With the draft closing in, Todd Archer looks back at last year's class for the Cowboys to whet our appetite. While he accurately describes Zack Martin as the star of the group, perhaps the best job of finding a hidden gem was the fourth round pick.
Anthony Hitchens (119th overall)
Many eyebrows were raised when the Cowboys took Hitchens with the 119th pick and promptly said they hoped he would be a backup to Sean Lee and a special teams stalwart. He ended the season as a starter and the coaches credited him with at 100 tackles. He started a game at every linebacker spot through last season, filling in at the middle, weak and strong sides because of injuries. While he was supposed to be a special teamer when he was picked, he didn't have a special teams tackle. He more than made up for it with his work on defense.
One position where the Cowboys have some real questions this year is cornerback, and they are looking for any help they can get, whether it is form free agency, a current player stepping up, or the draft. As it happens, there was something about all three options in the news.
It's not unusual for a head coach to discuss the best features of a new free agent's game. But you don't often see a player's old head coach chiming in with how he might best be used by his new team. Sean Payton did just that in discussing Corey White, signed off waivers by the Cowboys from the New Orleans Saints.
"I think some of his better snaps for us came inside, so if I were looking at the player and saying ‘Where do you start him first,' it'd be inside in the nickel, because I think he's an exceptional tackler and I think he's a really good blitzer," Payton said.
In recent discussions of the cornerback situation for the Cowboys, Jason Garrett has mentioned everyone except Morris Claiborne. When asked specifically about the former first round pick, he explained why Claiborne has been somewhat off the radar.
"He is working" hard coming back from his injuries,'' Garrett said. "He has been dealing with injuries throughout his career. We certainly haven't seen the best of Mo Claiborne yet.
"I know he has been working hard this offseason. He is someone we have a lot of confidence in, a lot of belief in."
Around the BTB cyber-water cooler, Kevin Johnson is a name that has been getting mentioned a lot, including as a possible first round pick for Dallas. It looks like the guys at the mothership are seeing it, too.
With the uncertainty of both Morris Claiborne's readiness for the season and Brandon Carr's contract situation, the Cowboys could use any cornerback who can step in and play. Johnson seems to fit that description and with his length, he'll be able to match up against some of the bigger receivers the Cowboys will face. Even if Claiborne comes back healthy for camp and Carr's contract is resolved to the point he is back on the team, the Cowboys could still use another young, talented cornerback on this defense.
It is looking more and more that the NFL is going to make some kind of change to the PAT, most likely moving it back to make it somewhat more difficult to make. 30 of 32 teams are reported to be in favor of making an alteration, but the Cowboys may be one of the two holdouts, if the head coach's comments are any indication.
"I don't know that we should do much with the extra point," Garrett said. "It seems like there's an emphasis on that, so we'll continue to see different options presented to us. I think the game is pretty good. I think the PAT has been almost 100 percent for a long, long time. But I understand the idea that some people view it as a dead play - I get that. So maybe it's a small tweak that can make it more interesting, make it less of a dead play without really disrupting the tradition of the game."
This is included just so the author can add this reasoned and thoughtful comment:
CHOKE ON THIS, HATERS!
On Sunday night, Romo attended. Romo wore Duke Blue Devils gear. And not surprisingly, Duke won.
Oh, and Romo also attended the Mavericks-Spurs game at the American Airlines Center last week — a game that Dallas won 101-94.
Meanwhile, the NFL is taking some steps to convince teams that there are rules for franchises just as there are for players, and they better start following them.
The fine is a comparative pinprick. Losing a fifth round pick next year is a little more significant. But when you start messing with the committees the executives sit on, that hits them right in the ego and self image.
The Atlanta Falcons have been punished for pumping in crowd noise to their stadium.
The NFL fined the Falcons $350,000 and the franchise will forfeit their fifth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, the league announced Monday. President Rich McKay will also be suspended for at least three months from the Competition Committee beginning April 1.
Meanwhile, the league found a way to really get the attention of Ray Farmer.
Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer has been suspended without pay for the first four games of next season for sending texts to personnel during games in 2014 and the team was fined $250,000, the NFL announced Monday.
And the penalties may not be over. There is reportedly an ongoing investigation into what teams may have violated the rules during the "legal tampering" period before the start of free agency. And one other tampering case may lead to some harsher penalties.
The case against Jets owner Woody Johnson for tampering -- concerning his comments at a December news conference that he would like to have cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was under contract to the Patriots at the time, back -- seems to be a far more clear-cut violation, and one with greater consequences. Revis signed on to return to New York as a free agent this offseason, after all, and the Patriots will certainly point to Johnson's publicly-stated ardor for Revis as proof that tampering, in this case, might have benefited the Jets very directly.
Oh, and there was one other item that does have a Dallas connection.
The Chip Kelly free agency magical mystery tour continues. Trying to sort out the underlying strategy behind the moves he has the Philadelphia Eagles making has stumped most of us, but the $2.3 million deal (which could increase to $3 million with incentives) reached with former Cowboy Miles Austin continues one thing that has run through his moves: He has acquired another player with a significant injury history. Those must be some powerful good smoothies Chip has.
The 30-year-old wideout played in 12 games, starting 11, for the Cleveland Browns last season before being placed on injured reserve with a kidney injury. Austin caught 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.