I apologize for the lack of posts regarding the Cowboys’ third preseason game. Many of you know I live in the Northeast, and Irene made watching Dallas’ contest against the Vikes a nightmare. I have since reviewed the game, but decided to sprinkle my comments on it throughout upcoming posts. My 53-man roster projection in particular will give you a good idea of who I expect the Cowboys to retain.
Since the game in Minnesota, the most shocking news in Dallas has been the release of veteran Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode. Gurode was due $5.5 million an apparently refused to take a pay cut, so Jason Garrett sent him on his way. I agreed with the organization’s decision to give Orlando Scandrick the big bucks, but this is a decision with which I am not on board.
Gurode is certainly an aging player whose best days are likely behind him. He has consistently been labeled as “overrated,” and that tag might have some merit. In my 2010 Offensive Line Grades, I gave Gurode a C+ (78.2%) overall grade. While others saw a player who failed to protect the quarterback, I saw one whose pass protection was fine, but whose run blocking was abysmal. Here is what I had to say about Gurode’s play:
Run Blocking: D
The Cowboys averaged nearly a full yard less per run in 2010 when Gurode was at the point-of-attack (as compared to 2009). Even more alarming is the fact that Gurode led the team in negative plays yielded despite playing a position where he receives a ton of help.
In fairness, I think some of that has to do with Jason Garrett’s play-calling. When you continually run the same strong side dive from the same formation, defenders tend to catch on. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect Gurode’s run blocking numbers to be this poor.
Pass Protection: B+
Gurode has been an unpopular player in Dallas recently, particularly due to BSPN’s take on him (oops, I meant ESPN). Over the second half of the season, however, Gurode was excellent in pass protection. His numbers improved across the board from 2009, and he led the team with just a 1.20 pressure rate. I value pressure totals more than sack totals, so that’s an important number to me. This grade would have been an “A-” had Gurode not committed seven penalties and snapped the ball whenever the hell he wanted about five times this season.
I love the youth movement Garrett is trying to employ, and I really think players like Phil Costa are ready to contribute to this football team. Garrett preaches competition at each position, and that sort of attitude is one which is necessary for the Cowboys to take the next step. There are veterans who should have been released (Marc Colombo, Marion Barber, etc.), and then veterans whose contributions still warrant their stay on the roster. I think Gurode falls into the latter category.
In terms of his contract and his current skill set, Gurode wasn’t a value player. Unlike a guy such as Victor Butler, Gurode underperforms in relation to his contract. Garrett’s flurry of moves this offseason suggest he’s all about creating value, whether it is in the draft or in regards to the salary cap. Overall, that’s an intelligent strategy and one with which I am completely in agreement.
Sometimes, though, retaining players who are underperforming is admissible, assuming it results in an overall team value which is higher than would be the case during the player’s absence. With the youngsters the Cowboys currently possess on the interior line, I think that scenario is just the case with Gurode. Despite his hefty contract, cutting him has reduced the overall talent level on the team in a way I think is rather significant. With Gurode gone, Phil Costa is set to start at center and rookie Bill Nagy will slide in as the starting left guard.
In my opinion, Costa is ready to play. I thought the notion of him sitting behind Montrae Holland at guard was ridiculous, so I don’t think his play at center will be much of an issue. In fact, his upside is surely larger than that of Gurode. It is Nagy, however, whose playing time will be increased (by about 100%) as a result of Gurode’s release. With Nagy, Costa and rookie Tyron Smith all starting, the ‘Boys certainly have more youth and upside on the offensive line than they possessed last season. . .and more risk. Unlike many analysts, I still think the Cowboys are a very talented football team that, if things go their way, can make the playoffs and compete in them. Despite his lack of monetary value, Gurode would have aided the Cowboys in that task.
In addition to the mystery surrounding 3/5 of the starting offensive line, the Cowboys’ backup offensive line situation can be described as “hopeful” at best. Sam Young are Jeremy Parnell are in line to be the backup offensive tackles, while rookie David Arkin and underachieving Montrae Holland are the primary backups at guard. And the projected No. 2 and current starting center? Kevin Kowalski, of course. If I have to Google a player to make sure I spelled his name correctly, he probably shouldn’t be starting for the Dallas Cowboys.