A lot of Dallas Cowboys news and notes came out during the week of the NFL’s scouting combine. To wrap it up, here’s 25 items that stood out.
1.) Five more years of Tony Romo. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Saturday that he expects to get five more years out of Romo as the team’s starting quarterback. Romo turns 35 in April.
“I feel very comfortable with that,” Jones said. “When I say comfortable: I’m ready to make decisions based on him being our quarterback that far into the future.”
2.) Restructure Romo? It’s been how the Cowboys have created cap space in the past. Will they do it again? Chief operating officer Stephen Jones said it’s possible, but it has yet to be determined. If the Cowboys restructured Romo’s deal, they could create $12.8 million of cap space in 2015. But it would also mean significantly increasing Romo’s cap hit over the next four seasons.
3.) With or without DeMarco Murray, they’re setting the tone with the running game. If Murray returns, he’ll continue to be the team’s bell cow back. If he doesn’t, Jerry Jones says they’ll maintain the same gameplan that worked so well in 2014. Jones spoke highly of getting Lance Dunbar more involved. In regards to re-signing Murray, Jones said he has some “serious flexibility” in what he would accept in an agreement.
4.) The franchise tag. The start of Cowboys combine news began last Tuesday when Stephen Jones said the Cowboys were “leaning” toward using the franchise tag on Dez Bryant.
Although the Cowboys met with several agents while in Indianapolis, as of Saturday afternoon, Bryant’s agent was not one of them. In fact, Jerry Jones said there hasn’t been much contact with Bryant’s representatives since he switched agents in November.
5.) Fear of Dez sitting out? Bryant has made it clear that he’ll be “highly disappointed” by the franchise tag. Stephen Jones said he thinks Bryant will “be a pro and he’ll play.” Jerry Jones said in his experiences with contract negotiations, he’s “never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn’t [participate] over this kind of money.” The tag is expected to pay Bryant roughly $13 million for the 2015 season.
6.) Speaking of the franchise tag. A representative from just about every team participated in a press conference during combine week. For example, Jason Garrett spent about 15 minutes answering questions Wednesday afternoon on behalf of the Cowboys. The franchise tag was discussed in a couple of the others. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman gave this take: “We’re running a business. I think both sides have to understand it’s a business decision and it’s not disrespectful. It’s part of the method of operation that’s available. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
7.) What matters to players in free agency? Since the Cowboys have several key free agents to re-sign, I thought I’d include this answer from Rams GM Les Snead. When answering a question about potential free agents being concerned about the Rams possibly leaving St. Louis after the 2015 season, he responded: “It’s probably always been an era of most money wins. And if it’s close, who’s the coach. That’s really it.” The current Cowboys seem to have Jason Garrett’s back. If the money’s close, Jerry Jones and Co. should be in good shape.
8.) New practice facility. An impressive practice facility could potentially be attractive to future free agents. Is that the plan when the Cowboys move to Frisco in 2016?
“If we bring a guy in for free agency and we’re recruiting him and he’s deciding and things are pretty close, we’re going to walk him through the center and let him see everything and see what things are going to be like here for him,” Stephen Jones said. “You use all of your assets to help you sell a guy on wanting to come here, whether it’s a coach, player, employee.
“Our goal at the end of the day is to be best-in-class and so if you’re best-in-class usually that gets people’s attention. But our goal is not necessarily to blow people away as much as it is to have something that’s special and best-in-class.”
9.) The latest technology. AT&T is paying Jerry Jones a good amount of money to put their name on his stadium. But that doesn’t mean he wants the latest in phone technology. I can confirm that the Cowboys owner and general manager is still using his flip phone. Jones took a call while chatting with media members Saturday on his bus. He politely told the caller he’d have to call him back at a later time.
And Jones certainly doesn’t need a new phone to check Twitter. He said he has people in the organization who keep tabs on the social media site. Jones noted that it would be difficult for him to trim his messages down to 140 characters.
10.) Backup QB. Don’t expect the Cowboys to draft Tony Romo’s heir apparent in this draft or the next. And don’t be surprised if they don’t worry about that until Romo’s time is done. But that doesn’t mean they won’t keep their eyes open for a potential veteran to be his backup.
“We’re not at all giving up on [Brandon] Weeden,” Jerry Jones said, “but we just need to do what we’re paid to do and that is really look at what we’ve got at backup quarterback.”
11.) Zack Martin was a popular name in Indy. Jason Garrett referred to him as a cornerstone piece during an NFL Network interview. Several draft analysts mentioned his name while discussing the current class of offensive linemen. This draft isn’t particularly deep at (true left) offensive tackle, so many are suggesting that top tackle prospects like Iowa’s Brandon Scherff can make a similar transition as Martin did from Notre Dame left tackle to Cowboys All-Pro right guard. Obviously, it’s not as easy as Martin made it look. “I think it’s generated a lot more interest because of Zack Martin,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, “but it’s been a factor for years. Left tackles at the college level that aren’t quite as athletic become right tackles or guards depending on whether they can handle the power inside.”
12.) Don’t rule out the Cowboys making it 4 out of 5. Since they’ve drafted three offensive linemen in the first round over the last four years, the Cowboys certainly wouldn’t go in that direction again, right? Jerry Jones says don’t rule it out. If the best player at No. 27 is an offensive lineman, Jones said that could be the pick. A possibility? Pittsburgh right tackle T.J. Clemmings. He visited with the Cowboys last week and is projected to go later in the first round. Clemmings also said Tyron Smith is one of the NFL players he likes to study.
13.) What about tight end? It’s highly unlikely that the Cowboys will draft a tight end in the first round. But Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, who is widely regarded as the best tight end in this draft, could be the best player available at 27. Which player would Williams like to emulate in the NFL?
“Jason Witten,” he said. “He’s a complete tight end in my opinion. He blocks. He runs routes. He makes plays for his team. That’s what I want to be.”
14.) Tyrone Crawford. The former third-round pick had a very good season as the Cowboys’ important starting three-technique defensive tackle. Crawford is one of the team’s best young defenders and he’s only under contract for one more season. So are the Cowboys working on an extension?
“I don’t want to get into that,” Jerry Jones said. “That falls in the area of negotiations. But we are proud of the year that he had and we look forward to his future.”
15.) Any chance of a Henry Melton return? The Cowboys recently declined to pick up the option on the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s contract, making him a free agent. Could the Cowboys potentially still re-sign him? Jerry Jones said. “Don’t rule it out – under the right circumstances. It’s a possibility.”
16.) DeMarcus Lawrence’s impact. The Cowboys were very high on Lawrence coming out of Boise State last year. Their expectations haven’t changed. While in Indy, Jason Garrett said the “sky is the limit” for Lawrence and added that they view him as someone who can become a “cornerstone” piece to the defense. The rookie pass rusher began to emerge toward the end of the season after missing the first half of the year with a broken bone in his right foot.
17.) Steve Loney. Jason Garrett confirmed that the Cowboys have added Loney as the team’s new assistant offensive line coach. Marc Colombo will remain on staff as an offensive assistant. Garrett pointed out that Loney has previously worked with his brother John and Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
18.) Sean Lee is ahead of schedule. Lee has been rehabbing since having knee surgery in June. He’s expected to be a full participant in the team’s off-season program in April. Jason Garrett said depending on the linebacker depth chart, Lee could be playing at any of the three spots next season.
19.) Morris Claiborne still has a ways to go. Claiborne, who suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee in late September, isn’t expected back until at least training camp.
“He might be one of those guys who doesn’t start right away in training camp,” Jason Garrett said. “But that’s a long way off. That’s premature. But I wouldn’t anticipate him being too involved in the spring.”
20.) Speaking of cornerbacks. The Cowboys met with Brandon Carr’s agent in Indianapolis to discuss the veteran corner taking a pay cut.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Jerry Jones said. “I don’t have anything to report there.” It seems unlikely that Carr, who signed a 5-year, $50 million deal with Dallas in 2012, would remain with the Cowboys if his salary is not reduced.
21.) Dez Bryant catch/no catch discussion. The NFL Competition Committee met while in Indianapolis but they did not discuss the rule that overturned Bryant’s reception late in the fourth quarter in Green Bay. They are expected to address it when they meet in the spring.
22.) Lovie Smith didn’t bother trying to get Rod Marinelli to join his staff. The Tampa Bay head coach knew his good friend wanted to sign a new deal and continue as Cowboys defensive coordinator.
“What I wanted for Rod was for Rod to be happy,” Smith said last Wednesday at the combine. “He’s embraced the Dallas Cowboys and the tradition behind them. I’ve enjoyed my time working with Rod in other places, but I’m OK with him being with my second favorite team.”
23.) Loaded running back class. If DeMarco Murray doesn’t re-sign with the Cowboys, the franchise could find his replacement in a deep running back draft class. It wouldn’t be a surprise to possibly see 6-8 come off the board in the first couple of rounds. Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and T.J. Yeldon seem to be getting the most attention.
24.) Loaded DE class.The Cowboys could certainly use another pass rusher to complement DeMarcus Lawrence going forward. A solid 4-3 defensive end should be attainable even late in the first round. The top prospects: Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler, Shane Ray, Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Trey Flowers, Preston Smith and Mario Edwards.
25.) Poor safety class. This doesn’t appear to be the year to get a good one in the early rounds. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay said during a Monday conference call that Alabama’s Landon Collins is the only one he currently has going in the first two rounds.
Scouting Report: Top targets from the defensive workouts
IRVING, Texas – All of these guys have worked out in the last two days of the NFL Scouting Combine, and could be very interesting targets for the Dallas Cowboys this spring.
DE/OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson DL #04
Plays with his hand on the ground as a defensive end but really is more suited to play as an outside linebacker. Will extend on the blocker with his hands and work off. Slide down the line and tackle. Needs to play with better awareness in locating the ball. Can beat blocks on the move with quickness. Can really run. Played off the low block and made the tackle. Got walled off inside against Georgia for a touchdown. Was able to get up the field and turn the ball back inside. Can get washed outside. Will show some pop with his hands (BC). Initial quickness off the snap with some shake on pass rush moves. Can get up the field. Will attack the corner. Will draw his share of double teams as a pass rusher. Has the ability to capture the edge. Needs to be a tad quicker on his inside rush. Will get chipped as a rusher. Blockers are well aware where he is rushing from. Can show an explosive first step. Cannot rush blockers down the middle. Awareness to read the screen. Can be a very hot and cold player. Going to need to play as an OLB.
DE Owa Odighizuwa, UCLA DL #34
Will line up as the strong side end. Will also line up in certain situations as a tackle. Wrap up tackler. More catch and then react. Would like to see him get off the blocker quicker. Will extend his hands to control but stays engaged. Needs to find the ball better. Appears strong but doesn’t play strong when it comes to shedding blockers. Can play into the blocks but doesn’t get off them. Ride blocker wide then work back inside. Uses his hands to play the low block. Will struggle against the down block by the tight end. Will get stuck along the line of scrimmage. Was able to get up the field and retrace his steps. Better getting off the block against Arizona. Some initial quickness off the snap. Missed low block with hands. Lateral quickness. Motor and effort better. Showed quickness and a burst around the corner. Will extend his arm then work around the blocker. Will play in a two point stance. Quick inside move. Aware for assignments. Play down the line, needs to finish tackle. Quick to come down the line. Better pass rush technique against Arizona. Quicker off the ball. Faced double team against USC. Able to burst inside. Can get penetration on the move. Had trouble when he had to disengage. Struggled to free himself. Doesn’t have many counter or pass rush moves. Finally was able to get a pressure on an inside move vs. USC. Physically looks better than he plays. Much better on outside alignment than he is inside. Burst in space. Stayed square worked down the line. There are times where he tackles well than other times not. Can push the blocker when he wants. Able to get edge vs. Virginia tipped ball for INT. Will dip his shoulder to get around blocker.
DE Preston Smith, Mississippi State DL #46
Will normally line up at right defensive end. Quick arm over move. Will carry out assignment. Hard up the field but needs to counter. Doesn’t have a burst. Had a really nice rush vs. Ole Miss avoiding blocks on inside move. Worked up the field then back inside for a sack. Can hold the blocker off with one arm. Retraces steps works back inside for tackle. Doesn’t seem to play in balance. Got down blocked by the TE. Has played some as a one but nose as well. Has no plan as a rusher. Was asked to drop in coverage vs. Ole Miss. Not able to redirect. Has a hard time getting home on the twist. Needs to fight pressure. Can play inside or out.
LB Paul Dawson, TCU LB #06
Will fill on the run but will also miss tackles in the hole. Would like to see better wrap up. Can be physical but will bounce off tackles. Athletic ability to avoid blocks. Times where he over runs plays. Caused a fumble against Minnesota on a strip. There are snaps where he plays light. Like how he attacks the ball. Able to go in and out of holes to make tackles. Doesn’t always play with the power at the point. Can make tackles when unblocked. Will dip around blockers to get to the ball. Shows the ability to find the ball. Very aggressive player. Baylor had success running the ball right at him. Had trouble with men in his face. Will sometimes run himself out of position. Will flow and fill. Timed leap well on 3rd and short play against Baylor. Bad read vs. OSU where he jumped in the wrong gap with the ball at him. Aware for throw back to Maxx Williams vs. Minnesota. Will try and jump routes. Had better success carrying tight ends up the field than running backs in the flat. It was like he was reaching or grabbing to stay in position. Is going to have to change the way that he plays pass coverage or he is going to be flagged a ton in the NFL.
CB Jalen Collins, LSU DB #07
Played the ball with his off hand. Plays both sides of the field. Will play out of the slot. Showed some catch-up speed. Was aware playing in zone. Needs to drive quicker when play off vs. the slant. Will wrap up as a tackler. Not good reactions when playing the slant. Quarterback throw back vs. Ole Miss, played well but dropped the ball. Poor ball skills. When he gets his hands on the man he has a chance. Able to knock the ball away on cross. Can turn when he needs to. Will take some strange angles to the ball. When he tries to be physical will get knocked around. Can be all over the place with his technique. When he wants to mirror a receiver he can but then other times where he is not. Great job of covering Cooper of Alabama. Gave up a touchdown on the wheel route vs. Ole Miss.
CB Marcus Peters, Washington DB #36
Looks comfortable playing in press coverage. Can turn and reroute receiver. Can adjust to the receiver on the move. Doesn’t allow the QB big windows to throw in. Doesn’t get help over the top. Nice position to play the ball along the sideline. Ability to carry his man across the field. Plays aware. Can redirect. Is a grab and hold on tackler. Will guess on coverage vs. Oregon let man behind him in zone. Doesn’t look as comfortable playing in zone. Will jump routes. Reads quickly. Can close some ground. When he sees it he will break. Will take a poor angle to tackle. Were some snaps where it appeared that he had some balance issues. Able to play off block to make tackle on the screen but there was another time where he just held the blocker in place and let teammate make a tackle. Much better player in press man than off. Best traits are ability to cover and move. Don’t think he wants much to do with the tackling side of the game.
S James Sample, Louisville DB #42
Breaks down for the tackle. Will get rid of the blocker. Will attack the ball. Play with leverage on the outside when down. Has a nose for ball. Can cover some ground when he sees it. Wrap up tackler. Has a feel for how to blitz. Plays under control. Nice job against screen in Virginia. Able to read the slant and react. Missed interception on a crossing route. Has some stoutness in the way he plays. Can stop ball carrier in tracks. INT vs. Clemson. Cover back in the flat. Gets his head around to find the ball. If he struggles he tends to get lost in play action coverage. Runs better than his 40 time. Just a really good football player. Makes all the plays in this secondary. His teammate Holliman is rated better as a player but to be honest it isn’t even close. There are times where he crosses Holliman to get to the ball to make a tackle.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Former NFL Scout
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: Bonus MP3 Audio Download
Editors note: Many of the quotes within this post came from the full interview below:
Jerry Jones Interview: Leaving the 2015 NFL Combine (Download/Listen) Jerry Jones sits down with Cowboys media on the team bus on the return trip to Dallas.