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How Much Salary Cap Space Will the Dallas Cowboys Have Now?

The NFL has announced a salary cap of $120.6 million for the 2012 season. The news throughout the offseason is that the Cowboys would have space to be players in NFL free agency.

Dallas ate into its cap space last week by putting the franchise tag on the almost achieving linebacker Anthony Spencer, who will make about $8.856 million next year. Although not unexpected, nobody seems to have an argument that supports this move.

News today is that the Cowboys have been penalized for front-loading contracts to take advantage of the uncapped 2010 season.

ESPN is reporting that the Cowboys can free up space by reworking some contracts. There might be enough money to keep Laurent Robinson and sign a new backup quarterback, starting cornerback, and starting guard.

The team does not, however, have enough space to overcome more bone-headed front office moves that have utterly failed to move the team forward.

Franchise Tag for Almost Anthony?

The Cowboys Might Franchise Anthony Spencer
The Cowboys Might Franchise Anthony Spencer

Several probably saw this already, but the Cowboys might put the franchise tag on Almost Anthony Spencer.

That would be worth a one-year deal for $8.8 million.

Granted, he plays in DeMarcus Ware’s shadow. Granted, he was fourth on the team in tackles with 51 solos and 15 assists. And granted, he has been durable for the past three years.

But he has yet to record more than 6.0 sacks in a single season. And consider this: that is the same number of sacks that Shante Carver recorded in 1997 during his final year with the Cowboys.

Carver went down as a first-round bust, never playing a down in the NFL after 1997. Spencer is going to make $8.8 million?

Anyway, here are his stats from P-F-R:

Def Interceptions Fumbles Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos G GS Sk Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Tkl Ast AV
2007 23 DAL llb 16 6 3.0 2 0 0 28 8 4
2008 24 DAL 12 0 1.5 0 0 1 17 12 2
2009 25 DAL LOLB 16 16 6.0 1 -3 0 -3 7 2 0 2 50 17 10
2010 26 DAL LOLB 16 16 5.0 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 1 52 11 7
2011 27 DAL LB 16 15 6.0 0 0 0 0 1 4 0 0 51 15 7
Career 76 53 21.5 1 -3 0 0 10 10 0 4 198 63 30
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2012.

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Cowboys News: Romo and Tiger Fall Short, While Terrell Owens Is Somehow Still Relevant

The news on Saturday night about Tiger Woods was that his late push had put him in position to challenge for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He fell far short, shooting a three-over 75 to finish 11 shots behind the winner, Phil Mickelson.

The Cowboys’ angle for this story was that Woods teamed up with amateur golfer and Dallas QB Tony Romo. There was some chatter about Woods and Romo being in the hunt early. However, the two could only manage to finish tied for 17th among the pairs.

One of Romo’s comments was oddly funny to me:

I had no strategy today.

An immediate comeback: that’s what we thought you’d say after the Giants game that ended the season.

No, not fair at all.

* * *

It has to be the offseason. That’s the only explanation for a story about the newest member of the Allen Wranglers, Terrell Owens.

One of his comments about the Cowboys:

I definitely thought that I probably would have retired a Cowboy but that didn’t happen, and you know, things happen in life and you just got to move on.

I just can’ t recall anything negative he did that would cause the Cowboys to move on without him. I’m sure it will come to me with more time.

I do hope for the Wranglers’ sake that Owens can bring a few more people to the games. Take a look at the empty seats in this highlight reel:

Trade Felix Jones for a 5th Rounder?

Recall, please, that when the Cowboys drafted Felix with the 22nd overall pick in 2008, they were taking a player who was not a full-time starter in college.

Apparently, the off-season discussion of whether Jerry Jones should step down as general manager has died down a bit. The fact that the Cowboys could have and should have beaten and eliminated from playoff contention the team that won Super Bowl XLVI probably cements in his mind that he really knows what he’s doing (even with 50 concussions or so).

To remind ourselves of how bad it’s been in terms of personnel decisions, we could just look at the 2009 draft.

Oh, that’s too easy.

Let’s instead again consider the 2008 draft. I’ve already written that it may go down as a bust, but an idea presented on ESPN Dallas makes matters worse.

A piece written by Calvin Watkins features the opinion of former scout Bryan Broaddus. According to the article, the Cowboys should consider trading Felix Jones. Here’s the quote:

The Cowboys should explore whether a fourth-or fifth-round pick is available for the former first-round pick. The team doesn’t trust Jones to become a 20-down back in the NFL.

Recall, please, that when the Cowboys drafted Felix with the 22nd overall pick in 2008, they were taking a player who was not a full-time starter in college. I realize that the team brought him here to complement Marion Barber, but I would think results would be far more important than vague notions of potential by a franchise that traded away its first-round pick the following year.

If you need a reminder, which other running backs were available after Felix Jones in 2008?

Rashard Mendendall (23rd overall by the Steelers)

Chris Johnson (24th overall by the Titans)

Matt Forte (44th overall by the Bears)

Ray Rice (55th overall by the Ravens)

Jamaal Charles (73rd overall by the Chiefs)

 

Meanwhile, Dallas has a running back who might become trade bait for 5th-round pick.

* * *

By the way– I know, I know, I know. Dallas made up for it by taking DeMarco Murray in 2011. I think Broadus is probably right about the direction the Cowboys should head, but it just illustrates how bad those decisions in 2008 turned out to be.

DeMarcus Ware Makes the All-Any-Era Team

Know Your Dallas CowboysHard to believe that Jason Witten won’t show up on this list.

ESPN is running a poll featuring players who would excel during any NFL era. The Cowboys weren’t left out.

Coming in at #12 is OLB DeMarcus Ware. He joins James Harrison, Patrick Willis, and Brian Urlacher as the other linebackers announced so far.

ESPN will announce the final four players on Friday.

The story about Ware included quotes from former stars Darrell Green, John Randle, and James Lofton. Here is Randle’s quote:

There are some guys, linebackers and defensive ends, in today’s game who can run, but they can’t dip their shoulder or maneuver around those corners using their hands, but DeMarcus is a great linebacker, but he’s also a great pass-rusher. And he’s a great defensive lineman because he has the speed and the ability to take on blocks and to take on double teams.

It’s hard to believe that TE Jason Witten won’t show up on this list. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Immediate Future of the Cowboys: Dallas Morning News vs. ESPN Dallas

If you picked up the Dallas Morning News today, you might have ended up feeling a bit better about our Dallas Cowboys.

Rick Gosselin’s take is that nobody expected more than an 8-8 record from the Cowboys, so we shouldn’t consider them to be underachievers.

Know Your Dallas CowboysFor the optimists with a subscription to the DMN, here is Rick Gosselin’s take. “Garrett took an average team into the season, and despite that horrific finish — four losses in the last five games — there are arrows pointing up for 2012.”

Here’s his point:

[T]he Cowboys didn’t overachieve. Nor did they underachieve. Philadelphia underachieved given the expectations. So did San Diego and Tampa Bay. But not the Cowboys.

Garrett took an average team into the season, and despite that horrific finish — four losses in the last five games — there are arrows pointing up for 2012.

First off, the Cowboys needed to get younger. And they did. With an average age of 26.21, this was the youngest roster the Cowboys fielded since 2007 and the youngest starting lineup (26.90) since the mid-1990s. In a salary-cap world, youth is a good thing.

Second, Cowboys director of college and pro scouting Tom Ciskowski was a finalist this off-season for the Indianapolis general manager position. As unappreciated as Ciskowski and his staff may be locally, there is respect around the league for what they have done lately in the area of player procurement.

In the last two drafts, the Cowboys have added Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray , Sean Lee and Dez Bryant — four potential blue-chip pieces in a championship equation. The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys taught us in the early 1990s you win in this league with blue-chippers.

Ciskowski’s staff also culled the undrafted masses last April and discovered Bailey and center Kevin Kowalski, then this fall claimed fullback Tony Fiammetta off the waiver wire and signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson off the streets. All are keepers, and all will be a year older and a year better in 2012.

Third, the rebuilding started on offense last season. An aging, underachieving, overpaid blocking front that badly needed to be overhauled was. Smith will flip from right tackle to left this fall, and the Cowboys should be set at the blocking edge positions for the next five years.

On the same day, Jean-Jacques Taylor attacked some of the very same points that Gosselin made.

Know Your Dallas CowboysFor the pessimists, I present JJT’s take on the Cowboys. “The NFL conference title games showed us the Dallas Cowboys aren’t close to being a championship-caliber team.”

JJT isn’t always my favorite columnist, but when I feel like complaining, I more typically agree with him. Here is his main point:

The NFL conference title games showed us the Dallas Cowboys aren’t close to being a championship-caliber team.

Of course that wouldn’t be so bad if you had confidence the Cowboys could draft the right players, sign the proper free agents or properly evaluate their own talent, considering they signed Gerald Sensabaugh to a five-year deal in December.

All of this means you have no idea when the Cowboys’ era of mediocrity will end since we’re at 15 years and counting.

* * *

Meanwhile, another columnist that I don’t always like, Randy Galloway, wrote a piece that I found compelling. This one focuses on Jerry’s practice of revising history, at least according to Galloway.

Jerry repeatedly counters the critics by saying his same iron hand has been in place for 23 seasons, meaning he was calling the football shots as the Dynasty Days team was built and the Super Bowls followed.

This is not true. Any of us, media-wise, who have covered the Cowboys since 1989, know it was not true. So does anyone who worked for the Cowboys in those days.

There is a lengthy thread at CowboysZone covering Galloway’s piece.

Dallas Cowboys News: Jason Garrett’s Play-Calling Duties and Swapping Tackles

The Cowboys generated a few news items worth noting this week.

With the hiring of Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett suggested that he might delegate play-calling duties. However, he has waffled on this point, and nobody is sure what will happen.

In other news, the Cowboys returned to babysitting duties with Dez Bryant. When they weren’t doing that, they were considering whether to allow Doug Free to move back to right tackle and switch Tyron Smith to left tackle.

Here is the story line:

Cowboys Don’t Want Jason Garrett to Match Jeff Fisher’s Record with the Oilers and Titans

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a piece focusing on the comparisons between former Broncos/Bills/Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and former Bears/Redskins/Oilers coach Jack Pardee. Here was the introduction:

Pro-Football-Reference has a page that allows users to sort through coaching records, including playoff wins, champions, and so forth. According to this list, a total of 80 coaches have coached at least four playoff games during their career. Among those 80 coaches, Dallas coach Wade Phillips’ career record of 1-5 is tied for 78th in terms of winning percentage.

The other coach with a 1-5 playoff record? Um, that would be former Chicago, Washington, and Houston coach Jack Pardee. That doesn’t bode well for Wade.

In Pardee’s final season, the Oilers limped to a 1-9 start, which led to Pardee’s dismissal. Phillips’ head-coaching career in Dallas also didn’t last long enough for him to improve his 1-5 playoff record, as the Cowboys fired him after a 1-7 start in 2010.

The Pardee firing led immediately to the hiring of Jeff Fisher, who once served as a special-teams player and reserve defensive back for the Bears in the early 1980s. The Oilers didn’t improve in 1994 under Fisher, going 1-5 and finishing with a 2-14 record.

Plenty of changes occurred after that with the team drafting a franchise running back in Eddie George and a franchise quarterback in Steve McNair. The team also moved from Houston to Tennessee and became the Titans. Many remember that Fisher led the team to its only Super Bowl appearance and that he lasted 16 seasons with the Oilers/Titans after the team removed the interim label from his title. That record explains why several called for Jerry Jones to try to hire Fisher rather than Jason Garrett, the high-paid offensive coordinator who once served as a backup QB with the Cowboys and Giants.

There is a bit of irony that St. Louis ended up hiring Fisher. That was the same team that pursued Garrett in January of 2009 even after the Cowboys completely fell apart in a loss to the Eagles that ended the 2008 season. Garrett didn’t impress commentators in St. Louis at the time, with one noting that Garrett hadn’t shown much leadership in his role as offensive coordinator. Here’s a quote (and keep in mind that this was in 2009):

Garrett might well one day become a great head coach and a compelling leader, but he isn’t one now. Not even close. I see a young coach who has shown some very obvious and disturbing signs that he is unable to handle the rough stuff that a leader must cope with inside a locker room.

Because Garrett remained with the Cowboys, he is now in precisely the same position that Fisher was in after taking over for Pardee in 1994. We need to hope that the results are better, because I am not sure how many Dallas fans have the patience to wait four or five more seasons for the Cowboys to be constant winners.

Consider Fisher’s early records—

1995: 7-9

1996: 8-8

1997: 8-8

1998: 8-8

I know there is always a story behind a record, but there was nothing noteworthy about any of those teams other than that they were mediocre. The Titans remained in the playoff races during those 8-8 seasons until late in the year, but the team did not make enough of a late surge to finish with a winning record or a playoff berth in any of those seasons.

I think we all are fully aware of Garrett’s 8-8 record in his first full season with Dallas. That brings his overall mark to 13-11, which is better than Fisher’s 8-14 overall record after his first full season.

Fisher’s Titans improved to 13-3 in 1999 and reached the Super Bowl. Between 1999 and 2010, he had five seasons with at least 11 wins, and he compiled an overall playoff record of 5-6.

It’s certainly not bad, and it’s certainly better than what the Cowboys have done during the same time period. The problem is, however, that Cowboys fans not only can’t wait several more seasons before the team returns to the heights of a 13-3 record, but the fans probably wouldn’t settle for a coach who would fail to win a single Super Bowl during a 17-year period.

So I suppose that causes the dilemma—we want a coach who can turn around a franchise like Jeff Fisher did, and we want a coach who could have long-term success like Jeff Fisher eventually did. But we don’t want to wait for that success to occur, and we want the head coach to have even more success than Fisher actually had.

Sigh.

Have I mentioned that these offseasons are awfully long?

Recurrent Theme for the Dallas Cowboys: So Close, Yet So Far Away

We all remember very well that the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 and had the top seed in the NFC playoffs. And we all remember that the team came out rather sluggish against the Giants, who beat Dallas 21-17 en route to a Super Bowl title.

NFL Films might have named the annual highlight film for the 2007 Cowboys as “So Close, Yet So Far Away.”

Four years later, NFL Films could have recycled the same title, but for different reasons.

It’s hard not to think of those 2007 playoffs after watching both of the divisional playoff games this weekend. The Giants once again traveled to Green Bay to take on a favored Packers team, and once again, the New York defense rose to the occasion to give the Giants the upset win.

On Saturday, the 49ers sat in a position similar to the 2007 Cowboys. Like the Cowboys, San Francisco hasn’t been especially relevant in the NFC for quite some time. The 49ers posted a 13-3 record, just like the 2007 Cowboys, and San Francisco hosted its first playoff game in nine seasons. Recall that the Cowboys hosted their first playoff game in nine seasons when they took on the Giants.

The Saints didn’t emerge from nowhere like the Giants did in 2007. It was hardly a big surprise when, with less than two minutes left in the game, Drew Brees found Jimmy Graham on a seam route near mid-field. Graham was able to split two defenders and run for a touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Saints a 32-29 lead with less than two minutes remaining.

In 2007, the 13-3 Cowboys trailed the Giants by four points but got the ball back with less than two minutes left. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 23, but thanks to a poor route by Patrick Crayton on one play and an ill-fated desperation pass on fourth down, Dallas could not pull out the last-minute win.

The 2011 49ers did almost exactly what the 2007 Cowboys couldn’t. Of course, San Francisco only needed a field goal to tie the game, but the 49ers went for the win. Rather than agonizing for years about someone like Patrick Crayton hesitating on his route, the 49ers can remember Vernon Davis catching a 47-yard pass, which helped to set up his awesome 14-yard touchdown reception that gave San Francisco the win.

The 2011 Cowboys should be shaking their heads with the knowledge that the Giants and 49ers are playing for the NFC title, even without regard to the parallels with the 2007 Cowboys.

After the second week of the season, there was reason to believe that these 2011 Cowboys might be a force in the NFC when an injured Tony Romo’s efforts erased a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit and produced a 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco.

That’s the type of victory that can give a team a great boost. From there, Dallas was scheduled to face the likes of Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Arizona over the next ten weeks. Even if Dallas had lost to the Patriots and Eagles (which happened, of course), there was a good chance that Dallas could be 9-3 heading into its final four games.

As it turned out, the Cowboys were close with a 7-5 record after a loss to the Cardinals, but it wasn’t the Cowboys who took off after their win at San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers won eight straight, including wins over Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and the N.Y. Giants.

Some have liked to point out that the 49ers had a relatively easy schedule in 2011, but it really wasn’t notably easier than the Cowboys’ schedule. Rather, San Francisco simply won the games it should have won (save for a loss at Arizona), whereas the Cowboys won a few games they should have lost and lost a few games they should have won.

Of course, Dallas still had a great chance to capture the NFC East, needing only to hang on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants on December 11. Instead, the Dallas defense fell apart when it mattered most, and after Tony Romo and Miles Austin failed to convert on a play that could have ended that game, the Cowboys watched the game fall from their grasp and their season spiral into a failure.

“So Close, Yet So Far Away” isn’t limited to 2007 and 2011, either. We could consider the 2008 season, when Dallas had a chance to earn a wildcard berth by beating the Eagles. Philadelphia won in a 44-6 blowout, of course, and the Eagles wound up in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in nine years.

We could also consider the 2009 playoffs, when the Cowboys caught fire late in the season, only to run out of gas against the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Thus, for the fourth time in five seasons, Dallas fans get to watch an NFC Championship Game with the thought that our team could be competing for the conference title. Instead, we put on our faces of resignation and repeat—so close, yet so far away.

Dallas Cowboys Story Line for January 14

Here are several of the Dallas Cowboys stories of the week.