NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the years, we have heard countless teammates rave about Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

This past season, we heard Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray talk about Witten’s impact on them as players and men. We heard Tony Romo say Witten might be the best Cowboy of all time. Jason Garrett called Witten the best tight end in football for the past decade.

On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.

During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.

"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."

Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.

"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."

Tony Romo: 'I have to be better'

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the Dallas Cowboys’ season, Tony Romo was often asked to reflect on what he was able to do.

He never took a big picture view, saying the timing wasn’t right, that the focus was on that week’s opponent or that day’s practice.

The end of Dallas' season wasn't even two weeks old, and as he stood outside one of the team buses after a Pro Bowl practice in Glendale, Arizona, Romo’s big picture view wasn’t about his season. He did not discuss his comeback from major back surgery to lead the NFL in passer rating, Total QBR and completion percentage. He didn’t go on about the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesAfter throwing 34 touchdowns in 2014, Tony Romo is already looking forward to how he can improve his game next season.
 He didn’t thumb his nose at critics who wondered if he would ever rid himself of mistakes in big games or those who scoffed when he said in training camp his best football was ahead of him.

“Ultimately, I feel like we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do so it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Romo said. “I think you just figure out how you have to be better. I have to be better. Our team has to be better. And you have to go attack this thing with everything we got.”

On Tuesday night, sitting in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore, Romo watched his fellow Pro Bowlers walk by. He was struck at how different it felt from his earlier trips. In his first Pro Bowl in 2006, he was the unknown kid who led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He had the world in front of him.

Now in his fourth Pro Bowl and five years removed from his most recent trip to the all-star game, his life has changed. He turns 35 in April. He is married and has two sons. He knows these moments don’t last forever.

The world may still be in front of him, but his view of it has changed.

“You want to keep constantly trying to figure out new ways to improve,” Romo said. “You’re never satisfied. Last year is not a satisfying feeling. If anything, it makes you more hungry to be better going forward so you have an opportunity to achieve all your goals. Ultimately we didn’t get that done and that just never sits well. I’m a firm believer that you have to start over and go do everything you did to be better the next season. You can’t just rest on anything you’ve done. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“I’m going to have to start over, tear it all down and figure out what I did well and work on the things I didn’t do as well and then go try and continue to perfect your craft to get to your highest level.”’

How does he improve on 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions? On completing 69.9 percent of his passes? On 8.5 yards per attempt?

The secret is in the dirt. It’s an old Ben Hogan saying and one Romo references often. It’s on the practice field or in the meeting room. It’s studying the tiniest of details from where he places his ring finger on the ball to how he slightly adjusts where he points his lead foot.

“If you’re not improving and getting better from year to year, if you don’t think you can try to figure out new ways to perfect your craft, I don’t understand how you can help your football team,” Romo said. “You’re going in the wrong direction, to me, if you don’t. You’ve got to figure out how you can be a better player. Each guy has to do that a little different and just think if our team takes that approach, we have a chance to be better.”

For the first time since 2012, Romo will be able to work on his craft in the offseason. In 2013, he had surgery to remove a cyst from his back and did not take part in organized team activities and the minicamp. In 2014, he was coming back from the discectomy that prevented him from playing in the winner-take-all finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It limited him in training camp. He never practiced more than two straight days. It limited him early in the season until the Cowboys’ athletic training staff formulated the ‘Romo Wednesday,’ in which he worked on his strength in his core and legs.

“It’s going to be a much better offseason on building in areas that I haven’t been able to in a couple of years,” Romo said. “I’ll always have to maintain a little bit of what I’ve been doing for my back. Strengthening the areas there, that’s the most important thing. I think what I’ve found is that you’ve got to attack the offseason, and you can do it in many different forms. I think it’ll be nice to attack some area that I haven’t been able to.”

He doesn’t want to say what areas he will attack. He prefers to keep that secret in the dirt to himself. He said the tear-down process will start in the middle of February.

“Right now you’re just trying to enjoy the Pro Bowl and family and things like that,” Romo said.

When the bus returned to the Biltmore, he was going to sit by the pool and relax with his family and teammates. The sun was out and everything was bright.

“Next season is a whole new season and we’ve got to tear it down and start all over again,” Romo said. “You’re guaranteed nothing. That’s the only way to be successful year to year. I think our team has an opportunity with a lot of the right people in place, and I’m excited about the challenge and excited about the ability to work and get after it.”
PHOENIX -- There is a theory going around about the Dallas Cowboys and their running game that sounded a lot like the theory around the team in the 1990s: You can get just about any running back to have success behind that offensive line.

Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with help from an offensive line that had too many Pro Bowlers to count. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards, breaking Smith’s franchise record for yards in a season, with three Pro Bowlers blocking for him.

Jason Witten does not subscribe to that theory. At all.

“We’ve got good running backs,” he said. “Joe Randle took advantage of every opportunity he got. I think [Lance] Dunbar’s got a great future ahead of him. Obviously the O-line, but I think it would be silly to not give him the credit for what he did. It’s not easy to do that and I think Coach [Jason] Garrett said it a few weeks back that he created a mindset for our team and that’s not easy to do. He deserves a lot of that credit, DeMarco does, and so that’s why you want a guy like that back because he stands for everything you want in your football team.”

But the financials will play a part in Murray’s future. The Cowboys can afford to pay him whatever they want. It will be a question of if they want to pay him big money before the free-agent market opens.

Witten will do everything he can to make sure Murray stays. The two developed a tighter relationship in 2014 as workout partners in the offseason.

“You don’t invest that time just for one year,” Witten said. “You’re really thinking big picture. But he deserves it. He’s worked hard. He has a lot of good things around him and he’s the first to give others credit. You want him to have as much success as he can, but of course you want him on your team. … You want to see him maximize that but there’s no question that I hope he’s thinking about guys like me when he’s going through that decision. Not that he owes us anything because he doesn’t, but that he wants to be a part of that. But you know it’s a business, too.”
PHOENIX – A year ago at this time, Zack Martin was in Mobile, Alabama, preparing for the Senior Bowl, unsure of his football future.

This week he is at the posh Arizona Biltmore preparing for his first of what should be many Pro Bowl appearances.

“There was a lot going on last year,” Martin said. “Obviously, more of trying to do as much as you can to get noticed and get picked. This year it’s a little more relaxing, just kind of here for a week to enjoy everyone’s company and enjoy yourself playing.”

As Martin was walking to his room Tuesday, Joe Staley introduced himself to the Cowboys rookie.

“Zack Martin, the greatest guard in the history of guards,” Staley said.

Or not.

“He was joking,” Martin said.

Staley played for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan. Martin played for Kelly at Notre Dame. That Martin earned that kind of praise -- joking or not -- from Staley speaks to Martin's reputation across the league. In addition to the Pro Bowl, he was named All-Pro, the first Cowboys rookie to be so honored since 1969.

“I didn’t really expect this coming in, but obviously I kinda hit the jackpot with the situation I came into with great coaches and even better players to play next to,” Martin said, “Really got lucky with that.”

The Cowboys got lucky. While most of the draft-day talk centered around Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys would have selected linebacker Ryan Shazier if the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t taken him with the 15th overall pick.

Martin was a Day 1 starter and didn’t miss a game or a snap. Coaches like to say a player’s biggest improvement comes between his rookie year and second season.

“Honestly, I have no idea how he could improve that much,” center Travis Frederick said. “My level of improvement was a lot, and it just had to do with learning the game, but he’s already at such a high level … that if he continues to improve at the level he did this year, there really is no ceiling for him.”

Martin said he needs to get stronger. He said he can improve on the big things as well as the fine details.

He doesn’t consider himself to be the greatest guard in the history of guards.

“Just go in and do what I’ve always done,” Martin said. “I’ve always said our group takes care of that because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that that group won’t allow anything else but that.”

Team Irvin loads up on Dallas Cowboys

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
PHOENIX -- When the Pro Bowl kicks off Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys will be almost completely represented on Team Irvin.

With DeMarco Murray as one of his captains and Darren Woodson one of his assistants, it was not a surprise to see Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin load up on players from his former team.

Only long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will be on Team Carter, led by Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter.

Murray will have his three offensive linemen -- Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- as well as tight end Jason Witten blocking for him. Tony Romo was Team Irvin’s first pick.

Not only are the six players on the same team, they will be coached by the Cowboys staff.

“It’s going to be great because it just brings that continuity,” Frederick said. “Even if we’re not exactly running our playbook it’s at least the same terminology. It’s a lot of the stuff we will have heard before.”

Team Irvin even was able to grab the Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks in DeMarcus Ware, who concluded his first season with the Denver Broncos after a nine-year run in Dallas.

“Actually [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] came to me and he said, ‘Do you have any rushes left in you? Let’s get to the quarterback this week,’ so I know he’s excited,” Ware said. “He takes his game to a whole other level. Whenever he’s out there able to coach it’s a game and he said, ‘I am going to be on the winning team. I’m not going to lose.’”
PHOENIX -- The Dallas Cowboys won't know for sure who will be their starting running back in 2015 until a decision is made on DeMarco Murray or by DeMarco Murray.

If Murray does not re-sign, the Cowboys won’t know if Joseph Randle will be the starter, some early draft pick will be the starter or some free agent will be the starter.

But they will know how they want to run the ball.

“I just think we build on what we did,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I think we obviously were very successful at it. I give a lot of credit to [new offensive line coach Frank Pollack] and some of the things we’re doing too. They were in place before I got here. Some of the concepts he brought from Houston I think are good fits for DeMarco. But we’ll look at it all and we’ll say, 'These run types fit this player,' and 'This player did this the best.' Once you go through and evaluate our season again. It’s amazing what you either confirm that you already knew or you might say, ‘What were we thinking? We ran this play twice and we got 15 yards on one and 20 on another and decided not to run it again?' That’s the kind of stuff you go through."

Murray led the NFL with 1,845 yards on 392 carries with 13 touchdowns. Randle carried the ball just 51 times but gained 343 yards and had three touchdowns. The draft class appears to be strong. However, a running back hasn’t been picked in the first round the last two years. There could be several free agents that attract the Cowboys if Murray’s price tag is too high, such as Mark Ingram.

Jason Garrett and Linehan want Murray to return in 2015. They realize his importance to the Cowboys' success.

But they can’t get caught up in the business of the NFL.

“I know we’ll do everything we can to get all of our current players back under contract that aren’t,” Linehan said. “There are business aspects that we’ll have to cross potentially but you don’t concern yourself with it. You’ve just got to place people in those positions in your mind hypothetically or if you already know, and then you move forward. Free agency is not for a while and we’ll see a lot of things between now and then and you just kind of stay with -- it’s probably an overused term -- but the process to go start hitting the evaluations of our team and our scheme and do all of that and everything else will take care of itself.”
PHOENIX -- DeMarco Murray is a month removed from surgery to repair a broken left hand, but the Dallas Cowboys running back did not consider pulling out of the Pro Bowl.

“I love playing, so I’m not going to (sit out),” Murray said. “The hand’s all right so I’m excited to just go out there have fun and compete.”

Murray played six days after undergoing surgery against the Indianapolis Colts. He did not miss a game for the first time in his career. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. He said he is not sure if in Sunday’s all-star game he will wear the hard plastic shell he wore as extra protection, but he is sure the Cowboys’ athletic training staff that is working the game will have it packed.

“I’m not worried about (the possibility of getting hurt),” Murray said. “It’s not been a worry all year, so it’s not going to start now.”

Murray is one of Team Irvin’ captains along with Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Cowboys Hall of Famer Michael Irvin is the captain of one of the teams and has former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson as his assistant.

Murray will lobby for Irvin to pick up his offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin when the final selections are announced on Wednesday.

“I definitely want to make sure they’re the top three picks,” Murray said.

That would be OK with Frederick.

“It certainly would be nice to work with DeMarco,” Frederick said. “Obviously you know his style, and it really would be nice for the three of us all to be on the team on the offensive line. But we’ll see how it goes.”
PHOENIX -- Plenty of things can change between now and March 2 when the Dallas Cowboys have to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, but the read-between-the-lines talk is that there is little doubt the team will use the designation.

By doing so the Cowboys must pay Bryant the average of the top-five salary-cap figures for wide receivers over the last five seasons. That figures to come in at $12.5 million to $13 million.

It's a hefty price for the Cowboys to have lock in on one player for one year. It creates a potential unhappy Bryant, who wants the security of a long-term deal and all the guaranteed money that comes with it.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys may be leaning toward using the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, but a long-term deal would allow them to potentially keep DeMarco Murray, too.
A long-term deal would benefit the Cowboys, too, because Bryant would not count as much against the 2015 salary cap and potentially free them up to keep DeMarco Murray, too.

But the design of the tag is to keep Bryant from playing elsewhere.

"It's certainly a tool that franchises use to manage their roster, manage the salary cap," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think it's an important tool. I think in general you'd rather not have to use it, you'd rather have guys under contract so you can put the kind of team together that you want over a longer period of time. But there's a business part of this, and that's a tool that teams use to do their business well. Hopefully it's beneficial to different people."

The Cowboys last used the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in 2012 and '13. The total cost was $19.4 million. The tag prevented Spencer from shopping his wares to other teams coming off his best season -- he had 11 sacks in 2012 -- but when he missed all but 34 snaps in 2013 he was rewarded handsomely.

"You're getting paid the top of your position, but at the same time everybody wants a long-term contract," Spencer said. "But what guarantee do you have in a long-term contract? You're only guaranteed what they give you up front. Usually the franchise tag is just about the same or a little bit more than what you're going to get for signing up front. I was fortunate to get two of them, so I ended up coming out of it ahead. I ended up making more than what I was asking for in the beginning so it didn't really affect me in a negative way."

Bryant already said he would be disappointed if the Cowboys gave him the franchise tag. He wants to be a Cowboy. The Cowboys want to keep him but they want to do so while mitigating some of the financial risk.

His options would be limited. He can sit out and not be paid. He can make due with roughly $13 million with the hopes of getting the multi-year deal at another point.

"I don't want to get into the business of all of that," Garrett said last week when asked if the team would be worried about the receiver's reaction to the tag. "But Dez is a football player that's really, really … he's a hell of a player. He's one of the best at his position and we're lucky to have him, have him here for a long time."
PHOENIX -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant will miss the Pro Bowl because of a lingering groin injury.

Bryant was never listed on the injury report during the season with a groin injury and he never talked about an injury late in the season. Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and a team single-season record 16 touchdown catches.

He will be replaced by Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb.

Bryant is scheduled to be a free agent in March but the team has said it will use the franchise tag on him if they were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal.

Despite Bryant's absence, the Cowboys will still have seven players in the all-star game with tight end Jason Witten added on Monday to replace Denver's Julius Thomas.

It will be Witten's 10th Pro Bowl in 12 seasons. With the honor, only Hall of Famer Bob Lilly will have more Pro Bowls as a Cowboy than Witten. Hall of Famers Larry Allen and Mel Renfro also played in 10.

Witten made the Pro Bowl from 2004-10 and has now made it the last three seasons. His numbers were down in 2014 with 64 catches for 703 yards and five touchdowns, but coach Jason Garrett repeatedly called Witten the best tight end in football because of his ability to block.

Witten's blocking helped DeMarco Murray lead the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards. His receiving numbers improved after the Pro Bowl vote was counted, catching 18 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in the last three games.

He joins Murray, Tony Romo, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and L.P. Ladouceur in the all-star game.
IRVING, Texas - Brandon Carr didn't nearly play as poorly during the final month of the season and the playoff as most folks think.

He was more physical against the run and actually broke up some passes. He played with more confidence and his performance against Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson in the playoffs was terrific. Shadowing him much of the day, Nelson caught only two passes for 22 yards.

For the record, Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season.

Still, he's supposed to count $12.7 million against the salary cap with a salary of $8 million. The Cowboys will probably give him the same option they gave right tackle Doug Free a couple of years ago: Take a pay cut or get released.

“Carr played well this year and I’m not as critical of Carr as others,” owner Jerry Jones said. “But that’s a lot of money. One thing that we've just got to do is we’ve got to make sure that every way we can we get the value for the money.

Free took a pay cut, and it worked out well for him. He has played well the past two seasons, and now he has the leverage as a free agent. While the Cowboys have restructured Carr's deal in the past, it's unlikely they choose to go that route again.

“There’s an issue of going and borrowing some money, borrowing it in the sense of hedging, taking money from future years," Jones said. “There’s an issue there. We’ll maximize our dollar.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones loves the term "walk-around head coach."

In 2013, he made Jason Garrett a walk-around head coach -- meaning he does not call the plays for the defense or offense. Jones forced Bill Callahan to be the playcaller. There was one problem with the move (and it was no fault of Callahan's): Garrett didn't trust him with his offense.

Coming into the 2014 season, Garrett hired Scott Linehan as his offensive playcaller, and the walk-around thing worked a lot better.

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Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsScott Linehan allowed Jason Garrett to focus more on defense. By being more well-rounded, Garrett became a better coach.
If not for the Miami Dolphins, maybe that never happens.

In 2005, Garrett was in his first year as a coach, working as the Dolphins' quarterbacks coach, and Linehan was the coordinator. For hours and hours, they worked closely together. There was almost a game between the Dolphins' assistant coaches to get to the office before Nick Saban. Even a hurricane couldn't stop Saban. When others could not get down their streets, Saban somehow made it to work early.

Linehan and Garrett built a bond that lasted.

"I think at that time, I had a lot of philosophies about football from growing up in a football family, from playing football at this level for a number of years and being influenced by lot a of different guys," Garrett said. "But that was my first opportunity as a coach to be influenced, and his influence was significant, and in many ways it crystallized my thoughts about how I felt about offensive football and football in general."

In 2013, Garrett could not divorce himself from the offense. Jones' arranged marriage failed because Callahan was not familiar with the passing game. He ran a West Coast system. Football is football, but the differences in systems lead to nuances in playcalling.

When Linehan was made available after the Detroit Lions fired Jim Schwartz, Garrett had his guy. He was still the new guy around a lot of guys who had been in the same system and on the staff for at least a few years.

"I thought he did a great job coming in here and dealing with the staff that was in place, a system that was in place, a lot of players who knew how to do things a certain way," Garrett said. "All that stuff in place, and he did a great job kind of maximizing the way it was, the people, the system and then adding to it and making it better."

Garrett was still involved with the offense with Linehan on board, but it was more in an advisory role. In practices, he spent more time with the defense. In meetings, he spent more time with defense.

By being more well-rounded, Garrett became a better coach.

"Maybe one of the most underutilized opportunities in coaching is the communication between offensive guys, defensive guys and special teams guys," Garrett said. "One of the things that we have done in the past is you break each other down. The offensive line coach is talking with the defensive line coach. What are you doing? What are you looking at here? Why is he in that kind of stance? Why is he so wide? Sometimes you sit on one side of the ball and say, 'If we do this, they're going to do this.' The defensive guy says, 'They ain't doing that. This is why they're doing that.'

"Just opening up those lines of communication, I think they're really, really important. So one of the things I tried to do for the defensive guys is provide an offensive perspective. 'This is what they're trying to get accomplished here. This is how we run that play. This is how we block that.' Maybe give them some insights, and obviously learning more about what we're doing and being able to communicate and coach better was a big a part of the process for me as well."

With Linehan returning in 2015, Garrett can continue to walk around and continue to grow.

"Hopefully, I'm better than I was yesterday," Garrett said. "That's really the way I look at it, and the culture we're trying to create here is that everybody is striving to get better each and every day. That applies to me too. This is a good structure that we have in place right now. It certainly affords me the opportunity to be more involved in a lot of different parts of our team. We have people in place who I trust to do those jobs well in the structure that we have them, so I think those are all positives.

"You can be more involved in the defense, more involved in the kicking game, more involved in the offense, more involved with personnel, how the roster is put together, and I think those are all positive things for a head coach to be able to do."
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys badly wanted to be playing in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Jeremy Mincey said after the loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys had the "formula" to beat the Seahawks. Maybe, but a regular-season win in Seattle in October is a lot different than a postseason win in January.

[+] EnlargeWitten/Garrett
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJason Garrett believes Dallas has the foundation to become an annual Super Bowl contender.
It sure would have been fun to find out, but it raises a question: How close are the Cowboys to being Super Bowl contenders again?

They beat the Seahawks 30-23, and the score was that close in part because of special teams’ mistakes. They trounced the Indianapolis Colts -- who will play the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game -- in Week 16 by 35 points.

They lost to the Packers 26-21 at Lambeau Field on a controversial call.

I’ve long believed that almost every team in the league is somewhere around 8-8 going into the season. With good healthy, quality play and some breaks, they go 10-6 or better. Without good healthy, quality play and those breaks, they go 7-9 or 6-10.

There really isn’t a long climb to the playoffs or a steep drop to the NFL’s abyss. Everybody is kind of the same.

That is why the Packers’ loss hurts. The Cowboys were right there. They beat two of the four remaining teams in the playoffs and looked good doing it. They had a third, who did not lose a game at home in the regular season, on the ropes and maybe should have won.

"We had 60 minutes to do it and we didn’t accomplish that goal of moving on to the next step," Garrett said. "That’s going to stick with all of us in challenging our guys to continue to do what they’ve done, but do the things necessary to take that next step. And fight the way we fought and battle the way we battled and do all the things I thought made this team special, but we’ve got to get back to work. Guys will get away from it for a little bit but then we’ll get recharged and ready to do again."

But the 2015 Cowboys will not start with a 12-4 record. They will start 0-0, like every other team. Often, Garrett has referenced that the past has no bearing on the present or future.

Maybe next season’s Cowboys won’t be as healthy. The schedule will be a little more difficult with regular-season meetings at Green Bay and against the Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. The New England Patriots also visit Arlington, Texas.

"I like to think that we’re building something," Garrett said. "There’s no question that you do start all over again. But whatever the makeup of our team is going to be when we reassemble in the spring is going to be different than it is right now. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys are a unique entity. But I’d like to think that when we get together we’re going to have these cornerstone pieces and we’re going to have these experiences that we’ve had together that we can build on and we can benefit from. So, you are starting over, there’s no question about that. You have to do all the work, again and again and again, but that’s the great challenge of the whole thing. But we do have these people, we do have these experiences we’ve had together that we can certainly build on."
IRVING, Texas -- In one breath, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones says his team can be players in free agency. In the next, he says it will be a challenge for the Cowboys to keep Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

If the Cowboys can be players in free agency, why can’t they keep Bryant and Murray?

Well, they can.

If they don’t, that will be because the Cowboys chose not to.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesRe-signing DeMarco Murray would be easier for the Cowboys if Dez Bryant, right, signs a long-term deal first.
The Cowboys can do anything they want in free agency. Cap space will not be an issue.

“We want to be active,” Jones said of free agency. “I think the word really is attentive because we won’t be active if the player is out of kilter with what we can afford or out of kilter with what his number is relative to what he can do for us. So, it just is going to depend. What the good news is, we’re in a lot better shape under the cap than we’ve been at any time over the last two or three years. That’s good. And my hat is off to Stephen [Jones]. My hat’s off to the staff there.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys are over the projected 2015 cap by roughly $4.4 million. Other sites have the Cowboys under the projected cap. Regardless, with a few swipes of a pen, the Cowboys can create about $45 million in cap space.

That doesn’t mean they will or want to create all that room. It just means they can.

Doug Free's and Henry Melton's deals will come off the cap once Free's deal voids and once the Cowboys don’t pick up Melton’s $9 million option. That creates $15.5 million in space. If the Cowboys designate cornerback Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut, that creates $8 million in space. If the Cowboys get Carr to take a pay cut then that will save them room as well but not $8 million. The Cowboys can create about $8 million in room by restructuring Tyron Smith's deal

They could also create up to $12.8 million by restructuring the contract of quarterback Tony Romo, but that is not the foregone conclusion many believe it to be. By restructuring Romo’s contract, that would impact future cap space

So the Cowboys can sign Murray and Bryant. That’s not the issue. The math can work.

It’s more about if they believe the position is worth the dollars. History tells you a running back's production dips after the type of season Murray had in 2014. History tells you once running backs hit a certain age, they don’t have a rebirth. History tells the Cowboys the seven-year, $45 million deal that included $16 million to Marion Barber in 2008 was a major mistake.

The choice to sign Murray would be easier if the Cowboys can get Bryant signed to a long-term deal instead of having to use the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl wide receiver. Bryant’s cap number would be lower with a long-term deal than under the franchise tag, thus freeing up cap dollars for Murray.

This is where the battle between what the Cowboys' front office would like and what Jason Garrett wants will be so interesting this offseason. On Tuesday, Garrett spoke about Murray in reverential terms. On Thursday Jones attempted to set the bar low on keeping Murray.

The front office would like Murray. Garrett wants Murray. That’s a big difference.
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett liked the fact that the Dallas Cowboys will have continuity on their coaching staff in 2015, and that includes the loss of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan to the Washington Redskins.


The Cowboys replaced Callahan with Frank Pollack, who has been the assistant offensive line coach the last two seasons. In 2013 Pollack was deeply involved with the offensive line when Callahan was the playcaller. With Callahan in the coaches' booth during games, Pollack was in charge of the line on the field.

The voice might be different but the message will be the same. With the success the Cowboys had in 2014 running the ball, the Cowboys want to keep everything the same with a young but talented offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.

From 2007-11, Pollack was an assistant offensive line coach with the Houston Texans. He was the Oakland Raiders line coach in 2012 before joining the Cowboys, working with Callahan, who coached Pollack at Northern Arizona.

“I think his relationship with Bill was really positive, positive for our football team but positive for each of those guys,” Garrett said. “They worked well together. I think Frank learned a lot from Bill about some different things. Not only did it help him, but it was a mutually beneficial relationship. All of that stuff -- his experience as a player, his experience as a coach, the expertise that he has. He’s a really good communicator. He’s got command of the room. He’s got command of the field. I think he has tremendous credibility with the players. They listen to him. They try what he’s asking them to do. I think he’s just been a really good coach for us.”
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys suffered their first loss of the offseason when Bill Callahan decided to join the Washington Redskins’ staff as offensive line coach.

It’s a loss, but not a surprise. Callahan was upset when he had the playcalling duties taken away from him 2014. He was not allowed to talk to the Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens about their offensive coordinator gigs. He stewed over that, but went about his work, and the Cowboys' offensive line flourished.

For that Callahan deserves one of those game balls, attaboy t-shirts, or maybe the boxing gloves or a hammer Jason Garrett likes to hand out after a Cowboys win.

But he doesn’t need a spot reserved in the Ring of Honor.

Reaction to Callahan's departure has ranged from "meh," to "OMG," and slightly exaggerated forms of that lingo filled with cuss words. Some fans were upset he chose the Redskins. Why? Was he supposed to take less money because they play in the NFC East? No. Praise has been heaped on Callahan from the national media. The Redskins have been given their fair share of praise, too, but they always seem to do well in the offseason.

The Cowboys lost a good coach in Callahan. They will add a good coach in Frank Pollack to replace him.

But the Cowboys did not lose Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick or Zack Martin, their three first-round picks over the past four years, who helped Callahan do such a good job. They don't lose Ronald Leary either. Maybe they lose Doug Free and/or Jermey Parnell in free agency. Heck, just last week Callahan said Parnell can start for any team in the NFL. Maybe the Redskins will sign him now that Callahan is there.

In 2012, the Cowboys had Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau as their starting guards, and Ryan Cook (for 11 games) as their starting center. Callahan was the coach then, and I don’t remember the hosannas thrown his way after the Cowboys averaged 3.6 yards per carry and saw Tony Romo get sacked 36 times during their 8-8 finish.

In 2013, the Cowboys added Frederick in the first round and put Leary in the starting lineup. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and Romo was sacked 35 times in 15 games. They were better.

In 2014, they drafted Martin in the first round and had Leary and Frederick starting their second seasons, and Smith and Free entrenched at tackle. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing, they averaged 4.5 yards per carry and Romo was sacked 29 times in 15 games. They were even better.

I don’t mean to diminish the job Callahan did, but coaches are better when they have better players. That’s just how it works.



Sunday, 1/25