback.

How he fits: There is no question he gives the Cowboys something they didn’t have. There were several occasions when he lined up at three different spots on consecutive plays. It’s something I wonder the Cowboys will do a lot with him because of the versatility they will have with guys like Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys needed a defender like this who will make the offense have to account for No. 76 on each play.

Good move: Clearly it’s a good move for the football team and this post is about the on-field help, not the off-field issues. The Cowboys didn’t have a bell-cow rusher last year. Hardy gives them that, but I do wonder if the expectations he will face will outweigh his productivity. If there is one word of caution here: He’s not DeMarcus Ware. Hardy has 26 sacks in his last two full seasons, but he does it completely differently than Ware. It’s a speed guy (Ware) vs. a power guy (Hardy).

IRVING, Texas -- The NFL draft is five weeks away and the Dallas Cowboys’ needs are certainly obvious, even with what they have done in free agency.

In no particular order, they need running back, defensive line, cornerback, linebacker and offensive line help.

In his recent ESPN Insider column, Mel Kiper Jr. has offered up his best “fits” for teams and came up with Georgia running back Todd Gurley to Dallas. He wrote:

The fit: Dallas is going to have one of the best run-blocking lines in the NFL next season, if not the best. The Cowboys don't need a dancer, they need a player who will get downhill fast and turn a crease into a big run because he's so hard to get to the ground when he hits the second level. Gurley can do that. Dallas added Darren McFadden, but they won't be done at this position.

To me, it all comes down to Gurley’s knee. If it checks out fine, then I can see the Cowboys going in this direction. The only pause I would have is when would he be on the field his rookie year? It’s possible he starts the season on the non-football injury list, and that could cost him the first six games of the season. (It wouldn’t be the physically unable to perform list because he was hurt in college. Bruce Carter was on NFI his rookie year.)

I don’t think there should be such a narrow-minded view of six games compared to a potential five-year run with a player, but it would make me take pause.

Gurley is the best running back in the draft. He is electrifying. He can hit the home runs, but I think he can make those “dirty” runs Jason Garrett talks about. But with the Cowboys offensive line, would it make more sense to go with a higher need in the first round -- and yes, I realize people will hate seeing “need” thrown around, but I’m of the belief it has to be factored in when taking a player at any position -- and get a runner in the second or third round?

Soon the Cowboys will be kicking around these very thoughts with their front office, scouts and coaches together locked in a room.

Nick Hayden's contract details

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
10:20
AM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Defensive tackle Nick Hayden became the third member of the Dallas Cowboys this season to sign a contract for the minimum salary benefit, but there is a twist on his deal.

Fullback Jed Collins and linebacker Keith Rivers also signed minimum salary benefit contracts with bonuses of $65,000 and $80,000 respectively. Collins will make $810,000 but count $650,000 against the cap. Rivers will make $825,000 but count $665,000 against the cap.

Like Rivers, Hayden will count $665,000 against the cap with an $80,000 bonus and $745,000 base salary, but here’s where his deal is different: The Cowboys have also guaranteed $200,000 of Hayden’s base salary.

Two years ago the Cowboys signed safety Will Allen to a minimum salary benefit deal with a $65,000 signing bonus and guaranteed $555,000 of his base salary. The Cowboys cut Allen after the fifth game of the season.

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