Let's enjoy the weekend with a little Cowboys feedback from you the fans in something that we inventively call, "Cowboys Mailbag".
Before we get started, I wanted to draw your attention to some of the items that have been posted over the last few weeks since the draft. In particular, I have spent numerous hours breaking down each draft pick and will post the links below:
3rd Round: Tyrone Crawford
4th Round: Kyle Wilber
4th Round: Matt Johnson
5th Round: Danny Coale
Now, on to our emails...
Love your blog. Great stuff.
You seem pretty high on the Johnson the Safety the Cowboys drafted. I've seen some other positive reviews of that pick as well.
Here's my question: How come pre-draft he was rated so poorly by sites like NFL.com, SI, CBS, etc. They all had him going in the 7th round or even as a FA. When the Boys made the pick and I researched the player, it seemed as though they "reached" in that they could have gotten him much later. On the other hand, it appears that those who have evaluated him, his tape, and have seen him play, think he has a legitimate chance of becoming a starter - perhaps as early as later this year. Why the discrepancy?
Thanks, Manish. You are hitting on something here that is quite an issue for fans and has no concrete answer. The problem with talking about topic matter like the NFL Draft is that you the consumer are counting on the media to A) all be in agreement B) all to have done the proper amount of work and C) to be correct. And all three of those components will never be there, and sometimes, none of the 3 will be present.
The draft requires lots of opinion. In the case of Matt Johnson, the safety from Eastern Washington who I happen to really, really like, I am basing my opinions on having had the opportunity to watch him for quite a while since draft day in his college action for the Eagles. He does many things that jumped out at me that I feel make an ideal safety. I expect him to have great success with the Cowboys - as considered for a player who was taken very late in the 4th round (which should not be confused with great success for a player taken in the 1st round).
However, when you read his profile that I have written (that is linked above), you should take a few things into account; I readily admit that I am not comfortable measuring the difference between success at FCS schools (1-AA) and FBS (1-A) at the college football level. Would Matt Johnson have been a huge upgrade for the Texas Longhorns if he was playing in Austin? I think so, but I would have a real difficult time proving it. So, if I cannot tell you definitively that he would have been a huge upgrade on Blake Gideon, then how am I supposed to really know that he would really be a great upgrade over Abram Elam or Alan Ball?
The point is, there is a lot of guesswork involved in looking at these guys. But, sadly, what I have learned in this era of "draft experts" being under every rock is that many lists and guides are often put online without someone doing the work themselves. Anyone can do a mock draft and then get tons of visitors to their website by ranking the top safeties in this draft. But, of all of those guys, how many have sat down with a stack of tapes and actually watched each safety? If you are ranking Matt Johnson 72 then I must assume someone has actually broken down 72 different safeties and then feels comfortable ranking each one of them. If they actually are doing the work and are not just throwing names against a wall, then I applaud their thorough approach. I could not begin to break down that many different safeties, so I found time to look at possible 1st Round targets and then merely broke down players who the Cowboys had already taken. And what I saw of Johnson was very impressive.
My feelings still depend on plenty for my prediction to come true. He must stay healthy. He must continue to work hard. He must get a shot. And this will all be determined down the road. So, when someone sits down and looks at what he did on the red fields of Eastern Washington and then tries to project from there what we all might feel about Matt Johnson in 3 years, you can see that everyone is guessing - including the teams. But, the Cowboys must really like him, and I am telling you that in the case of this one particular player, I like him, too. Can't wait to see how he impacts the team as a rookie. I think, it will be noteworthy. If not, when people google his name in the future, they will see that this writer was really wrong about him back in 2012.
I have 2 questions about Morris Claiborne.
What sort of contract will it take to get him signed? And, is he a slam-dunk or are we all just hoping he is a slam-dunk to be a superstar?
Well, Claiborne and many other players in the last two drafts sure wish they were in the 2010 draft or before. Often, we hear old players talk about how they wish they played these days for all of the cash that is being paid to athletes. But, because the changes to the ways that rookies are paid with the new collective bargaining agreement and the development of what amounts to a rookie salary slotting system, we can easily project what Claiborne and the Cowboys will use as perimeters for a deal.
In 2010, Russell Okung was the 6th pick of the draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He signed a 6-year, 48.5 million dollar deal with 30m guaranteed. This was the last year before the change in the way rookies were paid.
Then, in 2011, the league changed, and then the 6th pick in the draft was Julio Jones by the Atlanta Falcons. Jones inked a 4-year, 16.2 million dollar deal that is fully guaranteed.
So, Claiborne should be looking for something in that Julio Jones range, with perhaps a little inflation increase for 2012. Patrick Peterson, also a CB from LSU, and thought to be the stud DB of 2011 went 5th to Arizona and was locked into a 4-year, 19.5 million fully guaranteed contract.
The good news from a team standpoint is that the guarantees are rolled way back and signings are simple. Green Bay announced yesterday that their entire draft class is now under contract. That premise seemed impossible in the month of May before this change. No longer could someone like JaMarcus Russell lock in for 50 million without ever proving his worth in the NFL. But, the downside is that now you only get these rookies for 4 seasons before they become unrestricted free agents and the promise of a big extension for those who play to their true expectation level.
Now, to your second question: How high should our expectations be for a player like Claiborne?
Of course, it should be sky-high. As I have written before, both HERE and HERE the Cowboys paid a lot and perhaps behaved a bit recklessly to get the best defensive player in the draft in a situation like they are in. One could argue, and I do, that the needs in other places on the roster made that move a difficult one for the Cowboys to make. But, I have said that, and it is time to move on.
From 2006-2010, just one cornerback was taken in the top 10 of the draft. Florida's Joe Haden went to Cleveland in 2010 and I would suggest that they have no regrets about Haden's play so far. I think Cleveland is pretty delighted with their pick.
In 2005, 3 corners went in the Top 10: Pac Man Jones, Antrel Rolle, and Carlos Rogers. All 3 have had their moments - Pac Man, had too many moments off the field that snuffed out his dazzling potential, but when we are using Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey, Nmandi Asomugha, and Deion Sanders as the benchmarks for our expectation levels, I think all 3 would fall below that mark. In 2004, it was DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson in the Top 10. Which brings us back to 2003 and Terence Newman.
Of those names, Jones, Rolle, Rogers, Hall, Robinson, and Newman, are any of them the type that you would say are all-decade candidates? Solid pros, but in the case of Newman, was there ever a time where he was considered the gold standard for corners in the NFL? No. In fact, none of those 6 names have ever showed up on the All-Pro list which tells us what "elite" looks like at the end of ever NFL season.
So, should we be happy if Morris Claiborne has Carlos Rogers career? Would we? I think the Cowboys expect him to be a top corner in the NFL and to do it quickly. And the point to this brief research project is that a solid career is likely. An elite career is not nearly as likely for Top 10 corners taken in the last decade.
I enjoy reading your cold hearted, analytical dissection of all things Cowboys and was interested in a tweet I saw of yours which said that you see Bill Nagy being the Cowboys starting center in 2012 - and I wondered why.
I was surprised the Cowboys did not draft a center last month - Michael Brewster who was Wes Bunting's No 3 ranked prospect went untaken - and they could have swooped for Baylor's Blake but no dice. Given Phil Costa's struggles last season, center was one of my top two needs for the team - the other being defensive line and we could have had Fletcher Cox. Still thank heaven for small mercies - at least we didn't get Brockers who seems vastly overrated to me.
I know Jerry has said Costa could be the guy - take that with a pinch of salt because of who was saying it - but given Jason Garrett's desire for competition at all positions which he is to be commended for - I want no return to the Wade Phillips recipe for complacency - it seems to me as a result of their draft choices, the Cowboys have set up a four way battle for center between, Nagy, David Arkin, Costa and Kowalski.
Nagy, Arkin and Kowalski are all second year players now and the latter did not do himself any harm late last season when he entered the breach. They will all benefit from a proper offseason and I wonder with Costa being a third year player now and clearly understrength in pass protection last season, how much physical development does he have left in him? Perhaps he is already at or close to his personal ceiling. For that reason I can't see him winning the battle.
But I am interested to hear your case for Nagy. The Cowboys are rolling the dice once again with the offensive line - like they have done so often with the secondary until this season - and thankfully for my own sanity, I have already decided they will be no better than 8-8. But it might not even be that "good". With two new guards already paid and set to start - hence I can't see Nagy (poor at guard anyway last season) or Arkin having a chance to start there - a question mark at center, and two tackles being flipped which is no guarantee to cure Doug Free of his ills or help Tyron Smith reproduce his fine 2011 on the other side, this team could very easily fall back into its 2010 morass with Romo running for his life and Jason Garrett dusting off his three-step drop passing gameplans (think at Minnesota that season - a painful memory and awful to watch).
It's all on the line in 2012.
Steve London, England
Thanks, Steve. You seem to be a man after my own heart when you make such a passionate case for the importance of the offensive line. I am right there with you and I do have issues with the way the Cowboys have conducted themselves over the last few years in trying to fix it on the cheap. They tried young and unproven last season, and now seem like they are going to try older veterans who may have upside but not enough to have their former teams or other teams across the league trying to keep them.
When they signed their two guards in free agency, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, the headlines around the league were not impressed. In fact, I don't believe their were headlines. The Bengals made no effort to keep Livings, 30, and many of the people who follow that team seem surprised at the Cowboys offer to get him. Bernadeau, 26, started 1 single game in 2011, and despite losing the starting guard in front of him. Travelle Wharton (to Cincinnati!) they still did not want him to be their starter. That should give us some level of pause.
However, on to center. I think that the real candidates here are Phil Costa, Bill Nagy, and Bernadeau. Then, they have to figure out who will take the other spot at the other guard if Bernadeau is the center. Which I would pull from group of Nagy, Arkin, or Ronald Leary - the undrafted guard from Memphis who has the knee issues.
My case for Nagy is based on his pedigree and his experience at Wisconsin which was at center when Peter Konz was hurt in 2010. I saw him play in November of that season and thought he did a real solid job and would like to see more of that. I think he is a better player than Costa, but I think either one of them would be improved if the other was not next to him at guard. That was the real issue last year. You can get away with one undersized and inexperienced player in your interior at times. But, you can not have two - especially next to each other. Watching that New England game, in particular, you see Vince Wilfork and the Patriots just destroying the interior of the Cowboys line and the play calling of Jason Garrett reflected that quite a bit.
I am not sure Costa makes the team, but if he does, I think it will be as a backup. He just needs to get stronger. And it isn't about bench press where Costa lifted 30 times at the combine. He needs to get stronger in his anchor and his balance which is something that is difficult to learn on Sundays. I think Nagy is better at this. But, there is a spot to be taken, and if Leary has a great summer, we should not be shocked about that big dude just making himself a starter. I still need to break him down on tape, but at first blush, he looks the part of a huge guard.
Keep sending your emails to email@example.com - Have a great weekend!