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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.


Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Texans: 12 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

As the fourth game on their five-game preseason schedule, Saturday night’s match-up against Houston will be the closest to a “real game” that Dallas will encounter until September 12 in Washington.  The starters will get significant playing time and will be able to go into the game with nearly the same mentality as that of a regular season game.  In addition to watching if the team comes out with that same regular season-type fire, here are 12 other things to watch. . .

1.  Can Tony Romo get back on track?  Will he be able to play better against the blitz?

By my count, Romo has been off-target on 10 of 28 passes this preseason.  That rate of 35.7 percent is nearly double that of last season, as you can see in my 2009 breakdown of Romo’s off-target passes.

He’s also just three-for-nine against the blitz, with only 36 yards passing and an interception.  That’s a passer rating of 6.9.

Romo is one of the top quarterbacks in the league when facing pressure, though, so these numbers are simply the result of a small sample size.  Romo will be fine, starting this weekend against the Texans.

2.  Will any of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks throw the ball downfield?

With Robert Brewster and Montrae Holland starting on the offensive line against San Diego, it seemed as though the Cowboys made it a priority for the quarterbacks to unleash the ball quickly.  They threw just six passes over 10 yards all game, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

With added confidence in both Brewster and Holland, the Cowboys may feel more comfortable taking some shots down the field.  That’s especially true against a weak Houston secondary.

3.  Who will start at right tackle, Robert Brewster or Alex Barron?  How will each player perform?

Barron took some reps at right tackle in practice this week and reportedly looked pretty shaky.  Brewster played well against San Diego and will probably get the nod to start.  Still, expect Barron to get some reps at right tackle.  The Cowboys want to see if he will be their swing tackle (once Marc Colombo returns) or just a backup left tackle.

4.  Will left tackle Doug Free hold his own against Mario Williams?

Doug Free has exceeded expectations thus far this preseason.  He played tremendously against the Bengals and Chargers and, although he yielded a sack, decently against the Raiders.

He hasn’t faced a pass-rusher of the quality of Mario Williams, though.  Williams will test Free like nobody he’s faced (outside of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in practice).  Let’s see if Free is up to the challenge.

5.  As always, will the offense keep running strong side dives out of “Double Tight Strong”?

Seven times lining up in the formation against San Diego, and seven strong side dives.  That raises the rate of strong side dives from “Double Tight Strong” to 85.7 percent–even more than that which I found in my analysis of the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of the formation.

It is only preseason, of course, so let’s hope Jason Garrett is simply setting up teams for the regular season.

6.  Will the offense continue to run weak side out of “Double Tight I”?

Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of both the “Strong” and “I” variations of the “Double Tight Left or Right formation.

This preseason, they are running weak side out of the latter variation (I-formation).   The reason is simple: the weak side lead block for the fullback is easier if he lines up behind the center as compared to lining up between the strong side guard and tackle.  On Saturday night, they lined up in Double Tight Right I Right twice, running weak side both times and losing four total yards.

7.  How about a toss to the two-tight end side of “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace?”

As I explained in my final film observations from the Chargers game, the Cowboys have lined up in a new formation this year called “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” (or vice versa).  The play-calling out of this formation is by no means as predictable as that from “Double Tight Strong,” but I’ve noticed that Dallas has frequently lined up in “Double Tight Right Ace” and motioned the receiver on the Double Tight side of the formation over into a twins set, running a toss to the two-tight end side.  The play, which I (and not the Cowboys) have titled “Double Tight Right Ace Liz 28 Toss” is shown to the left.

8.  Will newly-acquired tight end Martin Rucker get playing time, and can he make a case for a roster spot over the under-performing Chris Gronkowski and Scott Sicko?

Rucker is behind the curve mentally, so he will have to show he’s picked up the offense.  If he can do that, he’ll have a chance to make the 53-man roster, as his competition, Gronkowski and Sicko, haven’t been stellar.

Gronkowski is a fullback but, because I can’t see Dallas cutting starter Deon Anderson, he’ll probably have to take the spot of a tight end to make the roster.  I can’t see that happening, as he’s been absolutely awful as a blocker.

Sicko played well in the Hall of Fame game but, like Gronkowski, needs to improve his blocking.

9.  Will center/guard Phil Costa continue to outperform guard Travis Bright?

Costa holds a big-time advantage over Bright right now because, not only has he been superior on the football field, but he is also more versatile.  Costa will likely be Dallas’ backup center this season (even once Kyle Kosier returns), while Bright, unless he steps up in a hurry, will probably be relegated to the practice squad once again.

10.  Will rookie Sean Lee show why the Cowboys traded up to draft him in his first NFL start?

This may be the most interesting aspect of Saturday night’s game.  Lee had an up-and-down night last week, but showed that he is capable of learning (quickly) from his mistakes.  That’s an important characteristic for any football player.

With starter Keith Brooking nursing a sprained AC joint, Lee will have an opportunity to prove he’s the future for the Cowboys at inside linebacker.  Watch to see how Lee performs in coverage, in particular, as he will almost certainly be Dallas’ nickel linebacker this season.

11.  How will the Cowboys’ secondary match up against one of the league’s premiere passing attacks?

The starters will get significant playing time, so let’s see how Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins take on the challenge of the No. 1 WR on my 2010 All-Pro offense, Andre Johnson.  Jenkins got beat a few times last week, losing his leverage and failing to press receivers, while Newman played superbly.

As always, the success of the cornerbacks will be dependent on that of their teammates–a strong pass rush will allow the ‘Boys to provide safety help over the top, making Jenkins’ and Newman’s jobs much easier.

12.  Safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray may be fighting for the same roster spot.  Who will step up?

I’ve been really impressed with Church.  He’s been okay in coverage, but outstanding in run support.  I think he has the leg up on McCray and Pat Watkins for the final safety spot on the roster.

McCray’s saving grace has been his special teams play, but I don’t think it’s been enough so far.  He blew a coverage last week and hasn’t performed nearly as well on defense as Church to this point.

The battle is still up in the air, though, so a couple of strong performances from McCray in the final two preseason games could win him the job.

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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: 13 Things to Watch

Before reading the Cowboys vs. Raiders preview below, take a look at our initial game notes from the Hall of Fame game, what we learned about the Cowboys, and our final player grades from Sunday night.

1. How much will the starters play and will they erupt against Oakland’s second-team defense?

The playing time for the starters will really be a situation to monitor in every preseason game.  Coach Wade Phillips said the starters’ overall playing time will remain steady despite an additional preseason game.  When you combine that with the fact the Cowboys will be coming off of just three days rest, you probably won’t see the starters too long.  A full quarter is standard for the second preseason game, although it wouldn’t surprise us to see the No.1 guys leave a little earlier than that.

Don’t forget that this is Oakland’s first preseason game, meaning their starters will be out of the game before you know it.  It is very possible the Cowboys’ first team offense (and defense) will still be in the game against Oakland’s second-team defense (and offense).  Expect domination.

2. Will the first-team offense score a red zone touchdown?

They didn’t on Sunday night despite four plays inside the five-yard line.  Roy Williams was targeted on two of the team’s three pass attempts in that area.  Tight end Jason Witten didn’t get a look, although Dallas is sure to use very bland plays in preseason.  In fact, look at some of the trends we noticed from the Bengals game.

3. What will the Cowboys do at tight end?  Will they run more three-receiver sets and offbalance lines?

Sicko probably won’t suit up (concussion), but he hasn’t been ruled out just yet.  If he plays, he will probably get a lot of work. Whether it is this week or next, it will be interesting to see how Sicko performs knowing his chances of making the squad just skyrocketed with John Phillips out for the season.

With John Phillips out for the season, Scott Sicko will need to prove he is a capable blocker to make the 53-man roster.

Backup tight end Martellus Bennett is expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury.  Bennett could theoretically more value to the team now than ever, but not so if he is on the bench.

The Cowboys recently signed tight end DajLeon Farr to fill a vacancy at the position.  Farr and Jason Witten are the only tight ends on the roster available to play Thursday.

The big questions is, with Farr having just been signed, how much will Witten play?  It is unlikely the Cowboys will force Witten to play due to a simple lack of depth, so Farr is going to have to learn the offense quickly.  Fullback Chris Gronkowski could also see some time at tight end.

No matter who plays tight end (and how much), expect the Cowboys to run a lot of three-receiver sets and offbalance lines to combat the tight end depth issue.

4. Will Doug Free come out on fire as he did in Week One?  Can Alex Barron rebound after a disappointing start to his Cowboys career?

Free looked sensational in pass protection and strong in run blocking against a worthy adversary in the Bengals’ Antwan Odom. Meanwhile, Barron gave up a sack and struggled on a bunch of other plays.  If Barron plays (he tweaked an ankle on Sunday night), how will he do after losing a ton of ground on Free?

5.  How will the starting receivers do against Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha?

We think Asomugha is the best cornerback in the game.  We even listed him as the fourth-best player in the NFL in our list of the league’s top 105 players.

Asomugha generally mans one side of the field, so Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton could all get cracks at him.  Austin played fairly well against Asomugha on Thanksgiving last season.

6. Will the second-string offensive line perform better on Thursday?

Other than Barron, the rest of the second-string linemen were below average as well.  Robert Brewster struggled at both left and right tackle and Pat McQuistan was awful at guard.  Quarterbacks Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee were running for their lives, meaning an injury to any of the starting linemen could spell disaster for Dallas.

In our first “Grading the ‘Boys” segment of the season, we gave Barron, Brewster, Travis Bright, Pat McQuistan, and Mike Tepper grades of D, D, C-, D-, and D, respectively.  Wow.

7.  Will Robert Brewster get flagged for illegal formation?

We noted in our post-film study observations that right tackle Robert Brewster was very close to lining up in the backfield on a few occasions.  Let’s see if the coaches noticed it and correct his alignment by Thursday.

8. Can Stephen Bowen continue the success he had in Sunday’s game?  How about Victor Butler and Brandon Williams?

Bowen was a monster against the Bengals.  He displayed incredible burst and really gave the Cowboys a lot of confidence about their defensive end situation.

The same can be said for outside linebackers Victor Butler and Brandon Williams.  The Cowboys didn’t address the position in this year’s draft because of their confidence in these two players, and it appears to be paying off.  We were particularly impressed with Butler, whose run defense looks much improved.  He made multiple tackles after running across the backfield from the weak side of the formation.  He really had a tremendous night.

Consistency will be key for all three of these players, so let’s hope they carry their success into Thursday night’s match-up.

9. Jamar Wall has struggled all preseason.  How will he play against a less-intimidating Raiders receiver corps?

We would now label Wall a longshot to make the roster.  He hasn’t played particularly well during any phase of the offseason or preseason.  He made poor decisions in coverage, looked less-than-stellar on punt returns, and badly missed a tackle on Jordan Shipley’s long punt return.

He needs to pick up his play immediately to have a chance at cracking the 53-man roster (and perhaps even the practice squad at this point).

10.  How will rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah perform in their first live game action?

Both players will probably suit up after returning to practice.  Pay close to attention to Sean Lee’s coverage, as his primary role this season figures to be as a nickel linebacker.

Meanwhile, ‘Kwasi could return kicks and should see some time at free safety.  Let’s see if the small-school product has NFL-caliber game.

And just because we can’t get enough AOA. . .

11. Will the starting defense contain Raiders running back Michael Bush?

This is important because a few of the starting running backs the Cowboys will face this season are somewhat similar to Bush.  Brandon Jacobs and Larry Johnson are both big, bruising backs who still have decent speed.  The Cowboys’ big 3-4 defense usually comes out on top against those types of backs.

It is small, shifty backs that typically trouble the Dallas defense.  Raiders running back Darren McFadden is out due to a hamstring injury, though, so the ‘Boys might see a bit more of Michael Bush.

12. How will David Buehler respond after a shaky start to his NFL field goal kicking career?

We have predicted Buehler will win all kicking duties and discussed why we think this would be the right move, but Buehler didn’t do much to help his case in Week One.  His kickoffs were again sensational, but his accuracy on field goals (and even his extra point) left much to be desired.  He will get another shot to prove himself Thursday night, but a similar performance would probably force the Cowboys to add a veteran.

13. Can the Cowboys fix the problems that plagued their punt coverage unit against Cincy?

Jordan Shipley’s punt return to the Cowboys’ two-yard line was the result of poor punt coverage and a few missed tackles.  The play of the special teams was a major reason for Dallas’ 2009 success, so that problem has to get fixed this week.


Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part V: Doug Free vs. Alex Barron

By Jonathan Bales

In the first four parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of the nickel linebackerdefensive end, free safety, and cornerback positions.  I gave slight edges to Sean Lee, Marcus Spears, Alan Ball, and Bryan McCann in winning each job.

Today, I will address the left tackle position.  K.C. Joyner of ESPN recently wrote an interesting piece on how the diminishing salaries of left tackles show that NFL teams are now placing less emphasis on the quarterback’s blind side.  I tend to agree, and perhaps the Cowboys’ release of Flozell Adams in favor of the unproven Doug Free shows they do as well.

In addition to Free, remember the Cowboys also traded first round bust Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for Alex Barron.  Barron has loads of skill but, like Carpenter, has yet to consistently utilize it on the field.

Scouting Reports

  • Doug Free

Free is the opposite of what the Cowboys generally seek in an offensive lineman–a fact that could lend insight as to the organization’s offensive mindset and philosophy moving forward.  He is somewhat “undersized” (as far as Dallas’ linemen go), but extremely athletic.  Free did well (but not outstanding) in pass protection last season (I gave him a “B-“) and his quick feet should aid him in his transition to the left side.

On the other hand, Free isn’t particularly dominant in the run game (here are Free’s 2009 run blocking grades).  He is the “anti-Flozell Adams,” meaning the ‘Boys may be transitioning to a more athletic offensive line to combat the pass protection problems which arose in Minnesota during the playoffs.

I gave Free a “B-” overall grade, ranking him at No. 19 on my list of 2009 Cowboys grades.

  • Alex Barron

Barron’s skill set is similar to that of Doug Free.  He probably has more natural ability than Free (having been a first round pick), but potential means nothing without production.

The biggest knock on Barron has been his penchant for penalties (particularly false starts), but I completed an interesting study detailing why false starts, although annoying, are not as costly as they seem.

In my comparison of Barron and Flozell Adams, I gave Barron a “C+” overall grade for his 2009 play.  He has appeared eager to get to work thus far in offseason activities, and if he can finally maximize his potential, he could be a real asset to Dallas.

Pros/Cons of Starting. . .

  • Doug Free

Free has experience with the offense.  Although he has yet to play on the left side of the line, his skill set makes him (on paper) a good fit to protect Romo’s blind side.  Free isn’t going to dominate in the run game, but he is probably (at this point) a safer pick than Barron.

  • Alex Barron

Barron’s upside is incredible (even more so than that of Free).  Like Free, he probably won’t be as efficient in the run game as ex-Cowboy Flozell Adams.  Barron must limit his penalties, but his natural ability is outstanding.  Perhaps a change of scenery is just what the former Florida State Seminole needed.


Overall, I like the Cowboys’ situation at left tackle.  It is the primary reason I wrote an article on why the Cowboys were smart to not trade for Jammal Brown.

As of now, Free’s experience in Dallas gives him the advantage to win the job.  The Cowboys obviously have a lot of confidence in him as they released Adams and did not address the tackle position until late in the draft.

I listed Doug Free as a player who will break out in 2010, but Barron is an X-factor.  His presence is a great thing for Free, as both players know that poor play will result in no play.

Normally, the loser of this battle might become the “swing tackle” (the backup at both offensive tackle positions), but I don’t see the Cowboys using Barron on the right side.  Instead, Free may be a rare “starting swing tackle”–the starting left tackle who would move to right tackle in the event of an injury to Marc Colombo.  In that scenario, Barron would step in as the starting left tackle.

As of now, expect Free to win the starting gig in camp (although Barron’s talent makes this a battle to monitor closely).  You can almost label Barron as starter 1B, however, as an injury to either offensive tackle position could force him into the starting lineup (even if he isn’t a swing tackle).


Cowboys News and Notes, 6/22/10: Are Cowboys Uncertain About Doug Free?

We reported before the Cowboys wouldn’t give Buehler much competition, but this is a huge vote of confidence for him as Hughes was his only semi-legitimate competition on the roster.  Dallas clearly wants to boost Buehler’s confidence, and why not?  History has shown kickers tends to be rather fluky (although that doesn’t negate the importance of a kicker’s performance to his team’s win total).

ESPN’s Matt Mosley claims the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins all believe Alex Barron will win the left tackle job.  While we don’t think that is necessarily the case, Free is certainly a question mark for Dallas.  However, the combination of Free and Barron should be enough to produce (at least) as much as Flozell Adams did last season (and is one of the primary reasons we believe the team’s “interest” in Jammal Brown was a bluff).  We gave Adams a “C-” overall grade for his 2009 play, Free a “B-,” and Barron a “C+.”

We couldn’t disagree more (although in fairness, we can’t totally disagree with “50 percent blocker” because we have no idea what it means).  The offense averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry with Anderson in the game last season.  That is particularly impressive when you consider defenses would almost never be in a nickel package with Anderson in the game.  Thus, he was blocking the big boys.  We are confident he will be on the roster in 2010.

Everyone is interested in watching Alan Ball perform at free safety, but we think he’ll be fine (as long as he isn’t asked to do too much tackling).  He will be an above-average cover guy.  More interesting to us is the play of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a player we believe has a ton of upside.

This will change by 2010.  Marcus Spears will likely be playing for another team, Igor Olshansky may or may not still be a starter, and Jay Ratliff could be a much, much richer man.  Still, their play is a major reason for the defense’s success.  Check out our 2009 defensive line grades.

Fantasy football is much like the stock market–success comes through maximized value and limited downside. The majority of the information which we use to formulate our rankings comes through film study, statistical analyses, and a unique application of both game theory and risk management.

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Should the Cowboys Have Traded For OT Jammal Brown?

By Jonathan Bales

There is certainly a ton of mystery surrounding the Cowboys’ offensive tackle position. Current starting left tackle Doug Free has very little experience at the position, having backed up Marc Colombo at right tackle last season.  He did an admirable job filling in and his skill set is probably better suited for left tackle anyway, but the question mark remains.

Colombo was solid (but not spectacular) at right tackle last year before breaking his leg mid-season.  He turns 32 this year, so Dallas certainly needs to search for his future replacement.  Perhaps they have already performed that task, having drafted Robert Brewster out of Ball State last season and Sam Young out of Notre Dame this year.

Newly-acquired tackle Alex Barron has a ton of talent but has yet to properly utilize it on the football field.  He commits a ton of penalties (although I showed why false starts aren’t as costly as you might think), but he could become a very valuable asset to the Cowboys.

Thus, despite the addition and rearrangement of a lot of players at offensive tackle, the future of the position for the Cowboys is unknown.

Now, Pro Football Talk is reporting the Cowboys tried to attain former Saints (and now Redskins) tackle Jammal Brown.  The development came as a bit of a shock to me, particularly on the heels of the Barron acquisition.

PFT lists three possible reasons for the Cowboys’ interest:

1. The Cowboys were not overly pleased with Doug Free during spring workouts. Free is entering his first full season as a starter. Though he flashed promise in spot starts last season, Free remains something of an unknown.

2. Jerry Jones’ team is concerned with 31-year-old right tackle Marc Colombo’s possibly imminent decline. Colombo broke his right fibula last November. Upon return in the playoffs, Colombo was embarrassed by Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards. In the scenario that Dallas’ goal was to upgrade over Colombo, Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position with Brown manning Tony Romo’s blind side. Alex Barron would remain the “swing” tackle and Colombo would be released.

3. The Cowboys threw their hat into the Brown bidding just because they knew the Redskins wanted him. Dallas and Washington are division foes. Even if the Cowboys’ roster looks to contain significantly more talent, the Redskins are a threat, and will be even more so if they keep new quarterback Donovan McNabb off the injured reserve list.

To me, the first option is quite unlikely. Although spring workouts have become rather intense, it is unlikely the Cowboys would judge Free’s future 2010 success off of OTAs and mini-camp.

Further, the Cowboys have an insurance plan in Barron. Why would they attempt to acquire yet another tackle before seeing those two even play in a game?

Scenario number two may be just as unlikely.  Colombo is getting older, but he is still a capable player (the ’09 pass protection stats for all Dallas linemen are to the left).  I find it very hard to believe that Dallas would cut Colombo in favor of a player who missed the 2009 season and struggled in 2008 (I will show how Brown struggled in a bit).

PFT also writes, “Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position.”  But is right tackle really Free’s more natural spot?  Sure, he played there last season, but his athleticism, in my opinion, makes him a better fit on the left side.  The Cowboys apparently agree.

Moreover, although the Cowboys are a bit thin behind Colombo, they did recently draft Brewster and Young.  While I see one of those players being released this summer, the addition of Brown would probably force the Cowboys to cut either Colombo or both Brewster and Young.  I just explained why I don’t see Colombo being released, and it seems rather apparent that Dallas will not let go of two young tackles.

Thus, PFT’s third proposition seems to be the most astute.  With the current numbers game in Dallas at both tackle positions, any interest the Cowboys showed in Brown may have been deception.  If the ‘Boys knew of Washington’s interest in the former Saints tackle (which is probable), getting “involved” in the bidding could increase the compensation due to New Orleans.

Now, a skeptic might claim that if Dallas wanted Washington to know of their “interest,” they would have made it more public.  However, NFL teams often gain insights into another team’s strategy (or faux strategy) in ways other than through the media.  Leaking a bunch of information to the media could have tipped off Washington that Dallas’ interest in Brown was a blatant attempt to raise his price.

If this is the case, Dallas did one heck of a job.  They forced the Redskins to (in my opinion) overpay for a player who did not play in 2009 and, although he made the Pro Bowl the prior season, did not perform at that sort of level.

So why am I so low on Brown?  Take a look at his numbers to the right (provided by Pro Football Focus).  In the last season he played, Brown did a decent job in the run game and allowed only three sacks in 921 snaps (568 were passes).  However, he yielded 15 quarterback hits (second-most in the NFL) and 27 pressures.  He also committed 10 penalties.  PFF had him ranked as the 47th-best tackle in the NFL in 2008.

In 2007, Brown was even worse.  PFF had him ranked as the 52nd-best tackle in the NFL during that season.

If I was to grade Brown’s play over his last two seasons, I would provide him with a “B” in run blocking and a “C-” in pass protection.  According to my offensive linemen grading system, this would result in a 77.8 (C+) overall grade for Brown.  Last season, I gave both Free and Colombo a “B-” overall grade.

Why pay the price of a draft pick for a player who graded out lower than the current starters at his position?  The Cowboys would obviously never do such a thing, leading me to believe the team’s perceived interest in Brown was nothing more than a bluff.


NFL’s Top 15 Offensive Tackles: Does a Cowboy Make the Cut?

Thus far, we have ranked the league’s top quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and QB/WR tandems.  Today comes the men who make all of the guys look good–the offensive linemen.

Grading offensive linemen is obviously a difficult task, as there are no truly objective statistics by which they can be compared.  Instead, linemen are judged by the “eye test” more so than at any other position.

You will notice that we do not downgrade right tackles simply for playing the “easier” position.  Left tackle is of course a crucial position for any offense, but we do not agree with the long-held belief that it is much more important than the other positions on the line.  Thus, over half of our top 15 offensive tackles do not regularly play on the blind side.

1.  Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns

In our opinion, Thomas is hands-down the best tackle in the game.

2.  Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos

Clady is dealing with an injury right now, but the 1/2 sack he yielded in his ’08 rookie year is ridiculous.

3.  Jake Long, LT, Miami Dolphins

Long might have extra incentive to protect for Michigan teammate Chad Henne.

4.  David Stewart, RT, Tennessee Titans

The run of offensive tackles who football fans know may have just ended.  Stewart allowed just one sack last season.

5.  D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LT, New York Jets

People say he is a finesse player, but we think Ferguson’s run-blocking has improved.

6.  Michael Oher, LT/RT, Baltimore Ravens

Like Doug Free, Oher’s athleticism makes him a better fit on the left side of the line.

7.  Jon Stinchcomb, RT, New Orleans Saints

Stinchy (can I call him “Stinchy”?) played 1048 snaps last season, yet allowed just three quarterback hits for a team that throws the ball all over the field

8.  Damien Woody, RT, New York Jets

Woody is one of the league’s best run blockers, but he also allowed ZERO quarterback hits in 2009.

9.  Willie Colon, RT, Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben does get sacked a lot, but much of the time it is his own fault.

10.  Jared Gaither, LT/RT, Baltimore Ravens

We can’t see why no team is willing to give up a second-rounder for Gaither.  Yes, there are concerns about his work ethic, but his ’09 play was outstanding.

11.  Phil Loadholt, RT, Minnesota Vikings

If linemen had a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year, Loadhoalt would have been a candidate last season.

12.  Ryan Harris, RT, Denver Broncos

Harris was injured for the majority of the 2009 season.  He should bounce back this year.

13.  Jordan Gross, LT, Carolina Panthers

Most people think Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah is the better lineman, but Gross is far superior in pass protection on the left side.

14.  Sebastian Vollmer, LT/RT, New England Patriots

Vollmer is a swing tackle, but he allowed only one sack last season and was dominant in the run game.

15.  Kareem McKenzie, RT, New York Giants

Teammate David Diehl was also a candidate, but McKenzie is a better run blocker.


Audio Mailbag: 5/28/10 (Sean Lee, Doug Free, Alan Ball)

Today’s audio Mailbag features all of your roster-related Cowboys questions, including how many WRs Dallas will retain and two sleepers to make the final cut.  Click below to listen.

Alan Ball missed 22.2% of tackles last year. Will he be the Cowboys' opening day starter at FS?

DC Times Mailbag May 27 2010 2


Report: Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for Alex Barron Deal Close

Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Cowboys and Rams are closing in on a deal that would send nickel linebacker Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for offensive tackle Alex Barron. The main deterrents to a possible trade are the contracts of both players.  Carpenter is in the final year of his contract and Barron is a restricted free agent.

Assuming the teams are able to overcome the financial issues, the deal appears to be a good one for Dallas.  In our projected 53-man roster, we had Carpenter being cut.  We feel the Cowboys will be lucky to receive anything for him.  The Rams likely feel the same way about Barron.

In our Inside Linebacker Grades (run defense stats shown to the left), we gave Carpenter a D+.  He is very limited in Coach Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.  The addition of second-rounder Sean Lee and the possible emergence of second-year linebacker Jason Williams means there is very little room for Carpenter on the Cowboys, even as a nickel linebacker.

A more important question might be how well Barron would fit in Dallas.  The Cowboys’ coaches seem confident in newly-appointed starting left tackle Doug Free (who we provided a solid overall grade of B-).  Barron would likely compete with Free for the starting gig, with the loser becoming a (very above-average) swing tackle.

We can’t help but wonder, though, whether the Cowboys would have just been better off keeping Flozell Adams.  To determine the answer, we decided to compare the 2009 statistics of Adams and Barron (shown below).

As you can see, the numbers of the two players are quite similar.  So the Cowboys would have been just as well off to keep Adams, right?  Well, not necessarily.  Remember that sacks, hits, and pressures are all dependent not just on offensive linemen, but also the mobility of the quarterback.  With Rams quarterback Marc Bulger basically a sitting duck for opposing defenses, it was very difficult for any St. Louis lineman to attain quality numbers last season.

Note: 'Snaps' category includes pass plays only.

Further, we consider quarterback pressures to be the statistic which is most indicative of a lineman’s success in pass protection.  Sacks are a bit too fluky and are represented by too small a sample size to be completely statistically significant.  Moreover, they are much more dependent on the mobility of the quarterback than pressures–a stat which is more ripe for comparison between linemen on different squads.

Adams yielded 1.57 times the quarterback pressures of Barron in 2009.  We feel confident in saying that the number of sacks and hits Barron gave up would have been significantly lower had he played for the Cowboys (and consequently protected for an athletic, mobile quarterback) last season.

Of course, pass protection isn’t the only component of linemen duties.  Without a database of statistics similar to the one we have compiled for the Cowboys’ 2009 plays, it is difficult to determine how effective Barron was in run blocking.  According to Pro Football Focus, Barron was a slightly below-average run blocker in 2009.  PFF does a fairly decent job in grading game film, so if we take this assessment to be true, how much of an upgrade (if at all) is Barron over Adams?

Well, we provided Adams with a ‘D+’ in pass protection and a ‘B’ in run blocking, for a ‘C-‘ (73.4 percent) overall grade.  We would give Barron a ‘B-‘ in pass protection and (according to PFF) a ‘C-‘ in run blocking.  This would result in a ‘C+’ overall grade (79.0 percent).

Thus, we feel Barron is an upgrade over Adams.  The increase in pass protection ability from Barron to Adams also makes the upgrade even greater than the 5.6 percent grade differential, as the Cowboys could probably benefit more from a quality pass protector (particularly on Romo’s blind side) than another solid run blocker.

The issue fans should be most concerned about regarding Barron’s play is his penalty count.  Everyone knows how much Adams struggled with penalties throughout his career in Dallas.  Well, Barron had one more penalty than Adams in 2009.  If Barron can limit this number to single digits, the upgrade in pass protection that would come with his addition would likely mean a Carpenter-for-Barron swap would bring with it very high upside and opportunity for success.

**UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the deal will happen as soon as tomorrow.


Cowboys Notes: Taylor Mays Interest Grows, Jerry Jones Apologizes

We have made our feelings on Mays quite clear: one heck of an athlete, but an overrated football player.  You can read our scouting report on Mays right here.

  • Jerry Jones talked about the now infamous “Bill Parcells/Tim Tebow video.”

There really isn’t much left to say about this.  He screwed up–now let’s move on.

This doesn’t surprise us at all.  Free’s athleticism and quick feet could translate well to the left side of the line.  Still, we have some doubts about his overall skill set.

It is a great year to draft a returner.  Dexter McCluster, Jordan Shipley, Javier Arenas, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Mardy Gilyard, and others will be on the Cowboys’ radar.