IRVING, Texas – Monday, March 02, 2015 – The speculation has swirled for almost two months about how much money the Dallas Cowboys would need to spend this offseason – though they didn’t even find out how much money they had until Monday (March 2, 2015).
The NFL finally released official numbers for both the 2015 salary cap and 2015 franchise tag figures, giving its 32 clubs a clearer picture of what they’ll be working with when the league years starts on March 10th.
The official salary cap figure for 2015 is slated at $143.28 million, which is a $10 million bump from the 2014 total of $133 million.
Also pertinent to the Dallas Cowboys’ interest is the announcement of the franchise tag figures for the upcoming season. The team used the franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant by the 3 p.m. deadline.
The cost of doing so has been officially set at $12.83 million. That hefty price keeps Bryant off the free agent market, but it also doesn’t preclude the two sides from continuing to work on a long-term contract during the coming months.
The Cowboys have until July 15 to sign Bryant to a multi-year contract before they must break off negotiations until after the 2015 season.
Unlike in recent years, the Cowboys are in enviable financial shape. They are already under the salary cap, and even using the franchise tag didn’t put them over the limit. Now, the question will be whether they want to try to free up some additional space to work in free agency. They could potentially restructure deals with Tyron Smith, Jason Witten, Sean Lee and possibly Tony Romo to clear up additional room.
FREE AGENT RETAINED: Dallas Cowboys sign WR Cole Beasley to 4-year contract
IRVING, Texas – Tuesday, March 03, 2015 – The Dallas Cowboys continued to firm up their wide receiver corps as they re-signed Cole Beasley, who had been set to enter restricted free agency.
The contract will keep Beasley in Dallas for the foreseeable future, as it extends him for four more years with a total value of roughly $13.6 million. This comes 24 hours after the Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on top receiver Dez Bryant.
Beasley just finished the best season of his three-year career, as he finished with 521 yards and four touchdowns during the Cowboys’ run to the NFC East title. He only recorded 44 catches on the year – an average of two per game – but he played a crucial role in keeping the Dallas offense moving. Of those 44 catches, 15 came on third downs, and Tony Romo looked for the shifty wide out on several more.
In addition, Beasley saw his role increase as the spotlight got brighter during 2014. Twenty-one of his 37 regular season receptions and all four of his touchdowns came between Week 12 and Week 17.
This new contract helps secure all of Romo’s top receiving targets from the 2014 season. Bryant is under the non-exclusive franchise tag, which makes it possible for him to negotiate with other teams – though exceedingly unlikely, as any suitors would have to part ways with two first-round draft picks to sign him.
Behind Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and now Beasley all have at least two seasons under contract with the team. Witten is signed through the 2017 season, while Williams’ rookie deal expires after 2016.
The Cowboys signed Beasley undrafted out of SMU in 2012. After a sudden and brief consideration of retirement during his rookie training camp, he has seen his role in the offense increase during every season of his career.
FREE AGENT ADDITION: Veteran linebacker Keith Rivers takes one-year deal
IRVING, Texas – Wednesday, March 04, 2015 – The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent linebacker Keith Rivers to a one-year deal, adding depth to a position that sorely needs it.
All three of the team’s top linebackers from 2014 are set to enter free agency next week, which left the Cowboys with a glaring need at the position. It’s unlikely Rivers will fill that need all on his own, but it gives the Cowboys a veteran presence.
Rivers has played seven season in the league after being drafted No. 9 overall out of Southern Cal in 2008. He played four seasons in Cincinnati, starting 33 games and accumulating 185 tackles in three seasons. He missed the entire 2011 season with a wrist injury.
The Bengals traded Rivers to the New York Giants in 2012 in exchange for a fifth-round pick. During two seasons with the Giants, he appeared in 27 games and started 14, totaling 83 tackles. Rivers signed a two-year contract with Buffalo in 2014, but he was released last month after making just 16 tackles in 12 appearances with the Bills.
Rivers has the flexibility the Cowboys typically covet, as he has plenty of experience playing both weak side and strong side linebacker. Rivers gives the Cowboys a candidate to mix and match with Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens (and possibly Rolando McClain if he’s resigned).
As a rookie in 2008, Rivers drew national notoriety when he broke his jaw after receiving a blindside block from Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward. The play, which ended Rivers’ rookie campaign after seven games, led to the creation of the “Hines Ward Rule,” which prevented receivers from using their helmet or shoulder to lay blocks above the shoulder.
RELATED FAN QUESTION: Ken Jacobs | Denver, CO
Do the Cowboys see Keith Rivers as a player who can excel in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme if healthy, or as insurance if some of the linebackers do not re-sign?
Bryan: I have quite honestly not seen the player, but my plan is to sit down and give him a look. These Pro Scouts have done a nice job of bringing guys in that fit their scheme with their ability, and the coaches have done an even better job of coaching them. This addition has a chance to work from what we have seen in the past. He is a veteran player much like Justin Durant was several seasons ago from the Lions and turned into a nice off the street signing.
David: I think the correct answer is probably a little bit of both. Rivers was a top-10 pick in 2008, and he has had some productive seasons in his seven years in the league. I think the Cowboys trust that Marinelli and Matt Eberflus can coax him into producing – much like they did with Rolando McClain. That said, I think it’d be a mistake to assume Rivers is guaranteed any kind of starting spot. This team needs options if it can’t hold on to its own free agents. Worst-case scenario, Rivers adds some depth and competition to the unit; best-case scenario, the Cowboys have just found another diamond in the rough.
SCOUTING REPORT: Grading tape on newly signed LB Keith Rivers
IRVING, Texas – Thursday, March 05, 2015 – A brief film study of veteran linebacker Keith Rivers, signed by the Cowboys to a one-year contract on Wednesday evening.
Name: Keith Rivers | Age: 28 | Height/Weight: 6-2/236 | College: USC
Experience: 7 seasons
Games Studied: Buffalo ‘Bills ’14 vs. Chicago, Houston, New England
Showed the ability to line up at both a Sam and Will linebacker. Thought his best position was when he played over the tight end on the strong side. Really good football intelligence in his assignments and where he needed to fit in the scheme. Has some short area quickness more than a long extended burst. Made the effort to play with some range, but I would say that he is limited in his overall speed.
Doesn’t cover the ground like he once did. Good reactions to what is happening to him – but I would not call him a fluid, moving athlete. Would have liked to seen better change of direction but most likely because of that lack of quickness. Felt like his upper body strength was good along with that ability to play with his hands. When stood up over the tight ends against the Texans, he was able to control them off the line.
I didn’t see many explosive plays from him. Tackling was in and out. Thought I would have seen a more consistent player in this area from the number of times that he was in position to finish. Would wrap up one-on-one then the very next play would just flat miss. Liked what I saw from the coverage aspect. Showed good discipline in zone to make his drop, then work to the ball. Only bust I saw in coverage was in man where he whiffed on the back out of the backfield against the Texans when he missed on the jam. Overall showed awareness to key and diagnose. Not out of place.
He played in more third down situations against the Bears than he did against the Texans and Patriots. Didn’t give the scheme anything as a blitzer. Did see him attack the line one time, but he lacked counter moves to really make anything happen. Was stuck along the line. His best trait is his intelligence, while his worst one is his ability to play with a burst and speed. Studied the New England and Green Bay special teams tape and only played in the Packers game as the left tackle on the kickoff return.
FREE AGENT RETAINED: OT Doug Free inks 3-year deal, starting OL secure
IRVING, Texas – Saturday, March 07, 2015 – Three days before the free-for-all of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys reached a new deal with one of its most important free agents.
The Cowboys re-signed veteran right tackle Doug Free to a three-year contract. The agreement means all five of Dallas’ starting offensive linemen from the No. 2 rushing game in the NFL will be back with the team in 2015.
Free is easily the Cowboys’ most veteran offensive lineman, as he was drafted by Dallas in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He just turned 31, whereas the Cowboys’ four other starting linemen – Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin – are 24,25,23 and 24, respectively.
The Cowboys will no doubt be happy to have their starting right tackle back in the fold. Free missed seven games in 2014 due to injury, and backup Jermey Parnell picked up the slack on the right side.
Free has 92 games and 82 starts under his belt during his eight-year stretch with the Cowboys. Last season was the first time he’d missed a start since 2010. In October, he injured his foot during the waning minutes of the Week 6 win against Seattle and sat out for three games.
He returned for the 31-17 win against Jacksonville in Week 9, but he suffered another injury in the 38-27 win against Philadelphia on Dec. 15 and sat out the remainder of the season. Free had minor surgery to clean up the problem immediately after the offseason.
FREE AGENT JACKED: Swing tackle Jeremy Parnell signs with Jags
IRVING, Texas – Monday, March 09, 2015 – The Dallas Cowboys will have to find (or develop) another swing tackle.
Jermey Parnell, a valuable backup who started seven games for the Cowboys last season at right tackle, will sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars when free agency officially begins on tomorrow (Tuesday).
Parnell’s deal will top the three-year, $15 million contract the Cowboys gave to Doug Free on Saturday. Parnell’s contract is in the range of five years, $32 million to sign with Jacksonville.
Age likely played a factor in both contracts as Free turned 31 in January while Parnell turns 29 in July. Also, Parnell has played just 54 games, starting just seven in his career. The Jaguars are counting on Parnell to be able to play at a high level well past the age of 30.
Parnell originally signed with the Cowboys late in 2011 season after the former Ole Miss basketball standout spent some time with the Saints and Dolphins. Parnell played in all 16 games in 2012, including one start for Tyron Smith at left tackle on Thanksgiving.
In 2013, he played in all 16 games, mostly as a backup but did start six games for Free and filled in during a fourth-quarter rally against the Seahawks. Parnell started three games in late October and early November and then the final four games, including two in the playoffs.
With Free locked up on the right side, the Cowboys will now have to find an adequate backup for both left and right. Darrion Weems missed all of last season with a shoulder injury but has re-signed his exclusive rights deal and is expected back.
John Wetzel was on the practice squad the past two seasons and nearly made the 53-man roster last year. He is expected back in 2015 as well.
Dwayne Harris takes Giant-leap to New York, Justin Durant flies to the Falcons
IRVING, Texas – Tuesday, March 10, 2015 – As expected, the free-agent frenzy was in full force Thursday around the league, but that wasn’t really the case for the Dallas Cowboys at Valley Ranch.
Now, players headed to other teams was another story as some of the team’s top unrestricted free agents either signed with other clubs or have deals in place to move.
Here’s a quick look at the bigger news surrounding the Dallas Cowboys on the first day of free agency:
- Wide receiver/special teams ace Dwayne Harris has signed with the NFC East rival New York Giants. Harris is making about $3.5 million per season, inking a five-year, $17.5 million deal with more than $7 million guaranteed. Harris wasn’t just the team’s fourth receiver, but has been the Cowboys primary return specialist for both punts and kickoffs, and even led the team in special teams tackles last year. With Harris gone, the Cowboys will now look to find a replacement in the return game.
- Linebacker Justin Durant also is moving on, after playing two years with the Cowboys. Durant will officially sign a deal with the Falcons to pay him more than $3 million per season. Durant was having one of his best seasons of his career, playing all three linebacker spots and serving as a leader for the Cowboys before suffering a season-ending biceps injury early in the season. Durant still finished sixth on the team in tackles with 59 despite missing the last 10 games.
RELATED FAN QUESTION: Raymond Biggers | Houston, TX
Which part of Dwayne Harris’ game will be the hardest to replace? His return ability, his receiving skills or covering kicks?
Nick: Honestly, I think the hardest part will be the coverage units. If Devin Street comes on like he should, that’s your fourth receiver and even though he’s not the same type of player, the Cowboys don’t really need that smaller, quick, possession-type after re-signing Beasley. The return game will take a hit but the Cowboys can find players there. Beasley can field punts and I don’t think you put a lot of time wondering about the kick return when most teams are getting touchbacks anyway. Finding that blue-collar, fearless player to run down and sacrifice his body to make the tackle isn’t something that all teams have and I think that will be the toughest part of Dwayne Harris’ game to replace.
Bryan: I think it’s just the overall toughness that he brings to the game each week. It didn’t matter what they asked him to do – he was able to accomplish that. I don’t always throw out the word elite when taking about a player but Harris was that in the way he played the game. Fans wanted to get on him for the struggles in the return game but if you really study what was going on in the execution of the assignments and how blocks were carried out – you would have a whole different approach to the job he really did. The not only set the tone in the way he covered kicks and punts but there wasn’t a better point of attack blocker on the receiving unit than him. Replacing him and his 500 snaps a season will be no easy task.
RELATED FAN QUESTION: Al Nixon | Fairhope, AL
Did the versatility of Anthony Hitchens to play all three linebacker spots make Justin Durant expendable?
Nick: Without a doubt, that’s what happened. Before this team realized how good Hitchens is, Justin Durant was someone they valued to the highest degree. But considering how well Hitchens played, especially in the middle, along with Durant getting hurt and missing 10 games, there was no way the Cowboys were going to get into a bidding war over Durant, especially in the $3 million per season range. Throw in the fact that Sean Lee is expected to return this spring and the Cowboys just couldn’t afford to pay that kind of money to an undersized linebacker coming off a season-ending injury who turns 30 in September.
Bryan: I was hopeful that Durant was going to be able to return to the club after what I saw in 2014 which is a complete 180 from what I thought I was going to get from him before the season. Anthony Hitchens is a fine player and will continue to develop but Durant brought the right kind of attitude to this defense. You could see through his effort on and off the field that he loved football and this team is going to miss that passion. They are also going to miss his ability to run this defense and get teammates in the right spot. It is a fact that he does struggle with his health and that was a concern especially with the money that he was being offered. It would have been nice to have him back but that’s the part of the business that is difficult.
RELATED: Dwayne Harris’ triple-threat versatility will be missed
IRVING, Texas – Wednesday, March 11, 2015 – Wide receiver/special teams ace Dwayne Harris has signed with the NFC East rival New York Giants. Harris wasn’t just the team’s fourth receiver, but has been the Cowboys’ primary return specialist for both punts and kickoffs, and even led the team in special teams tackles last year. With Harris gone, the Cowboys will now look to find a replacement in the return game.
Just having a quick, tough, solid-blocking receiver who is fearless is good for any offense.
Having a valuable returner on both kickoffs and punts can also have its advantages.
And then to get a player willing and fearless to run down on kick coverage to make tackles is also something that helps teams win.
It’s pretty rare to have all three of those things with just one player. And that’s what the Dallas Cowboys had with Dwayne Harris.
Maybe Patrick Crayton did it a few times, but no one was as good at doing all three as Harris. And with that, the Cowboys will miss that type of player – even though they’re going to see him twice annually when they play the Giants.
Having said all of that, the price tag for Harris was just too rich for the Cowboys. Not saying Harris isn’t deserving of that contract. In fact, we say it all the time “it only takes one team to pay a player” and so even though the Cowboys might not have had any interest in paying Harris $3.5 million per season or over $3 million for Justin Durant, it doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving.
But even as valuable as Harris was to this team, the Cowboys can’t make that kind of money (five years, $17.5 million with $7 million guaranteed) for that, especially when you consider Doug Free is now making $5 million per season to play right tackle and make sure Tony Romo stays upright.
Offensively, that’s why the Cowboys paid Cole Beasley his contact which nets him about $3.4 million per season. As good as Harris can be, he’s still just the fourth receiver and at some point, Devin Street will need to step up and fill that role. Street is a good blocker, which was really the best thing Harris did on offense.
Beasley could possibly return punts and then you’d have to find someone for the kickoffs. Maybe that is a guy like Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle. Maybe it’s someone they can find in the draft. But teams aren’t giving the Cowboys enough kickoff returns to actually make than an issue worth paying for.
Special teams coverage will hurt the most because players with Harris’ tenaciousness to run down and make plays is rare, especially combined with his offensive skills.
But $3.5 million is just too much for the Cowboys to pay, even with his versatility.
All the Cowboys can do is thank Harris for his services and wish him the best of luck. And of course, hope he doesn’t come back to haunt them when they face him twice a year.
BAYWATCH BRUCE ON THE LOOSE: OLB Carter signs with Bucs
IRVING, Texas – Wednesday, March 11, 2015 – For the second straight day, the biggest Cowboys news involving free agency has players leaving more than entering.
So far, the Cowboys did retain both Doug Free and Cole Beasley, who were scheduled to be free agents on March 10. But a few other players have made their way out of the building, including two linebackers.
The latest departure from that position was Bruce Carter, a four-year veteran who was in the same draft class as Murray. Carter signed a four-year, $20 million contract with Tampa Bay, just one day after Justin Durant signed with the Falcons.
Carter led the Cowboys with five interceptions in 2014, but it’s safe to say his four years were up and down. The second-round pick in 2011, Carter started just 32 games, including eight as a role player on defense, mainly serving as the nickel linebacker. His interception return for a touchdown helped clinch a dramatic comeback win over the Rams in Week 3. He also had two interceptions in a road win against the Redskins.
In fact, all five of Carter’s career interceptions have occurred away from AT&T Stadium.
With Carter and Durant now gone, the focus has to shift to Rolando McClain, who is also unrestricted. In his first year back from retirement, McClain finished with 108 tackles and a team-high nine tackles for loss, five more than the next-closest defender.
But McClain had problems staying healthy last year and suffered concussions in the two playoff games.
Linebackers currently under contract for the Cowboys include Anthony Hitchens, Sean Lee, Kyle Wilber and Cam Lawrence.
BACKFIELD BULLY: Dallas signs veteran FB Jed Collins
IRVING, Texas – Thursday, March 12, 2015 – The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent veteran fullback Jed Collins, a four-year pro who has spent time with the Lions and Saints. Collins, 29, signed just a one-year deal. He does have 44 career receptions over the past four years. Like all fullbacks, blocking is Collins’ main strength.
SCOUTING REPORT: Newly signed fullback Jed Collins shows athleticism
Games Studied: Offense – Dallas, Giants, Minnesota | Special Teams: Dallas
- Good body control and balance. Is a much better blocker when he is out on the edge in space than he as a point of attack guy. Shows some lateral agility in the way he plays.
- Doesn’t always play with upper body strength and power. Didn’t feel like he was the type of blocker that was going to dig his man out of the hole. There were snaps where he would hit on the edge. Will take the right path to his block.
- More of a catch and steer blocker. Will run with man and shield to keep him away from the ball. Works to finish his blocks by staying in position. Can seal the edge as a blocker.
- Lions scheme required him to start on one side of the formation and end up back blocking the opposite way so was on the move quite a bit. Lined up as a traditional fullback in the “I” but was also off-set as well which is similar to how they played with Tyler Clutts in this offense.
- Aware of who he needs to pick up in pass protection but would like to see him hit more square on his man. There were snaps where he went low and tried to cut instead of playing on his feet. Shows the ability to play this way when you study him on special teams so know he can do it. Will line up on teams as personal protector on the punt and as the wing.
- 2nd line blocker on the kickoff return and the punt return. Missed a block on a kickoff return in the playoff game where C.J. Spillman got around him and was able to make a tackle deep in the Lions end of the field.
LOOKIN FOR LOVIE: Defensive tackle Henry Melton signs with the Bucs
IRVING, Texas – A day after signing linebacker Bruce Carter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to add to their defense.
The team agreed to contract terms with defensive tackle Henry Melton.
Though the Cowboys said publicly they would not close the door on Melton, privately it was never really an option.
Melton would have been de-activated twice late last season if not for injuries to other players, including what was his return to his former home against the Chicago Bears. Though he finished second on the team in sacks with five, the coaches credited him with just 10 tackles in 16 games.
He did not have a sack in the final seven games of the season. A deep bone bruise on his knee landed him on injured reserve after the final game of the regular season, and he missed the Cowboys’ playoff contests.
The Cowboys declined his three-year option, which would have guaranteed him $9 million in 2015, making him a free agent.
Though the reunion with Rod Marinelli did not go as planned, Melton is hoping the reunion with Lovie Smith, his Bears head coach, works out better in Tampa Bay.
Melton has 20 1-2 sacks in 64 career games. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2012, when he had six sacks for the Bears.