Monday, June 14, 2010

Players in Limbo

The uncapped year in the NFL has put a few players in unique situations as we head towards training camp. Patrick Crayton, Marcus Spears, and Sam Hurd are still unsure of their futures. The extension on the years of service required to earn free agency has allowed to Cowboys to essentially low ball Marcus Spears. Patrick Crayton is feeling the effects because the Cowboys can afford to keep him as an insurance policy even with his $2 million base salary and Dez Bryant now ahead of him on the depth chart. Sam Hurd is in a similar situation to Crayton with Dez on the roster and also had no way out of Dallas since he was limited by his restricted free agency status.

Marcus Spears probably was insulted early on when the Cowboys tendered him at a lower salary than both of his back ups at defensive end. You can't blame the guy for being a little irritated by the way things played out. But he has had a great attitude about the situation. The NFL is a business after all and you can't blame the Cowboys for taking the frugal approach when the rules allow for it. I respect Marcus Spears for going about his business like a true professional even while the money on the table is somewhat insulting. But he understood what a lot of us regular Joes understand...$1.226 million dollars for playing football is nothing to complain about. Not many people are going to join in if you throw a pity party for yourself with money like that coming to you.

The bottom line for Marcus Spears is that he is a victim of the unsettled situation between the players and owners. He is a starting quality player but he isn't so good that the Cowboys feel like they can't win without him. The result is a low salary, one year offer. Spears is a very good run defender. Pass rush from DE's in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme is hard to judge. No DE in the Cowboys defense will put up big sack numbers as long as they stick with the current defense.

So Spears will probably end up starting if he can fend off Bowen and Hatcher in training camp. He'll be the starter and be paid less than his backups. It is obviously an unfair situation but if he plays another year at a high level he might get more money somewhere else next year. Fortunately for all of the fans of the Cowboys it looks like Spears is more concerned with winning than he is with money.

Patrick Crayton's situation is different. He entered the offseason as the #3 receiver even though he was more productive with fewer opportunities than last years #2 receiver, Roy Williams. Crayton is a solid pro. He runs excellent routes, has great chemistry with Tony Romo, and he does a good job fielding punts. He lacks the explosiveness of a top tier receiver or returner but he plays above his natural ability with good fundamentals.

Crayton finally showed up to work with the team last week and seems to have finally accepted the reality of his situation. While he has made public comments that implied he wanted out of Dallas he didn't really have any leverage to work with. The Cowboys want Crayton on the team to provide depth and experience and there is very little trade value for a 31-year-old, average at best receiver. So Crayton also appears stuck in Dallas at least until the Cowboys decide whether they want to keep him for another season. I do understand Crayton's complaints about getting his family settled if he on his way. But the millions of dollars he has made more than make up for the inconvenience of dealing with any uncertainty he might face if released.

Sam Hurd is hanging on by a thin thread. If Crayton stays that puts the number of quality receivers ahead of Hurd at 5 if you put Kevin Ogletree in that mix. But Hurd is taking the professional approach that Spears is taking. Hurd is going to work hard and try to win is roster spot. The odds are stacked against him but he is a lot younger than Crayton so he might be able to stay if he can stay healthy. Hurd is 5 years younger than Crayton and he has kept his mouth shut about his situation. Jerry Jones has shown over the last few years that he isn't going to let malcontents hang around to poison his locker room.

You have to feel a little sympathy for all three of these guys. They have all worked hard and contributed to the success of the team over the last few years. And none of them are at the point in their careers where their skills are eroding. But the NFL is a business and it is a young man's game. The labor dispute and the young talent on the roster are going to keep Spears, Crayton, and Hurd in limbo until the end of training camp.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cowboys Have Good Super Bowl Odds

It is certainly extremely early in the process but it is interesting to take a look at what the oddsmakers think of the Dallas Cowboys chances to regain Super Bowl glory. The Cowboys are currently ranked as anywhere from the 3rd to the 6th most likely team to win it all in the Super Bowl XLV depending on which betting line you consult. They are almost unanimously picked as the 2nd best NFC team behind the Saints. Yahoo! Sports has a list of the odds to win the Super Bowl for every NFL team.

Do these betting odds really mean anything? Not really. But they do offer a chance to cash in on the performance of the team if you are so inclined to spend your money in that way. I like to look at the NFL Odds as a reference point for setting realistic expectations for next season.

The flaws in the Cowboys roster have been discussed and analyzed in so much detail at this point that it almost feels like the Cowboys are hurting from a talent standpoint. But in reality, the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters across the board in the entire NFL. Left tackle is still an unknown (but I like the multiple options on the roster) and safety falls in the same category. Kicker may or may not be an issue depending on the development of David Beuhler.

After that what can you complain about? The 4th cornerback on the roster? I'm not saying that the 4th cornerback isn't important but most teams have a lot more issues than Dallas. Even the mighty Saints have some serious holes to fill after the departures from their defense and the unknown health of Darren Sharper's knee.

As usual with the upcoming season the biggest factor in Cowboys chances will be on the injury front. Tony Romo and Demarcus Ware are irreplaceable. If either of those guys go down to injury you can probably cancel your Super Bowl plans. But I like the depth everywhere on the roster heading into the season. There are multiple options for depth at nearly every position. Of course if the injury bug of 2008 returns then it really doesn't matter how much depth is on the roster. You can have a few backups fill in but any team no matter how talented has to be a little bit lucky on the injury front to win the Super Bowl.

I like the makeup of the roster more than I did entering the 2007 season. And that year I decided to spend my $20 in gambling money on my trip to the casino on a bet for the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl. Obviously I'm not a big gambler with a $20 limit but if I am going to bet it is going to be on my faith in my team. I like the Cowboys chances at this point. It is still early and a lot can change between now and September. But things are looking promising. Maybe I'll put my money where my mouth is and put another $20 on my team.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sometimes Injuries Can Be A Good Thing

It is never good to hear that players are going to be missing offseason workouts. It means that there is less time for the offense or defense to mesh as a unit. That would be a problem in most cases, but I think the relatively minor injuries the Cowboys are dealing with are actually going to help them in the long run.

Let's start with Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick broke the left index finger on his left hand last week and required surgery to insert a pin to help the finger heal. That means he can't get out there and practice with the defense until the start of training camp. But the Cowboys have a giant hole in the depth chart behind Scandrick. Now there will be a legitimite battle for the #4 cornerback spot because Scandrick's replacements will get plenty of first team reps. Most of the time the younger guys don't get to work with the starters. The coaches now get a real chance to evaluate the younger cornerbacks on the roster. Maybe they will find someone who can fill the role or maybe they will realize they need to go out and sign a free agent. The injury forces them to take a long, hard look at the #4 cornerback now instead of during training camp.

Keith Brooking had a minor clean out surgery on his knee and will miss a few weeks of OTA's while he recovers. Brooking is a veteran and probably could play the position with his eyes closed at this point in his career. So now Jason Williams and Sean Lee can get on the field with the first teamers to get some quality reps. Both guys get a chance to really learn the defense and start the battle that will probably be resolved in training camp.

Now obviously I don't want to continue to see guys getting hurt. But I don't think it hurts when a veteran guy like Bradie James misses a couple of days because it gives the younger guys more reps. As good as the Cowboys were last season they lacked depth at several positions. They got lucky with injuries but they can't count on that again this year. The younger guys need to be ready to step up when their number is called.