There was plenty of news in the wake of the Dez Bryant Contract Extravaganza, so let's start with that, shall we?
Former player and front office man Riddick weighs in on yesterday's slew of deadline deals for franchised players, offering a unique perspective on the importance of these deals to the respective locker rooms:
Players know who the best players are, and nothing can destroy the faith and sense of loyalty that a player feels toward his organization than to see a homegrown, dedicated teammate who was praised when he was playing for "cheap" not be shown the money when the time comes to renegotiate. I have been there. I have seen it. I know what this can do to other players who will have a contract expiring soon in terms of their commitment when it is needed most.
Sando also weighs in on yesterday's deals, offering extensive analysis of each. Here's part of what he says about the "fair" contracts signed by Dez Bryant and Demaryous Thomas:
Dallas and Denver reportedly secured deals that give them the ability to opt out after three years without too much cap-related pain. That structure protects them from having to renegotiate the way Detroit and Arizona have done with their high-priced wideouts. The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh partly because they're paying a declining Megatron as though he's a promising young quarterback. The Cardinals wound up guaranteeing $22 million to Fitzgerald over the next two seasons, with significant cap-related obligations on the books after that.
The writers over at NFL.com are asked about which recently signed franchise player will offer his team the most in return. Five of six answer that it will be Number 88. Here's Bucky Brooks:
Dez Bryant will give the Cowboys the most bang for their buck. The ultra-talented pass catcher is the best player on Dallas' roster; he deserved to be paid as an elite receiver, based on his performance, production and long-term potential. Bryant has blossomed into a dominant WR1, exhibiting all of the traits (size, ball skills, toughness and scoring ability) that a coach covets in a franchise wideout. Not to mention, Bryant is the emotional leader and sparkplug for an offense that ranks as one of the NFL's best. Given his overall impact and scoring prowess (56 career TD receptions, including 41 over the last three seasons), Bryant is still a bit underpaid despite today's jackpot.
With the Bryant and Thomas contracts signed, Wold looks to future elite WR deals in the newly recalibrated WR market:
Cincinnati Bengals top wide receiver A.J. Green and Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones will play out their fifth-year rookie options in 2015. While Green and Jones have both recently stated that they are content with their pay and not worried about contract negotiations, that $14 million annual salary Bryant and Thomas just landed will be on the back of their minds.
Archer puts on his capologist's hat, and concludes that the Cowboys seem to be anywhere but in cap purgatory:
By signing Bryant to a five-year, $70 million deal that included a $20 million signing bonus, the Cowboys actually gained salary-cap space. Bryant had been counting $12.823 million, the cost of the franchise tag, against the Cowboys’ cap. Now with his $3 million base salary in 2015, Bryant will count $7 million against the cap in 2015.
Before Bryant's deal, ESPN Stats & Information had the Cowboys with $11.665 million in cap space. Add in the $5.823 million gained by Bryant’s deal and the Cowboys are in excellent shape.
The larger question becomes: what will they do with the extra money? The early answer appears to be to extend Tyrone Crawford. Which makes sense, because...
Scheiner predicts that Tyrone Crawford is fixin' to break out. And he's not the only one; check it:
During spring practices, teammate Nick Hayden noticed the difference in Crawford at the three-technique defensive tackle spot. Hayden told reporters, "you could see him being one of the better players at his position in the league," per the Dallas Morning News.
The recent spate of franchise-tagged players signing deals has generated some opposition to the very idea of the franchise tag:
Frank uses yesterday's deals to make a larger (and important) point about the franchise tag and its ability to hamstring the league's top players' leverage in contract negotiations:
No one is going to shed a tear over Bryant receiving $45 million guaranteed. It places him among the highest paid skill-position players in the NFL. But it’s also a contract that was signed with a proverbial gun to his head. Short of caving in and taking far less than he had demanded, Bryant would have been forced to play the 2015 season without any guarantee of future payment from the Cowboys—a situation that would have repeated itself in 2016 as well. Lacking long-term security, one major injury could have derailed Bryant’s earnings potential moving forward. That’s another thing that brought him to the table.
Mayes adds his voice to the Anti-tag Dissention League:
Realistically, neither Bryant nor Thomas ever had much of a choice. That lack of leverage means that even though they got long-term deals, they got them while negotiating at a disadvantage. In a league with so many rules in place to put players in positions of weakness at the negotiating table, the franchise tag has far outlived its original purpose.2 If a team in 2015 — square in the middle of a CBA that was considered a resounding victory for the owners — can’t re-sign a Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas without holding them financially hostage, they don’t deserve to keep them.
This deserves its own entry:
Now that Dez has inked his deal, Bell opines, some folks who tried to mess it up owe him a big public apology:
Those who sloppily "reported" such a thing — spreading gossip to sully the name of a man who, despite issues earlier in his career, is maturing — owe Bryant a big apology. Are they big enough for that? Even better, they should call out the sources of the apparent misinformation. Until proven otherwise, this episode smells like something planted by someone with a serious ax to grind.
One of the most interesting post-contract angles was that the Joneses allowed reporters into the negotiations in never before seen fashion. Here are a couple of pieces that resulted from the look inside:
In what is largely a transcription of Jerry's post-contract interview, several cnvenient yet unexamined media memes were burst, including the notion that Generous Jerry would have to elbow Cap-Conscious Stephen out of the way at the last minute to get the deal done:
"That’s not the way we work. Stephen and I confer constantly. I understand people have to say, "That’s the man." The case is that I get a lot of input. If it’s a tie … I win that decision but that’s the way it goes in any organization. (On Dez,) we were unanimous. We were sitting there at 3 a.m. We were able to have a meeting of the minds where we were in sync."
In a radio interview,Jones the Younger offered a wee bit of insight into the Cowboys perspective:
"Obviously deadlines cause things to happen, and I think in this case that’s exactly what happened," Stephen said. "We had a number that we had strategized over probably for weeks, really getting our hands around how the number would affect us not only this year but over the next five years (on the salary cap)."
In a short piece, Machota strikes right at one of the key aspects of the long Bryant contract negotiations: the desire on the Jonses' part to ensure that he have a good investment team working with him to make sure his money is well managed. I believe that's one of the primary reasons Dez switched agents back in October: that trust wasn't there. It is with the Roc Nation fold, however:
"They sold me on their commitment to have an associate in Dez that makes them proud, that makes Dez proud to be associated with them, and that makes Roc Nation proud," Jerry Jones said. "I see that. I see they have a lot to gain and a lot to lose by giving good advice and by helping not only athletes but having entertainers reach their goals and, if you will, keep the money they earn. They’re good at it. They have the perfect textbook. It’s called their book. So they’re good at it. They’re genuine at it and I’m very, very impressed."
Taking Stephen Jones at his word that the Cowboys would have been willing to franchise Bryant for three straight years if necessary, Archer points out that Wednesday's deal offered a comparative win:
So the deal not only gets the Cowboys a slight advantage on the three-year number over what they would have paid had they tagged Bryant three straight years, they also were able to get two extra years at $12.5 million per season, which could be a bargain as the cap keeps going up and up.
A second Mays piece in one news post. Here, Mays reviews teams that suffer from a discrepancy between the quality of their offense and defense, and introduces his examples by citing the Cowboys' offseason:
Dallas spent most of what little free-agent money it had on Greg Hardy, who was then suspended for 10 games (since reduced to four games) following an NFL investigation into his 2014 domestic violence incident. Leaving aside whether he should or shouldn’t be playing, this means Dallas is now getting at least 12 games from one of the league’s best pass-rushers. That’s significant.
The Dallas pass rush was the weakest part of the defense, finishing 28th in sack rate and 27th in percentage of dropbacks disrupted. If this unit wants to take a leap, it will start with that group up front. Along with Hardy, the defensive line returns DeMarcus Lawrence and adds second-round pick Randy Gregory. Suddenly, Rod Marinelli has actual options when it comes to pass-rush packages.
Sessler ranks the league's backup signal-callers. Of course, all we are interested in is where the Cowboys rank. A bit below the middle, in a category Sessler strangely terms "Bag of cats":
17. Chad Henne, Jaguars
18. Fill-in-the-blank, Bills
19. Brandon Weeden, Cowboys
Henne's days as a starter are over barring disaster in Jacksonville. ... Offseason reports out of Buffalo slammed all three Bills passers -- Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel -- and we wouldn't be surprised to see the entire trio start games this season. ... Weeden was run out of town in Cleveland, but has earned praise from Cowboys coaches as Tony Romo's backup. His arm is strong, but who knows where the ball will go. It doesn't help that Weeden turns 32 in October.
Today's ESPN NFC East beat writers question and answer session considers the likely candidates for the most valuable player in the division. The always-reliable Todd Archer offers the following:
DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing and was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year last season, but Tony Romo was still the Cowboys' Most Valuable Player in 2014. And he will be the MVP of the NFC East, too. In his past two seasons he has thrown 65 touchdown passes and been intercepted 19 times. It seems as if everybody continues to wait for the cringeworthy moments while ignoring just how strong Romo is late in games. The Cowboys promise to continue to be a run-first team even without Murray. If they can continue to be successful, they won't need Romo to shoulder the entire burden. It worked last season. It will work this season. Romo has found that balance of when to take chances and when to throw the ball away. If he can stay healthy, he's the best quarterback in the division.
The good news? All four writers agree that Romo will be the division MVP.
Laufenberg's weekly chat transcript yields a question on the Cowboys offseason:
All things considered...I think it was excellent. I think the signing that really put it over the top was getting La’el Collins as a free agent. That is absurd! But there are still a lot of offseason questions. They have lost the NFL’s leading rusher, have signed two pass rushers with checkered histories, and have only one top flight corner. So things could get dicey. But overall, there is reason for optimism, but also, quite a bit of uncertainty.
Archer's roster ranking exercise continues, with a reveal of spots 11-20. As might be expected, most are members of the starting 22; the exceptions are Cole Beasley (number 15), Dan Bailey (18) and, perhaps, the titular Randle (20). Hit the link to see all ten names.
Somehow, in the face of the huge Dez Bryant news, The Mothership's coverage of the downroster guys continues. Today's spotlight is on Texas Tech OT Rashod Fortenberry, a rookie camp invitee who was signed and actually got a lot of positive response to his work in subsequent minicamps. To wit:
2105 Outlook: It didn’t take long for the Cowboys coaches to see some ability in Fortenberry, who went from a rookie tryout player to working with some first-team reps in the minicamp once Chaz Green and Laurence Gibson went down with injuries. It’ll be an uphill battle considering the veterans in place at OT with Smith and Free, and Weems will get plenty of looks. That’s aside from three rookies – Collins, Green and Gibson – who will all get chances to play. So there won’t be any room for error but his position flex to play guard could help Fortenberry stick around, at least on the practice squad.
Last but by no means least:
Part III of Sturm's review of each of the Cowboys' defense 2014 sacks covers sacks 11-19 on the season, which came in games against the Cardinals, Jaguars, Giants (at New York) and Eagles on Thanksgiving. After a cogent analysis of each QB bag, Sturm offers the following look to the future:
But, it is all cast against the idea that the Cowboys have stocked up with pass rush threats who can beat their men for sacks. Hardy, Lawrence, and Gregory will join Mincey and Crawford and likely as they grow continue to move the Cowboys up the ranks of the NFL pass rush teams without needing blitzes. In other words, they should be more equipped to "get there with 4."
Indeed, that will be one of the 2015 season's most important developing narratives...