The Cowboys were facing an identity crisis in 1998. The previous season had been a disaster, as off-the-field distractions piled up and the team finished 6-10. Barry Switzer was gone as head coach, and the team moved forward trying to improve its image.
Dallas had hired an offensive coach in Chan Gailey and had the #8 pick, the team’s highest in seven years. Marshall’s Randy Moss was still on the board when the Cowboys were ready to pick. They took North Carolina defensive end Greg Ellis instead.
Moss famously gave Dallas fits for years. Those years are officially over now, though, with Moss announcing his retirement today. Ellis’ final season was 2009 with the Raiders.
Here are some comparisons between the two.
Moss played in 202 games, starting 191 in 13 seasons. He played for four teams, including the Vikings (twice), Raiders, Patriots, and Titans.
Ellis played in 176 games, starting 169 in 12 seasons. He spent 11 years in Dallas before wrapping up his career in Oakland.
Moss made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team all-pro four times.
Ellis earned one Pro Bowl berth after the 2007 season.
Hard to compare a receiver and a defensive end/linebacker. We’ll go with Pro-Football-Reference’s approximate value.
Moss had a career AV of 157. His best season was 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1493 yards and 23 TD. His AV that year was 20.
Ellis had a career AV of 91. His best season in terms of AV was 2002 when he earned an AV of 10 thanks to a career-high 51 tackles. During his Pro Bowl season of 2007, he had 12.5 sacks but only 24 tackles, dropping his AV to 7.
Moss talked and behaved in a way that the Cowboys probably expected when the team passed him up in 1998. Moss was very productive in Minnesota, but he had a substandard 2004 season due to injury, and the Vikings traded him to Oakland. His career looked as if it was falling apart with the Raiders, but he was rejuvenated after another trade sent him to New England. Last season, though, was a disaster, and he wound up playing for three different teams, including the Patriots and Vikings and also the Tennessee Titans.
Ellis was a generally soft spoken player with a good work ethic. But he also became a complainer. When the team moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4, he complained. When the team drafted Anthony Spencer, Ellis complained. And then he complained more about the money he made and the respect he received. Some in Oakland didn’t want Ellis to come there because of the complaining.
Moss undoubtedly had a better overall career than Ellis, but whether Moss would have made a long-term difference in Dallas is questionable.
Moss may have teamed up with Michael Irvin in 1998 to form an unstoppable duo. But Moss never showed that he could be a team leader, and Dallas would have lost its veteran core during the first few years that Moss was there.
Ellis’s career differed from Moss considerably from Moss’s. Moss showed what he brought to the table from day one. With Ellis, fans often saw glimpses of greatness, but he left fans wanting to see more. Nobody ever talks about Ellis in the same breath as Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin, or Charles Haley. Instead, Ellis became the 2000s version of Jim Jeffcoat.
Now that Nnambi Asomugha is an Eagle, the Cowboys can turn to their other concerns.
The big one is the safety position, where the team has no genuine starter under contract. Gerald Sensabaugh said he would test the market, and he may be the best safety left among unsigned free agents. According to a list on WalterFootball, Sensabaugh started the free agency period as the #7 safety, but the six above him already signed.
Dallas is currently going after Abram Elam, who played strong safety for Cleveland last year. Elam was a special-teams player with Dallas in 2006 before signing with the Jets in 2007. He’s generally listed as a strong safety, but he played free safety in Cleveland last year.
Elam is listed at #18 on WalterFootball’s list. The unsigned free agent safeties ranked above him include:
Donte Whitner, SS, Buffalo
Dashon Goldson, FS, San Francisco
Brodney Pool, Either, N.Y. Jets
Atari Bigby, SS, Green Bay
Tom Zbikowski, Either, Baltimore
Bernard Pollard, SS, Houston
Of these, the only player I’ve seen anyone comment on was Goldson, and that was a negative comment. He took quite a bit of heat in San Francisco last season after a decent year in 2009.
Not a good day today.
Apparently, the Cowboys thought they were a few minutes away from signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Then the bottom fell out and he went to the Eagles.
So on the same day that the Cowboys lost receiver Sam Hurd to Chicago, the team discovered that it will have to face a division rival with three Pro Bowl corners.
So here’s a picture when Dallas travels to Philly on October 30:
Asomugha lines up on Miles Austin and completely takes Austin out of the game.
Asante Samuel lines up on Dez Bryant and holds the second-year receiver to an average game.
Rodgers-Cromartie might not have anyone to cover, given that the Cowboys’ slot receiver right now is…
Wait, who is the Cowboys’ third receiver? Kevin Ogletree and his ten career receptions? Manny Johnson and his one career catch? 6th-round pick Dwayne Harris?
So Rodgers-Cromartie superfluously double-teams a receiver or lines up on Jason Witten.
The Eagles also have a promising safety in second-year player Nate Allen. Meanwhile, the Cowboys at the moment don’t have a starting safety under contract.
No, not a good day today.
Back when I did a weekly relatively value ranking post, Sam Hurd often showed up pretty high on the list thanks to his special teams work. The Cowboys will need to replace him on special teams now that he has signed with the Chicago Bears.
Hurd will reportedly join now-former Cowboy Roy Williams in Chicago next season.
There was talk that the Bears would go after Plaxico Burress. If you are a fan of another team in the NFC North, be glad if Chicago settles for Williams.
We’ll miss Hurd, though.
The Cowboys of the late 1990s and early 2000s fell apart because the team had to endure salary-cap hell. Part of that had to do with the amount of dead money as a result of signing bonuses.
With the team releasing Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Marc Columbo, Leonard Davis, and Kris Brown today, the Cowboys saved $19.16 from its 2011 salary cap.
However, the Cowboys will have $20.9 million in dead money in 2012, according to ESPN’s John Clayton.
Not sure what to think about this. Hard to imagine the Cowboys could go after Nnambi Asomugha.
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.
Few are shedding tears about Marion Barber’s imminent release, which will likely happen on Thursday. In 2010, he only managed 374 yards with four touchdowns, and for much of the season, he was not a factor in the offense.
In terms of team history, Barber does not belong in the same category as Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, or Don Perkins. However, some may be surprised how much Barber has accomplished in his six years in Dallas. Most will remember Barber for his intangible qualities, such as his fearless running style. However, consider also some of the stats below.
Barber’s 47 touchdowns rank third in team history behind Smith (153) and Dorsett (72). Barber averaged 7.83 touchdowns per season, which tops everyone other than Smith (11.77/year) and Duane Thomas (8.00/year but that only includes two seasons).
Of course, Smith averaged 312 attempts per year for 13 years, while Dorsett averaged 250 in 11 years. Barber averaged only 174 attempts per season in six years. On average, Barber scored a touchdown for every 22.17 attempts. That is better than any other full-time starter at halfback/lead back (other than Duane Thomas, who again only played two seasons in Dallas).
Barber was also very good at securing the ball, which was important given his role as a closer. On his 1042 attempts in six season, he had only 15 fumbles, or an average of 69.47 attempts per fumble. Among the top 30 running backs in team history, his ratio of attempts to fumbles would rank 7th.
(The leader in that category, incidentally, is Tashard Choice, who has fumbled only one time in 222 career attempts).
Barber does not have the numbers of someone who was strictly a short-yardage back. His 4358 yards ranks sixth in team history, just 426 yards shy of Robert Newhouse and just 651 yards shy of Calvin Hill. Given that Barber was never slated as a starter when Dallas drafted him in 2005, ranking that high on the team’s all-time rushing list is impressive.
A Good Comparison—Calvin Hill
Barber’s career of six years in Dallas happens to equal the same length of service for Hill, who played for the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974.
Their career paths were a little bit different. The Cowboys picked Hill out of Yale, thanks to the team’s advanced methods of evaluating college talent. After earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a rookie, Hill had to take a backseat to Duane Thomas in 1970 and 1971. When Thomas departed, Hill became the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher. He left after the 1974 season after signing with the World Football League.
The team did not have the same expectations for Barber in 2005. Julius Jones was the team’s lead running back, and most expected Barber to fill a backup role. Quickly, however, Barber showed that he had a nose for the end zone, and by 2006, many wanted to see Barber in the starting role. This did not happen until the playoffs in 2007, though. He started 38 games from 2008 to 2010.
The comparison in stats:
Barber: six seasons, 4358 yards, 4.2 ave., 47 TD. One-time Pro Bowl selection.
Hill: six seasons in Dallas, 5009 yards, 1166 att., 4.3 ave., 39 TD. Four Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro selection.
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.
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.
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.
A writer for the Wichita Falls Times Record posted an article about which former Dallas Cowboys are most deserving of a place in the Ring of Honor. His list includes (in his order of ranking):
1. Drew Pearson
2. Ed “Too Tall” Jones
3. Clint Murchison
4. Tony Hill
5. Larry Allen
6. Charles Haley
7. Darren Woodson
8. Deion Sanders
9. Jimmy Johnson
10. Jay Novacek
He also mentioned Cornell Green and George Andrie. Thumbs up.
I am firmly convinced that the selection process for entry into the Hall of Fame and similar places of honor is as much about rewriting history as it is about celebrating history. Little else—to me at least—explains how players can earn first-team selections to All-Decade team yet fail to earn selections to the Hall of Fame while lesser players make it in. For instance, two first-team selections for the All-Decade Team of the 1970s are not in the Hall. That would include Cowboys Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris. Meanwhile, 16 of the 22 offensive and defensive players selected to the second team for that decade are in the Hall. That includes defensive back Roger Wehrli, who is simply not more deserving under any standard than Cliff Harris.
And just to show that I’m not being totally biased, someone please explain how Cris Carter is a first-team selection for the 1990s while Michael Irvin is a second-team selection, yet Irvin makes the Hall while Carter continues to wait.
As for the Ring of Honor, that selection process is apparently in Jerry Jones’ head, so I’m not sure anyone knows if there is a process. I cannot imagine that Pearson would not have overwhelming support from fans and the media if Jerry made the selection, but it isn’t like to happen anytime soon.
Consider a few more names who show up on the all-decade teams yet are not members of the Ring of Honor.
1. Ralph Neely
For an expansion team that went 0-11-1 in its first year, having two players (not counting Herb Adderley) make the All-Decade Team was quite an accomplishment. Everyone would know that Bob Lilly made the list. Few would guess that Neely was the other.
2. Harvey Martin
By the end of the 1970s, Martin, Randy White, and Too Tall Jones were household names and the main part of the new Doomsday Defense. Of the three, Martin made the All-Decade Team while the others didn’t (White, of course, made the 1980s team).
3. Mark Stepnoski
Another player that few might consider worthy of the Ring was center Mark Stepnoski. Of course, he left the team after the 1994 season, but he was a key member of the offensive line that helped the Cowboys win Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. He was later named to the All-Decade Team of the 1990s. If Charles Haley and Deion Sanders are worth mentioning because they played a few years in Dallas, so too is Stepnoski.