Cap Thoughts Continued–Cowboys Cuts?

It’s still weird to have “Dallas Cowboys salary cap” and “options” in the same sentence. It’s been almost five years since fans have been in that position, and a lot of that goes back to Jerry Jones et al. making better decisions in almost every phase of the operation—primarily, get better through the draft instead of free agency. That’s not to say that Dallas shouldn’t be signing any free agents, but no longer should they be making expensive and flashy moves in March to try to fix the team’s troubles. Adding depth and quality players is what March should be for. Because of past free-agent and contract transgressions, the Cowboys were sentenced to salary cap hell for a few years. The regime decided to start taking their medicine instead of continuing the practice of pushing the pain to next year (and the next, and the next), and the fever is breaking. This year, the team has some room, and will likely make a couple roster moves that improve both the talent level and cap number of the team.

The moves of primary interest to me are…

Henry Melton. I loved him coming into the season, and especially loved his contract. The Jones family gave him a “bet on yourself” contract, and didn’t pay for past performance. He has a team option for a 9.2mm cap number in 2015, a 7.7mm cap number in 2016, and a 7.7mm cap number in 2017. If you take one year of that, you’re locked into all three, so the Cowboys will pass on that. I think they’d like him back, but not at 3 year/24mm. So, using a standard cut on him gives an additional 7mm and change in cap room—from 12mm and change to 20mm and change. Also, parting ways with Melton’s contract has a very low negative impact on the cap. Cutting him this offseason leaves us with 750k in dead money for 2015, and none in 2016 or onward. I hope he comes back, but I’m glad we’re not taken hostage by his contract for the next three seasons.

One cut that many people want to make is Mo Claiborne. Every time I see his face it makes me sports sad. I remember watching the 2012 draft on delay, and being told by a friend to call him when I had watched the Cowboys make their first round selection. It tipped me off that something was going to happen, but I thought it was simply going to be a good pick. I didn’t think that we would be trading up to six for a corner. I loved it. I was jumping up and down, so excited to finally get a young ball hawk to wear the star. Turns out, my excitement might have been a little premature. With more millions on his cap number (5) this year than career interceptions (3), it’s understandable to want to move on from him. But, because he’s still under his rookie contract, there’s nothing to gain by moving on from him. Literally nothing. The cap number doesn’t change by a dollar if he’s gone or on the team. Might as well keep him and see if he can give you that one interception/season, instead of paying him to play for someone else. But, I can’t wait for him to be someone else’s problem.

Brandon Carr is only slightly less of a lock to not be on the team in his current contract than Melton. His 2015 cap number is 12.7mm, third highest on the team. Ridiculous for a player who gets beat as often as he does by sub par receivers. In 2015, Carr’s contract is 8mm base salary (none guaranteed), and 4.7mm in bonus money. If we use a standard cut on him, it we gain about 500k in cap room for 2015 and almost 14mm in cap room in 2016 (54.8mm to 68.7mm). Cutting him leaves us with no dead money on the books in 2016 and onward. Definitely worth it to get some additional cap room in 2016 to part ways with a disappointing player.

But, the team could turn his contract into an even better windfall by using a June 1 cut on him. If Carr is cut after June 1 (or designated as a June 1 cut beforehand), the 2015 cap room increases by 8mm (12 and change to 20 and change) while the 2016 cap room increases from 54mm to 61mm (7mm increase). His contract would hit us with 4.7mm in dead money for 2015, and 7.4mm in dead money for 2016. Spreading that hurt out over two years instead of in one year of 12.1mm in 2015 dead money gives the team a little more money in the next two years—14.5mm in extra room for a standard cut, and 15mm in extra room via the June 1 cut.

More important to me is when the team gets that money. Since both situations are about the same, it makes the most sense to take advantage of the situation where you receive extra money when you need it most. Maybe, for instance, a hypothetical offseason where you have 21 free agents on the team, 16 of which actually contributed to team success, and one of them is the best receiver the team has seen in almost two decades. It would be nice to get access to those extra dollars in that completely hypothetical scenario instead of a subsequent offseason where Brandon Weeden is the biggest name to get resigned.  By spreading the cap hurt, they also get to spread the cap relief. I believe that the money received from Carr should go directly to Dez Bryant, while the room the team already has can be used for draft picks, our 48 free agent linebackers, and random free agents. Because the relief from a June 1 cut won’t actually hit the Cowboys’ books until June 1, it won’t avoid a situation where the franchise tag is placed on Bryant—and the accompanying news stories citing unnamed sources giving hints about his opinion of having the tag put on him. But, if Carr is designated a June 1 cut in March, the team can have a handshake agreement with Roc Nation because the money they’re negotiating with is guaranteed to come on Dallas’s books, it’s just not there yet. Carr’s cap number isn’t as high as Bryant deserves, so it’s not a complete problem solver, but I think it’s a significant help to the team. And coupling the Melton and Carr cuts together would give the team 15mm extra in 2015 alone, so that would also help with contract structure. Even if they can’t convince Dez to take the same money but structured better for the team (MLK day was this week, I’m not giving up on my dream Dez contract structure).

Truthfully, I think Carr’s contract gets restructured and he stays with the team. They don’t want to have to replace any more players than they have to in one year, regardless of how badly they need to be replaced. If Carr were to refuse a restructure, what kind of market would he be faced with? I doubt his signing would be a headline on ESPN except to wonder ,”What were the Raiders were thinking?” That eats into my theory of his cap relief becoming Dez’s bonus, but we won’t know for sure until any restructure is signed.

Regardless, the Cowboys are finally in a good place with the salary cap. Looking at the trend in their decision making over the past couple of years, there’s reason to believe that they will continue to make decisions that give the Cowboys room to be flexible under the cap and get better each year. That, coupled with the drafting trend, has me dreaming of the Dallas Cowboys Parade Route brought to us by Papa Johns (use coupon code JERRYPARADE to receive 10% off your next hot wings order).

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Explaining the Salary Cap (SPOILER: I Don’t Understand the Salary Cap)

There are no shortcuts in life, as my physique and Jerry Jones’s trophy cabinet can attest to. Trying to play fantasy football in the NFL doesn’t work, and although the team gave it a good shot, it turns out that the draft is the best way to make your team better. Who knew? But after years of making questionable personnel and financial decisions, the Jerry and Stephen Jones saw the writing on the wall—Mene, mene, Tesal, Arycap—and realized that their salary cap was screwed up. Part of it was Jerry outsmarting 30 of the other owners in the league when he signed Miles Austin’s contract and was punished, but a lot of it was due to idiotic spending. We went through a few years where just getting under the cap and being able to function as a team in the league was a nail biting experience. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. After a couple years of taking our medicine and pushing less guaranteed money into the future, Dallas is rising from cap hell. The next few years have the potential to leave us off ESPN’s list of worst cap situations in the league.

For some perspective, in January 2013, Dallas was 25 million OVER the cap. In January of 2014, it was 15 or 20 million over the cap. But by making future-focused moves, and not trying to fix one year by mortgaging future years (#94 is a sad cap casualty), the years of being over the cap by that much should be a distant memory.

As things stand today, the Cowboys are 13 million and change under the salary cap. That’s a huge turnaround, and is part of the reason that Jerry Jones deserved his Executive of the Year award. The number is misleading—it includes players like Henry Melton that won’t be on the team at their cap number (if at all), and doesn’t include players that need to be resigned. But, it’s a great place to start. I’ve been working on ways to decrease the Cowboys cap number in 2015 and onward, but I’ll get into those later. I want to put out information on the cap in general.

I don’t understand the cap that much, I’m not an expert by any means. But I try to follow people on Twitter who are so that I can learn and know things to help with my deficiency.

Obviously, the rule is that each team has to be under the cap on the first day of the league year (first day of free agency). There’s never been a team unable to get under that number, but the penalty is having to cease all business until getting under the cap. My money would be on Oakland being the first, but they have so much trouble getting free agents that they have more cap room than anyone.

There are two ways that a player gets paid by the team: base salary and bonuses. Base salary is the 17 game checks the player receives through the season (assuming they stay with the team for the entire season). Base salary can be guaranteed, depending on the contract, but isn’t guaranteed as a general rule. The CBA has minimums for a year’s base salary, dictated by how many qualifying seasons that player has in the league (qualifying season = being on the 53 man roster for 3 games), but no maximum. Usually, high paid players have low(er) base salary numbers while their bonuses are the high amounts. Occasionally, a player’s contract will contain high base salary. In those cases, it’s not uncommon for teams to work a deal with the player to convert that high base salary into a bonus because of the ways bonus money can help lower the cap number.

For brevity, I’m going to use “bonus money” or “guaranteed money” to refer to any money that’s not base salary. Usually it’s the signing bonus that gets reported with the contract, but also can include offseason workout bonuses, roster bonuses, etc. Teams and players both love the bonus money, but for different reasons. Players love it because it’s the money they’re getting no matter what. Teams love it because they can get really creative with it and use it to help the cap number in future years. Players don’t get that guaranteed money immediately. The bonus money can be spread out equally over either the first five years of the contract, or the life of the contract if the contract is less than five years.

As an example, say a player signs a 10 year contract with a 15mm signing bonus and 800k/year in base salary. Years 1-5 have 5mm on them as the bonus money divided out, and every year has the 800k base salary. Pretty easy.

Classic Contract

But, say in 2017, that team runs into some trouble and needs to restructure that deal. They need some cap money. They talk to the player, and because he’s a team player, he agrees to play for the league minimum (in this example it’s 400k) if they convert the other 400k into bonus/guaranteed money. Everyone is happy. It seems like you’re just moving money around, he was going to get that 400k anyway—not talking about cutting players in this scenario—so how does this help a team? It helps in that when the base salary is converted into bonus money, that new bonus number (old bonus money + previous base salary money) can be spread over the next five years of the contract. So now, the contract and cap impact looks like this.

Team Needs Some Cap Relief

Boom! I just created 1.8mm in salary cap room per year for the next three years. F—k you, David Copperfield, this is real magic. My player is happy because he is now guaranteed to get 3mm more than he was before. Now, the downside is the last few years of that contract. 2020-2024 his cap number was a paltry 800k. Now, his cap number is 4mm in 2020 and 2021 before dropping to 400k 2022-2024. It was good to lower the next few years’ cap numbers, but we’ll regret it later. Not a huge deal, it’s just one contract, but multiply this kind of move for 5-10 players and it’s easy to see how only focusing on winning today hurts your ability to win tomorrow. Also, we have to wait two extra years to cut the player without eating that guaranteed money. Really bad, because so few players are actually effective on the back end of the contract. But hey, we wanted to win today, so it worked out.

Speaking of cutting a player, let’s cut this player. He sucks. There are two primary ways to cut a player, and they have different impacts on the cap, depending on which method you use. Neither is better, it really comes down to what matters to the GM most. The most common way players are cut is by the normal method of cutting a player. I call you on the phone at your summer house, tell you that we’re going a different direction, and then badmouth you to Adam Schefter so no team picks you up. Depending on where we are in the life of the contract, the effect on the salary cap can vary from minimal to catastrophic. Using our same contract example, we’ll cut this player in 2017.

When you cut a player, he still gets that guaranteed money—that’s not going anywhere. But what changes is when you pay it. The year that he is cut gets blown up by the guaranteed money because all the remaining money that you owed him accelerates into one amount on that year’s cap even though he’s not on the team—dead money. Ouch. Using the original example (not the restructured deal), getting cut in 2017 looks like:

Hey Mo Claiborne, Pay Attention

Ouch, that’s a 9.2mm increase on 2017’s cap. But, he’s off the books in 2018 and onward. He’d have to be a really bad apple for a team to make that move, but we’ve seen it happen. Most often when the player is from the old coaching/GM regime, and the current decision makers don’t have any loyalty to the player. Also, they can take one year of a cap hit to themselves, and blame the previous staff for signing that player to that contract and hurting the team. It provides a little bit of cover for the guys making that decision.

Because it’s the NFL’s salary cap, they couldn’t leave well enough alone, and it had to get more complicated. There is a second method of cutting a player, referred to as a June 1 cut or post June 1 cut. Like the regular method, this has it’s pros and cons. When a player is cut on/after June 1, instead of the remaining guaranteed money accelerating onto the current year’s books, that remaining money is split between the current cap year and the next cap year, softening the blow a little.

Hey Brandon Carr, got any plans for June 2nd? Asking for a friend.

In this example, the 2017 cap number is 5mm—the bonus money sans the base salary. And the 2018 cap number is 10mm because it’s the dead money for the two years left of guaranteed money. I made the 2018 cap number and the 2018 and 2019 bonus money blue to better show where everything came from to get that number.

The upside to the June 1 cut is that you can spread your cap hit over two years. The downside is that you have to wait until June to do it, which means you can’t use that newly freed up money to sign marquee free agents. They’re long gone by then. An additional downside, to the player, is that the team effectively screws over the player by guaranteeing that they don’t get a big contract—most teams are either right at the cap limit by June, or are close enough to the limit to not be giving out big contracts.

The most recent CBA (negotiated in 2011) included a provision that allows teams to designate two players per year as a “June 1” cut without having to wait to until the first of June to release them. That player is free to sign with a new team when free agency starts. However, the team will not receive any cap savings until June 1—on paper it still looks like the player is with the team. Players like this because it allows a player to find employment at the maximum possible price, as opposed to being held hostage until June. Teams like this because it allows them to avoid paying players workout and offseason bonuses that are typically due between the start of the league year and June 1. Once the player is designated as a June 1 cut, no workout or offseason program bonuses are due the player.

There’s probably a lot wrong with these explanations, but as best I can understand this is how the tip of the iceberg works.

Cowboys Hit the Ground Running (Regardless of the Runningback)

A sasquatch, the Fountain of Youth, and Interstellar travel. All things that I wanted to see in my lifetime. My “dreamer’s list”, you might say. Things that I hope to see, but am aware that I never will. They’re nowhere near being crossed off my list, but the list has actually gotten shorter. I just crossed “Jerry Jones make good decisions” off my list (it was sandwiched between “holograms” and “dragon”). I never thought that would get crossed off, but I have had to come to terms with the needle shifting in that direction. No longer is every move made by the owner fodder for rational talking heads on ESPN. No longer does it feel like a riverboat gambler is running the most valuable franchise in the league.

Fifty two hours after the Lambeau Larceny, Jones was crossing items off his own list. Before I sat down to dinner on Tuesday night (breakfast for dinner), Jason Garrett had signed a new contract to be the head coach until 2020, Rod Marinelli agreed to a new deal keeping him running our defense through the 2017 season, and a running back that many were high on in training camp was signed to a two year deal.

These are all great moves, but the Marinelli contract looms over the others, probably because it was the most unexpected. Many media reports had him reuniting with his long term friend Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. In a lot of ways, common sense had him doing that. I wrote on Monday that I thought it was likely, aside for Jerry’s selling technique and mountains of cash to spend. Boy did Jerry Jones come through for us. I haven’t seen numbers on it yet, but it will likely be pretty pricey. Yet, our defensive coordinator will still be a bargain. The reason for our defensive improvement this year is partly about adding some nice pieces in the later days of free agency, but has more to do with Monte Kiffin giving way to Marinelli on that side of the ball. He’s an old school guy, I imagine the prospect of an unfinished work didn’t sit right with him. The opportunity to get a bevy of draft picks added to his units likely didn’t hurt his decision, either. The Cowboys had an excellent draft last year, and if you extrapolate the success rate on defensive players picked to a draft with more defensive players chosen, our defense can look completely different next year. We don’t need a complete overhaul, our offense will keep us in the game. We just need consistent pass rushers and better coverage guys. Draft many and often, then sort it out in Oxnard.

Jason Garrett’s return wasn’t unexpected, though. He was always coming back, the only variables were how many years and for how much. But is worth noting because consistency is something that had been lacking in Jerry Jones’s tenure as owner, and now Garrett will be the second longest termed head coach in Cowboys history after next season, and at the end of his contract will be closer to Tom Landry than Barry Switzer. There was no game of chicken between the two sides. No one postured that it might go another direction in order to affect the financials. This needed to happen, and Jerry made a smart move, quickly. This decisiveness without brashness is refreshing to see from Valley Ranch, and is the latest example of Jerry (not) being Jerry. Whether it’s actually trusting the people he hired to run the draft, or tacitly admitting a mistake in picking the offensive playcaller, Jerry has turned a corner few of us had confidence that he could.

Garrett’s impact on the club can’t be minimized. He’s changed the attitude of the organization in just a few short years. Before, getting a ten point lead on a Dallas team was a recipe for a blowout win—they were neither resilient nor confident. Now, there is almost no deficit that bothers them. The first hint of that was two seasons ago in the comeback victory against the Browns, in the wake of the Josh Brent scandal. They got behind early, faced some adversity, manned up and won. So many games in 2014 were won through adversity, and that iron will to keep plodding and moving forward with your plan doesn’t appear overnight. It has to come from one central place in the organization and cascade down like a waterfall. One of Garrett’s football idols is Nick Saban, and you can see that he’s adopted the Saban approach of building a program. It’s a professional franchise to be sure, but look around at the things he says and the players repeat, and it looks a lot an elite college program.

Signing Ryan Williams to a two year contract is a great move by the front office. Almost exactly 48 hours after Demarco Murray fumbles a likely touchdown away, Jerry signs another body to compete for his 2015 carries. From a business perspective I like it, in that it shows that the team is preparing to lose Murray. Williams isn’t Murray, no one but his mom thinks that, but he’s another capable body to go with Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar (if he resigns; if he doesn’t, he replaces Dunbar). We would love to have Murray back, but if he understandably wants to get the maximum contract he can, we’re better insulated against that loss. Dallas still needs to look to the draft to find his replacement, and I’ll be scouring mock drafts to find running backs that might fall to the second or third, but this is a start. The Williams move also shows that they want to get away from paying older players high dollars, which is a paradigm shift that seemed impossible two years ago. The team is telling Murray, and fans, we’d love to keep you. Here’s what we can pay so that we get value for your inevitable regression. We understand if you don’t want to do that, and we’ve signed a player just in case. That way we’re not forced to negotiate with you out of necessity. It’s a smart move to sign a player you like before anyone else can get their hands on him. It’s smart to start shoring up a position that will be in flux as best you can today. It’s smart to not make splashy financial decisions simply because you can, and the player was good last season. It’s smart to do all of these things in less than 72 hours after your season ends. This is how good franchises handle the offseason, and I’m excited to see the Cowboys taking steps to become one of those good franchises.

These signings are great on their own, but as each one hit the interwebs my Cowboys excitement compounded. After Scott Linehan signs a multi-year deal, I will be taking part in the latest health craze—the Cowboys Kool Aid Diet. There’s no bitterness of salt or questionable long term contracts in this drink, no sir. This glass (purchased at shop.nfl.com/dallascowboys for $49.95) is filled to the brim with touchdowns, bargain contracts, and Dez Bryant Christmas sweaters. I will drink nothing but this amazing Kool Aid elixir and Johnny Walker Blue until 88 is using the Lombardi trophy to throw up the X. Get ready, kidneys.

Ideal Dez Bryant Contract

Interesting article on Dez’s future contract from Spotrac.

I normally like Spotrac, because I can’t understand the salary cap for shit, and few who say they can actually do. But, I don’t agree with the number they came up with. I don’t think Dez should be paid Megatron money, but I think that’s the contract you use as the ceiling. You look at other contract around the league (Wallace, Fitzgerald, Johnson). Dez is better than all of them (combined, even?). Dez, and definitely Jay Z, know that he’s this good and worth this much. What I’m worried about the most is the structure of the contract.

I want it structured like Colin Kaepernick’s or Andy Dalton’s.

Kaep’s, for example is a 6 year, 114mm (61mm guaranteed). But, it’s not that simple. Or, that expensive.

Kaep Contract

Starting in 2015, the bulk of the money is in the base salary—game checks through the season. Because of that, they can move away from him whenever they want with little penalty. Say, they move heaven and earth for the #1 draft pick, and draft the best quarterback in the history of man, God’s gift to the NFL, men want to be him and Manti Te’o tells the world that he’s dating him, Marcus Mariota. They roll with Kaep as QB1 to start the season, but it’s clear by the second game that Mariota is the best quarterback to ever lace up a pair of cleats. They start Mariota in week 3, and don’t lose another game (ever). Going into 2016, they want to trade Kaep but no one will take him. So they think about releasing him. Normally, releasing a guy in the midst of a huge contract like this is brutal. Not for the 49ers. If they cut him in 2016, they take only a 7mm hit in dead money—and depending on when they cut him, they could take that hit over multiple years, but that’s beside the point. Even if they just took the one year hit on the dead money, they would be saving 11mm immediately to move on.

If they decided to move away from him in 2015, it’s a 9mm hit in dead money, but still 8mm in savings. This will be a big negotiating point with Harbaugh’s successor. The point is, by putting all the money in base salaries, the team is able to be in more control long term—but the player gets a bigger check each time he makes the team for the season.

I want a contract like that for Dez. To help his side of the table stomach it, maybe increase the base salary a little. Give him 15-16 in base salaries, but lower signing bonus, so on the off chance he falls of a cliff physically we’re protected. He’s protected because in the first two years he’s getting 30-32 million dollars (more than the entire guarantees of Wallace, Fitzgerald, or Johnson’s contracts).

I can’t begin to know if we can do this kind of thing, cap-wise. But if it’s at all possible I think it’s vital to do both for our long term success and avoidance of cap hell, and to avoid giving Dez the tag. Aside from the Philadelphia game, a high percentage of his touchdowns either come in the red zone or via YAC. The play is barely even starting when the ball is caught by his mammoth ninja hands. We’re accustomed and amazed to see him turn a fifteen yard crossing route into a 45 yard touchdown while breaking four tackles. Outside of the red zone, where you just throw it to him and either a flag goes up or the X does, he’s largely a YAC guy. Which is great. What makes him special is that he does that with his size and speed. But, do you think he’ll be wanting to do all that if he’s on a one year deal? The franchise tag is going to be about 12.6mm for him. He’s going to play hard because he loves the team, adores Tony, and hates losing. But I think there would be less broken tackles, and I’d completely understand.

Pay that man his money (but, please, in a high base salary structure).

My Heart Will Go On (Even If My Team Won’t)

That was a gut wrenching loss. For so many reasons, but it really hurt having what looked like a win snatched away. In westerns, the guys stealing money wear black, and the Marshall or Sheriff getting it back wears a badge in the shape of a star. Yesterday, the men wearing the star joined forces with the men in black to snatch this away from me. From you. From our families. Think of the children. THE CHILDREN!!!

If you’d told me in September (or even October, let’s be real) that the Cowboys win 12 games, I’m cracking up. You follow that up with making the divisional round (without a bye week, Wade) playing against Green Bay, I’m in shock. I would tell you that I’m happy we’re still playing, not ready for Green Bay level of play, but happy to be there. Now that it’s come to pass, I’m sad.

The (almost, not quite, maybe, probably, if you ask 100 people…, should have been, right call bad rule, amazing) catch. I stumbled out of my chair at Three Stacks when it happened, in what I thought was shock. But then I quickly realized that I wasn’t shocked, just amazed. It’s not uncommon for Jason Garrett to go big on 4th and 1. I don’t know where to do the research, so I can’t look at every call he’s made when going for it, but one memory when thinking about going for it with Jason comes to mind is in Tony Romo’s early days. It was late in the game, but not under two minutes, and likely not even the final Cowboys possession if they had punted. But on 4th and 1, instead of running, the call was Tony to throw it deep for the touchdown. I can’t remember who the throw was to, but I remember the play. I don’t remember the opponent, and a Google search just turns up articles about yesterday’s game (not helpful, Google). But, it’s not uncommon for Jason Garrett to decide we’re going for the big play when only a yard is needed, and there’s no do over. Yesterday, I don’t think it was strictly a pass to Dez Bryant that was called. In interviews later, they mentioned that they went there because 88 finally had single coverage on the outside. I would imagine it was either a packaged play, or a sight adjustment by Tony and Dez. Either way, it wasn’t surprising that Jason Garrett would allow it to happen. It was also a good call. Anyone who disagrees with the playcall should also disagree with the other decisions that Garrett made last week. Throwing to Dez one-on-one doesn’t have much less of a success rate (if any) than running Demarco Murray into the mammoths on the Lions defensive line. I liked the call when the ball was in the air, loved it when 88 came down with the ball, and loved it after the reversal.

I can’t decide what I think about the ruling. I’m not emotionally prepared to rewatch the play multiple times to glean micro-level information, so I can’t get as detailed as I’d like. I got my minor in History, which means nothing except that my mind needs to figure out how and why something happened in order for it to be accepted. I have to analyze it. From what I can tell, it all comes down to the officials’ interpretation of Dez’s body movements and actions. They interpret him as jumping up to make the catch, and falling sideways, forward, and lunging while descending to the ground. A perfectly logical interpretation, when you hear it, I think. But, the three times I’ve seen it from the end zone angle, it seems pretty obvious to me that he’s catching it using his momentum to take three steps and then lunging for the end zone. That’s a “football move common to the game.” Had they interpreted it differently, that he wasn’t going to the ground through the whole process, the referee comes out from the hood and not only upholds the catch but awards Dallas six points. I like the law, and don’t mind miniscule rules in the game—although more things should be challengeable, to ensure that the small things are adjudicated correctly. But I don’t think that a catch should be analyzed like this. At least, not this inconsistently. The ground can cause an incomplete pass, but not a fumble. Where’s the logic there? Who’s to say that he wasn’t trying to lunge for the goal line? We see people do that all the time. That’s the only decision needed. And because it wasn’t obvious what he was doing, everyone should revert back to what was called on the field—in front of an extremely well placed official on the sideline. There should have been doubt, and it be a situation of “I can’t say for sure what he was doing there, athletic moves with the ball or falling, so we’ll just go with what was called on the field.” We see those all the time, where the commentators/officiating consultants say that the review might go a different way if it hadn’t been called a catch on the field, or ruled a fumble on the field, what have you. It sounds like a homer thing to say, but I really think that Dez made such an athletic move that people who haven’t watched him every week (and even some people who have) couldn’t believe a mortal is able to do that. He was too athletic for his own good. You shouldn’t get penalized for being a generational talent. But wait, the two best receivers in the game have both been penalized for that, hmmm…

I think it should be similar to the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. When that happens, the play is over, and nothing happening after that matters. Ruling on the field was a fumble, but because 1/16th of an inch was across the plane of the end zone, a touchdown had already been scored. We’re used to that, and we accept that. I think it’s correct. I believe that a catch should be awarded as soon as you have possession of the football and two feet down. If you accomplish those two things, but then go to the ground, haven’t been tagged by an opposing player, and lose the football, you’re a ball carrier who just fumbled. The direction that your body is moving while working to get two feet in while holding the ball shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t need a physicist in New York working to determine if the drag coefficient of Bryant’s uniform contributed to his center of gravity shifting to a downward trajectory at a rate of 2mass * drag(x+Ө). If you can hold onto the ball while getting both feet down and in bounds, you’re good. At the instant that happens, you’re a runningback.

I don’t think this just because it hurt Dez, and the Cowboys. It’s so difficult to adjudicate. There’s a vine going around of Moncrief scoring a touchdown against the Bengals last week. He scores in the corner of the endzone and leaves the ball on the ground to celebrate. That wasn’t taken away from him or analyzed, because no one doubted he caught it. It’s unnecessarily complicating things. I’m pro-official or referee, I want more things to be reviewable so that the right call can be made. Everyone understands that they’re making calls in real time, it’s impossible to be right. Get as close as you can, and if someone vehemently disagrees, they’ll throw this red hankie onto the pitch and it gets corrected. The ref is happy because his name isn’t being mentioned all over the media, and the teams are happy because the right thing happens.

The mantra being repeated on ESPN and other media outlets is “right call, bad rule”. I agree, it’s not a good rule, but I disagree that the call was right. It takes an act of judgment for the reviewer to decide to invoke an additional set of catch-determining rules in addition to the ones usually used. That shouldn’t be. To me, the tragedy is less that the rule hurt my team, but that someone somewhere decided that more rules or additional rules should be used. Bryant didn’t jump straight up and then fall down. That would be an obvious instance to invoke the “complete the process” rules. But a freak of nature moving on both the x and y axes simultaneously doesn’t make it completely obvious to bring that paragraph into play.

So it’s a bad rule, but I don’t think it was even the right application of the rule. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t have a strong enough stomach to watch it enough times to be sure. I can only rely on football people that I follow, with no Dallas affiliation or preference, and all of them have said that after watching it a ton, it’s a catch.

I think this gets rid of the rule, going forward. The other infamous instance of the rule is Calvin Johnson, but that was in a week 1 game. This is different. The most valuable franchise in this hemisphere feels screwed over, and they have a seat on the competition committee. I’ll be stunned if this isn’t changed in March.

What hurts the most though, is how Dez must feel. I’m sick about it, and I’m just watching on TV. He’s the athlete that has trained for this moment, and moments greater than this, and did what God gave him the ability to do: run fast, jump high, and use his hands to make great catches. He’s spent the whole season proving that he deserves a huge contract. I think he’s done more than enough, but this definitely would have sealed it. Jay Z has a much easier negotiation after a catch like that in a moment that large. 88 has to live with that lost opportunity. “Maybe if I just get two feet down and then go out of bounds?” “What if I’d not switched hands?” What if. What if. What if. There’s nothing I could have done differently (except for not knocking over a tall stool), so I’m just sad. Dez has to be sad, and full of regret. I hurt for him.

But, that isn’t the reason that we lost. We have more of a case for griping about that than Lions fans did last week though. Ours was on fourth down, their coach was to chicken to even go for it on fourth and 1 (versus Garrett’s call on fourth and 2). So, they still had a chance to win after getting hosed (if they did). We had no chances. People will say, “Well, they had a chance, just couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers.” Yeah, no crap. Do you think Garrett goes for a touchdown there if we’re facing Geno Smith? He knew our defense had done everything it could, and it was up to the offense to finish this. We should have gotten 26 or so seconds back on the clock after the Dez Debacle, which would have made Green Bay make more plays before just running out the clock. I can’t say that it was likely we get a turnover or even force a punt, but our defense has done crazy things this year, so I would have liked to see them get every possible chance. Also, Romo got hit late multiple times, and low. It was hard to hear commentary to know what Troy Aikman and Joe Buck thought about the hits/no calls because both occurred on plays that were positive for Dallas so there was screaming in the bar. But, while reading Twitter during the Denver game, I saw multiple NFL people (not Dallas people) comment on a roughing the passer call for either Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning by saying “Romo could have used one of those calls earlier today,” “If Tony Romo was more elite, he would get roughing the passer calls #sarcasm”, so I feel like they were missed calls. Were they make up calls for last week, like I fretted to Chace might happen? I don’t know. I don’t think make up calls exist game to game, but I think that officials heard all the criticism this week and all the Dallas Cowboys/Illuminati crap, and it would be understandable to subconsciously decide you’re only calling things in favor of them if it’s obvious. You don’t want to be lumped in as fixing a game, so you give the pass rusher an extra second’s worth of benefit of the doubt. I also haven’t watched the Randall Cobb catch that might have skipped into his hands off the turf, or maybe his glove, but again the NFL people I follow on Twitter have been using that as an example of the inconsistency of “catch” rulings this week.

And, worse, off the field things aren’t the reason we lost today. We could have won, maybe should have won, but I think it’s tough to argue that we should have won against the best quarterback in the league—even when hobbled. Romo played a hell of a game. I don’t like passer rating as a measure, but when compared to other people’s passer ratings, it’s not the worst. Romo had a passer rating of 143.6 which is really good. A few notes from Twitter (@thejordanross), Romo was the first quarterback with a 140.0+ rating and 78.0 completion percentage in a road playoff game. And that was at Lambeau Field. Also, Romo has the distinction of being the first quarterback to post a 125.0+ passer rating in a playoff game and lose. The other games with a quarterback posting 125.0 or higher, were 68-0. He was getting beat up in addition to his existing injuries, and still played out of his mind. Give this man a defense, and I like our chances.

I don’t like to go through and take something in a game and say that if that is different, the game ends differently—time travel movies have taught us nothing if not that changing one action changes every action afterwards—but the Murray fumble is huge. Jimmy Johnson gives him a Greyhound ticket home after yesterday’s game. When looking at the replay, you can see that they’re in a single-high safety look, and once Demarco is through the hole it’s either a 35 yard gain or touchdown. Now, if that run isn’t a touchdown, there’s no way to know that we get points—even Dan Bailey wasn’t so hot Sunday—but, we can definitively say that the Packers don’t get those points. That’s tough to handle. In a game where points were going to be scarce, a chance to put our feet on the throat of a superior opponent and force them to become one dimensional would have been monumental. He hadn’t fumbled since week 8, but he had such a habit of it before week 9, that we knew it was a matter of time before it happened again. So rarely do players solve that problem, they just make it better. The only upside, we won’t have to hear radio callers and people on the street saying that Murray should be back.

In all, we played a good game. Not a great game, but we’re not a great team. We know that. Dallas overachieved, and gave fans an amazing ride. Games this late in the playoffs are supposed to be close, and one mistake or advantage can mean tipping the scales your way. So there aren’t many things to poke at and say could have turned the tide, but the Dez play and Murray fumble are appropriate laments.

Today is also sad because I had to come to the realization that that was Marinelli’s last game with the Cowboys. I love him. He’s always been able to get more than 100% from his players. It’s like having a ring made by the dwarves that elevates your player rating by 10 points. If you’re an All Pro, he’ll make you play at an all time high level. If you’re an undrafted guy, he’ll make you play your way into the rotation on game days. He’s a combination of scheme and coaching. His scheme isn’t that complicated (maybe because of the talent we’ve given him, I haven’t watched even one snap of his defenses in Chicago), his value is making his scheme make perfect sense to the players so they can play as fast as they can. No thinking. I can’t remember having defensive guys out of position this year, even in the secondary. I’m sure it happened, but taking a 2013 storyline and completely quashing it in one offseason is commendable. Jerry Jones making a recruiting/sales pitch can never be counted out, but this will be his toughest sale in a while. I think he has a chance though. My optimum pitch would be:

“Here’s a check, Rod. You’ll notice that the ‘amount’ section is blank. Just fill that in at your leisure. Here’s a page of paper. You’ll undoubtedly notice that it’s blank except for the title—‘First Round’. I bet coaching this defense was a pain in the ass when your highest drafted player was Mo Claiborne. Huh? You remember him, he played cornerback for a few games. No? Number 24… Still no? I mean, he’s always on the second training table on your right as you walk—yeah! That guy. Sorry about that, we screwed you there. But, how would you like to fill in the name on this sheet? You pick the guy. I know Tampa Bay has Gerald McCoy, but who do they have after him? You have guys that you’ve molded and have playing out of their minds. How about you run the draft, and inject some real talent in there and see what this unit can do? Also, remember the blank check I just gave you.”

Ultimately, I think he does go. He loves Lovie like a son, and only came to Dallas because Lovie was taking a year off and there was nowhere for Rod to follow him. I’ll be sad, but then I’ll go to Vegas and put my money on “Gerald McCoy to be in Hall of Fame.” Marinelli might be best defensive coach we’ve had here in years. Wade was good, but had talent. I think that if you factor in two full seasons at 4-3 and the desert of talent he did this with, he’s a genius.

When he does go, it will be Matt Eberflus. He’s highly respected as far as I can tell (although, it’s only Cowboys guys that are talking about him, so grain of salt there), and I like the principle. When you become a coordinator for the first time, I want to look at your last position group. How good were they? Are you a product of their talent, or did you succeed in spite of talent, or did you suck because they sucked? Eberflus has been the linebackers coach since the 2011 season. He can’t be blamed for Sean Lee’s health, but I would say that our linebackers are the strength of our defense. They play smart, and are usually well prepared. He’s had a full year under Marinelli to learn, and a year before that under Kiffin to learn (what not to do), so I think he will put a good scheme together. The closer he keeps it to what it was, the better—guys that don’t have to think play faster. And, we can’t forget, basically a foregone conclusion that it’s a big fat defensive guy we draft in the first round. I want a big SEC guy that can barely read and has been getting his grades faked since fourth grade just so he can play football. Make the playsheets color coded with pictures, and tell him to go hit that guy over there as hard as he can. Drafting 27th hurts our options of defensive guys to select, and I don’t want to go defense just for the sake of going defense, but I think if we make defense our focus, we’ll find some guys. I was ecstatic about the Anthony Hitchens (3rd or 5th, can’t remember) and Demarcus Lawrence (2nd, and traded up to get) picks last year, and those guys are turning out okay. Keeping Will McClay is crucial to our success going forward.

Scott Linehan is a different story. I know he’ll be in demand, but I’m not sure how high. I haven’t been on Twitter in the past few hours, so his name may have popped up with opportunities, but before Sunday it had only been the Raiders coming round, and they’d been rebuffed. Pay him what he wants, I think Jason Garrett’s comfort with him is crucial to allowing Garrett to not worry about the offensive gameplan as much, and enable him to focus on the other areas of a football team. Unless JG has another guy in mind, I worry that Linehan leaving has effects in every phase of the game because of Garrett reverting back to a micromanager.

Who we keep on the roster in addition to the coaches that stay is going to be very interesting. My heart already hurts, and I’m not going to put my brain in the same boat by looking at the cap yet. The principle guys with expiring contracts if I can remember are: Rolando McClain, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and DeMarco Murray. Brandon Carr might need to restructure if he wants to stay (I would think any restructure is more than he’d make on open market after we cut him), but not getting into hypotheticals. Henry Melton has a team option, but all reports say they’re not picking that up.

Rolando is going to be a tough one to keep, I think. It might help us that he’s fallen off the last few weeks of the season and didn’t play two full quarters in the playoffs, and temper the market for him, but he’s going to get calls. I would really like to sign him for three years, but I’m not sure if he’d take a deal that was team friendly. Having him would be huge for our positional and scheme flexibility—start at Mike, with Lee at Will, and then flex the two of them around based on injuries. If we don’t keep him, then Carter and Durant are more important.

Bruce Carter has come into his own this season. I worry about such a dramatic increase because of it being a contract year, but you can’t deny what he’s been consistently able to do. Yesterday, he was inches from deflecting another pass that would have changed the game. I think he got down on himself last year, had some trouble brain-wise figuring out the new scheme, and it compounded into the Dumpster fire wearing a 54 jersey. I want him back, but still a team friendly deal. He will also be getting some calls, but I’d reach a bit to keep him.

Justin Durant getting injured helps us, I think. He’s supposedly our most athletic and talented linebacker (I couldn’t tell if those quotes included Lee, or just linebackers who were on the team), so I’d like to keep him. We got him as a free agent for 2 years/2.4MM two years ago, so I think a small increase over that will do the trick. He was great in spots for us, but I don’t think he’s a name at the top of many team’s boards. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

Dez needs a new contract. I’m on the record that it needs to be a Kaepernick/Dalton style cap friendly deal. That would still give Dez the recognition and money he deserves, but keep the team insured against his talents regressing or something catastrophic. Pay the man. Pay him twice for all the times he’s made me cheer this season.

Cole Beasley needs to get paid. Because he’s the Wes Welker type (read: White), and didn’t score as many touchdowns as Laurent Robinson, I think there’s a chance we don’t have to compete with a team. And, Beasley is a restricted free agent, so we can put a second round tender on him, and get a second round pick if we lose him. I think we keep him because he knows what he has in Tony, he’s from Little Elm and SMU, and even in a run centric offense is going to get chances.

Murray is gone. Dallas would like to keep him, I’m sure, but teams are going to offer him money. And he should take it. Dallas should only sign him to an extremely team friendly deal. The kind of deal a player takes only when there’s literally no other option. That won’t be the case with Murray (the Raiders are always looking for an oft-injured runningback), he’ll have options. He was close to setting the all time record for carries in a season, and blasted through the 300 carry threshold. It’s an old article, but go to the bottom and there’s a table showing every runningback who carried the ball over 300 times (carries, not touches), and what happened the next year. It was rare to be even close to what you were before, and Murray struggled with injuries before this. Murray carried the ball 392 times in the regular season, and 436 times total (2014 accounted for 47% of his career carries). Personally, I believe that the front office determined early on that the only way he was coming back was on an ultra team-friendly deal, and told Garrett to ride him into the ground. Or until he stopped producing. Which is what they should have done. You take a guy that is a great runner but hurts you with fumbles 30% as much as he helps you (arbitrary ratio), looking for the biggest contract possible, with the last memory being a touchdown costing fumble, he’s gone. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar can team up with whoever we draft (as long as we have this O line, every draft needs to include a runningback) and give us 75% of what Murray did. But that 75% is coming at a better cost percentage than Murray would have in 2015. That cost savings can be allocated to a player/players that can help other ways (Cole MFing Beasley) and still produce wins.

This was a great season, and one that I wouldn’t have ever imagined in September. They’ve changed my view of them, and I think the country’s view too. It was a hell of a ride, and I’ll never forget it. It’s sad that it had to end, but only 1 team is happy with the way their season ends. If the right pieces are kept and added, yesterday could become our January 5th 1992.

Brisket Sandwich or Sausage Plate?

I’m confident about this week. It kind of scares me to be confident, almost expecting a win, going into Lambeau Field for the Division Round of the playoffs. But I am. This team is different, and has shown week after week that they’re not the same old Cowboys. The calm, business like demeanor they take into each game–instilled in them by the head coach–has served them well, and kept small deficits from becoming large ones. They don’t go off script until they absolutely have to, trusting that the days spent on the game plan were correct and not something to throw in the trash at the first punt or touchdown allowed.

Green Bay is a beast, even with Aaron Rodgers hobbled to some extent. I think he’s more mortal if he’s confined to the pocket, but he’s still the best quarterback on the field. How we cobble together ways to handle Jordy Nelson and Randal Cobb keeps me up at night, but I remind myself that this isn’t the old America’s Team. Considering their talent, we locked down Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson last week, and that was an uncommon game script for us, and one that should have led to and explosion by the Detroit receivers. It’s not inconceivable, but I doubt that the Packers’ defense lays siege to our offensive line like the Lions did. If that’s true, then we won’t be punting as often as we did on Sunday, which gave the Lions more opportunities to take advantage of our defense. They couldn’t. Rod Marinelli has these guys playing his style of bend but don’t break, and in the Red Zone we’re a completely different defense. When was the last time we saw a game where Megatron didn’t have a red zone target? I never would have guessed that it was against Dallas’ secondary.

That gives me hope. I think Jordy is a better receiver right now, and he definitely has a better quarterback than Megatron does, but I would take 100yds and one TD from Jordy. To me, that’s a victory. After watching games in the middle of the season, holding him under 150 and 2 TDs seemed like a pipe dream, but last week (and the weather) makes me believe that it’s possible. That helps keep the game close, and that’s all we need.

The key to winning on Sunday is the same as it has been for 16 weeks. Run the ball to control the clock (Dallas leads the league in TOP @33:00/game), and string together high quality drives. I believe that 12 personnel is going to be a big factor in the gameplan this week. I’d been thinking that 11 personnel would be best for us since it keeps Cole Beasley on the field, and I thought that Murray had looked good running out of that package in the second half. But, after reading Bryan Broaddus and listening to Green Bay radio, they are terrified of AJ Hawk being on the field. I looked at PFF, and he’s their weakest linebacker–and comes off the field in nickel situations (vs our 11 personnel). He has a -.6 pass coverage rating. Not great, but not horrible, definitely not enough to inspire that much fear in disc jockeys. But his run defense rating is -10.1, which plays right into our hands. If we go three wide receivers, they counter by being able to bring Hawk off the field in favor of an additional corner or safety. If we stay in 12, with Gavin Escobar and Jason Witten, they have to leave Hawk on the field. That allows us to run at their weakest run defender and take advantage, run the clock, and keep the game in our hands. I also think that we strategically sub in Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. In the Redskins game, the defensive line was attacking Demarco Murray, and keeping him largely in check. The first two plays we sub in the faster guys went for touchdowns (although only one stood after a penalty). I think that after two and a half quarters of Murray, we hit them with Dillard’s Worst Nightmare and get a favorable result.

But 12 also allows for some favorable passing plays, I think. Since that would put them in their base defense, it makes it harder to double cover Dez Bryant. If they rotate the safety over top of him, that guarantees single coverage to Terrance Williams, and assures Witten of being matched up against a linebacker. I’ll take that all day. Because of the formations that you can run in 12 personnel, and those formations’ ability to be run or passing plays, it’s possible that our running success forces them to drop 8 into the box, guaranteeing that Dez has single coverage. That personnel package and our productivity with it will force them to pick their poison. Which item from Scott Linehan’s menu would you like? I have a feeling that Dez goes off on Sunday. It feels kind of like the Jacksonville game–sloppy field, above average defense, and eventually 88 gets his. The Lions defense took Dez out of the game via their coverages and attacks on the offensive line. I don’t feel like that happens this week. At least, not as consistently as last week. I don’t want Tony Romo to force him the ball, but I don’t think he will. It’s been a few games since I saw Tony forcing bad throws, and I think we’ll take what they give us. And because of their base defense deficiencies, and our balanced explosiveness, I’m confident that it’s close midway through the fourth quarter. And in those situations, I like Tony Romo and our offensive line.

North Coast Offense

Obviously I know Aaron Rodgers is good. If you account for age, he’s the best quarterback in the league hands down. But reading more about him on a week we play him, it makes me sad that he’s so good.

This is a great Grantland piece on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ (Adapted) West Coast offense. It’s by my favorite football-related writer, Chris Brown. Nothing groundbreaking, but interesting nonetheless.

I can’t find anywhere that has it cited, but read multiple tweets yesterday that gave me a new appreciation for Rodgers. Matt Flynn has made a lot of money based off one 6 TD game in which Green Bay decided to rest Rodgers in preparation for the playoffs. The playcaller for that game was Aaron Rodgers. Super badass–it’s a different monster to call plays versus execute them, and very impressive that he can fluctuate between the two.

dallascowboys.com needs to make more videos like this.

I’m glad to hear that Anthony Hitchens and Terrell McClain plan on playing Sunday. Hitchens doesn’t seem to have aggravated his high ankle sprain after being forced to play double his snap count due to Rolando McClain’s concussion. Terrell McClain has been an above average player for us, so I’m glad he’s going to suit up. 55’s availability will be key this week. His ability to quickly diagnose plays after the snap (if he even waits for the snap to predict where the play is going) is going to help us against both Fat and Fast Eddie Lacy.

SI’s Doug Farrar ranked the remaining offensive lines in the playoffs. Shock to few, Dallas is #1.

1. Dallas Cowboys (First in Adjusted Line Yards, 17th in Adjusted Sack Rate, fifth in Total Pressures Allowed, tied for fourth in Pass Blocking Efficiency)

There’s no question that the Cowboys have the best run-blocking line in the NFL — they helped convert 76 percent of all short-yardage runs on third or fourth down and in the red zone, the team’s second-level blocking has been stellar, and Tyron Smith might be the league’s best left tackle. Dallas has some issues in pass protection, but when you have a team with a Sack Rate in the middle of the pack and a Total Pressures Allowed in the top five, you’ve probably got a quarterback who’s working his way into some sacks — and that’s always been true of Tony Romo. PFF, in fact, has Romo responsible for six of his sacks this season, while left guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Doug Free are responsible for three each. Leary and Free are the weak links overall, but in Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin, the Cowboys have hit big on a great foundation.

You’re damn right we have, Doug. Damn right.

Rodgers is scheduled to be held out of practice today. I’m not reading too much into it, he’s obviously going to play, and Tony Romo misses every Wednesday practice anyway. What I am hoping for is that he will be more limited, and not quite himself. He said that when it happened against the Lions he initially thought that he’d torn his Achilles tendon. That kind of pain and muscle/tendon strain doesn’t completely go away quickly, and I’m not a doctor but I don’t think it helps to play in 15 degree cold.