Sunday, March 27, 2011

Delayed Start to Free Agency Changes Everything

Don't be fooled by the big media writers and talking heads telling you that the only thing that will be different this year is that the offseason will start later than usual. For guys who are about to become free agents this is going to change everything. And for the teams who have players they aren't sure they want to keep it gives the opportunity to address needs in the draft first.

Think about a guy like Marc Colombo. The Cowboys are unsure if they want to bring Colombo back next season. In the past, the they would have made that decision in March or early April. But now the Cowboys can see how the draft plays out before deciding if Colombo will be part of the team next year. Maybe the Cowboys draft Tyron Smith, the tackle from USC, in the first round. Tyron could start at either tackle spot if he is as good as advertised. Marc Colombo can probably say his goodbyes if Tyron is drafted.

And in the same scenario, think about a guy like Doug Free. The Cowboys obviously want Free to be back next season. But let's say the Cowboys pick Tyron Smith. Now they have Colombo, Free and Smith as potential starters next season. Doug Free loses some leverage because the Cowboys have drafted a player that is capable of stepping in immediately at left tackle if Doug Free overvalues himself in free agency. The Cowboys would probably still bring back Free but I'll bet Free loses a few million dollars in the process. Losing a few million is easy for me to write but probably a lot tougher for a player to swallow.

The same logic applies to several other positions as well. At safety the Cowboys are really hurting. But they have already had talks prior to the lockout with Sensabaugh's agent about bringing him back. Sensabaugh thinks he has a much bigger market value than the Cowboys do. But what if the Cowboys draft Rahim Moore from UCLA in round 2? Maybe the Cowboys think about plugging in Moore at free safety and rolling the dice with Barry Church on the strong side. Just like with the tackle position, drafting a safety would give the Cowboys leverage in negotiating with Sensabaugh whenever free agency does finally begin.

And think about guys who the Cowboys would like to have back but aren't completely convinced that they need to have. I'm talking about players like Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Kyle Kosier. Depending on how the draft plays out there is a good chance that these guys will lose any chance to be back next season. Don't tell these guys that starting free agency after the draft won't make a difference.

I'm still really frustrated with the lockout. I will be happy when this ridiculous battle over $9.3 billion is over. Both sides aren't doing anything to get a deal done which, to me, means they are both to blame. We should find out in the next couple of weeks if the lockout will be allowed to continue or if the teams will be forced to open the league to the players again. But there is no telling how long it will take for the new league year and free agency to start. Odds are stacked against free agency taking place before the draft. But, on a positive note, I do think the delay in the start of free agency could work to the Cowboys advantage in the end.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Take on the Lock Out

I can't believe it has actually come to this. I guess I gave the owners and players too much credit in thinking that they couldn't possibly be dumb enough to shut down the NFL. But here we are. And both sides are to blame. The player's have some demands that are bordering on outrageous. The owners seemed to wait until the last minute to make a real offer to the players before the negotiating stopped on Friday.

At this point I am just pissed off. I know the "experts" keep telling us that nothing has really happened until regular season games are jeopardized. The "experts" are wrong.

Free agency was supposed to be well under way at this point. Offseason workouts should be under way. Young players should be building up their strength and size. Players with injuries are no longer working with the team medical staffs to rehab. New coaches are supposed to be meeting with their players to start teaching them the new systems.

ESPN and the rest of the "experts" can say that a delayed free agency doesn't hurt anything. But that is flat out wrong. The entire offseason dynamic changes if the teams don't get to address roster needs prior to the draft. I have a hard time believing the Cowboys wouldn't change their draft plans if they were able to sign a veteran safety prior to the draft. Free agency getting delayed until after the draft is a very big deal.

Players like Dez Bryant who aren't fully recovered from injuries during the season or offseason surgeries are on their own in their rehab. While some guys are driven to get themselves back into top shape there are players who need the push from the training staff to recover. I have no doubt that Dez will be working hard but there are guys who will only do what is required of them.

Any team with major coaching changes are put at a huge disadvantage the longer the lockout continues. Rob Ryan was able to meet with several of the Cowboys players prior to the lockout to get a head start but imagine how much more prepared the defense would be for training camp if the entire defense was installed over the summer.

There have to be free agents who are quietly steaming about the actions of the NFLPA in these negotiations. About 500 players were set to hit the free agent market. How many of them were counting on the signing bonuses that usually come with a new contract? That certainly gives the owners some leverage. It is just a matter of time until we hear players complaining about the situation they are in.

This is the most disappointed I have ever been in both the players and the owners. The owners say they want to get back to negotiating. The players haven't been willing to get back to the table at this point. That is absurd. Turning this thing into a legal battle in the courts could drag it out for months. Both sides need put their giant egos aside, sit back down at the negotiating table, and work out a deal.

It is sad that the owners and players both seem to have forgotten who supplies the $9 billion they are fighting over. It is the fans who make the game so profitable. They wouldn't get huge TV deals if the fans weren't watching. We are blindly pay the outrageous ticket prices. And we buy our favorite team's gear so we can proudly show our allegiance to our team. That seems to have been lost in all of this.

The longer both sides force this thing to drag out the more money they are costing themselves.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Depth - Tight Ends

In this post I'll take a look at the tight end position heading into (hopefully) the start of free agency very soon. If the Cowboys stand pat at this position I don't think they will get many complaints from any fans. But I'm not sure how much longer the coaches will be willing to tolerate the immaturity of Martellus Bennett and I don't know if Marty B. will continue to be happy playing second fiddle to Jason Witten.

Jason Witten - Do I really need to say anything here? Witten is the best all-around tight end in the NFL. He is well on his way to a hall of fame career. And he is a great team leader both on and off the football field. There are some idiots talking about trading Witten while his value is at its peak but the Cowboys cannot seriously consider trading one of the core players on the roster. Witten will most likely retire a Cowboy.

Martellus Bennett - Where do I start? On one hand, Martellus is an excellent blocker. He is reliable both as a run blocker and as a pass blocker. But the Cowboys thought they were getting a play maker when the used a 2nd round pick on Marty B. back in 2008. You can argue that he hasn't been given enough opportunities to show what he can do as a receiver but I think it was easy to see that he has already lost a lot of the quickness and athleticism over the last two years by gaining too much weight. Maybe the coaches have asked him to put on weight so he can be a more effective blocker, but the added weight has definitely slowed him down. Martellus believes he can be a starter somewhere else. And maybe he is right. If the price is right I wouldn't mind seeing the Cowboys trade Martellus Bennett given the fact that John Phillips should be back at 100% heading into next season.

John Phillips - Last preseason Phillips was starting to emerge as a force in the passing game. It looked like he had a real shot to unseat Marty B. as the #2 tight end. But then the dreaded ACL injury happened and Phillips was lost for the season. He seems to be everything Martellus is not. A hard worker, a guy who pays attention to detail and a receiver who has the trust of his quarterbacks. Phillips needs to improve as a blocker but he added about 15 pounds of muscle between his first and second season and he has had a long time to work on his strength since he missed the entire 2010 season. I think there will be a good battle between Martellus and Phillips this year in training camp if the Cowboys don't trade Martellus this offseason. I expect Phillips to eventually overtake Martellus as the #2 tight end.

Martin Rucker - Rucker got a shot last season thanks to the injuries the Cowboys sustained at tight end. He has no shot of making the roster next year if the Cowboys keep Martellus. If the Cowboys do trade Bennett I expect there to be more competition for Rucker in training camp from either a free agent or new draft pick.

Overall the tight end position is one of the greatest positions of strength for the Cowboys. I'll be happy either way if they decide to keep or trade Martellus Bennett. It would probably make the most sense to keep the trio of Witten, Bennett, and Phillips together for at least one more season and focus the offseason roster moves on greater areas of need.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Depth - Running Backs

The Cowboys seemed to be on the verge of releasing Marion Barber just a few days ago but now it appears they will be keeping him around. With that move the Cowboys have made a big statement about where they plan to go with the running back situation this offseason. It appears they will try to keep all three guys around or maybe shop Tashard Choice during the draft and pick up a new back. I'm torn on what the Cowboys should do at this point but, if any of the three were to go, I was hoping it would be Marion Barber based on his age, injuries and declining level of play.

Felix Jones - Felix finally got a chance to start this year and proved that he isn't a complete running back. Sure, he has speed to burn and can break off the big run, but he isn't the best inside runner so it makes it difficult to put the bulk of the running game on Felix's back. Heading into last season Felix put on some extra muscle weight to try to prepare for the increased work load and punishment he would take during the season. Unfortunately the extra weight may have contributed to his lack of explosive plays in 2010. Now he is planning to get back to his original playing weight from his first two seasons so hopefully the big play will become his game again. I love Felix as a complementary back, but it is hard to imagine the Cowboys relying too much on him in the running game throughout the course of next season.

Marion Barber - I have soured on Barber over the last two seasons due to his injuries and his attitude. I love his passion on the field, but I don't like his immature attitude with the media and the off field garbage he was involved in at the NBA All Star game. But just when you want to call him a bad guy he goes and donates $500,000 worth of computers to the Dallas school district. I don't know if anyone will ever understand Marion Barber. If Barber can regain his health and get back his explosiveness he is the perfect part of a 1-2 punch with Felix Jones. But the odds that Barber will regain his form of 2-3 years ago are very long. If nothing else Barber does provide a great short yardage option and third down back thanks to his excellent blitz pick up ability.

Tashard Choice - Choice is another guy I really have mixed emotions about. Sure, he is probably the most complete back of the three on the roster. He is good at everything but great at nothing. And that is the thing that keeps him off the field. Felix Jones has explosive speed. Marion Barber is great in short yardage and as a pass blocker. Choice seems to believe that he should get a shot at being the starter. And maybe he is right. But last season he didn't show anything that would make you believe he should be anything but the #3 back on the roster. That is why I am hoping the Cowboys are shopping him in for a trade. Choice has tried to remain positive but you can sense that his frustrations with his playing time are ready to boil over. You can't blame him for wanting to play but the guys ahead of him will continue to make his playing time scarce if they are healthy. I would love to keep Choice as the #3 guy but only if he can accept whatever role the coaches choose for him.

Running back for the Cowboys is a tough position to evaluate. They seem to need some help but you have to wonder how much of the struggles in the running game are actually the fault of the running backs since the offensive line was so bad in 2010. With all of the glaring needs on the roster I have to believe that running back is one of the positions that the Cowboys feel they don't necessarily have to address this offseason. I expect the Cowboys to keep the same trio of backs heading into next season.