Cowboys Monday Huddle-Up: Bye Into First

IRVING - As much fun as a bye week can offer ... The latest on Dez dealings ... Where Hitch fits ... Claiborne, Crawford and Romo all at different levels of working through injuries ... The Cowboys do self-evaluation - and CowboysHQ is happy to help ... Monday Cowboys Huddle-Up!



The Big Lead

The last time the entire NFC East lost during the Cowboys bye week? That was 2009, which is also the last time Dallas was 7-3, which is also last time they made the playoffs.

This was the ideal bye week, a Sunday during which the Eagles suffered a 53-20 embarrassment at Green Bay that dropped their record to 7-3, creating a tie atop the division. Meanwhile, the Giants and Redskins both lost as well, all but burying their chance at contention with twin 3-7 records. And just for fun, NFC contenders New Orleans, Seattle and Detroit all lost as well.

I find it notable that both Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and locker-room leader Jason Witten used almost the same exact words when describing their approach to watching football over the weekend: They would do so while avoiding "getting emotionally caught up in it.'' Makes sense, though with four of their final six games in the division, and two of those against an Eagles team they're now locked up with at the top, it must've been a challenge to remain unemotional.

This isn't about Super Bowl boasts yet. Note that Jerry Jones didn't "promise'' or even "bring up'' the idea. He responded to a question on 105.3 The Fan by saying, "We didn't really think that possibly this year might be the year, but you sure can't dismiss (a Super Bowl run) at this particular point. I think we're going to have some fun here in these last six ballgames."

They already had as much fun as a bye week permits.

Hello, Mo

Morris Claiborne isn't trying to play football again. Not yet.

“It’s about walking (first),'' he says, "so I can go out and play with my son.”

Claiborne popped into the Valley Ranch locker room at the end of last week for his first media visit since undergoing surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee in September. The season-ending procedure has him walking with a crutch and unwilling to commit to a timetable for full-level work in 2015.

He swears he remains confident in his ability to live up to that 2012 first-round status that now is almost an albatross around the Dallas Cowboys cornerback's neck.

“I don’t feel like anything has changed,” said Claiborne, 24. “I feel like my career is where it is. I can’t do nothing about where it is. I can’t change it. I plan on coming back from this and being even better than I was. ... You want to prove everybody wrong. You just want to do it, but mainly for yourself.”

Throwing Up The X

Dez Bryant's contract situation generates tons of misinformation, starting with (maybe purposeful, maybe accidental) twisting of Jerry Jones' words regarding a deal.

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We're here to help.

Here's Jerry On: Dez, Contracts, Loyalty and the Super Bowl ... and we've got his words in print and in audio form, to help you understand where the organization is here.

Meanwhile, we've got Dez' side covered like a blanket as well.

I wrote last Wednesday that while not yet started negotiations with CAA's Tom Condon, "the wheels were turning'' toward that process. And by Friday, Jerry revealed news of the visiting. (On some "touch-base'' level, I believe.) I wrote last Wednesday "that the silliness of DeSoto Police log incidents that don't even actually involve Bryant are not a real factor here.'' And I've written extensively that there is no conflict between the two sides that is any more contentious than these sort of negotiations generally are.

“What we want to do is have an agreement for the rest of Dez’s career,” Jones said. “To me that says a lot about off-the-field concerns if we want him on the Dallas Cowboys for the rest of his career. There is more to consider than just how good a player. There’s more to consider than performance. He represents the star. I’m real impressed with how he’s evolved over the last several years, or we wouldn’t be in serious contract negotiations with him. ... I do look for us to get something done with Dez.”

When Dez said, "It’s all about respect. I am a very loyal person. But just don’t test my loyalty." ... it's important you know what he said later, when the cameras were turned off, when he was reflecting on his comments with reporters Clarence Hill, Tim MacMahon and me.

"Well,'' he asked, grinning. "How'd I do?''

Bryant didn't "go off'' in his "respect'' speech. He wasn't frustrated or angry. His words were calculated and planned, all part of the dance. It's a dance the Joneses know well, and one Dez is learning.

There is no indication Cowboys management has been "disloyal'' or "disrespectful'' to Bryant as he seeks to be -- I think -- the third-highest paid receiver in the NFL. Part of Dez' talk was also about the expression of optimism here, the belief both sides will agree to a "nice deal,'' and a mention of "compromise.''

Said Stephen Jones: “I have a lot of confidence we will (get a long-term deal done). I think Dez wants to be here, and I know we want him here.”

It won't work at a $10-mil-a-year number. It might not work at Tyron-level numbers. It might have to eventually and then maybe temporarily work at the franchise tag number ($12.8 million next season) though neither side wants that.

Dez will be a Cowboy. All involved (fans, too) would do themselves a favor of stripping away the noise, which over the weekend included a Twitter "report'' from Evan Silva that reads: "Update in the Dez contract saga: Cowboys leak "cops at house" story, one week later threaten to franchise tag Bryant.''

I don't know anything about Evan Silva except that he's got 67,000 followers and a dangerously irresponsible misunderstanding of this process. His timeline is wrong; the tag possibilities greatly predate the DeSoto cops angle. The "threaten'' is wrong; it's a rule, not a threat, and can be as much of a hammer to Dez' side as to Dallas'; and most important, there is absolutely no evidence (or logic) that the Cowboys purposely set in motion this story so they could save money by signing a suddenly devalued Dez.

I'll tell you what I told Dez when he asked him about the style of the dealings he's about to immerse himself in: Jerry doesn't "negotiate negatively.'' He never has. And -- given the familial relationship he has and wishes to have with Dez Bryant -- has no reason to start now.

Hitch fits ... somewhere

Dallas's original plan in drafting Anthony Hitchens? To back up middle linebacker Sean Lee.

Plans change.

The fourth-round rookie has played in every game, at three different spots, not as Lee's backup (as he's out for the year) but instead as the understudy to Rolando McClain. And when McClain can't go in the middle, as has been the case twice? Hitchens starts at MIKE and gives Dallas 11 tackles per. Bruce Carter's injuries and Justin Durant's season-ending injury also give Hitchens time to contribute.

“Things happened, and I just had to grow up a little faster,” Hitchens said.

The Cowboys think he's playing way above fourth-round level -- and he's doing it well enough now that he'll likely be a starter on the outside when Dallas plays at New York on Sunday. McClain will be back in the middle and Bruce Carter will also flank him, with Kyle Wilber in reserve.

“All I’m trying to do is get better,” he said. “As long as I keep getting better, I’ll be all right. Some people doubt me, some people didn’t, so just block out the noise and try to get better.”

This project has gone so much better than expected that it will greatly impact, I think, Dallas' contractual decisions at linebacker. I bet McClain ends up not very interested in giving the Cowboys too much of a hometown discount, and with him, Carter and Durant all free agents to be, Hitchens becomes a winning insurance policy at any of the three spots.

Getting healthy

Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (knee) plans to practice next Wednesday, which would put him in line to reassert himself as one of the stalwarts of Dallas' surprisingly solid defense this week against the Giants on Nov. 23.

“That’s the goal,” Crawford said.

This has been a productive weekend of inactivity, injury-wise, for Crawford, McClain and Tony Romo. Along the defensive line, Dallas is about to need the fresh legs of Crawford (and eventually, Josh Brent) with the crush of games coming up.

Smile

“This is the greatest time for the bye week to come,” Crawford said.

Brent's goals

The goals for Josh Brent are modest. Maybe he's on the field for the Giants. Maybe it takes more time than that. Maybe he eventually plays 15 snaps in a game as a run-stopping defensive tackle.

Josh Brent seems modest as well.

"Honestly, (my goal is) to make sure Jerry's name does not die in vain," Brent said this week. "Jerry was a great person, a great player and had a bright future. A mistake that I made took that away from him, took that away from his daughter, took that away from his mother, so that's something that I make sure I keep, make sure I'm conscious of that -- never let his name die in vain."

Brent was convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the December 2012 accident that resulted in the death of the passenger in Brent's car, close friend and teammate Jerry Brown. Brent spent five months in jail and he's been practicing with the Cowboys for the two weeks following his 10-game suspension by the NFL.

Onside Kicks

As CowboysHQ reported on Thursday morning, Amobi Okoye’s comeback is being temporarily stalled. He'll stay on the non-football illness list for the rest of the season as he battles his way back from a rare brain condition. The former first-round defensive tackle signed a two-year deal this season with Dallas. ... The Cowboys are signing linebacker/special-teamer Dekoda Watson from Jacksonville, where's he's been a part-time starter. ... Garrett said Dallas has "admired him from afar.'' ... Want to be a Cowboys Insider with Premium coverage? Click here to take our free 7-day trial and then for 10 cents a day, you are among the most informed Cowboys followers on the planet! ... Take our 7-day free trial and come inside to learn what I learned in London by spending a long evening with Dez. It's here: Fish's Premium Column from London: Putting the Curfew to Bed ... The Cowboys practiced Thursday in temperatures that, including the wind-chill, hovered near 22 degrees. All participated except for Crawford and cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee). Quarterback Tony Romo was in uniform but was at best a partial participant as he continues to let his back fractures heal. The Cowboys players are off until Tuesday. ... From Jason Witten: "The bye came at a good time. We are healthy. I think it is set up for us to be successful. But I still think there are formulas within the formula of how you play each week that allows you to be successful. That’s what we have to focus on. I think there is a good formula in place on how we play football. Now, we got to go do it."

Cowboys 100

Our "Cowboys 100'' feature is usually about the facts and figures for the upcoming game. So what do we do in a bye week? Mark Lane's 'Cowboy 100': Bye-Week Facts and Figures, of course.

Self-evaluation

The Cowboys organization delves into self-scouting during the bye week. They check their own tendencies, they measure their own strengths and weaknesses, they take stock in successes and failures.

Here are CowboysHQ, we do the same.

Two essential reads for serious Cowboys fans: Cowboys self-evaluation, Part 1: Player Rankings ... and Cowboys self-evaluation, Part 2: Confidence Ratings, Offense.

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The Final Word

"I think he'd be the first to tell you, anybody would, the only thing missing on his résumé at this point is a championship. And certainly that doesn't sit in Tony's lap. That sits in our lap, [owner] Jerry [Jones] and our family's lap. In terms of the organization, we have to do better at putting better people around him. It falls on our personnel department, the coaching staff and the players around him. It's a team effort." -- Stephen Jones.

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