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Spagnola: And Now For The Rest Of The Stories Heading Into Free Agency

FRISCO, Texas– Happens this time every year, where molehills turn into mountains, when common sense takes a backseat to headlines. When player agents have no problem throwing something out there in the name of creating market value for their clients. Where team officials say one thing to disguise what they're really thinking.

         So as a public service, let's do this. Let's try to bring some facts, and give you the rest of the story.

DeMarcus Ware would like to return to the Cowboys:

         Sure, he does. He'd also like to play for the New Orleans Saints, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Minnesota Vikings and anyone else willing to pay a pass-rushing defensive end turning 35 before the start of the season millions of dollars. But the question in need of answering is, what's he willing to play for? Like the $1 million contract aging veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney played for last year with Atlanta? Like the two-year, $3.5 million contract aging James Harrison just re-signed for with Pittsburgh?

         Come on, how much?

         Yes, the Cowboys need a pass-rushing defensive end, even a designated one not expected to play every down, maybe no more than 15-20 snaps a game at most. But let's remember, when it comes to the Cowboys and the salary cap, every dollar counts, and they sure can't afford to be frivolous with the roughly $3-$4 million of cap space remaining at this point.

         Also, let's consider this: Last year Ware played only 10 games for Denver, and 21 of 32 over the past two seasons because of injury. His back problems last year interrupted training camp. Then in Week 2 he fractured the ulnar bone in his right arm. Had surgery to insert a plate. On Dec. 31, he underwent microdiscectomy surgery to repair a ruptured back disk. Said he feels better than ever. Probably does, the pressure has been lifted off his spinal cord. But he's only two months removed from back surgery and going on 35.

         Red flag?

         Oh, and he also had just four sacks last year, 11.5 over the past two seasons. Know what? Tyrone Crawford has 9.5 sacks over the past two years and there are many of you out there wanting him cut. In fact, over the past four seasons Ware has registered no more than 7.5 sacks in three of those four years.

         So how much you paying for all that?

         Be careful with the salary cap dinero.

Adrian Peterson Would Love To Play For The Cowboys

         Understood. But bet, he too, would love play for the Saints, the Chiefs and even the Vikings if they pay the running back turning 32 in less than three weeks a princely sum.

         So the Cowboys have the NFL's 2016 leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott. He doesn't turn 22 until July. He does everything:  run, catch, block, score touchdowns. Again, how much does Peterson want to play for and is he willing to finish out his career as a backup, a guy who might get 10 snaps a game, maybe a half-dozen carries? Is he willing to sign a contract like Darren McFadden did in 2015, a two-year, $3 million deal with a $200,000 signing bonus. Not much, right? But he's going to be a backup, in what – and don't forget – his 11th NFL season.

         Bottom line: Is Peterson willing to be insurance?

         To me, he would be excess, and the Cowboys are badly in need of necessities with 20 unrestricted free agents, a good 16 of those contributing greatly to a 13-3 team.

         There also is this: In two of the past three seasons, Peterson has played a combined total of four games, all of three this past year, both seasons injury interrupted. What exactly would you be buying, and the Cowboys simply don't have the cap space to spend for, like Ware, a name from the past.

         Peterson would be a luxury, though a low-cost one if available, say, the first of September.

Doug Free Is Considering Retirement

         Now, the Cowboys, including COO Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett, are scratching their heads on that one. Me, too.

         Free just turned 33. He's put in 10 years. And he's in the final year of a restructured three-year, $15 million salary. His base is $5 million, really not all that much for a starting right tackle in the league.

         But here is the catch: He was given a $4.5 million signing bonus back in 2015, and a $2 million restructure bonus last year. That would mean, if he walked away, the Cowboys could demand he pay them back $2.5 million of those bonuses he received, the remaining proration – or dead money – left on the cap.

         Don't know many folks who would write a $2.5 million refund check. I'd have to make them cut me before I'd do anything like that.

Tight Ends Coach Mike Pope Is Retiring

         There is good reason for that, and not just the fact that he turns 75 on the 14th of this month, or that he's been coaching since 1970. That's 46 years. First met Mike in 1981 when he was on Steve Sloan's Ole Miss staff, and then ran into him again in the NFL on Bill Parcells' New York Giants staff.

         Great guy. Funny as some of the unique drills he concocts for the tight ends. Loves coaching and teaching.

         But for the past couple of seasons, Mike has been battling serious health issues. Amazing he made it through the 2016 season. Pretty tough guy. Should all wish him well.


Jaylon Smith Will Be Ready For Offseason Drills

         Maybe we should still preface this with Jaylon Smith will* attempt *to resume playing football.

         And unless that nerve damage suffered in the final game of his college career, when he tore multiple ligaments in his knee, significantly responds over the next two months, his attempt will be to play football with the brace he wears to lessen the effects of the existing drop-foot he's still experiencing. Now, I'm told the Cowboys doctors think it's possible he can resume playing football with the help of a unique brace. And, I know, you see his workout tape of running full speed, cutting around cones, doing all sorts of grass drills. That's progress for sure, and encouraging, especially for him to keep his spirits up.

         But here is the question that remains to be answered: Will he return playing at the level of the potential top-five pick he would have surely been in the 2016 NFL Draft if not for the injury? Or will the problematic drop-foot diminish his immense skills?

         See, what he's doing now is mostly taking premeditated steps. He knows where he's going. But in football, you can't predict every step, especially playing middle linebacker. You must cut on a second's notice, plant, drive and then have the power to make a tackle without total sensation in your foot. That will be the test.

         And who knows, maybe the slow nerve regeneration will suddenly speed up. We'll see. But not sure his return is something the Cowboys can bank on. You know, sort of like you might not win the Powerball jackpot, but you don't turn your nose up on getting four correct numbers and the Powerball number winnings.

Cowboys Must Hit Big On A Defensive End In The Draft

         Speaking of odds, what are the odds of that happening with a rookie when drafting 28th in the first round, and then not again until the 62nd pick in the draft?

         Take this past draft. Only four rookies finished with at least six sacks, and three of the four were taken in the top 10: third pick Joey Bosa (10.5), 69th pick Yannick Ngakoue (8), ninth pick Leonard Floyd (7, but as a linebacker) and seventh pick DeForest Buckner (6).

This is not to say in another year or two guys won't improve to, say, Ware's previous performance level. But raw rookies struggle, and especially if not like a top-10 player.

         Oh, and consider this: You remember the Cowboys selected Maliek Collins in the third round, 67th overall, in the 2016 draft? Well, his five sacks ranked sixth among the rookies, just a half-sack behind second-round pick Noah Spence and just one short of Buckner's.

         You might find one, and if not for the injury the Cowboys might have with 2016 fourth-round pick Charles Tapper. It remains to be seen if healthy this year he can be that needle in a haystack. But just because you draft one doesn't mean the rookie will finish with more than Benson Mayowa's team-leading six from last season.

         So be careful, draft for need when you also need cornerbacks, maybe safeties and wide receivers and tight ends, a young running back maybe, a guard-center combo, maybe another offensive tackle, defensive tackle – just about anything – you might end up with no more than Shante Carver or Kavika Pittman.

Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine Flickering Out

         And here is one last public service announcement for this week, and most probably for those old enough to be nostalgic.

         After 42 years, the final edition of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, formerly known as Dallas Cowboys Weekly, will be published next week. And then that's it.

Those with home delivery subscriptions be aware. Make sure the U.S. Postal Service doesn't intercept your final edition as someone must have my Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition since it still hasn't shown up in my mailbox. You don't think the neighbors … naw.

Those looking to grab the final Star one for posterity sake, copies will be available to order online, too. The walk down memory lane will be well worth your time.

         Plus, the cover is a classic, turning back the clock 42 years.

         Maybe that will pique your interest.

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