During an off-season chock-full of notable rookie and free-agent
pickups, the best personnel decision the Cowboys made might have
been the one last March when they did not sign a player.
Desperate for a cornerback, they had their eyes on free agent
Duane Starks, an appealing cover corner formerly with the
Ravens. Dallas coaches and scouts liked Starks but
figured--correctly--that he was a good corner, not a premier
one. In the past, owner Jerry Jones would have brought Starks to
town on his private jet, whipped out his checkbook and signed
him for far too much money. But when Jones's son Stephen, the
club's vice president and chief negotiator, told his dad the
Cardinals were ready to hand Starks a $5 million signing bonus,
Jones announced in a staff meeting, "We need a corner, but he's
not worth it."
Instead, Dallas spent its money on four free agents whose
performance will go a long way in determining whether the team
is a playoff contender this year. The Cowboys are relying on
linebacker Kevin Hardy, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover,
cornerback Bryant Westbrook and tight end Tony McGee to fill big
holes. Each carries a risk, but in not overpaying at key need
positions, the club improved itself and kept its once-bloated
salary cap in line. The combined cap cost this year to sign
Hardy, Glover, Westbrook and McGee: $6.2 million.
Dallas is gambling that Westbrook, the fifth pick in the 1997
draft by the Lions, can be the physical left corner the defense
has lacked. He tore his left Achilles tendon in November 2000
and was still struggling to regain his form in training camp. "I
can definitely be the player I was two years ago," Westbrook
says. Expectations are moderate for McGee, too, but he's a
low-cost pickup who averaged 33 receptions and 12.7 yards per
catch in nine seasons with the Bengals. When he was surprisingly
hired last Jan. 31 to be the team's offensive coordinator,
former Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet immediately pushed to sign
the 31-year-old McGee, whose presence should help keep defenses
from loading up to stop the run as Emmitt Smith pursues the NFL
career rushing record.
The Cowboys had a total of only 49 sacks in the past two years
and haven't had a player with double-digit sacks in six years.
"We need a pass rush if our defense is going to take that next
step to greatness," coach Dave Campo says of a unit that ranked
fourth in the league last year. He's hoping Hardy and Glover can
be the catalysts. Dallas invested $2.5 million for a one-year
deal with Hardy, who had microfracture surgery on his left knee
last December. "The procedure has a pretty good success rate,"
Hardy said in camp, "and I'm confident the knee will hold up.
But it might be midseason before I'm 100 percent." At his best
in 1999 Hardy was an inside linebacker in size (6'4", 259
pounds) and an outside backer in quickness (10 1/2 sacks). Now,
at 29, his job is to anchor a group of undersized linebackers.
A cap casualty of the Saints, Glover had 25 sacks over the past
two years thanks to his inside pass-rush savvy and the brute
strength of fellow tackle Norman Hand. Glover should benefit
similarly by playing next to one of the most underrated linemen
in the game, relentless 312-pound Brandon Noble, an NFL Europe
refugee who was a full-time starter last season.
The wild card on defense is rookie safety Roy Williams, the
228-pound first-round draft pick who has drawn comparisons with
Ronnie Lott. He'll make Glover and Hardy's jobs easier by
forcing offenses to account for him as a blitzer--and make no
mistake, Williams will blitz as much as any safety in football.
"There's no question we're better on paper, both in our starting
22 and the full roster," says Campo. "We obviously have an awful
lot of what-ifs, but I see tremendous similarities between the
Cowboys of the early '90s and these Cowboys. In the early '90s
we had two good drafts and picked up some quality free agents in
[tight end] Jay Novacek, [safety] James Washington and
[linebacker] Vinson Smith. In the last two years we've had two
good drafts and picked up four starters in free agency."
Campo pauses. "Of course," he adds, "the difference is, 10 years
ago we had Troy Aikman." --P.K.
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SANCYA/AP The durable Smith needs 540 yards to become the NFL's career rushing leader.
COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS WILLIAMS
Darren Woodson, a five-time Pro Bowl player at strong safety,
will operate more like a free safety. Woodson estimates that
fellow safety Roy Williams will creep toward the box to support
the run or to blitz nearly 80% of the time while Woodson drops
into a centerfield position. "Roy could add five years to my
career," says Woodson, 33.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cowboys
"Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet has always liked to go with
strong pocket passers, which is why I see him pushing for Chad
Hutchinson to play over Quincy Carter sometime during the year.
Carter will keep his job if he's accurate.... I can't help
thinking the Emmitt Smith record [his bid to become the NFL's
alltime leading rusher] is going to be a weight on this team.
Troy Hambrick's a better back right now. He should play a
lot.... Andre Gurode looked terrific against the middle of
Oakland's line in the preseason. It's rare to have a 326-pound
athlete at center.... Antonio Bryant might be a head case, but
he also might be another Michael Irvin. Tough, athletic
receiver.... Defensively, I wonder who's going to rush the
quarterback from end or linebacker. Greg Ellis is solid against
the run, but he's not fast enough on the pass rush. I like Kevin
Hardy, if he's got anything left.... La'Roi Glover slowed down
last year in New Orleans, but playing next to a bull like
Brandon Noble should make him an excellent rusher. Noble's a
great force against the run. You can't push him around.... It's
a good thing there aren't a bunch of strong-armed, pinpoint
passers in the NFC East, because the Dallas cornerbacks could be
a disaster. There's not a cover corner in the group.... From Day
One, Roy Williams will be a tremendous safety if the Cowboys let
him fly around."
Sept. 8 at Houston
22 at Philadelphia
29 at St. Louis
Oct. 6 NEW YORK GIANTS
20 at Arizona
Nov. 3 at Detroit
10 Open date
17 at Indianapolis
28 WASHINGTON (Thurs.)
Dec. 8 SAN FRANCISCO
15 at N.Y. Giants
21 PHILADELPHIA (Sat.)
29 at Washington
NFL rank: 23
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .483
Games against playoff teams: 4
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Dave Campo; third season with Dallas (10-22 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 5-11 (fifth in NFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 3/31/29; defense 13/3/4
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Quincy Carter 170
176 att. 90 comp. 51.1% 1,072 yds. 5 TDs 7 int. 63.0 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 67
261 att. 1,021 yds. 3.9 avg. 17 rec. 116 yds. 6.8 avg. 3 TDs
RB Troy Hambrick 125
113 att. 579 yds. 5.1 avg. 4 rec. 62 yds. 15.5 avg. 2 TDs
FB Robert Thomas 343
6 att. 40 yds. 6.7 avg. 5 rec. 19 yds. 3.8 avg. 1 TD
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Joey Galloway 94 52 rec. 699 yds. 3 TDs
WR Antonio Bryant (R)[N] 155 42 rec. 659 yds. 9 TDs
WR Reggie Swinton 250 7 rec. 117 yds. 1 TD
TE Tony McGee [N] 153 14 rec. 148 yds. 1 TD
K Tim Seder 337 12/12 XPs 11/17 FGs 45 pts.
PR Reggie Swinton 250 31 ret. 13.4 avg. 1 TD
KR Reggie Swinton 250 56 ret. 23.7 avg. 0 TDs
LT Flozell Adams 6'7" 357 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Andre Gurode (R)[N] 6'4" 326 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
RG Kelvin Garmon 6'2" 350 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Solomon Page 6'5" 325 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LE Greg Ellis 45 tackles 6 sacks
LT La'Roi Glover [N] 36 tackles 8 sacks
RT Brandon Noble 27 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RE Ebenezer Ekuban 1 tackle 0 sacks
OLB Kevin Hardy [N] 56 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
MLB Dat Nguyen 90 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Dexter Coakley 73 tackles 2 int.
CB Bryant Westbrook [N] 19 tackles 1 int.
SS Roy Williams (R) [N] 101 tackles 5 int.
FS Darren Woodson 76 tackles 3 int.
CB Mario Edwards 42 tackles 0 int.
P Micah Knorr 78 punts 40.2 avg.
[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
"From Day One, Williams will be a tremendous safety if the
Cowboys let him fly around."