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Cowboys Preseason Game 3 Analysis

August 27, 2013

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The Dez Drive: It was the type of drive that made every fantasy football playing male in the DFW area take notice and move him from the 3rd round to the 2nd round on their draft boards. It also was the type of drive that might permanently have shut the doubters like me and Corby Davidson up for good on Dez Bryant. Corby and I have both expressed doubt about the Dez Bryant pick since it happened 3 ½ years ago. We both had similar reasons for it as Dez was trouble at Oklahoma State and had a family background that had red flags all over it. In his first two seasons in the NFL he showed the rare talent that made him a 1st round pick but it was largely overshadowed by his off the field issues at North Park, with local jewelers, and with the domestic violence incident between him and his mother just 13 months ago. It seems like a lot longer than that though as he really does seem to have turned the corner and become a leader and a consummate pro. No one has ever denied that when Bryant is motivated and focused he’s a rare talent and he reminded Dallas fans of that on this drive as he almost singlehandedly marched the Cowboys down the field, on a drive starting at their own 11 yard line, and ended with 5 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. That is a pretty decent game let alone a single drive and it showcased his size, strength, speed, and rapport he has developed with Romo. They are becoming one of the best QB/WR combinations in the league and I expect spectacular things from them this year. Dez is signed through 2014 ($1.557 mil in 2013 and $1.78 mil in 2014 if you are wondering Mike Mentemeyer) but it would behoove Jerry to get contract negotiations started now with Dez as if he starts it next spring it likely will be a lot more expensive.

Devonte Holloman: Holloman was a forgotten man on draft day as he was the team’s last pick (6th round) and his position (LB) didn’t lead the casual observer to expect big things from him in season 1. With Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and Justin Durant seemingly locked in as starters it seemed that Holloman was destined for special teams work and the occasional 3rd down duties. It fit his profile perfectly as he was a coverage dynamo at South Carolina, switching regularly from linebacker to safety, and I liked the fit immediately. I might have to reassess his role on this team though as the more I watch him the more I want to see of him and think that he has a legitimate chance to usurp Durant as the starting SLB this season. This preseason he’s been the Cowboys best defensive player with 14 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 1 TD through 4 games and I love the passion and aggressiveness that he plays with. It’s still likely that the Cowboys start Durant over Holloman due to the experience factor and also due to the fact that it would be putting Durant and his 2 year $2.365 million on the bench. It’s not the biggest deal but it’s still a bit too rich for a backup and I don’t see Jerry pulling the plug on Durant before he even plays a game. That being said Holloman looks like the real deal and it’s good to know the Cowboys have a talented linebacker in the wings if/when Sean Lee or Bruce Carter get nicked up.

Sean Lee Part 2: The Sean Lee extension article has probably been my most controversial article in recent memory and I’m not extremely surprised as I am taking the opposite angle compared to pretty much the rest of the local media but I wanted to delve into the topic again because it’s a complicated subject. First off I want it understood that I like Sean Lee as a player and have considered him a building block for awhile now. I liked the pick in 2010 when they took him in the 2nd round, I preferred Navorro Bowman and think history has proven me right but both made sense as the Cowboys pick, and have been a big fan of his instincts, character, and playmaking skills in the passing game. My issue is simply that they signed Lee to an above market deal at a time, coming off an injury plagued season, where I was sure they could get him for a below market deal. I was thinking 5 yr $25 million with incentives to get to 5 yr $30 mil and then was blown away to see them give him 6 yr $42 with incentives to make it 6yr $50 mil. It astounded me and with so few people being against the deal it makes me wonder if everyone understands the full ramifications of this deal. If Sean Lee is healthy and plays in +80% of the snaps in a year his deal bumps up to $8.5 million a year and places him as the #2 paid linebacker in all of football only behind Patrick Willis. Does anyone really believe Sean Lee is the second best linebacker in the NFL? I hear how the Cowboys “protected” themselves by putting these escalators into the deal based on playing time but to me both scenarios will end up with the Cowboys overpaying for Lee as he either is one of the 5-7 highest paid linebackers and is injured or he’s healthy and is the #2 paid LB. Neither seem to be market value in my opinion considering he’s never finished in the Top 20 among LBs in tackles, never has played a full season in the NFL, provides no pass rush (0 career sacks), and isn’t an intimidator in the middle of a defense. He’s an instinctive, hard working lunch pail type guy who has a knack for making plays in the passing game. He’s a very good player but the Cowboys are paying him as if he’s a superstar and he just isn’t. I went back to the NFL Network’s Top 100 NFL Players list for 2013 to see if other players considered him a superstar and came away even more sure that this was an overpay. Lee didn’t make the list, nor did he make it in 2012 when he was coming off the best season of his career, but 9 LBs did make it and I listed them in order: Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Chad Greenway, Luke Kuechly, Lance Briggs, London Fletcher, and Daryl Washington. Then I thought of who else I’d rank ahead of Lee and came up with Karlos Dansby, Jerod Mayo, and James Laurinaitis as three LBs who I consider clearly superior to Lee and then thought of Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David as two youngsters that would give Lee a run for his money. That is 12 linebackers I would without a doubt rank higher than Lee and 2 others I have a hard time keeping behind him (Wagner and David both were in the Top 8 in the league in tackles as rookies!) which makes me again wonder why Jerry gave him a contract that either makes him the #2 paid LB in the NFL or one of the 5-7 highest due to being injury prone the previous year. My final thought on the Lee contract is that it starts the extension process off on a bad foot. Over the next 2-3 years the Cowboys are going to be extending Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter, and Tyron Smith. Bryant in my opinion is one of the 3-5 best wide receivers in the NFL, Carter has a higher upside than Lee and is going to be in the perfect system for his talents to shine with Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 style defense, and Tyron Smith is a physical freak at a position of scarcity in the NFL who still is only 22 years old. All three of these guys are going to be more difficult to re-sign than Sean Lee was and it gives me great pause when I look at the contract Jerry gave to Lee. He went to the negotiating table against Lee knowing that Sean was coming off an injury plagued year, knowing that the past free agency period had been vicious for veteran linebackers (Karlos Dansby with 134 tackles last season had to settle for 1 yr $2.25 mil, Rey Maualuga with 122 tackles last season had to settle for 2 yr $6.5 mil, AJ Hawk with 120 tackles last season had to take a paycut from the 3 yr $17.85 left on his original deal to a 3 yr $10.6 million), and knowing that he always had the ability to franchise tag him next spring if he was unable to work a deal out. Yet with all of those advantages Jerry gave him a 6 yr $42 million extension that will impair the club’s ability in the future to retain their other young stars. I really like Sean Lee as a player but he’s just not worth this kind of money and I’m not backing down on that opinion.

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