THE BOYS ARE BACK: America’s Team kicks off OTAs | OTA Preview Dallas Cowboys offense & defense | 2015 Dallas Cowboys spring roster
IRVING, Texas – The pads won’t come on until training camp in a little over two months, but the Dallas Cowboys veterans and rookies inched closer with voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) getting underway today (Tuesday). Continue reading →
GOING DEEP–BEYOND THE HUDDLE: Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence answers your questions | True-Blue special feature
Dallas Cowboys rising star DeMarcus Lawrence answers fan submitted questions. A part of being a True-Blue is getting to know your players, beyond their jersey numbers and stats. Check out his answers: Continue reading →
NFL FREE AGENCY FRENZY: Dallas Cowboys doors left open but DeMarcus Ware probably won’t be back
The worst defensive team in the NFL just parted ways with its most dynamic player.
The post-DeMarcus Ware era is upon us, and don’t believe for a minute that he and his agent will simply test the free-agent waters.
Ware will get the offer he wants. Ware is likely gone.
How can this possibly be a good thing for the league’s 32nd-ranked defense, given that Ware is only 31-years-old?
It’s mostly — but not entirely — a case of money.
We applaud the forward thinking teams of this league that use the unique status of NFL contracts, cutting players when they are simply starting to leave the prime of their careers in order to make room for newer, younger, cheaper talent.
New England has been doing this for a decade. The New York Giants do it. The New Orleans Saints just cast off about half their defense (it seemed) to retool and invest in the future.
The Cowboys? That’s the team that always keeping the salary cap at bay by re-working contracts and moving today’s problems into tomorrow land.
In large part, those past re-workings caught up with the Dallas Cowboys today. DeMarcus Ware was never supposed to count more than $16 million against the cap, but the club had shifted his money and his cap figure down the line until this crossroads was reached.
We don’t know what sort of reduction (if any) that Ware and his agent, Pat Dye, were willing to take in order to stay in Dallas. It sounds as if they were against any sort of pay cut.
They needed a decision by the time free-agency arrived at 3 p.m. They got their wish. The Dallas Cowboys cut a Ring of Honor candidate. See the press release below.
Given that no one really knows the answer to how much Ware was in decline last year or how much injuries contributed.
Jerry Jones chose not to shove today’s worries into next year’s cap. It’s possible that Ware signs with a 3-4 team, returns to his old outside linebacker position and goes to the 2014 Pro Bowl.
After all, someone drafted Ware in 2005 when head coach Bill Parcells was pushing for another outside linebacker, Shawne Merriman, who began his pro career with three straight Pro Bowl trips for San Diego. Merriman faded quickly after that. He retired from the NFL a year ago.
Ware, undoubtedly, has football left in him, but his decline in sacks the last two seasons (from 19.5 to 11.5 to 6) is a good indicator of which way he’s most likely headed.
The pertinent question now is: What do the Cowboys do?
They suddenly find themselves with $9 million in cap room, a figure that will grow beyond $14 million if wide receiver Miles Austin gets his official walking papers in June.
It’s almost certain Dallas will remain on the sidelines as the big free-agency dollars are passed out. That’s a good thing. The Cowboys’ plays as big spenders have almost never panned out, and the same goes for other clubs.
But they have to do something. And they have to absolutely nail their first two picks in a May draft that is filled with defensive linemen.
In hindsight, many Dallas Cowboys fans wish Jones has learned this lesson a year ago when he was giving all that money to Jay Ratliff, a failed attempt to placate the recalcitrant tackle.
Dallas Cowboys press release announcing release of DeMarcus Ware:
The Dallas Cowboys released defensive end DeMarcus Ware Tuesday. Ware, who was Dallas’ first first-round draft pick in 2005 (11th overall), is the club’s all-time sack leader (117.0). In his nine years with the team, Ware earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances — tied for the fourth-longest streak in team history — and racked up seven straight seasons with 10 or more sacks (2006-12). Jared Allen (2007-13) is the only other league defender with seven consecutive 10-sack seasons since 2006.
A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
“After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond. We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.
“DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family. He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”
In 2008 Ware established a club record and league-high 20.0 sacks, becoming only the seventh league defender to reach 20.0 in a season at the time and was named the 2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. En route to his 20.0 sacks in 2008, Ware put together a streak of 10 straight games (beginning in 2007) with at least one full sack, tying Simon Fletcher (1992-93) for the longest sack streak in NFL history.
In 2010 Ware led the league with 15.5 sacks to become only the fifth league defender to lead the NFL in sacks multiple times (Mark Gastineau, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Michael Strahan). The very next season, Ware racked up 19.5 sacks to join Gastineau as the only league defenders with two seasons of 19.0-or-more sacks.
Through his nine seasons in Dallas, Ware posted the top-four single-season sack figures by a club linebacker – prior to making the switch to defensive end in 2013 – and four of the top-five single-season figures by any club defender.
Ware was a two-time winner of the Dick Butkus Award (honoring the league’s top linebackers). He won the first ever professional Butkus Award in 2008 and was a co-winner with Terrell Suggs in 2011. Ware was named All-Pro seven times, All-NFC three times, NFC Defensive Player of the Week four times, won the club’s Bob Lilly Award two times and was the team’s Man of the Year once.
Ware leaves Dallas with 710 tackles (ninth in club history), his club-best 117.0 sacks, 58 tackles for losses, 259 quarterback pressures and 32 forced fumbles – the most in club history since 1994 when the stat was first tracked.”
VALLEY RANCH TRIAL SEPARATION: Despite his release, it’s still possible that the Dallas Cowboys could re-sign DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware is convinced he can make more money in free agency than the Dallas Cowboys are willing to pay, but is open to returning to the club if the market doesn’t support his stance.
Call it a trial separation.
Will that scenario unfold? It appears unlikely. There are quality teams with enough room under the salary cap to believe at least one of them will come up with the money that Ware seeks. Philadelphia is one potential suitor.
But today’s parting was described as amicable and no doors have been shut.
Ware and owner Jerry Jones met this afternoon at Valley Ranch in an attempt to avoid the player’s release. That didn’t happen. But the two men parted with this understanding:
Ware knows to get the sort of contract he expects the offer will likely come in the first few days of free agency. If that offer doesn’t come he has told the Dallas Cowboys he would be willing to return. The source said Ware also indicated that before he signs with another team he will inform the Cowboys of the offer.
The club has told the seven-time Pro Bowler they want him on the roster in 2014 but at a base salary significantly less than the $12.25 million he was scheduled to receive.
Neither side has ruled out that they will be able to find an acceptable middle ground. Jones acknowledged as much in the release the club issued this afternoon announcing Ware’s release.
“DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond,’’ Jones said. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.’’
It will not be a prolonged exploration. Both sides recognize the need to move swiftly. If Ware doesn’t return, the Dallas Cowboys must use the $7.4 million freed up by Ware’s release and the $1.1 million it already had to find his replacements at defensive end.
The relationship may continue. But for now, the two have parted ways.
HAPPY TRAILS COWBOY: DeMarcus Ware to put his boots under someone else’s bed | Dallas legend sacked after nine seasons
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ leader in sacks is no longer a member of the franchise.
DeMarcus Ware, who’s gone to seven Pro Bowls and compiled 117 sacks in nine seasons with the Cowboys since being selected by Dallas in the first round of the 2005 draft, was released Tuesday.
“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones in a statement.
Ware’s multiple restructures led to a $12.25 million base salary and $16 million cap hit for the 2014 season. By releasing Ware, one of the most decorated players to ever don a Cowboys jersey, the team saves $7.4 million in cap space.
The Cowboys were already $2 million under the cap after cutting Phil Costa, reworking the deal of Mackenzy Bernadeau and restructuring Tony Romo, Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee. Ware reportedly wanted a decision made on his future before free agency began, and the Cowboys weren’t going to have him play on his current deal.
This move gives the Cowboys, who are set to lose Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer to free agency, much more room to work with to bring one of their own players back or to make a move in free agency. But it also means losing an icon who will go down as one of the all-time great defensive players in the game.
That doesn’t mean a return to Dallas is completely out of the question, according to Jones. But as free agency begins, Ware will get to test the market and the many options around the league.
“After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond,” Jones said. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
Ware had a couple of hefty streaks snapped last season. He’d compiled seven straight double-digit sack seasons before falling down to six sacks in 2013, and he’d played in all 16 games in each of his first eight seasons before missing three games last year.
Injuries have been the story for Ware in recent seasons. He’s dealt with a plethora of different ones, including quad, hamstring, elbow, shoulder, neck and back problems the last two years alone. He’s undergone elbow and shoulder surgeries the last two offseasons and missed the first three games of his career with a quad strain.
The 2013 season began promisingly for Ware after a tremendous training camp. He was easily the standout defensive player in Oxnard, Calif., and he followed that up by compiling four sacks in the first three games of the regular season, becoming the team’s all-time sacks leader in the process. Then the injuries kicked in, and he had just two more sacks the rest of the way.
The Cowboys wanted to keep him for the 2014 season, but only at a reduced rate. His cap hit in 2014 would have been twice what it was the year prior. His base salary was just $840,000 and his cap hit was $8 million in 2013. The Cowboys decided to part ways with Ware and save cap space after a meeting between the two sides. They can save another $5.5 million in room if they designate Miles Austin, who’s set to count $8.25 million against the cap, a post-June 1 cut.
Ware’s release gives the Cowboys more money to work with, but they currently have no proven talent to replace a player on the outside of Ware’s caliber.
Among Ware’s many accomplishments and accolades are a 20-sack season in 2008, when he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and a 19.5-sack year just three seasons ago in 2011. Ware and Mark Gastineau are the only two players in league history with two seasons of 19 or more sacks.
“DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family,” Jones said. “He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”
The Cowboys save cap space but lose a player many consider to be the face of the franchise. Even with Ware’s career-low six sacks, he still finished third on the team in the category in 2013.
With Spencer set to become a free agent, no other Dallas defensive end currently on the roster for the 2014 season has more than 10 career sacks. George Selvie would be the leader with exactly 10 after last year’s seven-sack season.
DALLAS COWBOYS ROSTER 2014: Team waives four players as Free Agency nears | Defensive End Everette Brown released
IRVING, Texas – After a quiet few weeks of the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys made a few roster moves, cutting four players from the roster.
The most notable was defensive end Everette Brown, who played in seven games during the second half of the season.
The team also waived defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, guard Ray Dominguez and guard Jeff Olson, who was only with the team for a week in training camp and suffered a concussion. He was on the team’s reserved/injured list. Dominguez was on the practice squad all last season, while Irvin was a late-season addition at defensive tackle.
Brown garnered more attention about where he came from than when he was actually in uniform. The defensive end was just a few days away from opening up a Smoothie shop in Charlotte when he got the call to come help the Cowboys’ injury-plagued defensive line.
Brown finished the year with seven tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and four pressures. His sack and forced fumble against the Vikings helped the Cowboys halt a late-Minnesota rally.
Free agency officially begins March 11 although teams can negotiate with their own unrestricted and restricted free agents. Some of the key free agents for the Dallas Cowboys include defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and defensive end Anthony Spencer.
2014-2015 Dallas Cowboys Free Agents
Jon Kitna, QB
Brian Waters, OL
Ryan Cook, OL
Anthony Spencer, DE/LB
Jarius Wynn, DE
Jason Hatcher, DT
Edgar Jones, LB
Ernie Sims, LB
Danny McCray, S
ROAD TO THE 2015 SUPER BOWL: What it will take for your 2014-2015 Dallas Cowboys to reach Super Bowl XLIX
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been to the Super Bowl in 18 years. The NFL’s parity driven league allows most franchises to feel like they’re close to the mountain top. After three consecutive .500 seasons, what would it take for the Cowboys to make it to next year’s Super Bowl? Photo: Tom Fox/DMN
1.) Stay healthy. Injuries to Sean Lee, Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware, and Tyrone Crawford greatly reduced the level of talent on the Dallas Cowboys defense. If Dallas can avoid those significant injuries, the defense should be an improved unit in its second year in the Texas-2 scheme.
2.) Draft well. With little salary cap space, the NFL Draft will be the best way for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their roster. Gain a quality pass rusher and a playmaking safety this year and the defense should bounce back. Photo: Vernon Bryant/DMN
3.) Smooth coaching transition. The new job titles held by Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin shouldn’t be a significant adjustment, but how Scott Linehan, Bill Callahan, and Jason Garrett operate on offense will be interesting to watch. If all three work well together, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys offense could be in for a big year. Photo: Vernon Bryant/DMN
4.) Run more often. Callahan didn’t run the ball enough last season and Linehan has a history of calling a pass-heavy offense. The Dallas Cowboys need to average more rushing attempts per game. Photo: G.J. McCarthy/DMN
5.) Improve defensively. The Dallas Cowboys finished last in the league, allowing 415.3 yards per game. This group needs to get back to being a Top 15 unit. A second-year in the 4-3 scheme should help. Photo: Louis DeLuca/DMN
6.) Improve depth. One of the Dallas Cowboys biggest problems has been a lack of roster depth. To be a contender in 2014-2015, Dallas needs major contributions from players like Gavin Escobar (pictured), B.W. Webb, J.J. Wilcox, and Kyle Wilber. The Cowboys also need to add a few key reserves in the middle rounds of the draft. Photo: Vernon Bryant/DMN
7.) A little luck. Every team needs a few breaks. A few fortunate bounces could be the difference between going 8-8 and 10-6. Photo: Tom Fox/DMN
8.) Fit the Players. Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, and Brandon Carr struggled at times transitioning into Monte Kiffin’s scheme. Dallas Cowboys defensive coaches need to modify the scheme to make sure these players bounce back and succeed.
9.) Coaching improvement. Jason Garrett continues to improve as the Dallas Cowboys head coach. With the recent restructuring, 2014-2015 needs to be the year that all of his experiences pay off. Photo: G.J. McCarthy/DMN
10.) Minimize distractions/drama. Josh Brent (pictured during his trial), Jeremiah Jay Ratliff, and a younger Dez Bryant have all had off the field issues over the past few years. It’s easier to perform well on the field when there aren’t any distractions off of it. Photo: Ron Baselice/DMN
HURRY UP AND WAIT MODE: A slight chance for the Dallas Cowboys to keep defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer
IRVING, Texas – From a Dallas Cowboys-centric point of view, here is the good and bad just a little less than two months away from the start of free agency.
First, the bad.
As we all know by now, the Cowboys once again will have to engage in their yearly fat-trimming to get under the salary cap by the March 11 start to the new NFL year. While many seem to have their own ideas about how the Cowboys get to that NFL maximum, some quite wild I might add, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones does not seem quite as perplexed.
In a recent conversation, though, Jones said, “I don’t think there are any Houdini-type things we need to do to make the salary cap work in terms of being efficient and ultimately improve our roster. Obviously the focus still is with our cap situation, the draft and young players.
“But you don’t ever rule out trying to improve with one or two guys from the free-agent market who can help us.”
Then there is this: Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, two mainstays on the defensive front over the past several years, are free agents, and the one thing the Dallas Cowboys have always seemingly accomplished since free agency began in 1994 is retaining their own free agents of choice.
Your chances of doing so considerably decrease with limited available salary cap dollars.
Doubly not good when it comes to Hatcher this year – as if it wasn’t going to be tough enough to even attempt to re-sign him, what with his breakout, career-high 11-sack season playing for the first time from the defensive tackle position in a 4-3 defense – is what took place on Thursday. Hatch has been named a replacement to the Pro Bowl team, and any time you are out there in free agency trying to market yourself – in other words, get the best offer possible – just returning from a Pro Bowl appearance in Hawaii is like a slot machine going ding, ding, ding.
No matter what you say, the Dallas Cowboys certainly would hate to write off the defensive tackle who led the NFL in sacks this past season. Double-digit sacks from inside is rather remarkable, and in fact Hatcher recorded the most sacks for a Cowboys defensive tackle since Randy White racked up 12.5 in 1984.
Good for Hatcher, who hit the personal mother lode, being named to the Pro Bowl team while his wife was in the process of giving birth to their baby girl.
For the Cowboys, bad, bad, bad.
Now, the good …
OK, let’s move on to what might become a couple of good breaks for Dallas. Let it be known the Cowboys certainly have not washed their hands of either player, but will be forced to sit back and see what the market might bear. Theirs must be a wait-and-see approach, knowing they can’t be the ones to set market value for either player.
“With our cap situation, that’s pretty much the way we have to go,” Jones said, “and that has nothing to do with the respect we have for Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer. They’ve obviously had great careers here in Dallas. We hope they continue to. But at the same time we certainly respect they have to take care of their families and do what’s best for them individually, and we fully expect that to happen.
“But hopefully they can do that and still be a Cowboy. We’ll just have to see. We’ll certainly be watching that. We don’t burn any bridges. I think Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek went into free agency without any contracts and they came home. … We certainly want to be in the mix.”
Let’s start with Spencer. This may play out in the Dallas Cowboys favor, since most figure no way the team can afford to re-sign their two-time franchised player. Well, not so fast.
Last time anyone saw Anthony Spencer following his Oct. 1 microfracture knee surgery he was still on crutches. That was in December. His recovery from the surgery that tries to promote the regrowth of missing cartilage under the kneecap is not going as well as expected. Chances are, because there was a pretty big divot of cartilage missing, there is no way he’ll be fully recovered when free agency begins on March 11. That means some team would have to take a leap of faith to sign an otherwise healthy Spencer to one of those five-year, $40 million deals with like $20 million guaranteed if he’s still limping around.
That will kill your market value faster than anything, and why players normally squawk when getting franchised as he was the past two seasons, knowing all they have is a one-year guarantee and any sort of long-term injury can kill your market value the coming offseason.
So who knows, maybe teams will take a hands-off approach to Spencer, and if that happens and if his knee doesn’t come around until like May or June, Spencer might be a prime candidate for one of those one-year minimum deals laced with some incentives, but without any guaranteed money.
That might be right up the Dallas Cowboys cap-depleted alley, and what better place to take a chance on yourself than by staying put. Now this all is unfortunate for Spencer, but let’s remember he’s made roughly $20 million over the past two seasons with the Cowboys while playing but one game this past season to collect half the sum.
Guys have been known to sign one year deals for a chance to re-establish their market value – that is, if that knee ever does come around – rather than sign some longer-term deal for far below what you might think your worth might be. Sort of like betting on yourself.
And as for Jason Hatcher, turning 32 in July? Well, you know how the many know-it-all’s keep saying no way the Cowboys should “pay age,” meaning don’t sign an aging player to one of these lucrative long-term deals that will outlive his productivity even if you have the funds, which the Cowboys really don’t.
Well, if you’re thinking that, maybe decision-makers for teams around the league are thinking the same thing. If they are, maybe that drives down his market value. Maybe Hatcher isn’t offered what he richly deserves. Just maybe then that means the going rate for a 32-year-old Pro Bowl defensive tackle becomes something more palatable for the Cowboys budget.
Who knows? We’ll see. Only time will tell for both guys.
But without Jason Hatcher and/or a healthy and affordable Anthony Spencer, a Dallas Cowboys defensive front already in bad need of refurbishing will need an even more intensive re-do. Any success doing so then rests at the mercy of the upcoming NFL draft.
THE BUDGET IN REVIEW: Managing the Dallas Cowboys roster and contracts 2014 2015 NFL season | Roster tweaks, restructuring, and salary cap
The Dallas Cowboys (and most NFL teams) will be handcuffed this off-season while trying to upgrade their roster while maneuvering through the NFL’s salary cap restraints.
They won’t have much money to work with in free agency, similar to last season when they were only able to add complementary pieces at the right price — like linebacker Justin Durant and safety Brodney Pool.
That means the Dallas Cowboys must draft well. They did for the most part in 2012, highlighted by key additions in center Travis Frederick (first round) and receiver Terrance Williams (third round).
A fourth consecutive year with no playoff game leaves the Cowboys facing another long off-season. Below, we take a look at some of the key issues the Dallas Cowboys must address before training camp begins in late July:
Getting under the salary cap
The NFL’s 2014 salary cap is projected to be $126.3 million. The Cowboys are projected to be a league-high $31 million over the cap.
But the club’s salary cap woes aren’t anything new. They’ve pushed off their problems year after year as they try to cash in on their aging core before it’s too late.
Teams continue to restructure veterans’ contracts each off-season. They reduce players’ salaries down to or near the veteran minimum and turn the rest into bonus money to create more cap space. The downside, however, is that it increases the players’ cap figures in future years.
It’s a common practice around the league and makes the salary cap more of a charade because of the way NFL executives can manipulate contracts.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones is in charge of the Dallas Cowboys salary cap. When it comes to free agency, the Cowboys believe they will be able to do what they need.
The NFL free agency period opens March 11, which is when the Dallas Cowboys have to be under the 2014 salary cap.
Free agent strategy will include bargain hunting
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says the most important task his staff has each off-season is to evaluate the players Dallas already has. The coaches and scouting department will also be busy looking for new faces to upgrade the roster.
That process begins in earnest with the start of Senior Bowl practices Jan. 20 in Mobile, Ala., and continues at the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 19-25 in Indianapolis.
The Cowboys will need to draft well considering their tight salary cap. The Cowboys will have to decide who they re-sign among their free agents and be bargain shoppers in pursuing other free agents across the league.
Starting defensive linemen Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher aren’t likely to be re-signed by the Cowboys unless they come at the right price.
The Cowboys used their franchise tag on Spencer for a second consecutive season but he played in only one game. Spencer underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee Oct. 1 and is still recovering.
Hatcher is coming off of his best season with the Cowboys, recording a career- and team-high 11 sacks, but he said a week ago he’ll go to the highest bidder this off-season as he tests the market for likely the last time in his career.
The Cowboys obviously won’t be in great position to outbid teams in free agency, especially for defensive linemen in their 30s.
Drafting soundly will be critical
The Cowboys will have a few extra weeks to prepare for what will be an important draft for them as they look to upgrade their roster.
The NFL draft has been pushed back this year from late April to May 8-10.
Over the next few weeks, the Cowboys will evaluate their biggest needs for 2014 before the front office, coaching staff and scouting department heads to Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 20 for the start of Senior Bowl practices.
The No. 1 need area for the Cowboys is clearly their defensive line. Three of the team’s four projected defensive line starters in 2013 aren’t likely to return, leaving end DeMarcus Ware as the lone man standing.
At minimum, the Cowboys will need to add potential starters at defensive end and tackle. The Cowboys’ defense, which finished last in the NFL this season, also needs help at outside linebacker, safety and cornerback.
Some would like to see the Cowboys draft a quarterback to begin developing, Dallas defense is flawed in several areas and needs immediate help.
On offense, the Cowboys could look to draft a receiver if they part ways with veteran Miles Austin this off-season. Considering the Cowboys’ youth at receiver, perhaps a veteran receiver via free agency would be a better fit if Austin doesn’t return.
Adding depth along the offensive line would also be smart for the Cowboys, especially if six-time Pro Bowl right guard Brian Waters decides to retire.
The Cowboys were one of six teams that finished 8-8 this season. They will draft either 16th or 17th overall based on a coin flip with Baltimore that will take place in February at the NFL scouting combine. The Dallas Cowboys selected 14th overall in last year’s draft.
Cleaning up contracts — a vicious cycle
The Cowboys have some difficult decisions ahead of them with how to handle the current contracts of some aging veterans.
Though getting under the salary cap by March 11 looks daunting now, the Cowboys can make it happen with relative ease.
They can cut more than $35 million off of their 2014 salary cap by restructuring the contracts of quarterback Tony Romo, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, linebacker Sean Lee, tight end Jason Witten, cornerback Brandon Carr and cornerback Orlando Scandrick and making wide receiver Miles Austin a post-June 1 cut.
The Cowboys would save $5.5 million in cap space by making Austin a post-June 1 cut. Austin and Ware both restructured their contracts last off-season, but the Cowboys could ask each to take a pay cut this off-season to save money, the same way right tackle Doug Free did in 2013.
Austin, who will be 30 this summer, is coming off of his worst season as a starter with the Cowboys. He again struggled to stay healthy, finishing with only 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. His base salary in 2014 is scheduled to be $5.5 million with a salary cap hit of $8.25 million.
Ware said Monday he’s not interested in taking a pay cut but would again restructure his contract to help the Cowboys’ free up some cap space. Ware, who will be 32 next season and finished with a career-low six sacks in 2013, is scheduled to make $12.2 million in 2014 and has a cap hit of $16 million.
Key off-season dates – NFL Dallas Cowboys calendar 2014
Jan. 20 — Week of Senior Bowl practices begin in Mobile, Ala.
Jan. 26 — Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii
Feb. 17 — First day for clubs to designate franchise or transition players
Feb. 19-25 — NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis
March 3 — Deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players
March 11 — First day of the 2014 league year; all clubs must be under the 2014 salary cap; 2014 free agency period begins.
April 21 — Clubs with returning head coaches may begin off-season workouts
May 8-10 — 2014 NFL Draft in New York City, N.Y.
Dallas Cowboys free agents
Here’s a look at the 2014 Dallas Cowboys free agents:
Exclusive rights (Two years of experience; can’t negotiate with other teams)
Chris Jones – punter
Restricted (3 years of experience, can negotiate with other teams; Cowboys right to match)
Dan Bailey – kicker
Phillip Tanner – running back
Unrestricted (can negotiate with any team, Cowboys don’t have right to match)
Ryan Cook – center
Jason Hatcher – defensive tackle
Edgar Jones – defensive end
Jon Kitna – quarterback
Danny McCray – safety
Ernie Sims – linebacker
Anthony Spencer – defensive end
Brian Waters – right guard
Jarius Wynn – defensive end
HANG YOUR HAT ON THIS: Travis Frederick ranked fourth among 32 first-round picks
The Dallas Cowboys received a lot of criticism for choosing to trade back and select center Travis Frederick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft.
However, through the first six weeks, the Dallas Cowboys are looking pretty wise.
Frederick stepped in as a starter, anchoring the Dallas offensive line from Day One. Although he struggled early in the season, the 31st overall pick has played well the last four weeks. In fact, the former Wisconsin standout has been so impressive that the folks at Pro Football Focus have given him the fourth-highest grade among 2013 first-round picks through the first six weeks.
New York Jets 3-4 defensive end Sheldon Richardson, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and San Diego Chargers right tackle D.J. Fluker are the only rookies to grade higher than Frederick, who is ranked seventh among NFL centers and first when it comes to run blocking efficiency.
According to the PFF grade book, Cowboys starting offensive linemen received the four highest grades on the offensive side of the ball against Washington. Right tackle Doug Free led the way with Frederick second, left guard Ron Leary third and right guard Brian Waters fourth. Left tackle Tyron Smith was 11th among the team’s offensive players.
Other offensive grades …
Tony Romo received the Dallas Cowboys’ lowest individual grade and his worst of the season for his performance against Washington. Romo completed 18 of 30 passes for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. PFF has Romo currently ranked seventh among quarterbacks, trailing Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford.
Dez Bryant is ninth among receivers. Dallas rookie Terrance Williams is 77th and Miles Austin is 84th.
Doug Free remains No. 1 among all offensive tackles. Tyron Smith is 22nd. Brian Waters is 11th among guards and Ron Leary is 33rd.
Dan Bailey is third among kickers and Dwayne Harris moved up to seventh among kick returners.
Over to the Texas-2 defense …
Second-year Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III received his worst grade of his NFL career on Sunday. Griffin only received one negative grade during his standout rookie season. He has received three negative grades already this year.
According to PFF, DeMarcus Ware is second among 4-3 defensive ends, trailing only St. Louis’ Robert Quinn. George Selvie is 20th.
Ware is first in run stop percentage and fourth in pass rush productivity.
Jason Hatcher, who received his highest grade of the season on Sunday, is fourth among defensive tackles. Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, New York Jets’ Damon Harrison and Seattle’s Brandon Mebane are ahead of him.
Sean Lee has moved up to seventh among inside linebackers. Carolina’s Luke Kuechly holds the top spot. Lee is second in tackling efficiency but 22nd in pass coverage.
Barry Church, who was in the top five safeties a couple of weeks ago, has fallen to 23rd.
Brandon Carr is 14th among corners. Orlando Scandrick is 65th and Morris Claiborne is 95th. Former Cowboy Terence Newman — now in Cincinnati — is 12th.
Scandrick is fifth when the grades focus just on slot coverage.
Carr was thrown at 12 times Sunday, allowing only four catches for 55 yards. Pierre Garcon was targeted 15 times Sunday and Carr was defending on 10 of them. Garcon caught two of those passes for 29 yards.
Know the opponent …
With the Dallas Cowboys playing in Philadelphia Sunday, here’s a look at a few Eagles grades.
Left guard Evan Mathis is the highest graded offensive linemen in the NFL and running back LeSean McCoy is the league’s highest-graded running back.
Philadelphia’s top five defensive players: Defensive end Fletcher Cox, defensive end Cedric Thornton, outside linebacker Trent Cole, defensive lineman Vinny Curry and cornerback Brandon Boykin.
In the bag …
The Dallas Cowboys are at their best defensively when their line is causing problems for the opposing quarterback. Of Dallas’ 17 sacks this season, 12 have come in the team’s three victories and four of the other five came in the one-point loss in Kansas City.
Here’s the breakdown:
Week 1 vs. Giants, a 36-31 win: 3 sacks.
Week 2 at Chiefs, a 17-16 loss: 4 sacks. Week 3 vs. Rams, a 31-7 win: 6 sacks. Week 4 at Chargers, a 30-21 loss: 1 sack.
Week 5 vs. Broncos, a 51-48 loss: 0 sacks.
Week 6 vs. Redskins, a 31-16 win: 3 sacks.
NO MORE SUSPENSE: Dallas Cowboys release injury plagued Jay Ratliff
IRVING, Texas– Jay Ratliff is no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
The team ended the year-long suspense for the defensive tackle today, by officially terminating the contract of Ratliff, placing him on the failed physical list from Reserve/PUP (Physically Unable to Perform).
Ratliff has dealt with a groin injury since last year when he underwent sports hernia surgery. The defensive tackle reported to training camp and suffered a hamstring injury in the conditioning run. He stayed with the team through camp but was eventually placed on PUP. He was eligible to come off PUP this week, and while Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have stayed mum on the situation, the decision was made Wednesday afternoon to cut ties with eight-year veteran.
Ratliff made four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11 and thrived in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme as a nose tackle. He played two years under Rob Ryan, including last year when he only played six games. Ratliff had just 25 sacks and no sacks in 2012.
In 2011, Ratliff signed a five-year extension that totaled out to $48.6 million. By cutting him now, the Cowboys will stop paying his $1.34 million base salary.
The majority of his $10.268 million cap charge will roll over into next year. However, the Cowboys will be free of all base salaries, including the $5.5 million for 2014.
DALLAS COWBOYS 2013 ROSTER: Team waives three players, including LB Alex Albright
The Dallas Cowboys waived three players, including linebacker Alex Albright. Albright will have season-ending surgery on his back this week. If he clears waivers, Dallas will put him on injured reserve.
Defensive linemen Travis Chappelear and Toby Jackson also were waived. Chappelear was wearing a walking boot Monday after being injured in pregame warm-ups. Jackson has a hamstring injury.
Albright, who had sports hernia surgery after last season and then hurt his back in May, was one of the team’s core special teams players. He had 17 tackles on special teams last season. He also had been expected to contend for playing time as the backup at the strong side and middle linebacker spots.
“He’s been a good player for us in that role, as a backup linebacker and a teams guy,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “An expression we’ve used a lot with him is ‘ugly production.’ Sometimes it doesn’t always look great. He seems to make a lot of tackles. He’s around the ball a lot, both on defense and the kicking game. Last year, he’s out there against Pittsburgh, and he’s covering a really fast running back [Chris Rainey] they have and as a coach, we say, ‘Boy, we don’t want to see that guy in space against him.’ Sure enough, he just covers him. He’s done that since he’s’ been here. He’s done that on defense. He’s done that on teams. Disappointed for him not to be able to show us that he can play again like he’s done all throughout his career. Certainly disappointed for us as well because of the role he’s played for us.”
PLAYING FOR A CONTRACT: No long-term deal for Anthony Spencer
Ever since the Dallas Cowboys placed the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer in March it was a long-shot that they would be able to sign him to a long-term deal.
The depressed free-agent market have driven the prices down and Spencer, though he wants to stay in Dallas, had no intention of taking a below market deal when he was already guaranteed $10.6 million this year with the franchise tag.
Not surprisingly the two sides decided to end the impasse and just concentrate on the 2013 season with no further talks.
“Both sides are happy with the one-year deal,” Spencer’s agent Jordan Woy said Tuesday. “We tried hard but could not work out a deal. We have a very positive relationship with the Cowboys. Anthony is happy and he will play to the best of his ability again this season”
The Cowboys had until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with Spencer, per league rules.
Woy said no one has broken off talks but he acknowledged that they aren’t talking and will probably just concentrate on the season.
“Obviously we have to take a look at what people signed for and what they’ll make going forward,” Cowboys vice-president Stephen Jones said ominously two weeks ago. “There’s some good football players that what they got paid might affect what we want to pay Anthony going forward.”
“There’s nothing here that’s not on the up and up and friendly,” Jones said. “If it works out, it works out. We’d love to have Spencer here, but we also understand it has got to work for him, too.”
Spencer will most certainly get a long-term deal next spring in Dallas or elsewhere as the Cowboys will not put a franchise tag on him for a third straight year, guaranteeing him roughly $15.2 million in 2014.
TWO PLUS YOU: If the Dallas Cowboys 2013-2014 season started today … who would be on YOUR roster?
The draft is done. Free agency is dragging to the finish line. That means it’s about time for the first ridiculously premature 53-man roster projection of the year, an exercise we’ll repeat on a regular basis once training camp begins.
We’ve included TWO opinions from the staff at ESPN – Dallas. You can take their word as the gospel, or come up with YOUR opinions. There are always surprise roster cuts and additions. Maybe you’ll be the one that predicts them!
To assist with your final decision, your column has ALL position players currently on the roster. Of course this will change, but the fun of this is deciding what you’d do NOW. Just print this out, cross off the players that you think will be cut, or circle the ones that you think will make the final 53.
Who do YOU keep?
At some point, the Cowboys need to invest a draft pick in a developmental quarterback again. Maybe next year. For now, carrying only two QBs saves a roster spot for somewhere else.
On the bubble: The Cowboys are going with just two quarterbacks here. If the team had drafted one, it would make sense to have three on the 53-man roster. They will keep two quarterbacks on the 80-man roster until its time to make cuts in August.
Tanner needs to impress new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in the preseason. He also needs to beat out undrafted free agent Kendial Lawrence, a Rockwall product via Missouri. No fullback? Lawrence Vickers was a disappointment last season and is coming off of back surgery, and the Cowboys can phase out that position with their renewed emphasis on multiple-tight end sets.
On the bubble: I believe Lawrence Vickers makes the roster and the team doesn’t seem to like Phillip Tanner, who needed to perform better when given the chance to become the lead running back when Murray suffered an injury last season. The Cowboys didn’t address the running game from a blocking standpoint, which this is why I think Vickers stays around.
There’s a lot of young talent here along with Austin, who might not be worth his $54 million deal but is at least a very good No. 2 receiver if he can stay healthy. Harris and Beasley are good enough in the slot to give Austin occasional breaks. The issue with Beasley: How can he help you on special teams with Harris handling punt returns?
On the bubble: This is a deep unit with plenty of speed and playmakers. Don’t be surprised if Carlton Mitchell makes the roster, and there’s no guarantee Williams is the No. 3 man on the depth chart. Harris showed the Cowboys some talent toward the end of last year and, next to Bryant, is the best returner on the team. Cole Beasley can make play if given the chance, but he’s got competition from Mitchell, Jared Green, Tim Benford and Anthony Armstrong.
This could be one of the best pass-catching tight end corps in the league. The problem: Both of Witten’s backups are adequate at best as blockers. Keeping (or acquiring) a rugged fourth tight end is a distinct possibility.
On the bubble: This unit remains at three unless Vickers gets cut and then I can’t see the team signing a blocking tight end.
You don’t want to see Free on here, right? Well, that decision is apparently up to him. The Cowboys have presented him the option of taking a pay cut. They hope he accepts it. If he doesn’t, they’ll make him a post-June 1 cut and sign a right tackle in free agency. The top two candidates are Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston, but the Miami Dolphins are likely to sign one of them soon. And Clabo could be out of the Cowboys’ price range. On another note, can Costa be the short-yardage fullback?
On the bubble: David Arkin is the dark horse candidate to make it at guard, and if Free isn’t around, then Eric Winston, if he’s still available, is the starting right tackle. Ryan Cook‘s efforts in training camp could determine his status, especially if Costa gets hurt again or struggles. Darrion Weems is someone to look at too, but I think the Cowboys keep 10 linemen.
Jerry Jones declared the defensive line to be a position of strength while ignoring it on draft weekend. That’s a curious decision, considering the age of the starters and the lack of proven depth. The Cowboys need 2012 third-round pick Crawford to prove this season that he’s a starting-caliber player, whether it’s at defensive tackle or the strongside end.
On the bubble: Ben Bass did a nice job in training camp last season and will be given a chance to earn some checks come September. Brian Price is a player who could make one of the final roster spots because he has some upside.
Lee and Carter are studs if they can stay healthy, but that’s a big if given their injury histories. The Cowboys gave Magee, an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, more guaranteed money ($70,000) than any seventh-round pick got last year.
On the bubble: Let’s hold off on the Ernie Sims return. He was serviceable last season, but Caleb McSurdy could emerge as someone you rely on, especially on special teams. DeVonte Holloman can make this team on special teams; if not, I see him on the practice squad. Magee can play both strong and weakside linebacker.
Scandrick probably needs to have a good season to prevent the Cowboys from making a cap casualty next year. If they’re right on fourth-rounder Webb, he can play the slot for about a tenth of Scandrick’s salary. The Cowboys need Claiborne to live up to his billing after a so-so rookie season that fell well short of the sky-high, Jerry-aided hype.
On the bubble: Sterling Moore and Brandon Underwood could make the roster. The Cowboys endured health problems at this position last season with Claiborne and Scandrick and they could keep five or six corners.
Allen and McCray might be the best special teams players on the roster, but their roster spots are far from guaranteed, especially if the young safeties perform well in training camp and the preseason. Allen got a smaller signing bonus than camp cut Brodney Pool did last year, and McCray returned on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent.
On the bubble: The Cowboys could go low at this spot, given Carr’s ability to play safety in a pinch and the possibility one or two linebackers make the team because of their special teams ability, which knocks Danny McCray off the roster. I’d like to see if veteran Will Allen could add to the position.
No reason to make any changes here, as long as Jones is fully healthy coming off of a season-ending knee injury.
On the bubble: Nobody really. Ladouceur just signed a new deal and Jones should be ready to go for the veteran minicamps after having knee surgery late last season.
Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents
EDITORS NOTE: To keep up with the always current Dallas Cowboys roster on The Boys Are Back blog … click on the page below: