SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – Some April Fools' Day, huh?
Pranks seem highly inappropriate today as we sit here once again working from home.
But at least we can work, and considered somewhat essential to continue doing so during these trying times. And with the offseason business of the NFL carrying on, we have no lack of shots available.
So no messin' around. Let's go.
· Almost Famous: As expected, the NFL owners voted unanimously to add an extra wild-card team to each conference playoff, now meaning three wild-cards and four division champs for a seven-team playoff per conference. Why not? See no downside in getting to watch six games that first weekend of the NFL postseason. Some say this water downs the playoffs. Worried that too many 8-8 teams will get in. You want watered down? Should see these Texas high school football playoffs. So many qualifiers with losing district records included. Speaking of that, saw this note that over the past 30 years of NFL playoffs, dating back to the 1990 season when the playoffs went from 10 teams to 12 teams, 44 of the 60 teams would have claimed the seventh seeds with winning records, including 10 different teams with 10 wins. But get this, only one team during that span would have qualified for the playoffs with a losing record had there been three wild-card entries for each conference. And … that would have been your Dallas Cowboys, with that 7-9 record in 1990, had the New Orleans Saints lost their final game of the NFL season to the L.A. Rams. But with 0:02 left on New Year's Eve, Morten Andersen kicked a game-winning 24-yard field goal to beat the Rams, the Saints finishing with an 8-8 record and grabbing the final NFC wild-card spot. Had they lost, the Cowboys would have won the 7-9 tiebreaker with the Saints, and would have gone rather remarkedly from 1-15 in 1989 to the playoffs in one year.
· Save The Date: Under normal circumstances, we would have expected the 2020 NFL schedule release in like two weeks, usually just prior to the NFL Draft, scheduled for April 23-25, and sounds as if it's draft on. But an NFL rep now says expect the new schedule release right around May 9, when many of us can then plan out our lives for the year … that is, if indeed there is a season, or if so, starts on time. Strange times.
· Not So Fast: There seems to be this perception out there that the Cowboys have solved their defensive line problems with the signing of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the agreement with 1-technique tackle Dontari Poe. OK, Poe adds some heft in the middle, going 6-3, 346, bigger than the 6-1, 310 of Antwaun Woods. As for McCoy, he is listed at 6-4, 300, and is expected replace lost unrestricted free agent Maliek Collins (Raiders). But hey, Collins checks in at 6-2, 310. Also, went back to watch four Carolina games the ex-Panther played in last year. McCoy, at 32, can still play, starting all 16 games in 2019 and averaging 43.5 snaps a game. He still has power and moves well, though not as dominant as he was during his six Pro Bowls seasons (2012-2017). As for Poe, and I happened to watch the second time vs. Tampa Bay, then games against San Francisco, Green Bay and Houston. Against the Buccaneers, a 37-26 Panthers win, Poe was as advertised up front: Active, pocket-pusher, though the Bucs ended up throwing the ball 54 times once trailing 34-10. But against the Niners, Packers and Texans, Poe totaled two tackles. That's it. Wasn't that stalwart against the run at all, getting blocked and pushed out of plays in too many one-on-one situations. On goal-line plays against Packers, got pushed back into the end zone. Same against the Texans. Expected him to be better against the run. Heck, the Niners ran for 232 yards and five touchdowns in that 51-13 scorching of Carolina. The other concern the Panthers had for not picking up his $9.8 million base salary for 2020 was the quad injury causing him to miss the final five games of last season, resulting in surgery, always a concern for someone that big turning 30. Also know this: With McCoy and Poe starting in the middle, the Panthers finished 29th against the run. Let's tap the brakes here just a tad.
· Eagle Eye: Missed this last week. Former Cowboys scout Ron Marciniak passed away on March 23 at the age of 87. He was one of those old-school scouts, in that reign with Jason Garrett's dad, Jim, Walt Yowarsky and Dick Mansperger. In fact, Ron was inducted into Ourlads' Scout Hall of Fame, that also includes former Cowboys scouts Ermal Allen, Cornell Green, Walter Juliff, Tom Ciskowski, Mansperger and Yowarsky. Gil Brandt tells the story of how Marciniak in 1985 jumped on the table during scouting meetings to implore Gil, Tom and Tex to draft this skinny receiver out of Mississippi Valley State in the first round. Says Gil: "In the mid-'80s, Ron loved this small-school receiver that we had our doubts about because of his slow speed. He ran something like a 4.6 40 and had the slowest short shuttle of all the receivers at the combine that year. But Ron believed in him so much he had him run the 40 at least six times in hopes of getting a speed that would help build his case. He not only pounded the table for this receiver but literally got up on it and started shouting things at us like, "I've seen this guy nine times …" And yep, with the 17th pick the Cowboys were all set to take Ron's guy. But at 16, the San Francisco 49ers selected one Jerry Rice. The Cowboys, they settled for Michigan defensive lineman Kevin Brooks, who was so not into football that when the Cowboys called him on draft day, he missed the call. Was out roller skating. Lasted four seasons. Rice, a Hall of Famer with the NFL's all-time catch record of 1,549. "And that is the story of how the greatest receiver in NFL history became a 49er … and nearly a Cowboy," Brandt says. May Ron rest in peace.
· Little Shots: Have seen some references to the Cowboys possibly trying to recoup some of Travis Frederick's prorated signing bonus since he's retiring, but he only has one year of $650,000 remaining since the majority of his $11.3 million dead money is tied up in restructure bonus, which basically is proration of converted base salary he would have earned already … Randall Cobb, who has signed that three-year, $27 million deal with Houston, says the Cowboys did make him an offer, but can assure you did not include $18 million guaranteed – his $6 million signing bonus and first two base salaries worth $12. Says after his one-year prove-it deal with the Cowboys in 2019 for $5 million, "Tough decision to make … Dallas gave me that opportunity and I thank them for giving me that chance." … The NFL is making plans to allow teams what's going to be called a "virtual offseason," where coaches can meet with players on streaming devices, which some teams already are using to meet with eligible college players before the draft … And to think because the Cowboys have a new coaching staff, they were going to start their offseason workouts on Monday, but now, who knows when, if at all.
Oh, and programming note, we will now start a talkin' version of Mick Shots on DallasCowboys.com, our newest podcast show beginning at 9:45 a.m. this Thursday, myself and Bill Jones, but of course, from our homes as we remain sheltered in place. You know, the more things change, the more they remain the same, since 15 years ago, during that 2005 offseason, Bill and I originated Talkin' Cowboys from The Ranch as part of what was then the upstart Cowboys Channel on Comcast TV. One of our first call-in guests before the draft was Eric Randall, the high school coach of one Marcus Spears at Southern Lab School in Baton, Rogue, La. Join us.