IRVING, Texas – Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin is now a member of the Cleveland Browns.
Austin agreed to terms today with the Browns, who are in need of receiver help, considering the looming suspension of top receiver Josh Gordon.
Cleveland also passed on taking a receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Browns added Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins, but many believed they needed more help at the position, and Cleveland hopes Austin can provide that.
Austin’s success will largely be determined by his health, which was the issue in Dallas. The Cowboys designated Austin a post-June 1 cut to free $5.5 million from the salary cap this year, after he was limited to just 11 games and 244 receiving yards in 2013.
The receiver’s recurring hamstring issues limited what Austin, who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2009 and 2010, could do the rest of his tenure in Dallas. Austin caught 81 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009 and 69 passes for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010.
He played in every game in 2012, but the Cowboys admitted he was not 100 percent in all of them.
He signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the Cowboys in 2010, but he never reached the 1,000-yard mark again after that 2010 season.
Despite the decline the last few years, Austin, 29, will go down as one of the best undrafted free agents in Dallas Cowboys history. He ranks ninth in team history with 301 catches, seventh with 4,481 yards and 10th with 34 touchdowns. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown in a playoff game at Seattle as a rookie.
He made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010.
Prior to signing with the Browns, head coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Austin returning to the Cowboys, but it was certainly not a given after the selection of fifth-round pick Devin Street. The Cowboys appeared ready to turn the page after watching the receiver fight through injuries every year toward the end of his time in Dallas.
“The economics of his situation really factored into the decision we made with him, coupled with his injuries,” Garrett said after the draft. “We’ll look at the landscape when we get done. Miles is a guy that we have great respect for as a person and as a player.”
In Cleveland, Austin will be the most experienced of the receivers available for Manziel, the celebrated Texas A&M quarterback drafted by the Browns in the first round last week.
MONMOUTH MAN MILES APART: Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin designated as post-June 1 cut | Release creates cap cash earmarked for 2014 NFL Draft picks
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys parted ways with Miles Austin today, ending several months’ worth of speculation about the veteran wide receiver.
Austin was designated as a post-June 1 cut, which will allow the team to spread his considerable cap hit over the next two years. The move will save the team $5.5 million against the salary cap this season, though that money will be unavailable until after June 1 — the Cowboys would likely use the savings to sign their 2014 draft picks.
However, the 29-year-old veteran will also cost the Cowboys $5.1 million in 2015, thanks to the June 1 designation.
The decision confirms what many had long suspected about Austin since he missed five games and grabbed just 24 catches for 244 yards last season. The undrafted free agent had four seasons remaining on a seven-year, $54 million deal that would been a massive blow to the Cowboys’ future salary cap figures.
Austin earned that big contract with a breakout season for the ages in 2009. Signed out of Division III Monmouth after the 2006 NFL Draft, he earned a place on the Cowboys’ roster for three seasons — mainly as a special teamer.
Following the release of Terrell Owens in 2009, Austin moved into position for more playing time at receiver. After tallying just four catches for 81 yards in the first month of the season, an injury to Roy Williams pushed Austin into the starting lineup in an October 11 matchup against Kansas City, where he exploded for a franchise-record 250 yards, including two touchdowns, on 10 receptions.
Austin tallied a whopping 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns on 81 catches in 2009, and he followed that up with a 69-catch, 1,041-yard, seven-touchdown effort in 2010. He earned Pro Bowl nods in both seasons.
Injuries have either hampered or derailed him in every season since. Austin missed six games and finished with just 579 yards, largely thanks to hamstring injuries — the same injuries that would wreck his 2013 campaign.
Austin did manage 66 catches for 943 yards and six scores in 2012, though injuries again limited his productivity.
All told, the veteran wideout missed 11 games and averaged just 588 yards per season in his last three years as a Cowboy.
The move will likely push second-year receiver Terrance Williams into the starting lineup for good. Williams worked his way into the lineup last fall partly thanks to Austin’s injuries, and he made the most of the opportunity. The rookie started eight games opposite Dez Bryant, and he nabbed 44 receptions for 736 yards and five touchdowns.
DALLAS COWBOYS NFL SALARY CAP: Team under 2014-2015 cap after releasing Phil Costa and renegotiating Mackenzy Bernadeau contract | DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin decisions pending
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys are now under the salary cap after cutting the center many thought could be the starter prior to last year’s draft.
The Cowboys cut Phil Costa and renegotiated the contract of Mackenzy Bernadeau on Friday, putting themselves in better position financially prior to the start of free agency on March 11, which is the beginning of the new league year and the time all teams must be under the cap.
The restructuring of Tony Romo, Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee already saved the Cowboys more than $16 million in cap space, and the move to release Costa saves another $1.5 million. Despite their continual cap restraints, the Dallas Cowboys will have no issue being under the new cap figure next week.
Costa appeared in only six games the last two seasons after starting all 16 games at center in 2011. He started three games at center in 2012 before injuries cut his season short. Costa, who signed a two-year deal worth $2.7 million last year, appeared in three games in 2013, but rookie Travis Frederick started all 16 games at center.
Costa’s been with the Cowboys since signing in Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2010 out of Maryland, playing in a total of 26 games with 20 starts. He didn’t take a pay cut, and the Cowboys decided to part ways with the center to help get under the cap.
The Cowboys also saved cap space by renegotiating Bernadeau, who came on strong at the end of the 2013 season after getting replaced by Brian Waters. Bernadeau started the first three games of the season before the change was made, and the offensive line remained a strong point of the team when Bernadeau returned to the starting lineup for the final eight games of the season. Bernadeau will challenge for a starting guard spot in 2014.
The Dallas Cowboys sat high above the projected cap figure just weeks ago but figured out a way to get under the cap relatively smoothly and much more easily than many (in the media) anticipated.
If nothing changes, Ware will count $16 million against the cap and Austin will count $8.25 million against the cap. The Cowboys can save $7.4 million by releasing Ware and $5.5 million by designating Austin a post-June 1 cut. Of course, the Dallas Cowboys could also rework Ware’s deal to save cap space if he’s willing to cooperate on a reduction.
RELATED: DeMarcus Ware will listen to Dallas Cowboys offer
Former Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware doesn’t want to take a pay cut but will listen to the Dallas Cowboys thoughts about a restructured deal.
He also hopes for a quick resolution.
The Cowboys informed Ware and representatives earlier this week about their need to lower his salary and cap figure. Ware is due a base salary of $12.25 million in 2014 with a salary cap hit of $16 million. The team would save $7.8 million if they cut Ware.
However, the Cowboys say they want the team’s all-time leading sacker back in 2014.
Ware will be 32 next season and recently underwent surgery for second consecutive off season. He had a career-low six sacks in 2013 when he has hampered by neck, quad and elbow injuries.
Ware expects to be back to his old dominant ways after surgery to repair nerve damage in his elbow last month. He will listen to the Cowboys thoughts on a restructured deal but remains hesitant about taking a major shave in salary.
Ware, who is shoo-in for the Cowboys’ hallowed Ring of Honor and likely future Hall of Famer, is expecting to draw a lot of interest on the free-agent market if he is released.
A decision on Ware would allow them to set a game plan for the start of free agency.
The Cowboys must address the defensive end position in the draft and free agency. Without Ware, it makes the situation even more acute because there are no players on the roster with his talent or prior production.
Even during an injury-plagued and limited 2013 campaign, Ware was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the ninth-most productive 4-3 defensive end as a pass-rusher and third in run-stop percentage. Ware was picked 11th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 NFL Draft. He has 117 sacks in nine years to rank first in team history and 18th in NFL history.
COWBOYS CALENDAR COUNTDOWN: 2014-2015 NFL season officially begins on March 11th | Tough decisions looming with Dallas’ free agents
IRVING, Texas – In other sports, this is the month where pen goes to paper for a bracket, or teams are playing sunny practice games at spring training.
In the NFL, the month of March has its own madness with the upcoming start of the new league year, which is the beginning of free agency. That officially takes place on March 11 this year, but this is also the time when things start happening around the league. High-profile guys will get cut, possibly sign new deals or in some cases, both.
The franchise tag deadline passed on Monday with the Cowboys, to no one’s surprise, choosing not to tag any of their players. Anthony Spencer had been tagged in each of the last two years, but after undergoing microfracture surgery, he’s just hoping to get back healthy enough to play football this season, whether it’s with the Cowboys or another team that signs the unrestricted free agent-to-be.
What to do with Spencer is one of many decisions the Dallas Cowboys have to make here in the next few days. In fact, Spencer might be the last guy the Cowboys decide about, considering he will be a free agent on March 11 but far from healthy. If teams, including the Cowboys, choose to pay big bucks to Spencer, it’ll be with a hope that he can return to form.
But there are plenty of other guys on whom the Cowboys must decide. Let’s break down the team’s free agents and other players who could be cut or have their salaries restructured and/or lowered this month.
Miles Austin – The most likely offseason scenario involves Austin, an eight-year veteran who was once a fan favorite when he burst onto the scene in 2009. A two-time Pro Bowler, Austin’s career has spiraled downward as hamstring injuries have taken their toll. It’s not really about if the Cowboys cut Austin, but when. If they make him a June 1 cut, it can’t happen until March 11. They can save about $5.5 million on the cap, which won’t come off the books until June. That will still be plenty for the Cowboys to sign their draft picks and maybe other cap-casualties that occur in the summer.
DeMarcus Ware – Probably the biggest decision the Cowboys have to make this year, and perhaps in the last several years. Ware has been one of the more consistent and dominant players in franchise history, but injuries have slowed him down the last two seasons. Ware is coming off elbow surgery this offseason, and it’s clear the Cowboys don’t want him to count $16 million on the cap. If the two sides can come to an agreement for a lower base salary, Ware will probably agree to that and stay. But if the Cowboys try to trim too much off his $12.25 million base, Ware could decide against that and be released. That move saves the Cowboys $7.5 million on the cap this year. And there wouldn’t be a reason to make him a June 1, considering they would need to use that extra cap space in free agency now.
Justin Durant – The veteran linebacker was a solid player last season, but with DeVonte Holloman and Kyle Wilber both showing enough promise late last year, coupled with the $1.2 million the Dallas Cowboys save by cutting Durant, it seems likely he will not return in 2014 – at least not at that price.
Phil Costa – Like Durant, here’s another player that will probably be on his way out. Costa backed up Travis Frederick and is scheduled to make $1.5 in base salary. Perhaps they could restructure that and lower his base but at that price, a $1.725 million cap charge, it’s likely Costa will be released.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents:
Jason Hatcher – One of the top defensive linemen on the free-agent market, he’ll be 32 when the season starts and that could affect his payday. Don’t rule out the Cowboys getting back into the mix if Hatcher doesn’t get the early-market cash he’s seeking.
Anthony Spencer – This will be interesting because of the nature of his injury. Microfracture surgery won’t be an easy rehab for any player, but Spencer has enough time to get ready for the start of the season. The Cowboys will know his rehab process better than anyone, so they should be the favorites to re-sign him. The key will be how much risk teams like the Cowboys will take by paying him and how much of a pay cut or below-market price will Spencer be willing to accept.
Danny McCray – The Cowboys’ best special teams player over the last four years has been beat up here of late. Injuries have been tough to overcome for McCray, who has proven he is more of a special teams ace only. Likely to sign somewhere else, look for the Bears to have interest with former special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis in Chicago.
Ernie Sims – He filled some voids for this team, but with the development of Wilber and Holloman, don’t expect Sims back in the mix anytime soon. The Cowboys tried to go in another direction last year, but he played too well in training camp to get released.
Brian Waters – The veteran guard hasn’t publicly made a decision on his future, which could include retirement. Waters has not undergone biceps surgery and might not at all if he decides to retire. If he does choose to play, he will likely time it out right so he’ll miss camp but be ready for the season. The Cowboys have to move on mentally, but if he chooses to play, Waters could end up back in Dallas for the right price.
Jarius Wynn – He could be back in 2014, but probably for nothing more than the veteran minimum. But he played well at times last season and since defensive end is a need, Wynn could be a solid option, considering his development last year and his current knowledge of the system.
COWBOYS VS. GIANTS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Jason Garrett press conference | Wednesday practice | DeVonte Holloman | Miles Austin
The Dallas Cowboys aren’t going to hold back on rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman this week. They need him to play, and now that he’s healthy, he’s going to play.
“We feel good about where he is physically. We’re going to let him go,” coach Jason Garrett said (see below). “We’re going to let him practice and see how he responds.”
Holloman was sidelined by a spinal contusion for five weeks. He returned to practice last week.
“Even when you’re in those shell-type practices, there’s a physical nature to those, and he seems to be pretty comfortable,” Garrett said.
Holloman is expected to play some at middle linebacker in the nickel defense and at strong-side linebacker in the base defense as he and veteran Ernie Sims try to make up for the absence of Sean Lee and Justin Durant.
“He’s an inexperienced player. He hasn’t played that much for us,” Garrett said. “But when he’s played, he’s done some good things, you know, as a special teams guy, spot play on defense. Has a good instinct for playing. Seems to be around the ball and makes a lot of plays.”
Holloman has four tackles in the regular defense and four on special teams, plus a fumble recovery. In preseason, the Dallas Cowboys sixth-round NFL Draft pick out of South Carolina had 15 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two pass breakups.
Jason Garrett: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants road game (15:28)
- (David Moore missing from media room)
- DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne practice status
- Differences in NY Giants scheme as compared to earlier in the season
- Ernie Sims evolution into the Texas 2 defense
- Intangibles that veteran LB Ernie Sims brings to the team
- Confidence level in rookie LB DeVonte Holloman
- Concerns about Holloman’s spinal contusion
- What will Miles Austin bring to the offense that Terrance Williams could not do
- A trait in rookie WR Terrance Williams that makes him a special player
- How NFL teams change when the weather changes
- Mackenzy Bernadeau progress and consistency
- Has Tony Romo’s mechanics played a part in reduced completion percentage
- View on returning defensive players compared to new concerns in the middle
- J.J. Wilcox development and film takeaways
- Weather satisfied with the physical effort from the team this season
- How losing a player like Brian Waters has affected the team / locker room
- Orlando Scandrick chip on his shoulder; matchup with Victor Cruz
- Difference between NFL game smarts and raw instincts
- (David Moore enters room)
- Teams value on Scandrick as a slot CB and how he’s skilled up as outside CB
- How does Victor Cruz success impact Orlando Scandisk’s mindset and confidence
- Difference in covering Victor Cruz compared to players like Wes Welker
- With Sean Lee out, what opportunities are there for Bruce Carter
- What’s been seen on latest film with Eli Manning compared to early in season
- Ex-Cowboy Will Allen’s comments about alleged micro-managing by coaches
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Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Dez Bryant
The ultimate compliment to a player is when opponents focus their entire game plan in an attempt to take you out of the game for that day. There is no question when you study these games that defensive coordinators are determined to not allow Dez Bryant to take over a game.
Kansas City has been the only club this season that tried to play Bryant with single coverage and that almost got them beaten. The numbers say that despite all this attention, Bryant is still finding ways to continue to make plays, but I will also say that it has come at a price. Bryant has had to fight his rear off every snap to try and find space.
It hasn’t been easy for him and at times it has been frustrating, but these are the situations that the top receivers around the league have to deal with every day. There has never been a question of Bryant’s ability to go get the ball, but where he needs to improve his game is his ability as a route runner to work those routes against the various schemes designed to take him out of the game.
There was a time early in his career where he had no shot — now at least he has an understanding of what he needs to do to give himself a chance to succeed. Bryant is also going to need the help of the coaching staff to put himself in a better position to make plays, as well.
Need More From: Miles Austin
The medical staff made the determination to shut Miles Austin down after the Philadelphia game and attempt to get him ready for these final six games. If ever a player needed to step up on this offense and make a difference, it is Austin.
With no disrespect to Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, the reason that Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are seeing the type of coverage that they are is because there is no threat on the outside. In regards to Williams, teams are making the rookie to have to fight playing through press coverage all day, and he just doesn’t have the knowledge of how to beat that with any consistency.
At least with Austin in the lineup, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan can pair Austin with Bryant on the same side of the field and that will draw coverage away from Bryant. They can also use him in those bunch formations along with Witten and make teams have to play man against it or take their chances in zone.
Understandably, there is not a great deal of confidence in how well Austin’s health may hold up these last six weeks and beyond, but right now, it is the best option this offense has in trying to help them move the ball with more consistency, convert third downs and finish drives.
Austin is back on the practice field at his normal spot at the “Z,” and from all reports he’s made it through without any issues.
Six-Game Forecast: More weapons mean more pressure on defenses
We have seen some games this season where these receivers have been clutch, but also some times where they have been completely shut down.
As this offense goes, so do the receivers. Getting Austin back for this group is a huge step in the right direction in terms how it will help take coverage away from Bryant and Witten.
The more potential weapons they have on the field, the more opportunity to see them put pressure on these defenses to have to defend the entire offense. Dez Bryant is still the best option here and should continue to be, but he needs help.
That means Austin, Williams, Beasley and Harris need to step up their games as well. When this group is on, it can be hard to deal with — like it was in the final drive of the Minnesota game. For these next six games, these receivers need to find a way to be a nasty, play making group, because their postseason lives are on the line.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints | Dez Bryant back tightness
ARLINGTON, Texas – For a couple of reasons, the Dallas Cowboys moved practice indoors Wednesday to AT&T Stadium in preparations for Sunday’s game with the New Orleans Saints.
But a few key players were not included, highlighted by the absence of wide receiver Dez Bryant. Early reports indicate tightness in his back.
Other players not in attendance were Jason Hatcher (stinger), cornerback Morris Claiborne
(hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and safety J.J. Wilcox (knee).
One player back to practice was DeMarcus Ware, who has missed the last three games with a quad strain. Ware could be limited when the team releases the official injury report later in he day.
One new face on the field was defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, who signed with the team today. Dawkins, who joined the team from Minnesota’s practice squad, is wearing No. 90.
Coach Jason Garrett said the team went inside to escape the rainy conditions and to crank up the noise inside to try simulating the expected noise at the Superdome in New Orleans.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings | DeMarco Murray back in lineup
ARLINGTON – DeMarco Murray will be active today against the Vikings after missing each of the Dallas Cowboys’ previous two games with a sprained knee.
DeMarcus Ware, on the other hand, highlights the inactives list, which also includes wide receiver Miles Austin, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith.
Wilcox (knee), Holloman (neck) and Claiborne (hamstring) were all ruled out after Friday’s practice. Ware (thigh) and Austin (hamstring) were both listed as doubtful. Along with Murray, Ware’s also missed each of the last two weeks after getting injured against the Redskins, and he’ll now miss his third straight game.
Austin has been given rest and sat out last week after trying to give his sore hamstring a try against the Eagles on Oct. 20.
All the Cowboys players who were probable entering the weekend will be active, including Jason Hatcher (neck), George Selvie (shoulder) and Barry Church (hamstring).
Guard Brian Waters was also ruled out after Friday’s practice with a triceps injury, which has since moved him to injured reserve. Defensive back Micah Pellerin took Waters’ spot on the 53-man roster and will be active.
IRVING, Texas – There were some encouraging signs for the Dallas Cowboys today as they took the field for their first practice in preparation of the Detroit Lions.
It remains to be seen if DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware will be able to contribute in Detroit this weekend, but both players were at practice. Murray dressed out in shoulder pads and a helmet and was active in the open portion of the Cowboys’ practice, though he did wear sweatpants instead of football pants.
Ware did not dress out, but he did work out with the team trainers using conditioning cords. He seemed to be moving well, though it’s unclear how far he has progressed with his quad injury.
“We’ll see what they do today. They seem to have gotten better over the last couple of days,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett at his morning press conference. “They might warm up a little bit today and we’ll see if they can practice.”
Lance Dunbar returned to the practice field, as predicted by Garrett.
“We’re going to warm him up today and see how he responds,” Garrett said. “He’s done well with his running the last few days.”
Miles Austin and Dez Bryant both dressed out for practice, though neither receiver participated in individual drills with the rest of the wide receivers.
PHILADELPHIA – It doesn’t really matter who lines up alongside Dez Bryant at receiver, as long as they keep having games like this.
It’s safe to call it a trend now. For the third straight week since the Dallas Cowboys lost to San Diego, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley – considered the third and fifth options, respectively, at wideout in the preseason – made the opposition pay for focusing on Bryant.
Sure, Bryant had a great game of his own with eight catches for 110 yards in the 17-3 win against the Eagles. But while Philadelphia focused on No. 88, the two youngsters combined for 124 yards and a touchdown.
“Man, I love it. We talk about it each and every day at practice, about taking advantage of our opportunities,” Bryant said. “We believe in one another, and we believe any one of the receivers can make a big play.”
The Cowboys’ first possession of the fourth quarter demonstrated exactly that. Bryant, ever the bell cow of the Cowboys’ passing attack, delivered on his end with two catches for 26 yards, but it was Beasley and Williams who shined in the clutch.
Beasley gained 13 yards on two big red zone catches, including one on third and two, to move Dallas inside the Philadelphia 10-yard line.
“I think Beasley today showed everyone that he’s got great hands, great vision, and he’s just got instinct about getting open,” Jones said. “That’s a major plus for a wide receiver. It can make a big impact.”
Once there, Tony Romo found Williams for their fifth connection of the day – a nine-yard touchdown to seal the win.
“Terrance Williams has improved as much as maybe anyone I’ve seen in the six months that he’s been here,” Romo said. “It usually takes wide receivers a while to get to that point, but he continually takes coaching and does the things you need to do to improve and it’s just a testament to his work ethic and his commitment to the football team. You love having guys like that.”
It’s been quite a ride for both receivers since the first few weeks of the season. Beasley could have made a bigger impact on the Cowboy’s first two games if he had bought a ticket. The diminutive receiver was made inactive for the season opener against New York and the Week 2 trip to Kansas City.
His involvement in the gameplan has improved every week since the Week 3 win against. St. Louis.
Williams’ bounce back from his goal line fumble in the loss to the Chargers has been a sight to behold. In the buildup to that Week 4 game, Williams caught a combined five passes for 60 yards in three games.
In the three games since that fumble, his collective tally is a fantastic 12 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns – a score in every game.
“Each of those guys in their role has stepped up over the last few weeks and I think Tony has a real comfort level with them and he is not afraid to go to them at all,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “In fact, when there is a match up that is favorable for us involving those guys he throws the ball there with confidence.”
It’s obvious from looking at the stats, but the boost in big plays has come at someone else’s expense. Since returning from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the San Diego and Denver games, Miles Austin has been targeted a total of seven times for no yards.
Jones said Austin’s hamstring injury has left him behind the offense as he re-enters the lineup. But Jones said he isn’t worried, as Austin’s health will continue to improve.
“I think you have to recognize that he’s working through his situation with his recovery, and it’s, if anything, being conservative there – if that,” Jones said. “But what’s really great is the way our other guys are stepping up, and you know you’ve got Miles coming.”
The Cowboys would undoubtedly love for that to prove true. But even if it doesn’t, they appear to be in good hands.
IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys gave wide receiver Miles Austin a day off today to make sure he is closer to 100 percent to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Austin was on the elliptical machine at the start of practice. He played in Dallas’ win Sunday against the Washington Redskins but did not have a catch after missing two games with a hamstring strain.
Running backs DeMarco Murray (knee) and Lance Dunbar (hamstring) are also missing from practice, as is DeMarcus Ware, who has a quadriceps strain that could keep him out Sunday. Murray has hopes of playing, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones already ruled him out.
Defensive end George Selvie returned to the practice field after he sat out Wednesday’s workout because of a sore shoulder.
Linebacker DeVonte Holloman is not practicing because of a neck strain he suffered Wednesday. Defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) is also not at practice. He did not play against Washington.
FedEx winner for Tony Romo
So Tony Romo knocked off Peyton Manning in something this week. Although he came up short in the game, the fans voted Romo ahead of Manning (and Drew Brees) for the FedEx Air & Ground Players of the Week award.
Romo threw for a franchise-best 506 yards in the epic 51-48 loss to Manning’s Broncos. Romo had a 140.0 quarterback rating and five touchdowns.
Manning was stellar himself, passing for 414 yards and four touchdowns.
On the “Ground” side of the award, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles won the honor, besting Frank Gore and Denver’s Moreno.
Miles Austin returns
Miles Austin said he’s not in control of the number of reps he will receive Sunday night, but did have an answer for his playing status.
“I’m playing in the game,” he said Friday. “I’m excited. Ready to go.”
Austin has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury he sustained in the Rams game on Sept. 22. Last week, the Cowboys racked up 506 passing yards, including a career-high 151 yards and a score from rookie Terrance Williams, who has started in Austin’s place. Cole Beasley also had four for 47 yards and a touchdown.
In the first three games this year, Austin had 15 catches for 125 yards, including 10 for 72 in the opener with the New York Giants.
Six different players have caught touchdowns from Romo this year, but Austin has yet to find the end zone.
IRVING, Texas – Make that three straight days without Miles Austin at Cowboys practice and that’s not a good sign for his availability for Sunday’s game in San Diego.
Austin was held out again for todays (Friday’s) practice, likely meaning he could miss this week with a hamstring injury.
The wide receiver left last week’s game with the St. Louis Rams in the third quarter with the hamstring injury after awkwardly going to the ground on a pass he caught out of bounds. Coach Jason Garrett said after the game Austin did not re-enter the game because of the lopsided score. However, it seems clear Austin remains slowed by the injury enough to miss a full week of practice.
While the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a definite rule on players missing practice and playing in the games Sunday, it seems unlikely Austin would be ready to go at this point.
Even so, the club is getting Terrance Williams ready to make his first start. Ironically enough, his last collegiate game was also played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the site of the Holiday Bowl. Williams had two catches for 68 yards for Baylor.
The Cowboys are also monitoring the health of wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who is also the punt returner. Harris was slowed some this week with a hip pointer injury but returned to practice Friday. Harris’ injury has opened the door for Cole Beasley, who not only will play more in three-wide packages, but could be the primary punt returner as well.
For now, the Cowboys don’t appear ready to sign a practice squad receiver to the roster. The team has Tim Benford and Jamar Newsome on the practice squad.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The announcement in the AT&T Stadium press box momentarily hushed the crowd – Miles Austin had left the game against St. Louis with hamstring problems.
Austin had a quiet afternoon before aggravating his legs on a deep route in the third quarter. He came away with two catches for 22 yards.
The veteran wideout didn’t reappear, though Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said that was a precautionary move.
“The discussion we had was that he was going to continue to stay warmed up,” Garrett said. “I said ‘That’s a good thing, he needs to be ready, but we’ll keep looking at that scoreboard and making sure we can handle the situation without him.’”
The lopsided win against the Rams certainly made it an easy call to rest Austin. The Cowboys scored to go up 31-7 with roughly 12 minutes remaining in the game and were able to cruise to a comfortable win without their No. 2 receiver.
“Because the game – you know, we were ahead in the ballgame – we decided to keep him out of it,” Garrett said. “We’ll just evaluate it over the next couple of days.”
Austin’s absence opened the door for receiver, Dwayne Harris, for his first touchdown of the season.
“He really showed a lot of mental and physical toughness throughout the game,” Garrett said.
Fittingly enough, it was Harris’ hands – shaky to start with the muffed punt – which sealed the win, as he brought in his lone catch for a 24-yard touchdown.
“It was a bad play,” Garrett said of the muffed punt. “It was a bad play by him and our defense went out and responded the right way, and I think Dwayne responded the right way himself as the game wore on.”
Here are some more notes from the Cowboys’ 31-7 win against St. Louis:
- Anthony Spencer was inactive for the second time in three weeks with the same knee injury he had surgery on in July. The Cowboys managed fine without the Pro Bowler, as they racked up six sacks, but there’s no doubt they’d like to get one of their sack artists back to the field. “It’s just real frustrating for this to be the same lingering problem, but it is what it is and I’m handling it the best way I can,” Spencer said. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said the team had an idea earlier in the week that Spencer would be unavailable. Spencer tried to work out on the knee as late as Friday but “it wasn’t going.” The thought is that the knee is still sore from the stress of playing against Kansas City, and Spencer said he’ll “play it by ear” going forward.
- Brian Waters said following the win he thought he could play a full game on the offensive line. Waters and Mackenzy Bernadeau rotated at guard against the Rams, after Waters worked just a few series of each half last week against the Chiefs. “At the end of the day, that’s the coaches’ call. I’m just going to continue to do what I can,” Waters said. “We got some good guys – we got a good group, and the more players the better, because it’s a long season. As we find in the NFL, you’ve got to have more than five offensive linemen to be successful.”
- At one point, both Bernadeau and Waters played guard together, as Ronald Leary tweaked his knee in the third quarter. Garrett said it was the same knee Leary injured during training camp, but he was fine and was able to return to the game.
- Like Harris, Gavin Escobar made the most of a small opportunity. The rookie tight end managed just one catch, but it isn’t one he’ll soon forget. Escobar brought in a beautiful 24-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to put Dallas up, 24-0. “I was very excited,” Escobar said. “That’s usually not a play where I’m the go-to guy, but you never know and you have to be ready to catch the ball.” The play was actually the exact same as the one Harris would late score on. Escobar had just missed on several opportunities this season, but Tony Romo said the rookie is coming along nicely. “He almost had one earlier in the game. I think he lost his shoe against New York on one where he would have had one. So it was just a matter of time,” Romo said.
- Not everything went swimmingly for the Cowboys in an otherwise easy win. Kicker Dan Bailey missed a manageable field goal wide right from just 35 yards out. Harris’ muffed punt also factored into a forgettable day.
- Orlando Scandrick’s sack of Sam Bradford in the first quarter gave the cornerback 7.5 sacks for his career – fourth-best among defensive backs in Cowboys history. It seems like a stat that could be more common for Scandrick in this defense. “He’s got good timing, and he wants to be around that football,” Garrett said. “He’s got that big ass chip on his shoulder, too.”
IRVING, Texas – Some of the greatest games in Dallas Cowboys history can be categorized by a single player.
There’s a “Clint Longley Game” with his 1974 comeback throw to Drew Pearson on Thanksgiving Day. Jason Garrett has a game in beating the Packers exactly 20 years later. Even Emmitt Smith has a game with his heroic effort against the Giants in 1993.
And without a doubt, Miles Austin is included on that list. The “Miles Austin Game” occurred at the very place the Dallas Cowboys will revisit Sunday afternoon when they take on the Chiefs.
There is where Austin made his first career start, thanks to a rib injury to Roy Williams the previous week in Denver. To that point in his four-year career, Austin had played in 41 games, but had a total of 23 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns.
Three hours later, Austin set the Cowboys’ single-game record with 250 receiving yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard score in overtime to give the Cowboys a much-needed 26-20 win over the Chiefs.
“Right at the end, we score and everyone jumps on the pile at the end …” Austin recalled. “It was a turning point for our season and obviously a turning point for me and my life. I thought it was a great team win. And I was glad to be a part of it.”
But Austin was more than just a part of it – he was basically the reason for it.
Austin had a game-tying touchdown catch over the middle in the fourth quarter. He then came back in overtime with a sideline grab before he broke a tackle attempt by Brandon Flowers and jaunted down the sideline for the score. The 250 yards broke Bob Hayes (246) single-game record for the Cowboys and marked the first time in NFL history a player recorded 250 yards in his first career start. It was also the first time in league record books a player had scored a game-winning touchdown in overtime in his first start.
The Cowboys head coach knows a thing or two about taking advantage of the moment in his own right. The win over Green Bay in 1994 is one of the more memorable moments in Cowboys history and obviously of his own career.
But as a coach, Garrett said Austin’s game in Kansas City ranks pretty high as well.
“It really was one of the best days I have been around in football – both as a player and as a coach,” said Garrett, the Cowboys offensive coordinator that day. “Miles Austin comes from Monmouth University as an undrafted free agent. He has an unbelievable way about him as a person and the approach that he takes as a football player. When a guy like that who comes from where he comes from and goes about it the way he does has that kind of success when he gets his opportunity … to this day I still kind of feel the thing down the back of my neck.
“It’s what this thing is all about. He goes about it the right way. He’s a pleasure to coach. It was a great day for him. It was a great day for our team. “
The Cowboys entered the bye week after the Chiefs game with a 3-2 record. They followed the off week by winning three straight games en route to an 11-5 season. It was also the first time the Cowboys won a playoff game since 2009.
But while Austin’s performance in Kansas City is considered his most memorable, arguably as impressive was the follow-up game he had against Atlanta the next week. Austin proved his effort against the Chiefs was no fluke by torching the Falcons for 170 yards on six catches and two more scores.
So in the first 41 games, Austin had 436 receiving yards and four touchdowns. In those two starts, he had 420 yards and four touchdowns.
“I got lucky that the two teams we played were man teams. They had no film on me,” Austin said. “I had a big play in the Atlanta game, just running across the field. It was a great two-game stretch for sure. It’s been great ever since then.”
Austin made the Pro Bowl both in 2009 and 2010 and received a monster contract extension worth $54.1 million over seven years.
Hamstring injuries have plagued him the last two seasons but he had a relatively healthy training camp and started off the 2013 campaign Sunday night by tying his career-high in catches with 10. While he didn’t go for 250 like he did in Kansas City, Austin was effective in the first half with underneath routes as the Giants took away the deep ball. He finished with a team-high 72 receiving yards.
Any time a player is coming off a game with double-digit catches, he should be a focal point for the opposing defense the following game.
Then again, considering his last trip to KC, that was probably already in the plans.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin sat down with Nick Eatman to discuss his coming out party in Kansas City in 2009.
OXNARD, Calif. – There’s vanilla.
And then there is Dallas Cowboys double-secret ultra-vanilla.
That’s exactly what we saw Friday night from that Cowboys offense in a 19-17 preseason game No. 2 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Not surprising to say the least.
Generally, teams do not like to show much of anything they are planning new for the upcoming season in a mere preseason game, especially just the second of what will be five for the Cowboys this summer. And that’s doubly true when playing an opponent they will be facing at some time during the regular season.
So no way was head coach Jason Garrett going to give the Oakland Raiders any hint of what might be coming down the pipe during the 2013 season from this Cowboys offense, even if the two teams won’t meet until Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium, Game 12 of the regular season. Not an entirely new offense, granted, but one with two tight ends becoming the base set and now Bill Callahan calling the plays.
And, of course, with quarterback Tony Romo having a little more say in game-planning and the implementation of some new plays he’s partial, too. Instead of the 11th-year veteran having to “draw those plays up in the dirt,” which he could have Friday night quite easily (since a good portion of the O’s field is consumed by the A’s infield).
There likely was some great anticipation on everyone’s part to see just how all this would work with the first-team offense making its 2013 preseason debut. The first-team offensive line was allowed to work during last Sunday’s Hall of Fame game. You know, Romo and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray and them finally out there playing together.
There would be Witten and James Hanna, maybe some Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, too, showcasing these two-tight sets we’ve been witnessing here during training camp practices. Then, too, some of these new pass plays that have become a staple of camp workouts. Oh boy.
Nothing. As vanilla as you can get.
Oh, the Cowboys ran some two-tight sets, but for the majority of the first-team offense’s two series (and even when Kyle Orton was in there running things behind the first offensive line with backups galore at running back and wide receiver). The Cowboys, of all things for everyone anticipating a hard-charging running attack, seemed to be in three-receiver sets more than anything.
They weren’t about to expose much of anything, and from my understanding only did so with a couple of plays just to help keep a couple of drives alive to create more reps for some of the younger guys. Secrets are secrets, and no sense putting too much on tape for the Giants to start going to school on at this early date.
In fact, for all those readily jumping to conclusions about this perceived “new” Cowboys offensive philosophy following that first preseason game in which they ran the ball 34 times and threw it only 21 – you know, see there that Bill Callahan, he’ll emphasize the run more – well, surprise, surprise, in this game against the Raiders the Cowboys ran the ball only 20 times and threw it around 32 times – the very reason no one should draw undeniable conclusions from these practice games.
Talk about holding the play-call sheet over your mouth to prevent lip reading.
But having said all this, the Cowboys still piled up 171 yards of total offense in the first half with Romo and Orton totaling three series, scoring on two of them and likely would have scored on all three if not for a blocked 26-yard field-goal attempt Mr. Automatic, Dan Bailey, surely would have made.
OK, can hear the grumbling in the background already. While that all might be true, you’re screaming, same ol’, same ol’ with the Cowboys offense, three penalties inside the Oakland 30 turned potential touchdown drives into field-goal attempts. The nerve of that Witten to get caught holding, or for potentially first-time starter Ronald Leary to false start and Hanna to do so also.
And as Garrett said afterward, bemoaning the penalties, the blocked field goal and the game-turning fumbled punt by rookie B.W. Webb, “We’ll continue to harp on that.”
But did you see, or you should have seen, the ease in which Romo hooked up with Bryant three times for 55 yards; with Austin on slants twice for 22 yards; Orton with Cole Beasley twice, the second for a 15-yard touchdown.
And guess what? Of the 32 attempts, only three times were tight ends targeted, and only one of those Witten. That ain’t going to happen, Witten targeted just once in a game. Please.
Just look at the first-half stats alone, a half the Cowboys had a 10-6 lead, for what that matters. Romo and Orton were a combined 12 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, finishing with a QB rating of 132.1. Bryant, Austin and Beasley finished the game combining for eight catches on eight targets, totaling 126 yards and the Beasley touchdown.
And for the most part Romo and Orton had the time of day in the pocket behind what most perceive as a worrisome offensive line. Hmmm, while the Cowboys are keeping their eyes open for fortuitous opportunities to enhance that crew, particularly at guard, maybe what you saw Friday night isn’t all that bad, from left to right Tyron Smith, Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free. Especially since, unlike the other four, Bernadeau was playing for the first time after returning from injury.
Maybe their main problem up front is really who is playing behind these guys, especially at tackle since with Jermey Parnell injured (hamstring) and veteran Demetress Bell still trying to get in shape, there isn’t much to write home about. As Jones said after the game, making a move up front “would be determined by the opportunity” available, meaning he’s not necessarily desperate to sign just anybody at this moment.
Romo did get sacked once, but did you see how long he had in the pocket before everything collapsed? And he did have Austin wide open in the end zone, but explained later, on that particular play that Austin was his third read and by time he got there, Austin was covered and pocket time had expired.
“I don’t want to get away from here without talking about the offensive line,” Romo said. “There were a couple of times I had all day and we had a sack, an incompletion on those two plays, so that’s going to help us a lot if we’re able to do that.
“That’s different. I know what it’s like to play behind that, and having that ability like they did tonight would be a huge bonus for us.”
So with three more preseason games to play, another five training camp practices this week, resuming Sunday evening, there is time to clean things up while still playing peek-a-boo with play-calls and offensive intentions.
And oh, by the way, if now your concern is the ability to run the ball more efficiently, at the conclusion of the first half, when the first-team offensive line retired for the evening, the Cowboys had run the ball six times for 36 yards with Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, a 6-yard average following last Sunday night’s 5-yard mark.
“It was good,” Romo said of what took place in the team’s first three offensive series. “We did what we’ve been doing in training camp and moved the ball real well. We were holding back on a lot of our stuff, red zone stuff and some other things. We would have liked to have scored a touchdown, but we got hurt by penalties more than anything, and that aspect of it is just going to hurt you no matter what.
“So we have to avoid that [and] stress that this week, and we’re going to make sure that stops.”
But probably not the double-scoops of vanilla approach.
Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Columnist
Editors comments: I don’t have a problem with being vanilla with the starters on their first few series this preseason. You come out and keep it simple … basic. The same philosophy deployed with this new 4-3 scheme, also applies to the offense this early in the year. The veterans might not need that as much, sure. But these new roster additions and young rookies do! The beauty of this offensive roster is that they can afford to come out and execute basic runs and passes. See if the opposing defenses can stop that first. With so many Cowboy players wielding star power, it’s a challenge for most defenses to handle them man-for-man. You sprinkle in wrinkles, after you get the basics down … ditch the butterflies, and execute these base plays with precision.
I believe the week-one emphasis (and success) of Dallas’ running attack (in the Hall of Fame game) showed coaches what they needed to see. However, if you think back, there was very little to see (or grade) in the passing game in week 1. The coaching staff needs to grade and develop these young offensive linemen in run and passing situations. I think that’s why we saw more pass (and consequently more pass blocking) in the second preseason game. Expect more balance going forward.
The Romo and Orton led drives were successful. The running game is still on pace. Kiffin’s starters have grasped his base defense … his rookies are coming along. Callahan’s starters are showing rust, but promise. Both of these games were more about weeding out the roster, than going for the kill. I do want to see Callahan/Garrett go for the throat once the regular season starts. They have the weapons to make a statement, and they should.
Friday night, Oakland played their starters longer, and did less with them. The Cowboys will host the Raiders later on … rest assured, we’ll see the full arsenal. Garrett is baking that vanilla cake first. He’ll add the icing later.
CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.
“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”
The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.
“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”
Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.
The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
• Hope you had a chance to catch the TRAINING CAMP ON-DEMAND segment from Tuesday where we featured the one-on-one drills with the wide receivers and cornerbacks. If you did, you saw a show from Dez Bryant. Through three days of camp, this is not unusual for Bryant, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the manner in which he has gone about his business. The route running along with the sheer physical strength that he has played with has made him difficult to defend. In our video, he was matched against Morris Claiborne on each one of his reps, and, to Mo’s credit, he didn’t take himself out or away from working against Bryant.
Every rep that the two went at each other was intense, where technique went out the window and it came down to the sheer will of who was going to make the play. When you are battling Bryant, you might be in position in the route like Mo was several times but just his ability to adjust while in route makes him so dangerous.
It wasn’t that Claiborne was struggling to fight Bryant, but more like Bryant can physically beat you up as he is going down the field, then find the ball no matter where it is in the air and this is something that NFL cornerbacks are going to have to deal with when they line up across from Bryant the entire season.
• Continuing my thoughts on Morris Claiborne, I was very interested to see how he would respond to playing against the run in this new scheme off the edge, especially with pads on. I have addressed this situation plenty with both he and Brandon Carr on what is expected of them on the outside. From my observations, there were several plays where the ball was spilled to the outside and Claiborne had to step up and make the play.
Like his battles with Bryant, he could shy away and hide but instead he stepped up and forced DeMarco Murray to the sidelines and out of bounds when Murray tried to plant a stiff arm in his face. Later in the Team Run period, he again stepped up off the edge playing close in a tight formation and handled Lance Dunbar for a short gain in the open field. For Claiborne, this has now become his responsibility full-time because soft corners don’t win in this scheme.
The physical matchups against Bryant and having to successfully play the run are part of the gig. His first day in the pads showed that he understands the task ahead.
• Another player who is off to a nice start in camp is Doug Free. In the first day of pads, I thought he did a nice job of showing up and handling the position with some nice technique. In just watching him play, you can see that his confidence level is much better as well. With each rep, he has been on point with how his hands and feet have to work together. His sets have put him in positions where he looks stable and solid.
I have yet to see the problems he has struggled with when a defender goes from speed to power on him. He is playing stronger at the point and when he has to sit down on a rusher, he has been able to do so without giving much ground.
In the running game, he has shown the ability to adjust in this zone scheme with the front side reach and backside cut off. When the ball has been run to his side, he is not late or struggling with his technique.
He has played with good quickness and has been able to finish his blocks or tie up his man. Still plenty of practices to go for Free, but so far he is heading in the right direction.
• It was a good learning experience for Barry Church on Tuesday on how to play safety as the single high guy in this scheme. In the 7-on-7 drill, Church was in the middle of the field when Dez Bryant went on a “9” route against Brandon Carr up the field. Church reacted well to the route to help Carr but the angle he took to the ball was too deep and behind Bryant who once again went straight up for the ball at its highest point.
Bryant was able to make the catch but Church would have had a shot at the play if his angle was more to or in front of Bryant, instead he goes sweeping by him with no chance at the ball. On Monday, we observed Will Allen playing the same route to Miles Austin correctly and in position for the interception.
Later in the period, Church was able to show a nice drive and reaction to a ball that was thrown in front of him to Gavin Escobar up the field to deliver a big hit on the rookie tight end. For Barry Church, every day is a new experience when it comes to techniques that he is going to have to learn coverage-wise. He has the physical ability to handle the job but he just needs the experience of reading and positioning himself in routes to make those necessary plays.
Victory Cruz signed his deal with the New York Giants this week. Now, along with Hakeem Nicks, he gives his team one of the best receiving combinations in the league.
But is it the best?
Here are six tandems to watch this season …
· Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson
Here’s something crazy, the Packers haven’t had a 100-catch receiver in 18 years. That doesn’t seem possible. Fellow Packers receiver James Jones believes Cobb can do it (he had 80 receptions in 15 games, but just 80 starts). Nelson is the key, though, as he started just 10 games last year.
· Dez Bryant and Miles Austin
Austin needs to stay healthy (a trend you’ll find an awful lot on this list). But the sheer force of Dez ranks them high on this list. Bryant had 10 touchdowns in his last eight games and his overall receptions, yards and touchdowns have increased in each NFL season.
· Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston
NFL players left Graham of the Top 100 list for 2013, but he’s clearly one of the best receivers in the game. Colston can burn fantasy owners with his inconsistency at times, but he’s had close to 2,300 receiving yards since 2011.
· Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks
We all saw how much Nicks can do on the field with his performance against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Cruz is the only receiver in the league in each of the past two seasons with at least 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.
· Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker
You might be surprised to find out Thomas and Decker don’t rank in the top five in receiving yardage since 2011. Well, it’s not so surprising when you remember Tim Tebow was their quarterback in 2011. The duo was fantastic in Manning’s first season in Denver last year.
· Roddy White and Julio Jones
This duo is the most prolific receiving tandem in the NFL right now, at least in terms of yardage. The two have combined for 4,804 yards since 2011, as they outdistanced the second-place duo of Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson (though that was nearly all Megatron). The Atlanta duo could be an even more explosive offense this year with Steven Jackson.
ARLINGTON – Miles Austin just can’t seem to overcome the hamstring issues that have bothered him throughout his six-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Austin, who has missed time each of the last two seasons because of hamstring injuries, was asked on Wednesday about his offseason work to prevent future setbacks.
“I’m definitely strengthening my hamstrings a lot more than I have been, doing a different routine, a couple of extra exercises each day on our leg days,” Austin said during a charity home run derby at Rangers Ballpark. “I’m just running hard and trying to compete at a high level at this time, that way it doesn’t shock your muscles when you actually do it for real.”
In August, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett suggested that Austin could be a victim of just working really hard. But how do you tell a player who went from undrafted rookie free agent to two-time Pro Bowler to ease up?
“I got to train as well as I can beforehand,” Austin said, “but I can’t not be the player that I am and practice hard or do those things.”
The 28-year-old, who finished with 66 receptions for 943 yards and six touchdowns last season, said he is currently working with Cowboys trainers on his running and lifting.
“I’m doing everything,” Austin said.
The Dallas Cowboys are in talks with defensive end Anthony Spencer regarding a new contract.
Salary-cap space isn’t a problem now; currently the team has a little more than $5 million to play with. But previous contracts are the issue.
The Cowboys don’t want to get caught with another bad contract for a player that becomes average after he signs it.
Starting right tackle Doug Free signed a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 million guaranteed in 2011. After two seasons, Free moved from left tackle to right tackle and has struggled mightily. He had to share playing time with Jermey Parnell late last season, and his play eventually improved. But overall, Free has struggled. And while a source said recently his status with the Cowboys was “secure,” there are strong indications the Cowboys will ask him to take a pay cut. If Free declines, he most likely will be released.
After his breakout season when he took over for Roy Williams, wide receiver Miles Austin cashed in and signed a seven-year, $57.1 million contract extension with $18 million guaranteed.
The year he signed the contract, 2010, Austin picked up 1,041 receiving yards. He’s failed to reach that total since and has battled hamstring injuries each of the last two seasons and has been surpassed by Dez Bryant as the best receiver on the team. This is a critical season for Austin in terms of his health.
The Cowboys value Austin’s skills, but are frustrated by his inability to remain healthy over the course of the season. He also failed to catch a pass in both games against NFC East rival the Washington Redskins last season.
Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau signed a modest four-year, $11 million free agent contract last season with the Cowboys. He’s undergone three surgeries since signing the deal. Bernadeau filled a need and the Cowboys got younger at the position. And while his contract isn’t as bad, the team might have been able to do more with that $11 million.
Looking at these contracts, you could make the argument that the Cowboys made mistakes in giving them. At the same time, Free and Austin were coming off good seasons the year they received them but have been inconsistent since.
When the team moves forward with Spencer, the goal is figure out if that career-high 11 sack season was the sign of things to come or just a man playing well in a contract year.
The Dallas Cowboys have no cap room and aren’t signing anyone. Does it really matter? How desperate are the Dallas Cowboys, really?
Bryan Broaddus wrote about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he’ll fit into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan’s excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:
In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.
Jay Ratliff is part of a talented nucleus in Dallas that should contend for the NFC East title again this fall.
Think about it. Sure, Ratliff’s a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room. Worse yet, he was arrested and charged with DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.
Ratliff isn’t exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he’s worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.
On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.
The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.
Now, of course they need work. They’ve been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. The offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. They need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course Tony Romo’s reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. It’s too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team. It’s all doom and gloom in Dallas.
Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that’s a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it’s going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. You don’t have to agree with the perception that they’re in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. In part, because of last years splash, there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys’ roster. If properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, this a competitive team in 2013, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.
That’s worth keeping in mind.
Editors comments: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the highest payrolls in the NFL. There is a reason for this. They are loaded with talent. The team needs health on their side and a few pieces to break away from the 8-8 mold. Addressing the offensive line will allow the Cowboys to have an offense few can match, week-to-week. This Kiffin experiment has validity also, again … a few pieces are needed to execute on this side of the ball. This offseason, if the Jones’ focus on the trenches and a safety, this team has a chance. This is not a roster of desperation, it’s a core of players on the brink. Dallas doesn’t need another millionaire free agent. What they need can be accomplished on a modest budget (with a little more salary restructuring) … trusting the talent evaluators on staff, and a youth infusion through the draft.
No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
When the Cowboys’ season ended, they had 11 players on injured reserve and rookie safety Matt Johnson on the reserve/injured returnable list.
Rookie wide receiver Danny Coale was on the practice squad reserve/injured list.
It was a busy year for the Cowboys’ medical staff.
One of the lasting images of the season was strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik trying to loosen up the back of wide receiver Dez Bryant, who suffered severe back spasms in the regular season finale at Washington. Bryant had to leave the stadium in a wheelchair.
Quarterback Tony Romo walked out of Washington with a fractured rib. Several other players left the stadium needing crutches to get to the team bus.
Woicik and his staff stretched out some players individually before the team stretching period. The staff did everything they could to get players ready to play. Austin seems to always be battling hamstring problems, and Johnson was only able to practice a handful of times because of his hamstring and ended up hurting his back while rehabbing.
"You have to evaluate what the injuries are and if there is any correlation to your strength and conditioning program," coach Jason Garrett said.
Woicik is considered one of the best in the NFL. He’s been a part of six Super Bowl-winning teams, including three with the Cowboys in the 1990s.
"I think you have evaluate them one by one and see if there is anything we could have done differently in terms of practicing, offseason program, anything like that," Garrett said. "A lot of that just seemed to be those kinds of injuries that happens over the course of a season in the NFL."