Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Endless Options on Draft Day

A lot of the so-called draft experts are releasing their mock drafts right now. There are endless amounts of the mock drafts to read and review if you find them to be interesting. What is funny is that absolutely none of them will be very accurate when the real draft starts at the end of the month. The first round predictions for the Cowboys seem to be primarily focused on either left tackle or safety.

Both of those positions make perfect sense. It is obvious that the Cowboys are looking to upgrade at the safety position. It seems like that has been the case for the last five years. And offensive line is an area of need. Flozell Adams will probably be back for one more year but the Cowboys are looking for depth and future starters on the line.

I would be surprised if the Cowboys don't select an offensive lineman or a safety if one of the top players drops all the way down to them at the 27th spot in round 1. But the bigger question is whether it makes sense to try to trade up to get someone they deem to be a "special" player.

If the Cowboys have their eyes on one of the top safeties should they move up in the draft to get him? And how high should they be willing to go? There are several potentially good safeties in the first round. But the problem is that most if not all of them will be gone by the time the Cowboys get to pick if they wait until the 27th pick. Earl Thomas from Texas is projected to be taken in the middle of the first round. The problem is that it costs a lot on draft day to make a move up that high. I don't think the Cowboys have the ammunition to get up that high without trading future picks. And future picks may not hold much value this season with a potential lock out at the end of the 2010 season.

What about offensive line? Should the Cowboys move up to get a lineman? The Cowboys have been showing a lot of interest in Mike Iupati from Idaho. But he has been making a move up in the first round based on his combine performance. If the Cowboys really want him I could see moving up a few spots to get him but a moving up more than 5 spots in round 1 will just cost them too much.

I would like to see a patient but potentially aggressive approach. The Cowboys don't need to try to build depth across the board. They need to land a few future starters. If the Cowboys come out the draft with 2 or 3 potentially good/great players I will be happy. I'd like to see trades up if trades are going to happen for the Cowboys. This is not the year for the Cowboys to stockpile picks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Voluntary Workout Goals

Some of the players have already been hanging around Valley Ranch over the last few weeks getting in workouts to begin preparation for the 2010 season. The rest of the team is expected on Monday for the official start of voluntary workouts. It doesn't appear there is going to be much change in the core group of players on the roster so the focus will be on improving the existing roster. Here is what I am hoping is addressed during the workouts.

1. Chemistry between Tony Romo and Roy Williams. I know both players reported early last offseason to try to get on the same page. And early last preseason things looked headed in the right direction. But for whatever reason it appeared that these two could never really click during the regular season. These two need to get comfortable to the point that Tony knows what Roy is going to do before Roy even makes a move. That kind of chemistry only comes with endless repetition.

2. Better footwork from the offensive tackles. The biggest flaw in the team last year was exposed in the playoff games with the Vikings. The tackles were slow off the ball. Part of that was due to the crowd and part of it was Marc Columbo playing injured. But the bottom line is that the tackles have to be quicker off the ball to prevent the speed rushers from putting pressure on Romo from the outside. Free and Columbo are still young enough that they can improve their technique. Flozell needs to try to maintain whatever quickness he has left in the tank at this point in his career.

3. Field goal kicking. Obviously field goals were horrible for the Cowboys last year. David Beuhler and Conner Hughes are supposed to be fighting for the job of place kicker. With the new kicking coach, Chris Boniol, on the staff there is no reason these guys shouldn't be working every day on their technique. I would love to see Beuhler show up at training camp with new accuracy and win the job.

4. Marion Barber needs to train to get back in Marion the Barbarian mode. Barber has gone into the last two offseasons expected to be the starting back and carry most of the load for the running game. With Felix Jones emerging as the #1 back at the end of the 2009 season it would appear that Barber will return to his short yardage and closer role. The training required to be the starter is different than what Barber should be doing to carry the ball in short yardage situations. Barber needs to regain his power burst that he had previously and seems to have lost over the last two seasons.

5. Last years rookies need to get ready for a much bigger role next season. Jason Williams, Brandon Williams, Mike Hamlin and several others are going to be expected to be big contributors this season. A few of the rookies got a little playing time last season but most of them were injured or inactive most of the season. They all need to prepare to get on the field this season. Jason Williams has incredible athletic talent and he should be ready for a bigger role in the defense this year. And Mike Hamlin is expected to take over one of the starting safety jobs some day. Robert Brewster has a chance to develop into a viable backup at tackle this offseason.

Offseason workouts don't get the media attention that free agency and the draft receive but their importance can't be underestimated. No cameras, no microphones, just hard work. The workouts give the players an opportunity to improve their skills but they also build camaraderie among the team. The team leaders all attend the workouts religiously and their example brings in nearly all of the players during the offseason. Hopefully every player on the roster can make improvements to their game.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Flozell and Hamlin Look Safe...For Now

It is becoming apparent as the Cowboys stand pat during the early stages of free agency that they are going to wait until the draft is completed to make any big roster decisions. As frustrating as it can seem that the Cowboys aren't making any moves it also makes some sense.

It isn't like there are any great players left in free agency at this point. The Cowboys chose not to overpay for good but not great free agents early in free agency. So now there really aren't many players who merit real consideration. There are a few restricted free agents available but teams don't seem willing to trade for anything less than what the tender offers guarantee up to this point.

So it looks like the Cowboys will decide on Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin after the draft is over. If they can score a talented future starter at either position then they will probably cut one or both players. The good news is that the Cowboys have players at tackle and safety who could temporarily fill in as starters while a rookie develops.

Doug Free could man the left tackle job if the Cowboys pick a tackle they view as a potential starter. That insurance would make Flozell Adams expendable. And in the same way Alan Ball can fill in at safety while a talented rookie safety gets some time to learn the defense and get comfortable with the complexity and speed of the pro game.

We know what the Cowboys have in Hamlin and Flozell so holding on to them for now is the right move. It would make the team desperate if either player were released prior to the draft. The quickest way to make a big mistake in the draft is to go in feeling like you have to land a player at a specific position in the early rounds. So keeping Hamlin and Flozell as insurance allows the Cowboys to remain flexible during the draft.

Once the draft is completed all bets are off for both players. Especially if the Cowboys manage to pull in a highly touted safety or tackle.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Get Worked Up Over Dez Bryant

ESPN is trying to create some news by reporting that Dez Bryant will possibly visit the Cowboys on April 1. The April Fool's Day visit seems pretty ironic when you consider the odds of the Cowboys actually picking Bryant in the draft. There are so many factors stacked against the move that it would be highly unlikely at best that the Cowboys would have the chance to draft Bryant.

Most mock drafts are putting Dez Bryant in the top 15 picks. The Cowboys would really struggle to find the ammunition to move up into the top 15. They would probably have to give up multiple picks to even have a shot and it could even possibly take next year's first round pick to move up that high. Of course they could throw in a player like Martellus Bennett into the deal, but player trade value is usually at its lowest during the draft. And I highly doubt anyone wants to take on the deal of Roy Williams considering the astronomical amount of money he is due for the 2010 season (nearly $13 million).

And look at the Cowboys current depth chart at wide receiver. Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, and Kevin Ogletree. That is a pretty strong set of receivers. You can argue that they need more help but I haven't given up on the natural talents and size of Roy Williams just yet. And Kevin Ogletree is going to make a strong push for a move up in the depth chart next season. It is really hard for me to see the need for another high maintenance, overpriced wide receiver. A speed receiver to provide a deep threat makes sense, but not a guy who would demand the ball like a high first round pick would.

You can let your imagination run wild if you want and try to envision the Cowboys with Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant on the field. But that just isn't going to materialize barring a minor miracle. You can have too much of a good thing sometimes and I think wide receiver is a good example of that. There are only so many passes to go around in the offense and with your top two receivers, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, in the prime of their careers it is difficult to see how another top flight receiver will be able to flourish in the offense.

I think the Cowboys are covering their bases in the event that something strange happens on draft day and Dez Bryant falls to them at the end of the first round. And you can't fault them for that. But I won't be fooled into thinking that a standard pre-draft visit means anything. The thought of a guy as talented as Dez Bryant in a Cowboys uniform is pretty exciting but I just don't see how it would make any sense to sell the farm to get him. Especially when there are some real needs at other positions that need to be addressed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Can You Justify Keeping Ken Hamlin?

It is amazing to me how a guy like Ken Hamlin can fly under the radar during the regular season. Sure, people want to see him make more plays, but he doesn't get beaten for big plays either. And so he flies under the radar because you don't even know he's on the field unless you are paying close attention to the game. Heck, half the time he is lined up so far off the ball that he doesn't even make it into the TV view of the game. The offseason gives us a chance to really evaluate the play of guys like Hamlin who you don't always notice during the season.

The stats don't lie for Ken Hamlin. 2007 was an aberration. He scored a big contract on the back of his 5 interceptions and 15 passes defensed that season. He looked like young player who fit perfectly into the Wade Phillips 3-4 scheme and would be a playmaker in the defense for years to come.

But the last two years tell a different story. In 2008 Hamlin had just 1 interception and 2 passes defensed in 16 games. And last year he managed a total of exactly 0 interceptions and again just 2 passes defensed in 12 games. Those are some pitiful numbers.

Ok, so you can argue that the stats don't tell the entire story. Jerry Jones likes to refer to Ken Hamlin as the quarterback of the defense. He is the guy who makes sure that everyone lines up correctly before the snap and he helps communicate defensive assignments before the play. I could be sold on the argument if you could prove to me that another player couldn't do the same job while also making a play once in a while.

So to me the question to keep Hamlin boils down to what you have to replace him. As of right now it looks like Alan Ball. Mike Hamlin got injured last year so he didn't actually get to develop much last season. He clearly isn't ready to step into a starting role. But Alan Ball might be. Ball looked decent in his time as a starter in place of Hamlin last year. He seemed to do a better job the more he was on the field. But he didn't do anything to knock your socks off either.

I think Ken Hamlin's job with the Cowboys is dependent on two things. First, can the Cowboys find a suitable replacement in free agency without breaking the bank. And secondly, if they don't find a free agent, can they find a dynamic player in the early rounds of the draft who could step in to start either right away or early in the season. They could use Ball to hold down the fort while allowing a rookie to transition to the NFL level without throwing too much at him all at once.

Ken Hamlin is never going to be a guy who makes plays all over the field. He has proven that. So the only thing that will save him is if the Cowboys cannot find someone better this offseason. There are no salary cap ramifications for cutting him, so that won't save him like it may have last season.

The Cowboys haven't been big players in free agency up to this point. Oshiomogho Atogwe is still out there. The Cowboys might be waiting to let the market calm down so they don't have to overpay for an above average but not great player. He hasn't been exactly stellar either over the last two year. But he has 7 interceptions over the last two years as opposed to 1 for Hamlin. And he has been a more active tackler but that could be a result of the terrible players around him. If Atogwe is the best free agent available I can see why the Cowboys aren't rushing to break the bank for him. But he does merit a closer inspection by the Cowboys.

And hey, if things don't work out with Atogwe, then at least we can still hope for a player in the draft. There are several safeties coming out this year that look pretty good. Eric Berry from Tennessee will be gone long before the Cowboys pick. Earl Thomas from Texas might slip far enough for the Cowboys to trade up to get him. And Taylor Mays from USC is predicted to be drafted in the Cowboys' range of round 1. So there is definitely hope this year in the draft. But you never really know about college players until they get on the field with NFL players.

The worst case scenario would be that Ken Hamlin comes back again as the starter next season. The defense will still be missing a playmaker at free safety but at least we'll know the defense won't be giving up big plays. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a better option to be given the job, but the defense wouldn't collapse if Hamlin is back next season.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marty B Needs Less Talk, More Action

I have been pondering the future of Martellus Bennett with the Dallas Cowboys since early in the 2009 season. The Cowboys had spent a great deal of time developing schemes in the offensive game plan to get him involved. But it was obvious in game after game that Martellus wasn't getting the job done. Sure, he did a good job run blocking. But he has to be told where to line up in what seems like every other play. He runs the wrong route on passes or makes the wrong pattern adjustment during the play. And, worst of all, he lost the trust of his quarterback.

When John Phillips started to take the place of Marty B in the passing game I thought it might finally light a fire under him. But listening to his comments to Steve Dennis of CBS in Dallas, it seems as though Martellus believes he is already working hard. That is a scary thought. I have witnessed the work habits of Martellus first hand at training camp. He is a guy who is more interested in playing around and working the crowd then actually focusing on the practice. And during the games you can watch him goof around on the sidelines while other offensive players are discussing adjustments or correcting mistakes.

He is the classic case of a guy who never had to work hard to make it big in sports. He has all the talent in the world but he lacks the work ethic required at the professional level to be successful. I really wonder if he has the mental capacity to succeed at the NFL level based on his enourmous number of mental mistakes throughout the course of each game. I really wonder how it is possible that he has to be told on nearly every other play where to line up. Is he too dumb to remember where to line up or does he lack the focus needed to be successful?

I remember when people were getting on Jason Witten's case during Hard Knocks in 2008 when he was caught telling Martellus that he wasn't going to help him line up every play. At that time it seemed like a rookie struggling to adapt but now it is becoming apparent that this is what Martellus is. Jason Witten seemed to sense the problem early on. Now we can see that Jason was right all along.

Jerry Jones has weighed in on the topic recently. He agreed that Martellus needs to put in more work to succeed at this level. You would think that getting called out in the media by your owner would light a fire under your butt. Not with Martellus. He seems to believe he is already working hard and the coaches need to find better ways to use him. That scares me.

Remember how John Garrett had to constantly ride Martellus during hard knocks in 2008? You shouldn't have to treat a professional football player that way, but I think that is the only way Martellus will listen. I think Martellus lacks the desire needed to reach his potential.

I have reached the point that I am ready for the Cowboys to attempt to trade Martellus for whatever they can get for him. I'm sure some team would be enamoured by his enormous talent and offer a draft pick for him. I would be happy to trade him for a second or third round pick. If the Cowboys can get that for him I think it would be a steal. John Phillips has proven he is on the rise and Martellus' stock is falling fast.

If Martellus stays, he is right, this is the big year for him. We saw promise in his rookie year. But then he actually regressed in year two. I didn't see his problems this year as the classic sophomore slump. His problems seemed to be a lack of mental preparation for the games. We need a new focus from Martellus this season. Save the comments for me about his age. He has been working as a professional football player for two years now. How long should we have to wait for a guy to get it together? We are all hoping for a Super Bowl run this season. That isn't going to happen with guys lining up in the wrong place every other place. And Martellus will have to work hard to earn back the trust of his quarterback. I don't think Tony Romo has trusted Martellus since he ran his stupid spin route instead of the called fade route in the Carolina game.

If it were up to me, Martellus would be shipped out of Dallas ASAP. You don't make comments to the media about changing the offense to fit you when you aren't even working hard to improve. Martellus needs to improve his game and I don't think he sees that. Maybe a ticket out of town will make him finally realize he has to work to take advantage of his natural physical talents.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reactions to RFA Tenders

The Cowboys finally made their offers officially today. They chose to give tender offers to every player on their list of restricted free agents except for Sean Suisham. I'm a little surprised by a few of the offers but I like the strategy they are trying to use in most cases. By making the tender offers the Cowboys are essentially giving themselves a fall back plan in the event that they can't find a better option in free agency or the draft.

The Miles Austin offer was no surprise. The Cowboys are guaranteed the right to match any offer Miles receives and would receive a first and third round pick if any team was able to sign him to a deal the Cowboys wouldn't match. He'll be back next season barring the use of the "poison pill".

I'm a little surprised that the Cowboys didn't do more to protect Marcus Spears. He received a second round tender offer. Spears isn't a dynamic playmaker but he is a great run defender. I'm thinking the Cowboys are letting the market set the terms for a long term deal. I just hope they didn't set the bar too low for Spears.

Sam Hurd also received a second round tender offer. He falls into the category of a guy they are keeping around as insurance. I'm sure they'll explore options in the draft and free agency, but Hurd would be a great fall back option if nothing else pans out.

Gerald Sensabaugh also only received a second round tender offer. I know Gerald was talking about a long term deal after the season ended but I think the Cowboys want to be sure they don't overpay for his services. The tender offer allows the Cowboys to see what the rest of the league thinks of him which will essentially dictate the terms of any multi-year offer the Cowboys might make him.

Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen also got second round tenders. I think both of these guys would be happy to make the $1.759 million the offer guarantees them for next season. The odds of losing a backup defensive player at the expense of a second round pick is very slim. It looks like they'll both be back next season.

For some reason the Cowboys continue to hold on to Cory Procter. I don't see it with this guy but I guess the Cowboys just love the fact that he plays guard and center. In my opinion he is a waste at guard but we haven't seen much out of him at center. I guess the coaches know more than the rest of us so there must be something to Procter we aren't seeing in the games.

Overall, I think the Cowboys made the smart play here. They gave themselves protection on 12 of the 13 RFA's. And they didn't mess around with a lower tender offer for Miles Austin. I'm sure Miles will be signed to a long term deal this summer or early in the 2010 season. The Cowboys are going to let the market dictate the terms of any long term deals with the rest of the RFA's. And I'm sure some of these guys will be traded or released either before, during or after the draft is completed.

The Cowboys still have holes to fill on the roster. But it looks like they did a good job preventing new ones from forming. Now they can play the field and determine if there are better options without feeling the desperation most teams have going into the offseason.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What to Do with the RFA's

The Cowboys have yet to make an offer on any of their 13 restricted free agents. There are some players who will be back without any doubt but there are also some players who might have run out of time to prove they belong on the team. Here is what I am hoping to see for all of the restricted free agents.

Miles Austin - Do I even need to say it? Keep him.

Stephen Bowen - Keep him. The Cowboys need him for depth on the defensive line. He has developed into a solid player over the last few years.

Jason Hatcher - Keep him as long as he is ok with his backup role. There have been times he has voiced some displeasure during games about his lack of playing time. If he still believes he is starting material then let him test the market.

Sean Suisham - Goodbye.

Sam Hurd - This is a tough one. Hurd is a good special teams player and has shown flashes of being a decent receiver when given the chance. Unfortunately he has been jumped in the depth chart by Kevin Ogletree so he is sitting 5th on the list of receivers. I'd like to see the Cowboys keep him because I think he can take over the 3rd or 4th spot if anyone gets injured. But if the Cowboys have any plans to draft a receiver he'll probably be the guy to go.

Cletis Gordan - He was a practice squad player and probably won't be back next season if the Cowboys draft any DB's they decide to keep.

Pat McQuistan - I think his time is up. He had a golden opportunity this season to get on the field but he couldn't beat out Doug Free for playing time. He probably needs to go since Robert Brewster will be back from injury to provide depth at tackle.

Duke Preston - I don't see the Cowboys making a move to keep a guy who couldn't make the active roster last season. He is a big guy but he is 27 and hasn't done anything to show he is worth keeping.

Cory Procter - I was done with this guy after his disastrous 2008 season. But the Cowboys love his ability to play guard and center. The problem is that he is terrible when he gets on the field. I'd like to see him go but I'll bet the Cowboys keep him again.

Gerald Sensabaugh - This is an easy one for me. Sensabaugh proved he is a good player last season. The Cowboys need to get him under contract and consider their options at free safety. I'm not sure Ken Hamlin will be back but I'll be surprised if they don't hold on to Sensabaugh.

Junior Siavii - The Cowboys may need to bring Siavii back to protect themselves in case they can't find a good backup nose tackle in the draft. Siavii is a decent fill in for Jay Ratliff. I think Siavii comes back but may end up traded or cut depending on how the draft goes for the Cowboys.

Marcus Spears - This is another easy one. Spears is great against the run which is his primary role in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. I'll be shocked if the Cowboys don't get Spears under contract for next season.

Pat Watkins - I think Pat is done with the Cowboys. He has been a solid special teams contributor, but Mike Hamlin is waiting in the wings to provide youth and potential at safety. We know what Watkins is at this point in his career and keeping him would limit the progress of Mike Hamlin. I think Watkins will be with a new team next year.

Overall there are a few key players that have to come back. Miles Austin, Marcus Spears, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Stephen Bowen have to be retained in my opinion. The rest of the guys are expendable and the Cowboys could go either way with them depending on what they think of the players from last year's draft and what they plan to do in this years draft. I expect the Cowboys to make offers to the majority of the RFA's to cover their bases in the event that things don't go as planned in the draft. Then some of them may be cut or traded if the Cowboys find better options.