The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Nnamdi Asomugha Headed To. . .Philadelphia Eagles!

Jonathan Bales

If you follow our Twitter account, you may have noticed quite a few tweets in the last hour or so regarding free agent Nnamdi Asomugha.  After the Jets dropped out of the race and Jerry Jones was seen fist-pumping on the sideline, many assumed the Cowboys had secured the cornerback who I have long rated as the best defensive player in the NFL.  Instead, he is headed to Philly.  It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do with Asante Samuel after trading for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but as of now, Dez and Miles vs. Nnamdi and DRC looks like quite a matchup.

By Jonathan Bales

Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray, Tashard Choice: Projecting 2011 Touches

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys’ running game is sure to improve in 2011 simply from the release of Marion Barber.  Barber received far too many touches last season, particularly in short-yardage situations.  Last season, I suggested the Cowboys use a 50/30/20 split between Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and Marion Barber, respectively.  They used almost that identical ratio, except Barber received more touches than Choice.

Before I try to project the 2011 touches, let’s analyze each back’s skill set.  In my 2010 Running Back Grades, I noted that, although a generally underrated player, Jones needs to drastically improve his pass protection.  Despite the 86.3% overall grade, I gave Jones a C- in pass protection.  Tashard Choice received a B in pass protection.  Rookie DeMarco Murray is likely to struggle in pass protection as well, particularly having completed no offseason team work.  Speaking of Murray, let’s take a look at my scouting report on him:

Scouting Report

Murray has solid agility and start-and-stop ability.  His quickness and long speed are both really, really good.  He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the Combine and he really does possess home run ability.  While I don’t like the timing of the pick, I think there are only a few runners in this draft who are better for Dallas than Murray.  He’s an insurance policy against a Felix Jones injury, which was really an underrated “hole” for the ‘Boys.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out Murray’s career numbers.  I don’t look at stats when I look at film because 1) they could potentially cloud my judgment and 2) I don’t particularly care.  At the running back position, though, you always want to see a guy produce no matter the circumstances.  Murray had a ridiculous 63 total touchdowns in his career and, more important to me, 157 career receptions (including 71 alone in 2010).  Running backs must be able to catch the ball nowadays, and Murray is a natural receiver.

Murray is a continuation of what appears to be a revised draft plan for the Cowboys.  He’s a versatile player who will be especially helpful in the passing game.  Tyron Smith is a versatile player who will be especially helpful in the passing game.  Bruce Carter is a versatile player who will be especially useful in the passing game.  See a trend?

Murray’s vision is solid and he makes very quick decisions with the football.  You won’t see Murray dancing in the backfield.  He isn’t great after contact, however, and his legs sometimes die after he gets hit.  He isn’t particularly effective in short-yardage situations either.  Due to his upright running style and carelessness with the football, I think he could be prone to fumbles at the next level.

A major reason I think the ‘Boys had Murray rated so highly is that he has value as a returner.  The Cowboys don’t want Dez Bryant on returns again and it’s unclear what Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Bryan McCann can do, so Murray’s return ability could be useful as soon as 2011.

In a nutshell, Murray is Felix Jones with less experience, better natural pass-catching ability, a little less size, and superior return ability.  I love his skill set, and I think he will contribute immediately as a rookie.  Having said that, the Cowboys already have some uncertainty on their offensive line, and their ability to keep Tony Romo upright could be complicated with a small rookie running back taking on defensive ends and linebackers.

Thus, despite his receiving skills, I think Murray should play primarily on first and second down.  The Cowboys can still get him the ball in space, particularly since they should throw more first down passes anyway.  Here is a breakdown of Dallas’ third down running back usage in 2010.

With Murray able to give Jones a breather, I think both Jones and Choice should handle the majority of third downs.  And despite popular opinion, Jones should receive short-yardage touches.  Look at the numbers below.

Ultimately, I propose the Cowboys use the following breakdown of snaps (and touches):

1st Down: 65 percent Jones/25 percent Murray/10 percent Choice

2nd Down: 50 percent Jones/35 percent Murray/15 percent Choice

3rd Down: 55 percent Choice/40 percent Jones/5 percent Murray

Using the same percentage of 1st, 2nd and 3rd down plays as in 2010, this equates to Jones receiving a whopping 56 percent of the touches.  Murray would receive 26 percent, and Choice just 18 percent.

Disagree with my assessment?  Think that is too much work for Jones?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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As an aside, the Cowboys signed left guard Kyle Kosier to a three-year deal.  I really like the move.  Despite his age, I graded Kosier as the top offensive lineman on the team last season, giving him an 86.2% (B).  That grade, which was the seventh-highest in my Overall Player Rankings, included a C- in run blocking and an A in pass protection.  In a recent article on why the Cowboys should re-sign Kosier, I wrote:

Kosier’s ability to protect the quarterback and the lack of a starting-quality guards behind him on the roster makes me think the Cowboys will be re-signing Kosier whenever that is made possible.  And that is the right move.  Kosier shouldn’t get a huge contract, but signing him to a two-year deal makes a lot of sense to me.

Leonard Davis, on the other hand, may not be so lucky.

Looks like I win again.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Free Agent, Roster Analysis: Who Will Play Free Safety?

Jonathan Bales

After a not-so-brief hiatus from Cowboys-related writing, the end of the NFL lockout has coincided with the end of my own personal lockout, and Jon Burgundy is thus back to deliver the news.  A lot has happened in the NFL over the past 48 hours, including a ton of Cowboys transactions.  Below are my thoughts on some of the Cowboys’ major moves.

  • Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Kris Brown have all been released.

Barber and Colombo come as no surprise.  I gave Barber a 71.3% (C-) in my 2010 Running Back Grades–one of the worst of anyone I graded at any position.  That was really a bit too high in hindsight, as Barber’s pass protection was the only thing that saved him from a worse percentage.  He converted just 66.7% of runs with 1-3 yards-to-go (compared to 88.2% for Felix Jones).  Due to the drafting of DeMarco Murray, Barber will not be back with the team.

The same is not certain for Colombo.  Some are claiming the Cowboys could bring him back, but I still do not see that happening.  Colombo was absolutely atrocious in 2010, receiving a 63.0% from me–the worst grade I have ever handed out.  He gave up nine sacks, 11 hits and a ridiculous 40 pressures last season.  With the signing of Doug Free to a four-year deal, I can’t see how the ‘Boys could bring back Colombo (although they did cut both Robert Brewster and Davis, so perhaps they see him moving to guard?).

The releases of Davis and Williams come as a bit more of a surprise.  I graded Davis as the third-best offensive lineman on the team in my 2010 Offensive Line Grades with an 80.6% (B-).  Davis is known as a mauler, but I gave him a high grade in pass protection because he yielded just one quarterback hit all season.  He is not supposed to be back in Dallas, so it is quite unclear who will be starting at right guard for the Cowboys this season.  Phil Costa? A free agent?

Williams’ departure from Dallas will come as a pleasant surprise to a lot of Dallas fans.  I’m for it as of now, as Williams was contributing very little to the team in the back half of the 2010 season and his release paves the path for increased production from Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree.  It will be interesting to see if the ‘Boys re-sign Sam Hurd or look to the free agent market for their fifth receiver.

Kicker Kris Brown’s release comes as somewhat of a surprise, but the Cowboys are planning to have David Buehler compete with undrafted rookie Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State.  Buehler looks to be on track to win all kicking duties, which I do not support.

  • Terence Newman, Alan Ball, Alex Barron, Keith Brooking and Igor Olshansky all remain on the roster, as of now.

The Cowboys could have saved quite a bit of money by releasing Newman, but I think retaining him is the right move.  He had a horrible season in 2010 (by his standards), and I ranked him as just the 22nd-best player on the team in my 2010 Player Rankings.  His status is not sealed, however, as cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Johnathan Joseph are still on the market.  Asmougha is a long-shot for sure, but the chances of the Cowboys signing Joseph are higher.  Still, I think the Cowboys 2011 cornerback crop is already on the team.

With no chance of Ball starting at free safety in 2011, it will be interesting to see what the Cowboys do with him and who will fill his shoes.  I think they will keep him on the roster as a cornerback/emergency free safety.  Current free safety options might include Michael Huff and Donte Whitner.

With Colombo and Brewster currently off of the roster, it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys keep Barron for insurance purposes.  He does have the ability to play both left and right tackle, and his 2010 season was marred by that dreadful opening night game in Washington.

As of now, I think you can expect Brooking and Olshansky to stay on the team in 2011.  I would have cut both players, but a case can be made for the pair as well.  Brooking offers obvious leadership ability, while Olshansky is one of the only defensive ends currently under contract.  The ‘Boys will likely let Marcus Spears walk and sign Stephen Bowen or Jason Hatcher (or perhaps both).  If the team decides to splurge for veteran end Cullen Jenkins, Olshansky could still be released.  Here are my 2010 Defensive Line Grades.

  • The Cowboys have agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Doug Free.

$17 million of that is guaranteed.  The deal is huge for Dallas, as they now have their offensive tackles of the future in place for the next four years.  It should also seal Colombo’s fate, although that is not yet a certainty.

Free will probably stay on the left side of the line in 2011 before possibly switching places with rookie Tyron Smith.  I think that scenario is ideal.  I graded Free lower than most in 2010 with a 83% (B-)–lower than players like Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Spencer Gerald Sensabaugh and fellow lineman Kyle Kosier.   Still, he has improved throughout his career and I think he has the potential to be one of the best right tackles in the NFL.

Check back for more free agent updates, news and analysis.