Friday, March 07, 2014

Cowboys Mailbag - March 7 - Ware - Garrett Game Management - Murray

Last week, we spent plenty of time talking about how we got to a point where the Cowboys will have to say goodbye to DeMarcus Ware because of cap problems that have been rolled over from one year to the next for years and whether or not the Cowboys will learn at some point about this poor habit, or will they simply take the advice of some in the media that report is not that big of a deal.

Well, in writing that, I failed to address the more important issues that are hovering out there as this pot comes to boil over the next few days and maybe weeks.

Those questions are the following:

1) - Should DeMarcus Ware accept the Cowboys offer of a pay-cut and continue to play with the star on his helmet.

2) - Should the Cowboys try to keep one of their best players of this generation at any substantial price?

Let's try to hash both of those out here before we get to your emails.

OK, first, I would like to examine this from Ware's standpoint as it appears most people want him to accept a pay-cut and consider it the right thing for him to do.  They obviously value his present tense status but are now adding things like legacy and the value of a player being a "career Cowboy" which in most cases means much more to a fan than it does to a player.

Players do not consider themselves employees of a team.  They consider themselves employees of the National Football League.  And, while many would prefer to not have to move cities and go to an unfamiliar place, they are surrounded by friends who have done exactly that and survived with a few inconveniences.  They know their value to a team and can feel as the numbers get bigger on the pay check and in the age column, that the team is preparing for life after a player is gone.  The show must go on.

But, for a player who has put it all on the line for a franchise, he may not hold their opinion of his value and the necessity that he should "do what is right for the group".  This is especially true if he sees the recent breakup with Jay Ratliff and the team who once stood right next to him and now sees Ratliff carrying on in Chicago.  It is also true seeing how Anthony Spencer's value has fallen with his health and how Jason Hatcher's world has changed with free agency arriving.  He may not be best friends with any of them, but you can believe that they have all shared discussions about how time is finite for a professional athlete and that Jerry Jones is the boss and is not missing any chances at making money.  When his time comes to cut you off his payroll, he won't hesitate.  So, you will have a choice to make.

Now, here is Ware, who missed the very first games of his career in 2013 and then hurried back to help the team before he was fully right.  But, he did it to help his buddies win and when he was playing at less than ideal conditions, he put up less than ideal numbers for the first time ever.

He has played in 141 of 144 games, accumulated 117 sacks, 32 forced fumbles, and enough highlight moments to account for 5 players.  But, his last season was not ideal as he was playing in a new scheme, with poor health, and his worst supporting cast ever.

And, now, when the boss wants him to pay for this mess with his paycheck, he is supposed to act like Doug Free and agree because the other choices are not in Dallas?

Free was not going to be a starting tackle anywhere else in the league.  The Cowboys had the luxury of the hardline approach and were dealing with a guy who knew he did not deserve his contract.

But, DeMarcus Ware, an absolute elite player his entire time in Dallas, is not allowed one 2 month span of his career where he is not elite without the reaper coming for his deal?

The Cowboys argument is that we have to stop paying older players and that Ware may be in decline and that we went 8-8 with him and so on and so on.  They also have also cited Terrell Suggs doing right by his team and taking less to stay.  Well, that isn't totally true, is it?

Suggs had 1 year left on his deal at a cap hit of $12m of which $7.6m was actually to be paid to Suggs in 2014.  The Ravens wanted to get that cap hit down and therefore extended him for 5/$28m but actually wrote him a bonus check for $11m in which they guaranteed $16m moving forward.

So, T-Sizzle is getting a raise in 2014.  Some in the media just looked at the annual money in a 5/$28m deal ($5.6m) and compare it with Ware's cap money in 2014 ($12m) and tell Ware to do what Suggs did.  Well, they obviously aren't realizing that there is nothing similar between Suggs deal and Ware's deal that has 4 years left - not 1 - and the Cowboys have paid Ware substantially less than Suggs over the course of their careers (about $17m).  Suggs has already received a ton of money, was getting another deal to stay with a team where he and Super Bowl equity and therefore can legitimately feel warm and fuzzy about seeing things out there.

Would Ware have a similar connection here?  Based on all of the good times and deep playoff runs?  I don't see it.

I also don't see him taking some pay cut based on a mess the Cowboys made.

I guess what I am saying is I have no problem with his doubting that he can't find a bonus up front of $15m and $20m in guaranteed money for a deal that is about $30m (say 4 years/$32m) in a new place for his Age 32-35 years.  He doesn't need a line of teams willing to pay that, he only needs one.  And if he is digging in against a pay cut, you can already believe his people have discussed the perimeters of a deal with another club (on the hush hush) and know it is out there.

Then, it is up to him.  Could he play elsewhere?  Could he wear another uniform?  Only if the Cowboys don't want him anymore (is what he will tell himself) and if they are cutting his pay like Doug Free, then they don't want him anymore.

From the Dallas standpoint, I don't blame them either.  I think this breakup has to happen and I think they can spend the money better elsewhere.  I love 94, but this team cannot tie that much money up in a sack machine when they could pay 3 players with that money and perhaps help the greater good.  They have established that even with 20 sacks, he cannot carry them deep into January.  That position - finding a 16 sack a year player - is not vital for winning.  It helps, but you can do it with a balanced line, too.  Many teams do every year.

They won't find a player as good as him and it will hurt to see him dominate somewhere else, but I continue to feel that this needs to happen.  It is the business and both sides are digging in and believing they are right in their stance.

And you know what?  They are.

The big question as we move forward is when this gets resolved.  In some cases, both sides might be concerned with making sure they do right by the other, meaning the Cowboys make a clean break at a point in the offseason so that he may enjoy a full free-agency season.  But, they don't have to do that, and if there are hurt feelings behind the scenes, they could use their leverage and make Ware sweat out the waiting game at which point he may double his resolve and get very angry, or he could cave in and take the deal they want him to take.

Time will tell on that front, but unless they want to make a huge free agency strike, there is no real urgency.


Now, to your emails and tweets.  Let's start with Wade from Houston:

What is he doing?  I admire his nerve, but what is he doing?  Dang, I am the first to accuse him of capitalizing off a Parcells-built roster, but if you take away the 1-7 finish that got him fired in 2010, that makes a Cowboys record of 33-15 in his first 3 seasons.  That is tough to beat.

Stay classy, Wade.  (He tried to squirm out of this tweet later, but I don't think his squirm worked any better than Ian Kinsler's attempt earlier in the week).


Hey Bob!

Wanted to get your take on the whole swapping out Garrett train that goes around each year now.

I just don't understand it. Yes, the record has not been what we'd hope for, but injuries, personnel and schemes have also affected the performance of the team on the field. I like the personnel (for the most part) that Garrett is bringing in. I like the character, but injuries have hampered a few players and a few just haven't panned out. But we do have some guys that look to be bright spots for some time.

Garrett has shown that he can have success. The team is behind him. Why do people want to go out and get another head coach when we could end up with someone like McDaniels who dismantled the Broncos. Or Philbin who is dealing with all sorts of issues in Miami. There are so few coaches who can hold a team and get them to play hard every week, why are fans so eager to throw out a good *young* coach?

I've read that it can take 5 years to get over a bad draft - and the 2009 draft was awful for us. That would mean we're just now getting out of the failures of 2008/2009 draft classes where we have 1 player still on the team. It takes time to draft enough players that stick. I know Garrett's had his own issues, but what's the rush to start from scratch? With Garrett, surely the defensive staff would go. The offensive & defensive schemes would change and we'd be back at square one with everyone.

Appreciate your take on it.

Dave in Richmond

Thanks, Dave.  I am certainly not as strong in the Garrett camp as I used to be.  I wish I believed that he didn't lose this team games every year, but I have to tell you that I am making quite a list (which I will write about soon) of games where I think one could make at least a reasonable case that the head coach flat out lost a game or two a season with a strategic decision that then cost them the playoffs or a divisional crown.

Are there other coaches that do that, too?  Sure.  But, very few can miss the playoffs 3 straight years and be fine.  The Detroit and Green Bay games were two of the most painful losses a team could possibly endure and both were fireable performances by the coach in the late stages that just seem unpardonable.  

Add that to several games earlier in his coaching career also lost to in-game chess and while I don't disagree that his organizational attitude and roster building seem to have some promise, the difference between 10 wins and 8 wins is such that I have to account for this perceived weakness of his and demand that it gets fixed.  

I don't want to start over with yet another Jerry-comfortable hire and I am certainly a believer that Jason Garrett is not allowed to have the power of a traditional head coach because his tyrannical leader is the de facto coach anyway.  But, I can't blame Jerry for the bizarre strategies of Detroit and Green Bay this year or several other instances where if Garrett plays the game like your typical football nerd thought it should be played, they have 9 or 10 wins for the first time in his run.

Bottom line, it is time to go an entire year without feeling like your HC cost you a game or two along the way.



DeMarco Murray seems like a completely maddening player to me.  I am in the huge group of fans that wants to run the ball far more than we did this past year, yet Murray seems to be quite injury prone and incredibly inconsistent.  He will go off for 150 yards in a game and then we won't hear from him again for a few weeks.  I know that play-calling has a lot to do with this, but is consistency too much to ask from the RB position for the Cowboys?  

Trent Horner

Thanks, Trent.  There is no question that he has to stay healthy.  690 snaps in 2013, 490 in 2012, and 380 in 2011 adds up to 1,560 plays from scrimmage in the same amount of time that LeSean McCoy has played 2650 in Philadelphia.  McCoy is hardly ever hurt, and Murray has yet to play a full season.  

This, of course, causes all sorts of issues with our evaluation of him, and I can assure you as a player with one year left on his deal is making the Cowboys consider RB in this draft again as they surely don't feel Joseph Randle and his 121 plays are enough to feel secure about that spot for the future.  Not to say he has been a failure, but this RB contract issue is going to be here again very, very soon.

Murray's 2013 is absolutely the best of his 3 years, so, you would hate to wait this long for him to come around and for the offensive line to figure out zone blocking only to have to replace him because you don't want to pay him franchise back money.  McCoy is in year 2 of a 5/$45m deal that he signed in 2012 and the Eagles, of course, are thrilled to death with his production at this point and are running him ragged along the way.  DeMarco Murray is actually 6 months older than McCoy, despite McCoy having been in the league since 2009.

Matt Forte went for 4/$32, but to compare Murray to either of these guys is really pumping Murray's tires pretty high.  He hasn't produced like either of them and the Cowboys would be foolish to pay him like that until he does - which may not happen.  With Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith needing deals, I am not worried about appeasing DeMarco right now, but I also better consider looking at RB if the price is right this spring.


Can you let me know what you think of Bishop Sankey as a RB? I think we need a guy to help this coming season and perhaps take over for Demarco if we can't or don't want to pay him.

P1 Tim in Austin

Tim, I want to be completely transparent on these draft prospects.  I only want to comment on those I have spent at least 3 games breaking down and I have not come close to doing any RBs yet, and it may be a while.  So far, I have broken down Top 100 prospects at DT, DE, S, and LB.  I am now going to do OT next, then OG-OC, and then QB before WR.  At one position grouping a week, that gets me through March so you may check with other people.

There is just too much misinformation around these days, and I promised myself years ago that I would not add to the BS.  If I haven't watched a player or his competition closely, I will not misrepresent.  So, with that in mind, I have about 50 players done and hopefully 50 more to go.  But, Bishop Sankey of Washington is a player who I have heard very good things about and tested well, but that is where I will stop for now.


Do you draft a QB in Rnds 4-6 of this year's draft?

Some think it best to start grooming but I think I prefer to give Romo another year adding depth (hopefully) in those rounds until he, and the team, fall into the top 10 with a shot at a real QB talent.
If it happens this year, next year's draft will have plenty like Marietta, Winston, Hundley...


I will echo much of what I said last week on this topic. In fact, here is what I said last week on this topic: 
How early would I go QB in the 2014 draft? Well, that depends. Which of the top 3 QBs is available at pick #16? Because if I like the guy who drops to me there, I am grabbing him and not looking back. Let me be clear: there are many issues with this Cowboys roster, but none is more urgent and scary than the prospect of Tony Romo having to miss an entire season because his back betrayed him again. He is old, he has had 2 back procedures in less than a year, and he has already modified his performance to protect himself. There are not many more stops on this train before the end of the track if this goes the wrong way. And, the book is also out. I am willing to promise he is going to see more pressure than he ever has before in an effort to spook him and even knock him out of games by merciless defenses. I don't think this is even a question. So, yes, 1st Round is in play. Beyond that, I am thinking QB at every pick, because right now, QB might be my thinnest spot.
Hopefully, that crystalizes my thoughts. QB is on the board in every round at every selection. It must be carefully considered and then addressed.

Have a fine weekend!

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