Puttin' in work: Cowboys gear up for run at the title

Ah. The fresh smell of rookie minicap in the spring. It’s not napalm but you can’t beat this time of the year with a stick. We just came off of a successful draft. Jerry did get a little nutty with trading in the later rounds but it netted additional draft picks. We didn’t sell our souls to get Darren McFadden. We tried to get a veteran receiver but it didn’t happen. We picked up what looks like solid undrafted free agents. Now is time to pick up the best and sort out the rest.

I’ve mildly criticized the ‘Boys for what seemed like a slow offseason. But I’ve come to realize it wasn’t slow at all. The Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel has a good recap on our movements in free agency, in the draft and after the draft. Key graphs.

Defense upgraded

The addition of Zach Thomas to the inside linebacker position gives the front seven another playmaker, but it's the addition of first-round pick Mike Jenkins and Pacman Jones (league reinstatement pending, of course) in the defensive backfield that should allow the Cowboys to do even more. More man coverage and more ability to cover spread offenses, as well as the ability to rush the passer. "We have every reason to think the guys that got hurt [Anthony Henry and Terence Newman] have the chance not to be hurt, plus the new people, we have a chance to really improve that defense," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "That really fires me up."

Barber/Jones backfield

It's irrelevant now whether you were in favor of Felix Jones or Rashard Mendenhall. Just as last season, a Jones will complement Marion Barber, but the difference is Barber will start. The Cowboys hope Felix Jones is better than the Jones he replaces, Julius. If Felix Jones can average about 4.0 yards per rush, as well as provide good receiving hands, he is an upgrade. But Barber, for the first time since he was in high school, will be the man in the backfield. "We've improved at running back. That's not to take anything from Julius," Jerry Jones said. "We've just really improved at running back."

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Former Cowboy Ross Tucker has an excellent article on SI.com about undrafted rookies and how they make it onto NFL clubs. He talks about fielding calls and how to decide which teams to choose. He also throws in a couple of rags to riches stories: Antonio Gates, Jeff Saturday and of course my man the ladykiller Antonio Ramiro Romo.

He does offer good analysis on the money aspect, playing time and coaching regimes who really offer fair competition. I thought these were interesting points to make seeing how so many people have disdain for athletes who ask for more money. From this vantage point, if I were an undrafted free agent who signed for nothing and I beat the odds, made the team and produced when I was called upon, I would want to make maximum dollars too. Tucker makes another good point though: you may not get to that point if you chase the dollars too early.

Show me the opportunity

Players and agents must weigh two important factors when making the decision on which team to sign with: money and opportunity. Every undrafted free agent signs a contract for minimum salaries, so the only negotiation revolves around a signing bonus that ranges from zero to $25,000. I have always felt it is critical to sign with a team that will offer the best opportunity to make the team, not necessarily the team that will offer a couple thousand dollars more up front. The serious money comes from making a 53-man roster or even a practice squad. However, turning down more money can be easier said than done.

Though the difference between $5,000 and $10,000 may not seem like a lot given the current salary cap climate and huge dollars given to top draft choices, $5,000 is lot of money when you don't have any. For your typical college kid with $58.37 in a bank account and some credit card bills to pay, it is often difficult to see the big picture. Still, players and agents must weigh the bonus money vs. the potential opportunity that they deem available.

What have you done for others lately

An agent who correctly tracks the positional situations of the teams interested in his client is golden. How many open roster spots are likely for a given team at his client's position? Did the team draft anyone at that position? If it did, how high was he taken and would there truly be an open competition in which the best player made the team?

The other critical ingredient is the history that a certain franchise and/or coaching staff has in regard to undrafted rookies making the opening day roster. Buffalo frequently retains undrafted players, and many of them go on to make significant contributions, such as Jason Peters and Jabari Greer. Even a veteran-laden team such as New England has found a way to keep undrafted free agents on the roster, like Mike Wright and Pierre Woods. History shows that the Dolphins, under the watchful eye of Bill Parcells, will have one or two undrafted rookies on the roster, even at the expense of some of his draft picks.

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I’m glad we picked up Texas Tech’s Danny Amendola. He had a big year last year and everybody seems to like his skill set. If he can carve up other teams like Wes Welker carved up our team last year, I’d be one happy dude. Amendola seems to take the racial profiling in stride.

"Being the shorter white guy who played hard, made little plays, and being a punt returner as well, you couldn't help but draw comparisons," Amendola said. "From when I first got it here, it was 'Wes Welker Jr.' Every time I hear that, I must think I'm doing something right. It's an honor being compared to him."

Gotta love that.

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I get so wrapped up in the Cowboys I forget sometimes that Jerry and Stephen actually have real jobs. You don’t get to be that successful in life without good time management skills. Well, Stephen’s gonna need ‘em cause he’s got work to do. The first priority though? Getting some big names signed to long-term deals. The DMN's Todd Archer is on the case.

Stephen Jones' days are pretty busy. They are sure to get busier with the team hoping to sign running back Marion Barber, cornerback Terence Newman, safety Ken Hamlin, defensive end Chris Canty and possibly outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to new deals.

The Cowboys have about $3.5 million worth of salary cap room, but that does not take into account the rookie pool needed to sign the team's six draft picks. They can create more space by restructuring some contracts (Tony Romo) or by cutting players, although none of the big-money players are in danger of that.

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