Spagnola: Glad To Lend A Helping Hand During These Confusing Times

FRISCO, Texas – Consider this a sort of public service announcement, either to help clear the air on what seems to be some confusing developments or to offer some help to improve upon others.

So on this double-dose Final Four weekend – one of those being played down the road in Dallas – and before the 2017 MLB season pitches off, let's get going here in a hurry.

All About Witt

         For those confused, please calm down. The Dallas Cowboys do not think Jason Witten will become the Methuselah of football, that this four-year extension they recently signed him to means they truly believe their soon-to-be 35-tear-old tight end will play effectively through the 2021 season, meaning all the way to age 39.

         Well, at least we think. But remember, we're talking about the guy who kept running another 28 yards that day in Philadelphia after losing his helmet. The guy who played despite rupturing his spleen. The guy who only missed one game after having his fractured jaw wired together and basically drinking his nourishment through a straw for a week. Yeah, him.

           First of all, there is no guaranteed money in the extension. The Cowboys could release Witten after this season and there would be no salary cap ramifications. The entire extension, which could be worth as much at $29.6 million, is all base salary and incentives. So no potential dead money. Essentially, Witten is operating on, counting this year's $12.262 million cap hit, the last year of his previous contract, on five one-year deals.

         OK, got it.

         Also, from Witten's standpoint, I'm sure he didn't want to be playing on the last year of his contract, you know, as they say about coaches, a lame duck. All he'd be doing the entire season is answering questions about if this is going to be his last year, will he play another season, ya-dah, ya-dah, ya-dah.

         As Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said earlier this week, "We wanted to make sure he's not in the last year of his contract."

         OK, square on this, too.

         Now, if the Cowboys wanted to somewhat reduce his 2017 base salary ($7.4 million) to create cap space, they can pay him some restructure bonus, spread the amount over five years and likely create right at $4 million of cap room by spreading around $5 million over five seasons. Again, only if they need to, and really, it's not out of the question. At the level Witten has been playing, he can go at least another two years.

         And he's trying. The Cowboys have begun their offseason "captains' workouts" out at The Star. Each time those players are out there, Witten is there, working out with many of the young, fringe offensive guys, leading the charge. Going first in every drill, hard as he can.

         Don't you want that guy on your team as long as humanly possible?

         I know I would.

Bell Tower

         So the Cowboys' signing of veteran offensive lineman Byron Bell has been met mostly with ho-hum emotion. Just another guy. No former first-round pick. No Pro Bowler. No one who would attract attention with like a five-year, $35 million deal.

         But look, first of all, the guy is huge. Walked past him on his visit. They say he's 6-5. I guess. Looked 6-7 to me. They say he plays at 340. Looked more than that to me. But then everyone towers over me, right?

         Then I did a little digging. As an undrafted free agent in 2011, he not only made the Carolina roster, he started 12 of 16 games. Started there four years. Signed a free agent deal with Tennessee in 2015. Started 16 of 16 games, and has started at right tackle, left tackle and left guard. In fact, he has started 72 of the 78 games he's played over five seasons, that until an ankle fracture this past spring in OTAs ended his 2016 season.

         So what the Cowboys have done is found themselves some depth at the tackle position, and a potential backup at guard, at least someone who has been around the NFL block a time or two. They've found someone to at least compete with Chaz Green, still rehabbing from last year's surgery to repair a herniated disk, for the starting right tackle job if indeed Doug Free retires and the Cowboys leave La'el Collins at left guard.

         Best of all, the Greenville, Texas, native is signed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal, laced with only a $250,000 signing bonus, that along with incentives can get him to like $2 million, depending on how much he plays.

         And also know this: Bell's hometown of Greenville actually named a street after him – Byron Bell Street. Now that is big.

Texas Hold 'em

         Man, there is a great three-way game of poker being played out there by the Cowboys, by Tony Romo and by any team interested in his quarterbacking talent. No one wants to show their hand, just like none of us would in Las Vegas.

         Just trying to help out here if you don't understand why this is all taking so long. As former Cowboys personnel director, the late Bob Ackles, once told me about player contract negotiations, "Every time I pick up the phone, I'm spending money." In other words, the price goes up for whoever makes the first move.

         As you can tell, the Cowboys are in no hurry. Romo evidently is in no hurry, whiling away the week in Charleston, S.C., playing in the Azalea Open along with pops, Ramiro out-shooting son, 76-78 in the first round. And any team with interest isn't in any hurry. Like, nothing is going on officially right now anyway at team facilities.

         Plus, isn't it in Romo's best financial interests to be traded instead of released? If he's traded, his contract goes with him. If he's released, his contract becomes null and then he's at the mercy of any team that would want to sign him. And if there is not at least two competing for his services, he has no leverage in a contract negotiation.

         So word of caution here: There is a lot of "stuff" being thrown out there. Be careful what you believe. Me thinks people are getting "used" on some of this sourced info.

         And as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must have said three times out at the NFL Owners Meetings this week, when it comes to Romo and any one of a multitude of opportunities, "No ships have sailed." Meaning anything is still possible.

Present This

         There has been a lot of talk at the meetings this week about speeding up the game and improving in-stadium game presentation. Reducing overtime from 15 minutes to 10 shouldn't be one consideration for speeding things up, but was maybe why the proposal was tabled.

         Yeah, I know the league maintains they are worried about player safety, that playing "that" long in overtime is physically taxing. I mean, what are we talking about here, all of five minutes if the game ends in a tie? Seriously? Me thinks they are more worried about keeping games in those three-hour time slots. Like, what if the teaming winning the toss goes on a seven-minute drive to kick a field goal? Great, the other team gets a possession, but only three minutes to work with? What sort of equity is that?

         And if the league wants to improve the in-game stadium presentation, here is a great suggestion, no consultant fee needed: Don't be afraid to let the ticket-paying customers in on injury reports. I mean, people watching at home get injury reports from the networks, and they aren't paying a dime to watch these games. But the guy forking out, say 300 bucks, sits there wondering what the official report is on, say, a guy's compressed back or broken leg. Twitter shouldn't be required to stay informed in your seat.

         Those 80,000 people watching have earned the right to know as much as those sitting on their couches.

Hammer This

         You know, hammering the Cowboys' drafts is popular recreation, so maybe it's only fair to applaud this decision.

         In 2013, after dealing with the likes of centers Phil Costa and Ryan Cook, they decided it was high time to shore up the middle of their line. So the Cowboys traded down from 18th pick in the first round with San Francisco, got a third-rounder for their trouble and with the Niners' 31st pick selected Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.

         Oh, the screaming. The unadulterated abuse. A center in the first round? A guy they could have drafted in the second, maybe even the third? And how in the world could a team devoid of defensive tackle talent pass on Shariff Floyd?

         Well, anyone want a do-over on all that instant analysis?

         Frederick was re-signed – six years, $56.4 million, with $18.2 million fully guaranteed – during his third consecutive Pro Bowl season and fourth straight season starting 16 of 16 games. He, along with Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, also first-round picks, anchor maybe the best offensive line in the league.

         As for Floyd, in four seasons he's played in only 44 of a possible 64 games, having started 24. He played in only one game this past year, a knee injury and the ensuing surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee cutting his season short. The assumed inside sack-artists has 9.5 career sacks in the three years he's actually played.

         And now this: In a career beset by injuries, there is fear last season's knee surgery has caused nerve damage in and around the knee, possibly putting his career in jeopardy.

         A little Cowboys luck? Maybe. But also consider that they just thought prudent to re-sign Terrance Williams to a second contract, he the product of San Francisco's 2013 third-round pick in the trade.

Maybe the Cowboys weren't so dumb after all.

Last Word

         That goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, when asked, after owning last year's fourth pick in the NFL Draft, now saddled with the 28th thanks to that 13-3 season.

         Jerry, as he loves come draft time, turned a few screws saying, "Near the bottom of the first, moving toward the top, this sets up for a little potential trade action to try to gain some value or try to hit an opportunity. So I've never looked at where we were when we started a draft and thought we're not going to get a very good player right there. The assumption being that's where you are going to be when you have to make a decision."

         Bodes well for potentially moving up if there is a player worth moving up for, or potentially moving down and picking up more picks, especially if some team wants back in the first round for a quarterback. That comes with a huge price.

         So stay tuned, and most of all with all of this stuff, don't just assume.

         Glad to help out.

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