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Certainty or Money: The Darren Howard Decision

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The latest droplets of information that have condensed on the Valley Ranch windows suggest that we may have to wait a while for the Darren Howard situation to resolve itself. When Howard signed the Saints franchise player tender offer, he removed the 3 pm Wednesday deadline as the hard target for a deal.

What's more, the Cowboys are facing dual standoffs. On the organizational front, the Saints and Cowboys are playing a game of chicken: Dallas is willing to deal its 2nd round pick this year for Howard, but New Orleans is now holding out for more. The possibility of another team entering the bidding would complicate matters for Dallas, but I have found no proof that the Cowboys are bidding against anybody but themselves. While the New Orleans press mentioned Seattle, Minnesota, Miami and Washington as possible competitors, the local press in those cities has not supported the claim.

The Seattle papers quote Seahawks brass as saying they want "value" for picks and are not willing to "overpay." That's one strike against a Howard move to the Northwest. And consider this: Howard is apparently asking for a contract that approximates the six year, $33 million deal with a $14 million signing bonus that Grant Wistrom signed last year. Seattle gave him that contract. Do you think they are ready to write up a duplicate for Howard?

Update: The Seahawks signed former Rams DE Bryce Fisher to a four-year deal on Tuesday, seemingly taking them out of the Howard sweepstakes.

Minnesota brass was quoted over the weekend as saying they were turning their attention to offense after signing FS Darren Sharper. They made good on their claim today, signing former Ravens wideout Travis Taylor. The Redskins have been in hot pursuit of former Browns DE Courtney Brown since his release. And the Dolphins, who do not have bundles of cap room, just signed safety Tebucky Jones after the Saints released him Tuesday.

On the player front, the Cowboys now appear a bit relucant to give Howard that Wistrom-like deal, if Mickey Spagnola is correct.

A third matter is how desperate the Cowboys are for Howard's production? Fans and press alike are daydreaming of a Howard-Ferguson-Glover-Ellis line. Here's some data to whet the fantasy. In 2000 and 2001, Howard's rookie and second seasons, he played on a Saints line with NT Norman Hand, Glover and DE Joe Johnson. In many respects the talent of this line resembles what Dallas has now, with the possible exception that Johnson was a better rusher than Ellis.

Look at the sacks they racked up:

  • 2000: Howard - 11, Hand-3, Glover-17, Johnson-12
  • 2001: Howard-6, Hand-3.5, Glover-8, Johnson-9
  • That's 43 sacks in 2000, an average of 10.8 per man. Though the total dropped to 27 in 2001, the line still averaged almost 7 sacks per player. Dallas has had trouble getting that type of production from its team sack leader since Charles Haley and Tony Tolbert were in their primes a decade ago.

    This is the danger the Cowboys face. They have lacked a rush line for so long that the temptation to pay any price is high. So again, at what point would New Orleans or Howard prompt you to call the whole thing off? Does such a point exist?