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Spagnola: More Than Enough To Make Me Laugh

Posted Mar 22, 2013


IRVING, Texas – Broke out chuckling several times this week, in private mostly, so time to out myself.

         First over the NFL’s new rule prohibiting ball carriers outside the box from lowering their heads to create forcible contact with the crown of the helmet, and vice versa for defenders trying to make a tackle.

         Makes sense to me if the NFL is going to continue its vigilance to prevent head injuries in the game, but evidently not much sense to former running backs like Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett and Marshall Faulk, who have been crying out against this now 15-yard penalty from the highest mountain someone will transport them to.

         Funny thing is, not sure any of those three ever ran over a defender outside the box using their suddenly-turning knuckleheads, but the guy who made a living running over guys – mashing many to the ground in violent fashion – Jim Brown, says this is a good rule, that he never believed sticking his head where it didn’t belong was ever a good idea.

         Maybe the NFL should call this the Earl Campbell rule. That is, if anyone has seen the Tyler Rose’s physical condition anytime lately.

         Then, not quite two full weeks into free agency, reading different website’s free agency Winners and Losers lists have been very amusing. Here is one that had me mumbling “Are you kidding me?” and since I was by myself, I’m guessing no one else heard. Now you will.

         “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” because as would be predicted, the Dallas Cowboys were consistently in the “big losers” category of free agency. Guess few have been moved by the re-signings of Phil Costa and Ernie Sims, and as Jerry Jones is wont to say, I’m smiling when I say that.

         But here is what got me: The New York Giants were listed as winners. Winners, I’m telling you, for re-signing linebacker Keith Rivers and offensive tackle Will Beatty, free-agent tight end Brandon Myers to replace Martellus Bennett and linebacker Dan Connor, cut by the Cowboys, and for good financial and performance reasons.

         Come on, seriously? Winners for that?

         Sorry, and I probably do this every year, but allow me to climb on my soapbox to scream about how overrated free agency really is, that in most cases you overpay on the open market for whatever you purchase. Because – get ready – if these free agents are so good, why are they available?

         Teams, usually no matter their cap problems, figure out how to keep guys worthy of big contracts. Building a team through free agency, meaning bringing in a bunch of mercenaries who have no sweat equity in the program, to me is asking for trouble. How fortunate the Cowboys didn’t fork over the other $10 million for some guy named Nnamdi that summer of 2011. Two years later the Eagles have divested their $60 million investment in him

         OK, there, that’s off my chest.

         And now on to what everyone is missing about the first 11 days of free agency for the Cowboys:

  • They retained the rights to their best defensive player in 2012 and arguably the best defensive end/outside linebacker who would have been available in free agency by franchising Anthony Spencer, thus buying time to also further negotiate a long-term deal.
  • They eventually will lock up quarterback Tony Romo on a long-term extension, meaning they are retaining the rights of the best quarterback who could have been in free agency this year had the Cowboys just thrown up their hands because of his $16.8 million cap hit for 2013 and released him.

So, do the Cowboys get any credit for these two offseason moves, keeping your own instead of speculating on someone else’s hand-me-downs?

         And if you want to argue my points, here, let’s go.

         Start with quarterback, and I’ve heard far too many times, oh just release Romo or let him play out his contract and then just go get someone. Well, here are the best of the someones teams just went and got in free agency this year so far: Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselbeck, David Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Anderson and Drew Stanton, and of course, if you want you can still sign Jason Campbell or Brady Quinn.

         That’s reality, and as the old T-shirt slogan used to say in fewer words than these, that inhales air.

         Now then, let’s move on to Spencer, and I’m so tired of people using that old cliché that he had a career year in 2012 because that also coincided with a contract-drive year. Oh yeah, well do you realize he was in the same boat in 2011? That was a contract-drive year, too.

         The difference was how Spencer was used. He was going forward far more in 2012 than he was in 2011, and that’s one of the reasons why his sacks jumped from six to 11. Want another? With DeMarcus Ware playing the final portion of the season with a shoulder in need of surgery, there were more sacks available.

         Plus, the barometer of a player’s play is not always measured in sacks alone. Go ask Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus. He’ll tell you how valuable Spencer has been to this team in the two years he’s been here. Go ask new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin or his sidekick Rod Marinelli. They sure didn’t any waste time jumping on the table to retain Spencer this year, no matter if he’s being evaluated as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a projected 4-3 defensive end.

         Remember, on the strong side it’s most important you stop the run, and Spencer just happened to lead the Cowboys this past season with 106 tackles. So in essence, the Cowboys signed the guy who led them in tackles; was second in sacks by just a half; was second in QB pressures; was second in tackles for losses by just one; led the front seven in passes defensed; and was second in forced fumbles.

         Sounds like a pretty good investment, even if he must play for his guaranteed $10.63 million franchise tag.

         If you think not, look what Baltimore’s OLB/DE Paul Kruger received from Cleveland: five years, $40 million, with $20 million guaranteed, creating an $8 million cap hit this year. And guess what? During Kruger’s four seasons with the Ravens he totaled 69 tackles and 15 sacks, 9 of those this past season. Seriously, in four seasons? That means Spencer had more tackles in 2012 than this guy has put up in his entire career, and had more sacks the past two seasons (17) than this guy has had in his career (15.5).

         Here is one pre-free agency synopsis of Kruger: “Be leery of paying a Dexter Jackson-like Super Bowl-run tax to Kruger. (Especially when he mostly sat in the Super Bowl in favor of Courtney Upshaw for run-defense means.)”

         Also heard a lot of noise about Detroit’s Cliff Avril, how Seattle got a steal on that two-year, $13 million deal on this guy, with $6 million guaranteed (all this year) and the other $7 million guaranteed (base salary) for 2014 if he is on the roster the day after the Super Bowl. This for a guy who had just 35 tackles this past season (in 16 games) and 9.5 sacks.

         His pre-free agency synopsis: “He’s not the greatest against the run and only played 66 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps. … He’ll be paid like a great.”

         Evidently not, the Seahawks basically renting him for one year, with but a look-see for year two. Great ones don’t sign look-see contracts.

         So again, don’t fall for this stuff the Cowboys haven’t done a thing in free agency. They have. They’ve invested in their own, two guys who would have been the best at their positions had they been free agents this year.

         Plus, this free agency stuff is not a one-year deal. You have to examine your cap space over the life of those contracts. And if you think the Cowboys had problems this year getting under the cap, wait until next year. Their top 10 cap hits for 2014 after this year’s round of restructuring comes to $83 million of probably no more than a $126 million cap.

         That would be 66 percent of the cap again for just 10 players, but doesn’t include the likes of Romo’s extension, Spencer if signed to a long-term deal and the expected re-signing of Sean Lee, along with whatever this year’s first-round draft pick will charge in Year 2.

          So my advice: Just calm down, let this whole thing play out, and just remember, teams don’t get to the final game of the season playing for the division title two years in a row with a garbage roster. Even if the Cowboys had money to spend they likely would have only nibbled so far, and there is a good chance if they create cap space in the coming weeks they will carry a lot of that over to next year to defray that cost.

         Yep, just hang tight, and see who gets the last laugh in free agency.

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