NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Just because the NFL announced a 10-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy doesn’t mean the full suspension will stand up to the impending appeal or potential court ruling.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement that the team was anticipating a suspension and “we respect the commissioner’s ruling. Our organization understands the very serious nature of this matter. We will use our resources -- work closely with Greg and with the league -- to ensure a positive outcome.”

Despite Jones’ statement, there has to be some surprise at the length of the suspension. Under the new personal conduct policy, a player’s first offense is a six-game suspension. The old policy was a two-game suspension.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
David T. Foster, III/Charlotte Observer/Getty ImagesGreg Hardy has an incentive-laden deal with the Cowboys, and many of the benchmarks will be impossible to reach in six games.

Even though Hardy has not been penalized legally for the domestic violence case from the past spring, the NFL made him an example of their new, "get tough" stance after the league badly handled the Ray Rice episode last year.

If the suspension sticks, Hardy will miss 25 games over two seasons. He played one game last year for the Carolina Panthers, was inactive for another and was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list for the final 14.

Had the Cowboys known Hardy would be available for just six games, would they still have entered into his one-year deal, even if the contract is mostly pay-as-you-go?

The Cowboys were more than willing to stick out their chests in the one-year deal they reached with Hardy. They gave him no guaranteed money. His base salary is just $750,000. He could earn $1.311 million through a workout bonus and another $1.8 million in incentives.

The real money comes in the per-game roster bonuses totaling $9.5 million.

If Hardy played, he would get paid.

Under the suspension, Hardy can now make $3.468 million in roster bonuses for the six games. His base salary would be roughly $264,700. He would have to be otherworldly to cash in on the incentives. The low benchmark is $500,000 for eight sacks. He can earn $1 million for 10 sacks, $1.4 million for 12 sacks and $1.8 million for 14 or more sacks.

If he could get eight sacks in six games, the Cowboys would be ecstatic to pay him an extra $500,000.

But again, the chance of the suspension's being upheld is slim. Even if the appeal is denied, Hardy could take the case to court. Adrian Peterson won a court case not too long ago over the NFL's penalizing him under a personal conduct policy that was not in place when the incidents involving his children occurred.

In his letter to Hardy, Goodell said the actions were so egregious that a 10-game suspension was allowable under the former or current policy. That will be handled in the appeal or by the courts.

The Cowboys have to be bystanders in this. They need to respect Goodell’s ruling while also trying to support their player.

In the end, they hope to get more than just six games from Hardy in 2015, even if they can’t openly root for that to happen.

IRVING, Texas -- Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is visiting the Dallas Cowboys after all.

Green-Beckham reportedly turned down the Cowboys' initial request for a pre-draft visit earlier, but, according to a source, he will arrive at Valley Ranch Wednesday. This is the final day potential picks can meet with teams with the draft coming next week.

Green-Beckham is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft because of his ability and off-field concerns. He was dismissed from Missouri after two seasons in which he was arrested twice for marijuana-related incidents and was investigated for burglary. He spent last year at Oklahoma, did not play because of transfer rules but opted for the draft anyway.

He had 59 catches and 12 touchdowns in 2013 for Missouri. At the NFL scouting combine, he measured in at 6-5, 237 pounds with 4.49-second 40-yard dash and a 33.5 vertical jump.

Of the known pre-draft visitors to Valley Ranch, Green-Beckham is the second receiver, joining Ohio State's Devin Smith.

The Cowboys have Dez Bryant under contract through the franchise tag in 2014, re-signed Cole Beasley to a four-year deal before free agency began and have Terrance Williams under contract for two more years. They also drafted Devin Street in the fifth round last year. Bryant has yet to sign the tender and has not attended the first week of the Cowboys' offseason program.

Predicting a season five months before it even starts with so many unknowns is impossible. There are too many twists and turns that will happen between now and the season opener. But that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun and go off what we think we know right now and make a guess. So with that in mind, hold on for a slow start but a fast finish by the Cowboys.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13 vs. New York Giants, 8:30 p.m.

There was a time Eli Manning and the Giants owned AT&T Stadium. Not anymore. The Cowboys will make it five in a row against New York overall. Cowboys 31, Giants 23. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20 at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m.

The story of the week will be DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing last year for the Cowboys but left as a free agent for the Eagles. But don’t be surprised if another former Cowboy, Miles Austin, has a big day. Eagles 33, Cowboys 27. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.

With a new coach, the Falcons could be a quick-turnaround team considering the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball. If they get better up front, then this will be a tougher game than many believe. Cowboys 31, Falcons 28. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday Oct. 4 at New Orleans Saints, 8:30 p.m.

The Cowboys last trip to New Orleans was an embarrassment. They aren’t close to being the same team, but the same can be said about the Saints and not in a good way. Still, Drew Brees has some magic inside the Superdome. Saints 41, Cowboys 35. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m.

Tom Brady will be making his first and likely last trip to AT&T Stadium for a regular-season game. The defending Super Bowl champs might have suffered some losses, but they are still the best-coached team in the league and know how to get it done. Patriots 31, Cowboys 27. Record 2-3

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25 at New York Giants, 4:25 p.m.

The Cowboys have won three in a row at MetLife Stadium and will desperately need to get to .500 with a win here. Coming off the bye week will be a big help. Cowboys 24, Giants 21. Record: 3-3

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.

The Cowboys won at Seattle last year in a game kept close by some special-teams gaffes. As much as the Cowboys had an offensive formula to beat Seattle in 2014, the defense was outstanding. They get the job done at home versus Russell Wilson. Cowboys 24, Seahawks 20. Record: 4-3

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:25 p.m.

The Cowboys seem to have righted the ship with back-to-back wins and will welcome Murray to Arlington for the first time. The bigger question might be who is playing quarterback for the Eagles. Will Sam Bradford be healthy? Dare we wonder about Tim Tebow? Cowboys 38, Eagles 27. Record: 5-3

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.

Will the Cowboys get to see Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? Probably Winston. They will get to see ex-teammates Bruce Carter, Henry Melton and Sterling Moore, who signed with the Bucs as free agents. Cowboys 34, Buccaneers 20. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22 at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.

The last time the Cowboys saw Ndamukong Suh was in the wild-card round in January against the Detroit Lions. He cashed in as a free agent with the Dolphins and will make that defense a lot tougher. So much so that Ryan Tannehill won’t have to carry the show: Dolphins 24, Cowboys 22. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 26 vs. Carolina Panthers, 4:25 p.m.

Greg Hardy gets to go against his former team in front of a national audience. Do you think he will be fired up for this one? The Cowboys will need him to be at his best to pressure Cam Newton, who can beat a team with his legs and arm. Cowboys 30, Panthers 20. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 7 at Washington Redskins, 8:30 p.m.

No matter the record, this one will be difficult. They always are with the Redskins. But the Cowboys enter this game feeling pretty good and know they need a win with what awaits them next week. Dan Bailey wins it at the gun. Cowboys 24, Redskins 23. Record: 8-4

Week 14: Dec. 13 at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m.

It would be sweet justice if the Cowboys win this game on a late-touchdown catch on a fourth-down play to Dez Bryant considering what happened at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the playoffs. Of course, Aaron Rodgers figures to be healthy, too. Packers 33, Cowboys 24. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Dec. 19 vs. New York Jets, 8:25 p.m.

Todd Bowles had the Cowboys guessing wrong last year when he was Arizona’s defensive coordinator, but that was with Brandon Weeden as the Cowboys’ starter. The Darrelle Revis-Dez Bryant matchup will be a thing of beauty. Cowboys 23, Jets 16. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Dec. 27 at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.

How much snow will be on the ground? It won’t matter. The Cowboys are built to win on the ground and will be able to control the game. Tony Romo had five picks in his last trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium, but they still won. Cowboys 31, Bills 17. Record: 10-5

Week 17: Jan. 3 vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.

After a 2-3 start, the Cowboys have gone 7-2 and are in position to earn a first-round bye with a win against the Redskins. Who knows if Robert Griffin III will still be the Washington quarterback. Regardless, the Cowboys wrap up a playoff spot. Cowboys 27, Redskins 16. Record: 11-5

Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

April, 21, 2015
Apr 21

Tony Romo, Patrick WillisAP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo's interception against the 49ers taught him a lesson about trusting the run game.

Breakdown: For the third time in the past four seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will open the season against the New York Giants, with their NFC East rivals visiting AT&T Stadium in Week 1. The Giants won their first four games at AT&T Stadium but have lost their last two in Arlington, Texas, and four in a row to the Cowboys overall.

The Cowboys will meet DeMarco Murray in Week 2 at Philadelphia, so that emotion will be taken away early. The bye week comes after they play the New England Patriots in Week 5, giving them an extra week to get ready for their trip to New York.

Always a national draw, the Cowboys have their requisite five games on prime time, with three games on NBC and a game each on ESPN and NFL Network. They could have a sixth, depending on the flex scheduling late in the season.

Complaint department: It’s difficult to come up with big complaints. Last year was easy: The Cowboys had a night game on the road leading into their Thanksgiving game against the Eagles and played like a team without any chance. Maybe we can call this the quibble department. Seeing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving would have been more special than a Week 5 meeting. The toughest two-game spell looks to be Nov. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks and Nov. 8 against the Eagles, but both of those games are at home. If there is a complaint on the Cowboys’ end, it can only be mild in that they have a short week to get ready for their return trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers after facing the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. They follow up the Green Bay game with a Saturday meeting against the New York Jets on Dec. 19. But if that’s the biggest complaint, things aren’t that bad for the Cowboys.

Closing time: For years, the Cowboys had a rough time in December -- in part because they weren’t good enough, but in part because of the quality of teams they faced. Last year, the Cowboys had three of their four December games on the road in cold-weather cities and won all three, mixed in with a home victory over Indianapolis. They have three cold-weather games this year, at Washington on Dec. 7, at Green Bay on Dec. 13 and at Buffalo on Dec. 27. They also play the New York Jets and close the season against Washington. The combined record of the Bills, Jets and Redskins last year was 17-31. If the Cowboys can make it through the early part of the season, they might be able to close strong again.

Strength of schedule: 24th, .467

Cowboys Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, N.Y. Giants, 8:30 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, Atlanta, 1:00 p.m.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, New England, 4:25 p.m.

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, at N.Y. Giants, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, at Miami, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 26, Carolina, 4:30 p.m.

Week 13: Monday, Dec. 7, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.

Week 15: Saturday, Dec. 19, N.Y. Jets, 8:25 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, Washington, 1:00 p.m.

IRVING, Texas -- As the NFL draft comes closer, it's always good to remember this: believe nothing at this time of the year.

Teams will not say the truth about anything, although the Dallas Cowboys have been willing to show their hand over the years.

The Cowboys need a running back after they were unwilling to spend to keep DeMarco Murray in free agency and have hosted some of the top backs available in the draft, such as Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi and T.J. Yeldon.

They have also been linked to Adrian Peterson since they chose to let Murray walk.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday and was asked about the possibility of trading for a veteran running back.

"I don't see that happening," Jones said. "I think draft picks are so important for us. That's where your value is in this salary-cap era. I see us using all of our picks and hopefully do it in a good, wise way. Hopefully when the draft is all said and done, we'll have really improved our football team. I don't see us using any picks to trade for veteran ballplayers."

Reports have had the Cowboys interested in Peterson largely because of the easy way to connect the dots with Peterson's Texas ties and Jerry Jones' affinity for star players.

What is more difficult to do from a Cowboys' perspective is to come up with a package that the Minnesota Vikings would be willing to accept in either picks or players or both, while also being able to pay Peterson top money without a lot of salary-cap space.

None of it is impossible to do, but there are a number of hoops that would have to be jumped through before next week's draft to make a trade for Peterson doable.

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo turns 35 on Tuesday.

He has had a pretty active last few weeks.

On Sunday, he was a presenter at the ACM’s at AT&T Stadium, doling out a Deflategate joke thanks to the show’s writers. Last week he was at Augusta National for the Masters and saw one buddy, Jordan Spieth, win a green jacket and another, Tiger Woods, look a little more like Tiger Woods on a golf course.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFor the first time since 2012, Tony Romo can spend an offseason program doing something other than recovering from back surgery.

The week before that he saw his adopted college basketball team, Duke, win the national championship over his home state university, Wisconsin. And he has been selling the National Fantasy Football Convention he is headlining in Las Vegas in July.

All the while he has been a regular at Valley Ranch working out and will be there today for the official beginning of the offseason program.

For the first time since 2012, Romo will have an offseason program that will not be only about recovering from back surgery. In 2013, he had a cyst removed from his back in the spring and did not practice until the start of training camp. Last spring, he was recovering from a discectomy that kept him off the field until training camp.

This spring Romo will continue to strengthen his core to help his back issues, but he will also be able to do more football related activities. He has long lived by the “secret is in the dirt” mantra of Ben Hogan when looking at ways to improve, but he had not been able to do much tinkering the last two springs.

He views a throwing motion the way a golfer does a swing. The mechanics are sound but adjustments are attempted in the offseason to see if they will hold up under pressure. If they work in minicamp and training camp, Romo will use them in the season. If they don’t, he won’t.

But how much will Romo take part in the organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp? Will it be every day? Will it be every other? When the Cowboys get to training camp will he practice more than two days in a row? In the regular season will he continue to sit out of Wednesday practices?

The Cowboys want to do everything they can to keep the Romo window open so why wear him down in the spring?

At 35, he can’t do all the things he did at 25. But at 25 he did not know half the things he knows now.

There is a short time in every player’s career where the physical and mental maximums match up and the game becomes easier to understand.

Romo had his best season in 2014 in part because of the Cowboys’ willingness to run the ball, but mostly because of the work he put in.

The work continues, even on his 35th birthday.

IRVING, Texas -- Late last week, former Michigan defensive end Frank Clark reached a plea agreement after a domestic violence incident last year in Toledo, Ohio.

The incident led to Clark's dismissal from the team and put his NFL future in doubt. Clark had faced a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence but pleaded down to disorderly conduct. He was also fined $450, was ordered to complete counseling and has to have one year of good behavior.

Last week, Clark was among the nearly 30 draft prospects to visit the Dallas Cowboys at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys use their visits to get to know the players better, to answer any medical questions or to clear up any off-field transgressions.

If Clark is on the list of visitors, then there is a good chance the Cowboys would take him, provided his answers were truthful and earnest. On the field, there is no question Clark would fit what the Cowboys need. He is an excellent pass-rusher with the ability to use speed and power. He can affect the quarterback and the Cowboys -- like all teams -- need as many of those players as possible.

The question is when would the Cowboys feel comfortable drafting Clark?

They signed Greg Hardy to a one-year deal earlier this summer despite his domestic violence charge last year that has since been dropped. The Cowboys were willing to take the heat for signing Hardy and point to the structure of the contract as their opt-out. If he does not follow their plan, then he will not receive the bulk of the $11 million due to him and would be a minimal charge to the cap.

The NFL is expected to levy some sort of suspension on Hardy as its investigation continues.

Before the plea agreement, perhaps Clark was a third-day player, going anywhere from Rounds 4-7. Some teams will likely keep him off their draft board altogether. Others might keep him in the same area, but others might be more willing to move him up considering the plea.

As much as people want to view the draft process in black and white, most of it deals in gray because of ability, scheme fits, injury histories and off-field concerns.

The Cowboys like Clark, the player. Does last week's plea agreement make them like him just a little bit more?

NFC East roundtable: Best team

April, 10, 2015
Apr 10

With the NFL draft coming up at the end of the month, free agency has started to slow, so now is a good time to assess what the NFC East has done in free agency.

This week, NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano, John Keim, Phil Sheridan and Todd Archer are taking a look at the best, worst and underrated signings so far and will discuss which team is in the division entering the draft, based on offseason moves that have been made.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
David T. Foster, III/Charlotte Observer/MCTWhile it's unknown how many games Greg Hardy will play in 2015, the acquisition of the defensive end makes Dallas a legit contender.

Today we close out the NFC East roundtable with looking at who is the best team in the division entering the draft after examining the best, worst and underrated signings.

Dan Graziano: Dallas Cowboys. The Philadelphia Eagles made the most moves, but I don't think there's any way to know at this point whether the team is better or worse than it was two months ago. The Cowboys had the best top-to-bottom roster in the division last season, and in spite of losing DeMarco Murray to a division rival, I think that's still the case. Will they win it again? Tough to predict such a thing for a division that hasn't seen a repeat champ in over a decade. But with five months to go before the season starts, I think you still have to say Dallas has the NFC East's best roster.

Phil Sheridan: Cowboys. To me, it feels like the Eagles changed the most and the New York Giants changed the least. Dallas obviously lost the NFL's leading rusher in Murray, but should be able to run the ball behind that offensive line. The Washington Redskins rather quietly rebuilt its defense, but seems unsettled at quarterback. Until I see Sam Bradford run coach Chip Kelly's offense, I'd have to go with Dallas at the top of the list with the Giants potentially closing in.

John Keim: Still Dallas. The Eagles have so many question marks, such as how pieces will fit and whether certain players will even be healthy. They're a grand experiment and will be the most intriguing team. Washington has improved, but the Redskins had a long way to go. The Giants have been relatively quiet. The Cowboys re-signed key parts and added inside linebacker depth that they always seem to need. Of course, they made the most controversial move in signing end Greg Hardy. There's no doubt he'll provide pressure -- and the Cowboys have some underrated talent up front to help him. The on-field question is how much time he will miss because of a suspension. But when on the field, his talent will take over.

Todd Archer: Cowboys. I believe Murray will be a big loss for the Cowboys, but I don't think it will cripple their success. I don't know how many games Hardy will play. I don't know how many games Rolando McClain will play. I don't know how happy Dez Bryant will be with the franchise tag. The Eagles made a lot of moves, but I don't believe in their quarterback at all. The Giants could bounce back. I still think the Redskins are the fourth best team in the division. The Cowboys were able to cover their needs in free agency without spending much of any guaranteed money. They have the best quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver and tight end in the division. They have added a pass-rusher, kept a playmaker and will welcome back Sean Lee. Entering the draft, the Cowboys are still the team to beat.

With the draft coming up at the end of the month, free agency has started to slow, so now is a good time to assess what the NFC East has done in free agency.

This week NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano, John Keim, Phil Sheridan and Todd Archer are taking a look at the best, worst and underrated signings so far and will offer up who is the best team in the division entering the draft based on the moves that have been made.

After examining the best and the worst free-agent signing so far, Thursday's NFC East roundtable focuses on the most underrated signing made in the division.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden has averaged only 3.3 yards per carry over the past three seasons.

Dan Graziano: Darren McFadden, Dallas. Underrated because everyone hated it, so if McFadden produces anything at all, this is a deal that will have exceeded expectations. The key here is that the Cowboys find their starting running back in the draft, which I believe is their plan, and keep McFadden in a secondary role. If that happens, I think he has a chance to stay relatively healthy and maybe even quite productive. If they're counting on him as a bell-cow back then they're likely to be disappointed. But given the cost and the likely role, I think this has a chance to be a decent pickup.

John Keim: Stephen Paea, Washington. Terrance Knighton and Chris Culliver are more well-known, but Paea is coming off his best season and could help the Redskins at two spots: an end in their 3-4 and an interior rusher in the nickel. He penetrates well because of his quickness. That will work well on run downs with the clogging Knighton beside him and inside in nickel with Jason Hatcher. Those two could give the Redskins the interior rush they have sought for several years.

Phil Sheridan: Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia. He was the second-biggest name signed at his position on the day he agreed to a contract with the Eagles. DeMarco Murray got all the headlines, and understandably so. But if Chip Kelly really plans to share the workload and use Mathews extensively then he could wind up having just as much of an impact. And if Murray gets hurt, Mathews is the only thing between Chip Kelly and a lot of second-guessing.

Todd Archer: As I type this I realize I’ve gone with the Eagles on every decision so far, so maybe I’ve got Philly on the brain. And maybe it’s my Cowboys’ ties blinding me to this answer. I’m going with Miles Austin. Laugh all you want. Remember how he struggled with hamstring injuries in his time with the Cowboys. He caught 47 passes for 568 yards and had two touchdowns for Cleveland last year and the Browns quarterback situation was something of a joke. I’m not sure Sam Bradford can stay healthy or Mark Sanchez can be accurate enough, but I believe Austin will have a solid year under Chip Kelly. Will he be Jeremy Maclin? No, but he will put up some numbers.


IRVING, Texas -- As we’ve discussed the Dallas Cowboys’ draft needs, wide receiver has not really been mentioned.

The Cowboys have Dez Bryant on the franchise tag and are willing to pay him $12.823 million for this year’s salary. They re-signed Cole Beasley to a four-year deal that guaranteed him $7 million. They have Terrance Williams, a third-round pick in 2013, under contract for another two years and continue to like his potential. They also believe last year’s fifth-rounder, Devin Street, can become more of a contributor in his second season.

But among the Cowboys' national pre-draft visitors this week is former Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith.

He is a DeSean Jackson starter kit with his speed. He averaged 28 yards per catch last season. Bryant averaged 15 yards per catch last year and had 21 catches of at least 20 yards. Williams averaged 16.8 yards per catch and had 10 receptions of at least 20 yards.

Smith is viewed as a second-round pick by most and ESPN Insider has him ranked as the 33rd overall prospect.

So how would he fit with the Cowboys, who hold the 27th pick?

Go back to 2013 when the Cowboys traded down with the San Francisco 49ers to the 31st spot. While the trade netted them Travis Frederick and Williams, the Cowboys were critiqued at the time because Frederick was viewed as a reach.

He has since proven to be an excellent pick, making the Pro Bowl last year and starting every game in his first two years.

But at No. 31, the Cowboys could not find a trade partner to move down and gain more picks and were left taking an offensive lineman they felt was the last one NFL-ready from the first day.

If at No. 27 this year the Cowboys are looking at a draft board that has been wiped out of players they covet, then Smith could be a good fall back plan and give the Cowboys' offense a speedy, big-play threat.

NFC East roundtable: Best free-agent signing

April, 7, 2015
Apr 7

With the draft coming up at the end of the month, free agency has started to slow, so now is a good time to assess what the NFC East has done in free agency.

This week NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano, John Keim, Phil Sheridan and Todd Archer are taking a look at the best, worst and underrated signings so far and will offer up who is the best team in the division entering the draft based on the moves that have been made.

Today the NFC East roundtable focuses on the best free-agency signing made in the division.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Knighton
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiWashington didn't have to break the bank to sign Terrance Knighton to the roster.

Dan Graziano: Terrance Knighton, Washington Redskins. This starts from the premise that almost all free-agent deals are awful. DeMarco Murray was the best player anyone signed in the division, but committing $21 million to a running back who's had one healthy season is not, to my mind, a good signing. Washington snagging Knighton, a top defensive tackle still in his prime, for one year and $4 million is a deal that will help them this year and won't cripple them against the cap for years to come.

John Keim: Murray, Philadelphia Eagles. But I don’t say this with much conviction because that line in Dallas was fantastic. And he’s coming off a 436-carry season (including the playoffs), which usually leads to a decline the following season. But playing in this offense could provide a jolt – he’s a one-cut runner with pretty good vision, which makes him a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. LeSean McCoy was a terrific back, but he was not a special one last year. Murray has a chance to have another excellent season.

Phil Sheridan: Knighton. You could certainly make a pretty convincing case for the Eagles signing Murray. But let’s face it. In terms of getting better, I just don’t see much difference between McCoy, the 2013 NFL rushing champion, and Murray, the 2014 rushing champion. So I’m casting a vote for Washington’s signing of Knighton. He’ll stand as a symbol for a defensive makeover that I think was pretty well executed by new Washington general manager Scot McCloughan.

Todd Archer: Murray. First let me contradict myself. I agree with Dan in thinking they have overpaid a little bit to get him. I wouldn’t have given him $18 million guaranteed, which can easily turn into $21 million guaranteed. But what I like most about it is how it will affect the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles took the Cowboys’ heartbeat, which is what Jason Garrett called Murray. It might be a little rich, but you have to be willing to take a chance. I think Murray will give Kelly the downhill runner he wants and he won’t have to use him as much as the Cowboys had to use him because they have Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews on the roster too. I do believe Kelly will find it difficult to take Murray off the field because of all the things he can do, but they won’t wear him down. Until we see how the Cowboys replace Murray -- it won’t be just Darren McFadden -- the tenor of their offense has changed. And we’ll always wonder what would have happened if Frank Gore had not backed out of his agreement with the Eagles, which opened the door for Murray.

IRVING, Texas -- This is a big week for the Dallas Cowboys in terms of draft preparation.

The Cowboys will meet this week with a number of their national visits for the draft. On Friday, they will hold their annual Dallas Day workouts for draft prospects from local high schools and colleges.

At the recent owners meetings, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys would visit with the top running backs: Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Jay Ajayi. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney are on the list.

Arizona State safety Damarious Randall is also expected at Valley Ranch.

Teams are allowed 30 pre-draft visits from players outside their area. Players meet with the front office, scouts and coaches. The coaches put them in the classroom and test their knowledge in their get-to-know-you sessions.

The Cowboys usually leave a couple of spots open on their list in case they want to add a late visitor prior to the draft. The visits must be done by April 22.

Why do these visits matter?

Recent history tells you the Cowboys’ selections will mostly come from the list of players that made their way through their facility. Since 2005, Morris Claiborne was the only top pick by the Cowboys not to visit with the team before the draft.

Last year, Zack Martin (first), DeMarcus Lawrence (second) and Ken Bishop (seventh) were among the pre-draft visitors. In 2013, five draft picks, including Travis Frederick, made their way to Valley Ranch in the pre-draft period.

Though the big names draw the most headlines, the Cowboys’ visits are filled with players expected to be taken on the second and third days, as well as undrafted free agents.

The Dallas Day workouts have netted the Cowboys a number of undrafted free agents through the years. This is one of the bigger advantages the Cowboys have in the draft process because of the number of high school players from the area that go on to play major and not-so major college football. The Cowboys can conduct workouts and get a good bit of intelligence on players they might pick or try to sign as priority free agents.

IRVING, Texas – While a good number of players are already at Valley Ranch working out on their own in groups, the Dallas Cowboys' official offseason program starts April 20.

The organized team activities will run from May 26-28, June 2-4 and June 8-10. The media has been given access one day a week to the OTAs in the past.

The mandatory minicamp will run from June 16-18, with the veterans off until training camp at the end of July.

As a review, here are the offseason rules, straight from the NFL’s release:

Phase One consists of the first two weeks of the program, with activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.

Phase Two consists of the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts can include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a “separates” basis. No live contact or team-offense-vs.-team-defense drills are permitted.

Phase Three consists of the next four weeks of the program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or “OTAs.” No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.

IRVING, Texas -- Quarterback is generally considered the most difficult position to play in all of sports.

There is so much going on in every play, with a seemingly never-ending checklist of tasks before and during the snap.

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was asked to recount the ill-fated fourth-down pass to Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter of the divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Bryant’s catch was initially ruled good, which would have given the Cowboys a first down at the Green Bay 1. After replay review, the call was overturned and the debate of what is and is not a catch has not been settled, even with the NFL clarifying the definition at the recent owners meetings.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTony Romo and Dez Bryant found the coverage they wanted on fourth down at Lambeau Field, but it didn't quite work out.

Here’s Romo’s answer:

“Most of the game, they'd been doubling Dez. Even when they didn't, they would hide it well and come off late. We started to get to that a little bit and understand what they were conceptually trying to do. What happened then was, we went into an empty formation. At a point earlier in the game, I end up throwing the ball to Terrance [Williams] on a spread-out formation. I think we had a running back in on that play. He ends up scoring a touchdown. He's not the first read on that play, but based on the configuration, not that dissimilar from what this one is. They try and hide the same coverage, which turns into what we call a "cover zero," so it's an all-out pressure. But they hide it by the safeties being a little lower and they're almost like going to help and double people. You can tell by the mannerisms of some of the linebackers and nickel cornerbacks that they're coming after you.

"In that process, my initial thought right at that moment was, 'I'm not going to be able to hold onto the ball. You have to get it out. It's got to go somewhere. You can't just go through progressions and read.' I have three options on the play. Cole [Beasley]'s got a route that's really quick. [Jason] Witten has a route that's very fast, and Dez has a go route. The go route is dicey because it's fourth-and-2, you just need 2 yards. You can throw the ball to anybody on the field. The problem is, at that moment, as I'm getting ready to throw the ball I think Cole and I think Jason, but I want to look at the leverage of the players that are on them. When I look at it, it's bad leverage. In other words, they're going to have to take an extra two steps to get past that. So, in that moment, I wanted the 2 yards but it's going to be real dicey. It's going to be one of those bang-bang type of slant ... I can't adjust that with the route this late in the count as I'm about to snap the ball.

So I say, 'Hey, it's one-on-one; Dez hasn't gotten this but three times the whole game. It's our season on the line. Let's do what we do.' You give him a chance. He went up and made the play and obviously we didn't get the call. I changed the protection to try and give myself the ability to go through the progression to them and then finish with Dez. My thought was, let's get the first down. Get through one, two and my third option is going to be Dez on a go route. The problem was we only had five men and they were rushing six. I tried to manipulate the line and change the call so we could pick up the fifth guy and I did that, the problem was the sixth guy came. I couldn't go one, two, three, and then the leverage came into play.

Either you trust in that or you don't. In that situation, you're dying to get Dez one-on-one with a press corner. He was up on top, pressing him, trying to take away a slant, something quick. You have to be aggressive. That's how you win those games, and that's how you win championships.”

The Packers actually only rushed five, but cornerback Casey Hayward came unscathed from Romo’s right, breaking down the Cowboys’ protection. Beasley had some space underneath but the throw would have been tight. Witten has a defender in front of him and behind him on his route. Lance Dunbar runs a simple out route to the sticks, but Micah Hyde is in decent position to make that a close call.

Terrance Williams is on the back side of the play but is not an option because of the pressure Green Bay brings.

So Romo’s decision was to go to Bryant on the go route with Sam Shields in coverage.

We know how it turns out, but all of that happened in less than two seconds.

Think about that -- less than two seconds.

IRVING, Texas -- For the first time since 2012, Tony Romo's offseason does not revolve around rehab from back surgery.

In 2013, Romo had a cyst removed from his back that kept him out of the offseason program, organized team activities and minicamp. In 2014, Romo recovered from surgery for a herniated disc that kept him out of the 2013 regular-season finale and did not take a snap until training camp began.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo has been among a large group of players that started working out at Valley Ranch two weeks ago before the formal offseason program starts on April 20. He is still wearing a splint on a finger on his left hand due to torn tendons suffered in the playoffs.

While maintaining strength in his back and core will always be a part of Romo’s routine for the rest of his career, he can focus on other areas of his body.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”