2011 Season

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Cowboys Sign Smith and Kosier but Lose Bowen

The flurry of free agent activity continues…

The Cowboys appear to have at least 3/5 of their line in place, as the Cowboys signed rookie tackle Tyron Smith and guard Kyle Kosier today. The reported deals for Smith, Kosier, and Doug Free:

Smith: 4 years, $12.5 million.

Kosier: 3 years, $9 million

Free: 4 years, $32 million.

Marc Columbo is not under contract and did not report to the team’s walkthrough on Thursday.

In other news, the Redskins signed defensive end Stephen Bowen to a five-year, $27.5 million contract.  Bowen might have been a starter this year opposite Igor Olshansky.


Cowboys About to Release Leonard Davis?

The Cowboys are expected to release several veteran players to get under the salary cap. The team is reportedly $20 million over the cap heading into training camp.

A couple of names of veterans expected to be released are not surprising—Marion Barber, Roy Williams.

But then there is a report today that the team will release right guard Leonard Davis. He would count $6 million towards the cap, so this probably makes sense, but at this point, the entire left side of the line is unsigned.

The other news today is that the Cowboys are about to get into an expensive bidding war with Tampa Bay to sign Free.

Update: Missed the story late Tuesday night that the Cowboys had signed Free to a four-year, $32 million contract.

Hard to be confident when the team may or may not have its starting left tackle, left guard, and right guard. Many expected Marc Columbo to be on his way out, but he may have to start again on the right side with rookie Tyron Smith taking over on the left.

Another Update: With Free’s signing, Colombo may be much closer to leaving now.

The Worst Blogging Off-Season is Over!

As expected, NFL players and owners reached an agreement today, and the lockout has ended. Therefore, we can start counting down the days to the season opener against the Jets on September 11.

Countdown Generator

The team will begin training camp on Wednesday this week, with the first practice scheduled for Thursday. News this week will also focus heavily on free agent signings—most notably left tackle Doug Free.

According to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, Free is the top free agent offensive lineman available. On Gosselin’s list of the top five free agents at each position, Free was the only Cowboy.

Of course, the Cowboys could also lose their rotation at defensive end, with Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen, and Jason Hatcher free to sign elsewhere. Other free agents include G Kyle Kosier and S Gerald Sensabaugh, the latter of whom has said he will test the market.

Witten Ranked Second-Best Tight End in the NFL

NFL.com has ranked Jason Witten as the #36 best player in the NFL for 2011.

Five Dallas players have now made the list in the NFL’s Top 100 Players for 2011. The most recent was Jason Witten, who comes in at #36.

He will finish as the second-best tight end in the league behind San Diego’s Antonio Gates, whose position has not yet been revealed. Other tight ends ranked below Witten include Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (#46) and Vernon Davis (#88). Surprisingly, Dallas Clark will apparently not make this list.

Witten is also going to finish ranked as the #2 Cowboy on this list. DeMarcus Ware will finish higher (should finish in the top 10), but NFL.com has not announced where he ranks.

Here are the five Cowboys to make the list so far:

36. Jason Witten
57. Andre Gurode
70. Miles Austin
72. Tony Romo
75. Jay Ratliff

Below are Witten’s career stats.

Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G YScm RRTD Fmb AV
2003 21 DAL te 82 15 7 35 347 9.9 1 36 2.3 23.1 347 1 0 4
2004* 22 DAL TE 82 16 15 87 980 11.3 6 42 5.4 61.3 980 6 2 10
2005* 23 DAL TE 82 16 16 66 757 11.5 6 34 4.1 47.3 757 6 0 9
2006* 24 DAL TE 82 16 15 64 754 11.8 1 42 4.0 47.1 754 1 0 11
2007*+ 25 DAL TE 82 16 16 96 1145 11.9 7 53 6.0 71.6 1145 7 1 15
2008* 26 DAL TE 82 16 16 81 952 11.8 4 42 5.1 59.5 952 4 0 10
2009* 27 DAL TE 82 16 16 94 1030 11.0 2 69 5.9 64.4 1030 2 0 10
2010*+ 28 DAL TE 82 16 16 94 1002 10.7 9 33 5.9 62.6 1002 9 1 11
Career 127 117 617 6967 11.3 36 69 4.9 54.9 6967 36 4 80
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/16/2011.

Miles Austin Ranked 70th Best Player of 2011

Miles Austin ranks 70th in NFL.com's Top 100 in 2011

NFL.com has been running a feature about the top 100 players for 2011, assuming there is a 2011 season. Three Cowboys have made the list so far, including Jay Ratliff (75th), Tony Romo (72nd), and Miles Austin (70th).

Austin looked like he could belong among the top five receivers in the league based on his performance over the first quarter of the 2010 season. But he had a case of the drops, and he struggled once Tony Romo went down with his injury. Over the last nine weeks of the season, Austin too frequently managed only two to three catches per game, and without other consistent weapons on the team, his drop in productivity hurt as much as other areas.

Not arguing that he doesn’t belong on the list, but I think 2011 will be important for him to show he is truly a star.

Romo made it a #72, which sparked expected debate. Roger Staubach thinks Romo can be a Super Bowl QB. Others think he is mediocre, including this fan on a “fan rant.” Yes, news is slow these days.

As for Ratliff, New York Giant head coach Tom Coughlin interestingly was the featured “presenter” on NFL.com. Coughlin notes that Ratliff is clearly one of the team leaders, and the clip shows Ratliff barking orders at not only the defense but also the offense.

Consensus Draft Grade for the Cowboys: Around a C

The commentators aren’t exactly impressed with the Cowboys’ 2011 draft. Grades from the Sporting News, CBS, and Mel Kiper were, respectively, C, C, and B-.

Here are the comments.

Sporting News (Grade: C)

They got offensive tackle Tyron Smith in the first round, but a pass rusher out of this draft would have been nice.

CBS (Grade: C)
The Cowboys answered one of their primary concerns with the No. 9 overall in USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith. While Smith’s athletic upside is limitless, I have reservations about his ability to provide the physicality needed to play at right tackle immediately or transition quickly to the left side – a position he never started at while at USC. The Cowboys took a similar gamble on pure athleticism in the second round with workout wonder Bruce Carter (who is coming off a torn ACL). When healthy, Carter has shown the speed and explosiveness to be a playmaker in every phase of the game, but his lack of instincts is a concern. One Day Three prospect who could surprise is East Carolina wideout Dwayne Harris. Unlike the Cowboys’ first two selections, Harris isn’t a phenomenal athlete. He was very productive, however, and is a tough, versatile player who could surprise as a target in the slot. This was a typical Jerry Jones draft — heavy on flashy athletes, but lacking the game-to-game consistency that translates into NFL victories.
Mel Kiper (Grade: B-)
While I thought Dallas might trade down off No. 9 and get more value at the tackle position a little later in Round 1, Smith made a lot of sense at No. 9, and the Cowboys showed conviction with the pick. He could be the solution for them at left tackle if he develops, or perhaps gets moved to the right side for now. After that, it got a little confusing for two rounds. Dallas went linebacker and running back in Rounds 2 and 3 before targeting more pressing needs at corner and guard in the following two rounds. Dallas got good value later, but never took a player that seemed like a steal at the position. Harris is a guy who might continue to develop at wideout.

Cowboys Aren’t Afraid to Go After LBs and RBs Early

The Cowboys decided against picking up a defensive back in the second or third round this year. They instead went with inside linebacker Bruce Carter from North Carolina in the second and running back Demarco Murray in the third.

ESPN‘s grade for Carter was 84 out of 100, which was slightly below the grade for linebacker Akeem Ayers, who went one pick before to Houston. ESPN rated Murray at 74, which is considerably better than Stevan Ridley, who went two spots later to the Patriots.

Since the Cowboys converted to a 3-4 in 2005, they have not been afraid to use an early pick on a linebacker.  Since 2005, Dallas has selected seven linebackers (including Carter) within the first three rounds. Of course, not all of these have been bad:

2005 – DeMarcus Ware (1st)
2005 – Kevin Burnett (2nd)
2006 – Bobby Carpenter (1st)
2007 – Anthony Spencer (1st)
2009 – Jason Williams (3rd)
2010 – Sean Lee (2nd)
2011 – Bruce Carter (2nd)

Dallas has also had pretty good luck taking running backs, though the team hasn’t found anyone who reminds us of Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett. Since Smith left the team following the 2002 season, Dallas has picked the following:

2004 – Julius Jones (2nd)
2005 – Marion Barber (4th)
2007 – Deon Anderson (fullback) (6th)
2008 – Felix Jones (1st)
2008 – Tashard Choice (4th)
2011 – Demarco Murray

According to a DMN poll, slightly more than half think the Cowboys should have picked someone else. Mel Kiper listed the Cowboys as one of his question-mark teams.

Summary: I praised what Dallas did in Round 1, adding Tyron Smith, a guy who certainly should help on that leaky offensive line. But the Cowboys have real needs at defensive end, safety and cornerback, and they added a linebacker and a running back when at both picks they had options to get help at positions where I see more pressing needs. I have needs down for teams, and for the Cowboys, they might not be the same ones Jerry Jones has, but if the Carter pick didn’t seem too peculiar, the Murray one really did based on how this roster looks right now.

Of course, the other question mark team is New England, so this probably means little.

Surprisingly, There’s No Surprise: Cowboys Take Tyron Smith

The Cowboys were the first team to use the entire 10-minute period to select their player in Thursday night’s draft. With Nick Fairley still on the board, along with other tackles and defensive backs on the board, it would not have been a big surprise if Dallas had done something out of the ordinary.

In the end, though, the Cowboys went with USC tackle Tyron Smith.

Here are a few items.

First, a video showing highlights from last season:

Draft Preview: Tyron Smith by FOX_Sports_Interactive

Second, ESPN‘s analysis:

What he brings: The biggest concerns with Smith are instincts and weight. He misses assignments on occasion and has to show he can maintain the 20-pound weight gain he has had since the end of the regular season. He is coming off a minor knee injury but it does not appear to be a concern going forward, and he has the highest ceiling of any tackle prospect in this class. Smith has excellent foot speed, long arms and good flexibility, and when he becomes more polished he is the hard-to-find player you want protecting your quarterback’s blind side. And it’s important to point out that the reason he did not play on the left side in college is because USC had Ryan Kalil at left tackle, who projects as a future top-5 pick. It wasn’t because the coaches thought he couldn’t handle it.

Third, NFL.com‘s take:

Smith is one of the best prospects on the hoof in this class. Blessed with an ideal NFL frame and has the outstanding feet and athleticism necessary to be a starting left tackle. Does a great job staying in front of speed rushers, locks on and sustains, and can anchor against the bull rush. Shows solid power in the running game and is really productive out in space. Football IQ is lacking. Fails to find his target at times in the running games and is a tick slow recognizing blitzes. Smith could come off the board early in the first round due to his rare physical gifts.

General Consensus at #9: Tyron Smith

Many expect Dallas to take USC tackle Tyron Smith

There are still five or six players who remain on the various mock drafts. The player emerging as the consensus, though, is USC tackle Tyron Smith.

NFL.com’s Mike Mayock predicts Dallas will take Smith. Here are his (paraphrased) comments:

  • Thinks the Cowboys would like to trade down.
  • But if they stay at #9, they could take a corner or a five-technique (defensive line)
  • This kid, Tyron Smith, is so gifted at right tackle. Plug him in. He can stay over at the right side. He improves the youth and athleticism of the line.
  • Dallas hasn’t taken an offensive lineman this high in a long time.
  • Tyron Smith is the answer.

Prince Amukamara is still in mix, as is J.J. Watt. Rafael Vela says that he’s heard that the Cowboys really like Watt and that they aren’t that interested in Smith. However, Bob Sturm of the DMN makes a case for taking Smith.

Part of my feelings about Smith are about the present. I think he was a very strong RT at USC with a pretty good grasp of pass protection, a natural flair for getting to the 2nd level on run plays, and a remarkable ability to recover when he gets beat with an initial move.

We’ll know tomorrow. I just don’t want to see Dallas trying to find any value picks at #20.

Cowboys Open and Close 2011 Season with Trips to New York

Assuming the lockout ends by then, the Dallas Cowboys will open the 2011 season with a trip to New York to face the Jets on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  The season finale will take place on New Year’s Day with another trip to New York, as the Cowboys face the Giants for the second time in four weeks.

It’s kind of a peculiar schedule, but the Cowboys have had a few similar schedules in the past (get ready for the completely trivial here). In both 1965 and 1966, the Cowboys opened by hosting the Giants and then ended the season with a trip to New York to face the Giants for a second time. Similarly, in 1978, the Cowboys opened their season at home against Baltimore but took trips to New York during week 2 (vs. Giants) and week 16 (vs. Jets).

The Cowboys once again have a tougher schedule on paper towards the end of the season. In the first four weeks of the season, Dallas only faces one team that had a winning record in 2010. After facing the Patriots and Eagles during a three-week period, the Cowboys play a November schedule against teams that each had losing records last year. However, the last four games come against teams that finished 10-6, including two games against the Giants.

The Cowboys are playing a third-place schedule, but that really does not explain why it is fairly light compared with previous years. The division rank from 2010 only affected two games that are against other third-place teams. One of these two team was Tampa Bay, which had a 10-6 mark in 2010.