Draft Hype: A Hapless Endeavor

After the furious player movement that opened the league year, the NFL has gone almost quiet in recent weeks. Unless you’re interested in owners’ meetings or players in attendance of other sporting events, it’s a good time to explore one of your other hobbies. With no games, practice, or even permitted interactions between coaches and players, most football junkies are left to obsess over the upcoming draft. Sadly, all of the energy put into this event by fans, bloggers, and even the biggest of talking head names is an utter waste of time.

In the spring vacuum of football news, information must be generated to give readers their fix, their material. This largely comes in the form of mock drafts, made easy through generators on every major sports website. Any fan with a semblance of an opinion can make a mock draft. Some make them everyday. The news networks use them as teasers before ad breaks. The “gurus” make several revisions and reveal them slowly so there is always somethi- breaking news! Joe Retiredquarterback has dropped the top ranked quarterback after meeting him in Vegas over the weekend and experiencing his weak handshake. “No way a grip like that can handle an NFL ball, much less a Lombardi trohphy.” -@JoeRetiredQB. Looks like there’s been a ‘shake up at the top of the charts.

The main problem with a mock draft is that it is rarely very accurate. It is just not possible for a journalist, much less a fan, to understand what 32 different organizations are going to do throughout such a long and complex process. Between the trades that occur and all the surprise picks each year, there shouldn’t be any hope to get it right. Teams keep secret the way they value players in the name of competition and no matter their history in the draft, these rankings rarely see the light of day. But if they do, you can guarantee they belong to Jerry Jones.

Yet, everybody and their dad still simulates the action in hopes of seeing their preferred players on their team. That guy that keeps talking about his mock draft is like a guy who tells you about his fantasy football team, running down an imaginary roster of names whose collection mean nothing. Until true journalism and social media create an omnipotent force for predicting the draft order, the pre-draft hype won’t deserve interest.

If it isn’t a mock draft, it’s a manufactured authority’s latest position rankings. How so many people watch a suit on TV reveal the next player in their arbitrary rundown is amazing. When more than one list is available, they always seem to conveniently clash for instigation. Folks deserve better than this. Too much of the story is lost when the players get used as little objects to be lined up according to merit. The basis of such has been wrong year after year and ought to be reconsidered. Each year, players are chosen in the late rounds and go on to become stars. The faces of the Super Bowl this past year, Tom Brady and Richard Sherman, were found in the back end of the draft. On the flip side, many first round draft picks are considered busts before their first contract expires. Expectations for these selections have soared and a few famous faces of failure, Ryan Leaf and Jamarcus Russell, will never let us forget the shame of those that didn’t pan out.

Cowboy fans know full well not to expect the expected. Jerry Jones has averaged three trades in every four seasons during his reign as Cowboys’ GM. His pre-draft press conference was already surprising when he downsized the need for a running back and tipped his hand regarding a desire to trade. Worrying about pick number 27 is futile. If the trade is made, every single mock draft that was made in the last three months goes out the window. If not, the selection will not likely be a popular one.

Despite the draft-related pessimism, there is plenty to look forward to tonight. The team of Jason Garrett, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay have shown to be one of the top, if not the best, units in the league at getting a good haul come draft weekend. They showed some serious heart in stopping Jerry from getting Johnny Manziel last year. Instead, they drafted a Pro Bowl player, as has become the usual. All of the roster work that has been done to ensure the ability to draft the best player available will come to a head as the team operates without a specific position of need.

The results of the draft will not be immediate as they take several years to play out. It should be viewed as a launching point into getting to know your team’s new players, or rivals. The fabricated anticipation for the draft, as a culmination of some sort, is performed by the media in a cheap hoax to maintain the public’s attention. Don’t fall for it. Instead, strengthen your handshake and get ready to meet your newest Dallas Cowboys!

Potential Breakout Cowboys in 2015

The 2015 Dallas Cowboy roster has been mostly assembled at this point. A new crop will come through the draft and subsequent rookie free agency, but most of those players rarely pan out, especially in their first season. That makes this a good time to make an educated guess at which players on the current roster could have a breakout season this fall.
Lance Dunbar
With a lot of question about who will replace Demarco Murray as the bell cow back, Dunbar could expand his role as the change of pace back if he can start hitting on those big plays that he teases with every time he touches the ball. While those opportunities are far and few between, they could increase with the returner positions opened up after Dwayne Harris’ departure. In a “running back by committee” scenario, screen passes and big holes could fulfill the lofty expectation teammates such as Dez Bryant see for Dunbar. Like teammate Cole Beasley, he looks too small for the league, but with his speed and the line that will be blocking for him there is no reason to think he can’t become a consistent contributor. Injury and legal questions surround the other backs all but ensuring a chance for Lance Dunbar to become a home run hitter.
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Gavin Escobar
A troubling trend seems to be forming at Valley Ranch that sees the Cowboys draft a quality tight end only to see that player kept on the bench by the insatiable Jason Witten. When the player doesn’t have any stats by his name, he ends up a roster sacrifice and on another team where he plays well. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to Gavin Escobar. He is a serious red zone passing threat, exemplified in a two touchdown game against the Giants. Commitment to the run and an unusually talented offense have limited Escobar thus far, but his tremendous size and soft hands make him a great weapon for Romo. At some point Jason Witten must slow down and it would be a shame if Escobar weren’t there to replace him.

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J.J. Wilcox
Having learned how to play safety on the job, J.J. Wilcox is coming into his own as a defender. With experience at receiver, the team hopes to utilize his hand skills and turn him into a ball hawk. He has shown a tendency to really lay some wood on opponents and even create some unnecessary contact. The problem in his game so far has been taking poor angles. Game tape should help make that an easy fix and the Cowboys could finally have their replacement for Darren Sharper. Not too many safeties in the league are stars, but don’t doubt that Wilcox could catapult himself into that conversation if he starts taking the right angles and finishing the plays he is always so close to making.
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Demarcus Lawrence
A bit of cheater on this list, Demarcus Lawrence began breaking out last year. After missing most of his rookie season with an injury, he came in when the weather was getting cold and did nothing but improve each game. He eventually took over the end of the Lions game in the playoffs. With another season of training and learning from Coach Marinelli, Lawrence should become what the front office saw in him when they traded up to get him in the second round. He will need an impressive season to warrant the term breakout, but 10 or more sacks is not out of the question for the young fella. Greg Hardy should help alleviate some pressure and show him some tips as he develops into a star.
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Morris Claiborne
This is it. His last chance. It’s out on a limb to put Mo Claiborne on this list, but considering the Cowboys have had the best statistical drafting results in the entire league for the last decade, it can’t be thought that the Cowboys traded up so far to get him without good reason. He has had ample time to prepare mentally for Marinelli’s scheme so that will not be an excuse for the questioned mind of Mo Claiborne. The ball skills he showed in college could really help to backfire opposing quarterbacks who target him. He has never been off the charts when measuring his athleticism, but the Marinelli defense doesn’t not require that out of cornerbacks. If Claiborne can’t repair the damaged reputation that his injuries and poor play have earned him, then he will forever be remembered as one of the rare draft busts of this Dallas Cowboys era. No pressure, Mo.
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This Week in Cowboy Football 4/4

It has been an eventful week for the Dallas Cowboys, especially considering the usual quiet this time of year. As is so often in life, the team’s action gave reason for satisfication, but also caution.

The biggest news of the week was the re-signing of middle linebacker Rolando McClain. His physical presence paired next to Sean Lee’s athleticism ought to be a dazzling sight this fall. A strong linebacking corps will aid the pass rush as well as the secondary. With McClain anchoring a now deep and talented unit, that expectation can be had. A group of the Cowboy fanbase are uneasy about the issues McClain has had, but they can be comforted by yet another team friendly deal. Should McClain have an issue that keeps him from playing, Hitchens, Wilber or Brinkley should be able to slide in keep things flush, while the team won’t be paying a player who isn’t playing.

In the financial side of things, Tony Romo restructured his contract yet again. The move opened up eight figures to cover expenses. Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy stand to command a good slice of the salary cap should they max out their performance on the field and vicariously their salaries. The rookie class will need about $5 million to get everyone signed. Now that Romo has helped open things up, there will be room to cover all this. If Hardy and McClain don’t pan out, the savings can help the team in the future. The worrisome side of Romo’s restructure fears the extended commitment to the franchise quarterback. Behind the young offensive line, he should be fine until he wants to retire. But if severe injury occurs this season and the tough-as-nails veteran somehow can’t go on, the team will be out more money. However, history has shown us that Tony Romo will do anything in his power to help the Dallas Cowboys. And let’s be honest, the team will be reeling no matter the situation when Romo hangs em up.

In an intriguing bit of news, the Cowboys signed a 6’6″, 250lb defensive lineman from the British American Football league named Efe Obada. With the wingspan of Jadaveon Clowney and an explosive burst that would impress most any coach at The Combine, he stands to be a serious talent if he can prove to be coachable. He is raw and new to the game, but will have time to learn. Possibly too much of a project for most teams, the former London grocer will have his shot with the Dallas Cowboys.

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Jason Garrett, The Man

In honor of this past weekend’s birthday boy, and in effort to fill the offseason lull without senseless draft hype, it’s perfect time to take a few moments and appreciate the man largely responsible for the positive change that has been occurring for the Dallas Cowboys organization. Since becoming head coach in 2010, Jason Garrett has been an agent of change in regards to the way the Cowboys do business. Holding one of the most difficult jobs in professional sports, Garrett has found a middle ground between tradition and innovation, consistency and surprise. He has towed the line between being the Yes Man that makes Jerry Jones feel important and being the whisper of reason in his ear when he needs a nudge in the right direction. Working with Stephen Jones, he has had success in performing the GM duties that trouble the 21st-century version of Jerry Jones. Said success has further warranted the Jason and Stephen team to make more decisions. At this point, the perception has become that Jerry okays decisions before they are made, but that his crack team in the front office are performing a majority of the duties.

Jason Calvin Garrett was born on March 28,1966 in Abington, PN. He did his schooling in Ohio until attending college at Princeton to major in history. He became quarterback of the football team and earned the Ivy League Player of the Year Award. He still holds the record for completion percentage, displaying the focus on efficiency for which he strives.

The young Princeton grad signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent in 1989. When that didn’t pan out, he took the helm for the San Antonio Riders of the WLAF in 1991, but finished the season in Canada as a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders. Something happened in 1992 as Jason bounced back from a downward trend and, by 1993, had found himself not only in the NFL, but on the Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys. No doubt he uses stories from his experience that year to encourage young players not to give up.

Fulfilling the third string quarterback duties, Jason earned a Super Bowl ring that first year as the Cowboys ran over the entire league. He would attain a second one in 1995 when the team avenged their predecessors from the 70’s as they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to win a then league-best fifth Super Bowl. He would hold the position for the rest of the decade, moving up to second string on the depth chart in 1998. He started five games, going 3-2, while Troy Aikman was out during the ’98 season. His shining moment came when he came in the traditional Thanksgiving game and led a 2nd half comeback over the Green Bay Packers in a game that has become a favorite memory of Cowboy historians. For a coach that preaches the importance of seizing oppurtunity, he sure set a precedent that day.

In a dark time for him, Garrett was the back-up quarterback for the New York Giants from 2000-2003. In 2004, he went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then the Miami Dolphins before retiring. It was in Tamp Bay that he first met and worked with Monte Kiffin and the whole Tampa-2 gang that he brought in to set the tone of the Cowboys return to the 4-3 scheme in 2013.

In 2005 and 2006 he broke into coaching as the quarterbacks coach for the Dolphins under Nick Saban. It was then that the two formed a bond, allowing Garrett to call on him to retrieve his opinion on players like Rolando McClain. When Bill Parcells retired, and Wade Phillips fell into the Cowboy head coaching spot, Garrett returned to the team with which he had spent the majority of his entire football career. He was made the offensive coordinator, and although the roster was built by Parcells, the unit soared to 3rd best in the league behind the red hot Tony Romo. This success brought several interviews and offers for head coaching positions around the league for Garrett, but he always stayed a Cowboy. It certainly didn’t hurt that he was being paid better than any other coordinator at the time.

After the team imploded in the fall of 2010, Jason Garrett was made the interim head coach when Phillips was shown the door. Finally, in 2011 he was made the official head coach and saw the team achieve increasingly frustrating 8-8 seasons capped with playoff teases. This past season the team broke out and won the division and a wildcard playoff game to earn Garrett a 5-year extension.

Jason Garrett is steeped in Cowboys history and can remind the fans from yesteryear of Tom Landry in his poise and influence. Bringing back the 4-3 defense and focusing on the running game show his focus on the past. Managing the media spin in his words and through his players’ indicate an understanding of the reality of the present. Stern cap decisions and commitment to drafting the right players show a focus on the future. Jerry Jones would love to have Garrett be the last coach he ever hires, and nothing looks like that can’t be true.

A unique aspect to Garrett’s style is the respect he shows to his players, while maintaining high expectations for them. He acts as a leader, not as a boss. To get a better understanding of his message, listen to the famous training camp speech from 2013. He speaks like a motivational speaker with some football coach flare. He is positive and demanding. The philosophy he lays out is applicable outside of football in most any industry or even one’s personal life.

Looking around the league, it’s hard to find too many coaches that are clearly better at their job. Bill Bellicheck has done what he does for a long time now, but any of the handful of others you would likely hear are mostly thought of because they have been to a Super Bowl or two. None of them could out-coach Garrett handidly. As the team has grown, so has Garrett’s in-game decision making. The days of icing his own kicker are over and as Garrett grows, so will the team. In many ways, it looks as if the sky is the limit for the red haired one.

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This Week in Cowboy Football 3/28

It’s been a slow week after the excitement that kicked off free agency. The team has not signed or released anyone this week. What news that hit the presses came from the owners’ meetings in Arizona. Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have answered some questions, but no news of real importance was covered.

As the rules committee went over this year’s revisions, it was affirmed that under the tweaked rules going forward, Dez Bryant still did not catch the ball in Green Bay. Jason Garrett voiced his opinion on the matter. In classic form, he supported his players and the game, but found a way to make his case to the big wigs. Appealing to their wallets, he said the ruling “robbed the league of an instant-classic.” He knows how to get the attention of his boss and has delivered enough to earn more trust than his predecessors.

While many pour of draft analysis and highlight reels, others are assessing the roster to get an idea of what kind of player the team is looking for as they ready for the season at hand. The acquisition of Greg Hardy followed by Anthony Spencer’s public flirting with old fling Rob Ryan and his New Orleans Saints suggests the team feels set at defensive end. With Nick Hayden, Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Josh Brenth, Ken Bishop, Chris Whaley, and Amobi Okoye the team has plenty of bodies at defensive tackle. That turns the attention of the famous plan to fix the defense to the back seven. Sean Lee will be lining up on the weak side to preserve his health and Rolando McClain should sign a contract after the judgement is made on a possible 18-day jail sentence for the unfortunate middle linebacker. Plenty of depth at linebacker leaves the Cowboys only in search of a difference making starter. The secondary is where questions and open roster spots abound. It is there we can expect some new faces in the draft and afterwards.

On offense, the team will add depth at most every position outside of tight end. The right quarterback could be brought in to compete with Vaughn and Weeden. Another running back would only challenge the four currently on the roster and make the position extremely competitive. The top receivers in Bryant, Williams, and Beasley could use some insurance behind them. Lastly, the offensive line will return all five starters but be without the depth they did last season. Expect a big boy blocker and a ball carrier.

Division Watch
Across the division there has been slowed action as well. The Giants are quietly trying to get stronger and harness the magic they did four years ago, and four years before that. The Eagles are still the talk of the hype specialists and media spinners selling hope in a system so bizarre that “it must work”. The Redskins are still trying to dig themselves out of despair, but with little success as they seem happy to move on from the quarterback they gave up so much to acquire.

Stephen and the Cap

While we look back on the beginning of free agency and wait for the draft to complete the 2015 roster, it’s a good time to look at how Stephen Jones has become a very good manager of the salary cap. We can look back at the process that has brought the team to where it is and appreciate the evidence for confidence going forward. Stephen Jones has attacked the troubled financial situation the team was in on several fronts. It is safe to assume that the Jones family has the resources to figure out a way to get on top of most any financial situation, and the NFL salary cap is a rather simple one in comparison to other economic markets. Stephen has become a chip off the old block in that regard.

Looking back at just a few milestones, Stephen Jones’ input can be seen increasing since 2010. When the team signed Brandon Carr to an expensive contract he expressed acknowledgement of the overpay, but that it was necessary. Since then, the team has made more prudent moves in free agency. No players from the top of their market have been signed until Greg Hardy last week. His case is a special one, and his contract involves little risk for the team.

The players who have been signed have been seen as quality backups or temporary starters to fill the role until a homegrown player was ready. Examples include Mackenzie Bernardeau, Will Allen, Justin Durant, and George Selvie. Rolando McClain was another player the team gave a second chance to while risking hardly anything. He played very well when on the field and if the team and his agent can find the right contract he could be a force in the middle of the defense with Sean Lee. If not, he will have served his role far better than expected, spelling the team while Lee recovered from injury and Hitchens got his wits about him as a pro.

The Cowboy players who became free agents, and commanded more money than what they could produce on the field, have been released or allowed to sign elsewhere. Demarcus Ware was the most coldhearted decision Stephen had to make and although it was the right one, the pain will only be erased the day he retires a Cowboy on a one-day contract. After this offseason the list of talented, but overly expensive veterans, who have not been retained, has grown long and includes Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Demarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Jeremy Parnel, and Dwayne Harris. Good teams have to allow players to move on, as it is all a part of The Process.

The highest paid players have often participated in restructuring their contracts to allow for more spending money in the current year. The downside is that it commits the team to the player for longer term. The clearest example is that this year Romo’s league-high $27 million could be brought down significantly to afford other players, but it would require the team be committed to him for several years. If they cough up the big cash this year, then should Romo suffer a career-ending injury or win a Super Bowl and want to retire on top, the team won’t be paying him to sit at home. Tyron Smith restructured this year, but he seems to be a safe long term bet. Jason Witten, Miles, Austin, Demarcus Ware and others have restructured in the past.

Stephen jones operates the salary cap with trust in the team’s ability to build through the draft. Since 2010 the Cowboys have been one of the best drafting teams in the league. Garrett’s new focus on the draft and the expertise of Will McClay have paid of handsomely. The three first round offensive linemen (Smith, Frederick, and Martin) are the highlights but Wilcox, Hitchens, Carter, Murray, Randle, Crawford, Lawrence, Williams, Harris, and Escobar have all proven to be contributors capable of making an impact. Jerry Jones famously trusted his team of Stephen, Garret, and McClay in this new era, highlighted by the choice to skip drafting the available Johnny Manziel. While not every player has been retained, keeping and maximizing their high picks has paid off. Without this base, there would not be faith to let skilled vets go.

A smart way to maximize the cap space is to find bargain players. A player with a skilled history of on field production can be gotten below market value if there are debilitating factors like injury, off the field issues, or a recent down year. Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer were gotten on the cheap after knee injuries. Rolando McClain signed a cheap deal after his unique double retirement. Greg Hardy was signed for an extremely cheap minimum and will literally have to prove it to get his payday. Should he earn the incentives, his contribution will have been worth the price. These players haven’t necessarily always been kept. Like a cheap free agent veteran, the guys who get “prove it” deals are only there until a draftee is ready to step in.

After the team has created a base of solid draft picks, they then need to turn attention to signings those players with expiring rookie contracts to new deals. The earlier you lock in a player at an expensive position, the cheaper he can be had. Tyron Smith’s contract for 10 years pays less than the top players at his position and will be of incredible value as he continues to grow toward being arguably the best left tackle in football, while getting paid well below market value. Many have pointed to when the team helped him with some personal and financial issues as a rookie that urged him to give back to the team. The rest of the young line, Terrence Williams, and Demarcus Lawrence could be players who take team friendly deals in the future. Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick were homegrown guys who received solid deals early and now play at a level on the field that makes them a bargain to have.

It is remembered that Al Davis chased the fastest players out of college and it failed to produce. Jason Garrett calls his players the Right Kind of Guys to highlight the importance of the mind in football, not just the body. They are NFL athletes so it is understood they’ll be physically capable. But having guys who buy into the mission and will to do their best, leading the way for the team to do the same, is how you succeed in a sport based so heavily on the group. It is important to note that RKG does not necessarily mean a choir boy like Jason Witten, Brandon Carr or Tony Romo, but a player passionate enough to take the responsibility of an impact play into his hands. There is no difference between Witten and Dez in this regard, even if there is a higher risk that Dez ends up on the negative side of a tabloid media story. The Greg Hardy signing brings attention to this point. His legal issue is messy, but it brought him in at low price and will have an already demonically inspired player ready to “release the Kraken.” No matter what they do off the field, Garrett requires his players do everything in their power to be ready for gameday and contribute to their team the best way they can. Getting suspended or into other distracting issues is not a way to be kept on this team.

The Dallas Cowboys are back in contention as one of the better teams in the league. It has been a long time since they consistently made the playoffs, but they are building like a team who would do so. While it has been a combination of things like the culture change under Garrett, Jerry’s management adjustments, Will McClay’s drafting, a return to the 4-3 defense, and just a stronger roster overall, everything has been made possible by the cap management work of Stephen Jones.

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This Week in Cowboy Football 3/21

This Week in Cowboy football
The Dallas cowboys roster for 2015 got a lot clearer this week. The re-signing of defensive tackle Nick Hayden and the signings of defensive back Corey White and linebacker Andrew Gachkar rounded out the defensive side of the ball. Nothing compares to the possible impact the signing of Greg Hardy could have on the Cowboy defense this fall. He is a Pro Bowl pass rusher with some ugly baggage, but the contract is unprecedented in the extent to which it goes in protecting the team should Hardy be suspended or not produce on the field.

Cornerback Sterling Moore signed a contract with the Buccaneers and defensive end George Selvie became the newest player to jump ship to an NFC East rival in the Giants. While popular with the fan base, both players did not portray the consistent play needed to last in the Cowboys’ system, at least at the price they command. Selvie’s departure came on the heels of the Hardy signing. Moore’s signing indicates that the team is still figuring out the cornerback situation, which is heavily impacted by Brandon Carr’s contract, Morris Claiborne’s uncertainty, and the question marks behind them on the depth chart.

Stephen Jones and the rest of the front office should still be hunting their own in Anthony Spencer and Rolando McClain. Both players would bring consistency to the front 7 and can make huge plays. McClain is looking less likely to sign, but nothing has indicated that he is about to sign with anyone else. Spencer will need to accept a very reasonable contract to return. Beyond that, the organization will be focusing on scouting the players in the draft.

What to Ignore
Anything about the Greg Hardy case. It is a settled legal issue and not really anyone’s business. It shouldn’t affect him as a player, although he is facing an unlikely 6-game ban. Trashing a sports figure won’t stop domestic violence. It is up to all of us to be nonviolent, especially with those that we love.
Comments made by the Giants’ owner about “mediocre” players in free agency. They’re mostly just sour grapes taking the form of false wisdom. The subsequent signing of George Selvie proved the hypocrisy of his words.
Mock drafts. The “experts” turn in a failing percentage and the random yahoos on the internet create abstract trades and base decisions on highlight reels. The Cowboys would do well to scout all positions and identify their best fits. It’s a big job and Will McClay has been really earning his money recently as the head of the Cowboys scouting department. In the end, just be patient and find something nice to do. The draft will come and we can meet the newest Cowboys at that time.