PHOENIX – Starting right tackle Doug Free‘s status with the Dallas Cowboys is secure for now.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones didn’t dispute that Monday afternoon; however, he did say that “it’s not guaranteed” that Free will return in 2013.
Free didn’t lose his starting job last season, but he shared playing time in the last four weeks with Jermey Parnell.
“I think he improved last year,” Jones said of Free. “Whoever knows what caused [the struggles], ’cause Doug is one of our hardest workers, a leader in the room. Obviously, when the competition level got going there he responded well with probably his best games near the end.”
Jones was also complimentary of Parnell.
“We like Parnell a lot,” he said. Jones later added that the Cowboys “need tackles. You have to have more than two tackles.”
The NFL draft will dictate what the Cowboys could do with Free. Jones said there are moving parts revolving around the position and if the Cowboys draft a tackle they believe can either start or become the swing tackle, Free could become a post-June 1 cut, saving the team $7 million.
PHOENIX – The Cowboys don’t have a long term deal done with quarterback Tony Romo or linebacker Anthony Spencer, but executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said it’s important.
Jones said he expects the Romo extension will get done, he just doesn’t know when at this point.
“Quarterbacks usually take precedent,” Jones said. “Not like I don’t like Spencer, but quarterbacks usually come first and foremost. That’s it. They take up a significant part of your cap. It obviously dictates a lot for us this year when we’re all said and done.”
While extension talks are ongoing with Romo, they’re also scheduled with Spencer’s agent.
Multiple options still remain for the former linebacker, who could play on his $10.6 million franchise tag, sign an extension or be traded. Jones said he hasn’t received any substantial offers for Spencer yet, and he foresees Spencer wearing a Cowboys uniform this season. He said he believes Spencer still has several strong years left.
“At the end of the day, we plan on Anthony being here,” Jones said. “Now anybody at anytime, there has always been a philosophy if the right deal is there that makes us a better team, then you’ve got to take a look at it.”
Jones said it was especially important to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli that the Cowboys find a way to keep Spencer around. Spencer led all Cowboys with 106 tackles last season, including a career-high 11 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. When DeMarcus Ware played hurt through the tail end of the season, Spencer was the pass rusher making the majority of plays on the quarterback.
“I think there’s no question if you turn on the tape consistently he was probably our best defensive player last year when you take into account Ware was hurt and some of the things that went on,” Jones said. “It really felt like he’d be a big plus for us opposite of DeMarcus and could make our defense, with what Monte and Rod want to do, would make us a better defense. We’re going to be able to do that.”
Jones said Kiffin and Marinelli believe Spencer can not only make the switch, but that he’ll excel as a 4-3 defensive end, a position he hasn’t played since his college days at Purdue.
“Him and DeMarcus (Ware) both put their hand on the ground and played,” Jones said. “It’s not a doubt in my mind they’ll be really good football players in this system. Some people think they’ll be better than they were standing up.”
The Cowboys won’t have much room to operate in free agency until they can extend either Romo or Spencer. While Jones would like to get a deal done with Romo, he doesn’t feel the need to rush. He said the Cowboys weren’t going to be big players in free agency this season, even if they could lessen Romo’s $16.8 million cap hit.
The Cowboys signed seven new players in 2012 after signing just one in 2011. Typically, a team can’t afford to look to free agency year after year without getting in trouble financially. The Cowboys didn’t sign a free agent from a different team in 2008 or 2010, and they’ve yet to this season.
Instead, Jones wants to focus on getting his own guys healthy and back on the field, rather than try to fill roster spots with other teams’ former athletes.
“At some point, we will look to improve ourselves,” he said. “But it was never going to be a deal where we were out shopping in a big way in free agency. That doesn’t mean we won’t get one or two guys when all is said and done. Right guy, right time, right place and we’ll take a look at it.”
After the Dallas Cowboys played a pre-season game in San Diego last summer, the team stayed in southern California an additional three days to work out against the Chargers. San Diego did the same the previous year after a pre-season game in Dallas.
That won’t happen this year.
Mike McCoy has replaced Norv Turner as San Diego’s head coach. While he’s receptive to practicing with the Cowboys or any other team during camp, it’s not in the works.
“It’s something we always explore,’’ McCoy said. “We don’t have plans of doing that right now.’’
The Cowboys will have five pre-season games since they will face Miami in the Hall of Fame Game. The team will open the pre-season in Canton, Ohio, return to California for two pre-season games then break camp and return to Cowboys Stadium for their final two games.
Far from a splash, but the club did re-sign linebacker Ernie Sims to a one-year deal for the league minimum, according to Dallas Cowboys VP Stephen Jones.
Sims, a former first-round pick of the Lions back in 2006, joined the Cowboys in midseason on Oct. 24 and played in 10 games, starting six.
He finished the year with 42 tackles and one sack. He had two straight games of seven tackles each against Washington and Philadelphia. But concussion issues plagued him for two straight games down the stretch.
Sims is likely to compete for the starting post at strong-side outside linebacker with Alex Albright and Kyle Wilber and anyone else the team acquires in the draft or possibly free agency, but it sounds like Jones is comfortable with the group he has.
“At that spot it’d be Wilber, also we’ve got Albright that’ll try that spot out, and then we’ve got Ernie now,” Jones said. “We think we’re pretty good.”
Sims was the ninth overall player taken in the 2006 draft out of the Lions, who were then coached by Rod Marinelli, who is now the Cowboys’ defensive line coach. Sims played in all 16 games during his first pro season, registering 124 tackles with the Lions.
He played three years in Detroit but his career never turned the corner as the Lions traded him to Philadelphia for the 2010 season. He spent one year with the Colts in 2011 before being out of football until he joined the Cowboys last season.
1968 – Chicago Bears 30, Dallas Cowboys 24
Aug. 3, 1968 – This was a game of big plays. Five out of the seven touchdowns scored came from 47 yards or longer. The scoring began right from the opening kickoff. The Cowboys were forced to retry that kickoff due to a penalty. Cecil Turner then fielded the retake and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown.
Dallas responded midway through the second quarter when quarterback Don Meredith connected with Hall of Fame wide receiver Bob Hayes on a 68-yard touchdown catch and run. Following a second TD throw from Meredith to Lance Rentzel, Turner struck again when he caught a 74-yard touchdown reception from Jack Concannon to tie the game 14-14.
Dallas then took the lead on a field goal, before Hall of Famer Gale Sayers grabbed a short pass from Larry Rakestraw and ran it 47 yards for the score and the lead. Chicago added to their margin with a 32-yard field goal near the end of the third period.
The Cowboys tied the game at 24 on a 15-yard TD pass from Craig Morton to Rentzel at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The game’s final score came with 6:13 left when Dallas punted the ball away and Chicago’s return man Willie Dearion found a seam up the right sideline and returned it 62 yards for the game winning score.
1979 – Oakland Raiders 20, Dallas Cowboys 13
July 28, 1979 – The 1979 Hall of Fame game featured four Hall of Fame players on each of the sidelines. The Cowboys lineup included Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Randy White and Rayfield Wright and was coached by another future Hall of Famer in Tom Landry. Meanwhile, the Raiders had Dave Casper, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw on their roster.
Oakland scored the first 10 points of the game on a one-yard run from running back Art Whittington and a 27-yard field goal by Errol Mann in the first quarter. Dallas got on to the scoreboard in the second quarter with a one-yard plunge by Staubach, but the point after attempt was no good.
Following another field goal by Mann, the Raiders went up 13-6 and as the Cowboys attempted to cut into the deficit before halftime their field goal was blocked by Charles Philyaw and recovered and returned 63 yards for a touchdown by Henry Williams to put the Raiders in front, 20-6. Dallas tacked on a touchdown in the fourth quarter with just over 6 minutes remaining to make it interesting down the stretch. With 25 seconds left the Cowboys had three shots to tie the game from the Raiders 30-yard-line. The final pass from Danny White to Drew Hill fell incomplete in the end zone as time expired.
1999 – Cleveland Browns 20, Dallas Cowboys 17 (OT)
Aug. 9, 1999 – After a three-season hiatus, the Cleveland Browns franchise was back in the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game provided a great stage for fans to welcome them back. Extra seating was brought into Fawcett Stadium to accommodate the record crowd.
The fans got their money’s worth as the game needed an overtime period to decide the contest. It remains the only sudden death contest in Hall of Fame Game history.
The game’s first score came early when Terry Kirby plunged in from one yard out to put the Browns up 7-0. The Cowboys knotted up the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter when quarterback Jason Garrett connected with MarTay Jenkins on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Cleveland struck next and claimed the lead 14-7 with a Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson 24-yard touchdown pass. Dallas responded by scoring 10 points in the last 4 minutes of the first half to take the lead 17-14 into halftime.
Browns kicker Phil Dawson booted a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the game at 17-17. Both offenses struggled to move the ball in the fourth quarter and with five seconds remaining the Browns tried to win the game in regulation with a 46-yard field goal attempt. But, backup kicker Danny Kight missed wide right and the game was sent to overtime.
The Browns got great field position in the extra period after Daylon McCutcheon intercepted Mike Quinn at the Dallas 49-yard-line. Following a 20-yard pass interference penalty and a few runs up the middle, the Browns sealed the victory with a 20-yard field goal by Dawson at the 8:06 mark of the extra quarter.
2010 – Dallas Cowboys 16, Cincinnati Bengals 7
Aug. 8, 2010 – Through the first three quarters of the game the only points on the scoreboard came from three David Buehler field goals (20, 34, 23 yards). With Dallas leading in the fourth quarter 9-0, they essentially shut the door on any comeback chance for the Bengals when linebacker Brandon Williams stepped in front of a Jordan Palmer pass and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown.
Cincinnati would tack on seven points with 51 seconds remaining in the game after Jordan Shipley returned a punt 63 yards to the Dallas two-yard line. From their Palmer hit Darius Hill for the score.
The big story coming out of this game was the play of both teams’ defenses. Both the Cowboys and Bengals harassed each other’s quarterbacks throughout the evening. Dallas defense racked up four sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and the pick-six.
Cincinnati amassed five sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
We still aren’t sure what teams will open up the NFL regular season, but we know how the preseason will start now.
The Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys will play in this year’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio on August 4 at 8 p.m. ET. The Cowboys organization will be on hand the day before to see one of their great players, guard Larry Allen, get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Dolphins also have a connection to this Hall of Fame class: Bill Parcells finished his career as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. (Parcells also coached the Cowboys to the playoffs in Tony Romo’s first season as a starter.)
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin spoke about the game on NFL Network’s “NFL AM” on Tuesday.
“We have 11 draft picks, we have a young football team, so I think this will be a good opportunity for us to get a little more game experience for some of our guys, get a chance to evaluate our rookies one extra time in a game atmosphere.
“It’s a privilege, it’s an honor for our organization to take part in the festivities surrounding the 50thanniversary of the Hall of Fame Game,” Philbin said.
The game will be the first chance to see Mike Wallace and all the other Miami signings as the Dolphins play in Miami’s new uniform for the first time. (The new uniform and logo will be unveiled officially on April 18.)
Playing in the Hall of Fame Game means that the Cowboys and Dolphins will play five preseason games in 2013, instead of the usual four. They will also be allowed to start training camp early.