Each Sunday I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. The news of the week, analysis of key events and a little humor as we try to keep the Cowboys' offseason in perspective in this edition of First and 10.
1. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones calls the connection between CTE and concussions "absurd." But let's elaborate a bit, since sometimes a quote, especially a one-word one, can be misconstrued. Here's the lead-up. A week before the NFL Owners' Meeting, the NFL's Jeff Miller, the league's senior vice president for health and safety policy, acknowledged to Congress that there is a link between head injuries and brain disorders. Miller's quote about the link, according to the Washington Post, was "the answer to that is certainly, yes."
Now, the NFL doesn't do anything lightly. Miller told Congress that he based the linkage on research with Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee. McKee's research found CTE in 90 of 94 brains of former NFL players. Reporters who broke the story, naturally, hit up the NFL for comment. This would have been their chance to disavow Miller, call him out for going rogue, whatever. Here was the NFL's quote:
"The comments made by Jeff Miller yesterday accurately reflect the view of the NFL."
So, you've got research, based on data, that the NFL is actually acknowledging. That's groundbreaking in of itself because the NFL has done its best to distance itself from this for years.
So, naturally, this was a topic of conversation at the owners' meeting. And, so, Jones was asked about it. Here we go.
“We don’t have that knowledge and background and scientifically, so there’s no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here,” Jones said. “There’s no research. There’s no data…. We’re not disagreeing. We’re just basically saying the same thing. We’re doing a lot more. It’s the kind of thing that you want to work… to prevent injury. A big part of this is prevention. But the other part of it is to basically understand that we don’t know or have any idea that there is a consequence as to any type of head injury in the future.
“That has to have a lot of research, just as the heart did 50 years ago. And certainly everybody that had heart issues 50 years ago didn’t live a normal life. Nature takes care of that. So no, I didn’t think at all that his statements altered anything…. It didn’t alter anything about where we are.”
Except that there is ACTUAL research and ACTUAL data promoting a link between CTE and documented head injuries. Except that Jones is, in fact, disagreeing with Miller and the NFL about the linkage. Except that Miller's comments altered the entire paradigm of how the NFL has treated the connection between CTE and head injuries in NFL players. Except that this may have also altered the billion-dollar deal the NFL crafted to take care of former players with head injuries and CTE.
If you want to put it into football terms, this is the equivalent of the forward pass being invented. It changes everything.
The media took Jones for a ride after his comments. The New York Post had the best cover, a photo of Jones pointing at the camera with the headline "Brain Dead." Appropriate, given the context. This is always the danger with Jones — he'll answer any question, even ones that he probably shouldn't.
Jones did say that the NFL is supportive of research and that there needs to be more. I think that's the point Jones was trying to make, and if he had just said "we need more research because there is still much we don't know," then this section would have been about 100 words. But Jones' word choice was, well, absurd.
Here's where one hopes the research gets to one day — what makes a player like Junior Seau kill himself in his early 40s while a player like Roger Staubach, who had concussions during his career, live into his 70s without considerable incident? That's the knowledge we need and we're years away from it
But Jones explaining away scientific research that clearly shows there is a link with the overwhelming majority of players sampled is just plain wrong.
2. The Patrick Robinson thing was just plain weird. I can't remember the last time a free agent switched agents while negotiating with teams. Robinson made it sound like his first agent, Kevin Conner, didn't have permission to negotiate on his behalf. Conner is the agent that the Cowboys negotiated with, a negotiation that CHQ has reported was in its final stages before Robinson visited on Monday. So either there was a serious miscommunication between Robinson and his agent or something else is afoot. We'll find out eventually. We always do.
But, for now, the Cowboys' desire to sign another veteran cornerback comes down to Leon Hall, who remains a free agent as of Saturday. ... or just turn the page to the NFL Draft.
3. The NFL voted to make touchbacks on kickoffs start on the 25-yard line and not the 20-yard line. Many coaches and players are none too happy, with the most vocal being Green Bay's Mike McCarthy. "Let's not reward a decision not to compete with five extra yards. If we're going to compete, let's compete," McCarthy said. "If we're not going to compete, let's not compete."
I'd have to agree. I have no problem letting kickers kick it deep, letting offensive teams touch it back and starting at the 20. But rewarding five yards for nothing is absurd (there's that word again).
This is the same rule that exists in college football, but my bet is that, on a percentage basis, there are more returns in the college game than the pro game because not every college team has a kicker that can reach the end zone. Most NFL kickers, including Dallas' Dan Bailey, can.
The NFL calls this a player safety rule and it's only for one year. But it's also further legislates against special teams scoring. According to records at profootballreference.com, the number of kickoff returns for touchdowns has dropped from 23 in 2010, the year before kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line. In 2015 there were seven returns for scores, and from 2011-15 the average has been 8.4 returns for touchdowns.
If I'm an offensive coach I love getting the extra five yards of field position for doing nothing. If I'm a special teams coach, I now have to weigh the risk of positional kicking to see if I can push the opponent into returning the kick and keeping him from getting to the 25. To me, the value of having the offense start at the 21- or -22-yard line as opposed to the 25 doesn't make much difference to me if I'm in Richard Bisaccia's shoes. I would just rather have Bailey kick it deep, let the opponent start at the 25 and save everyone's energy for defense.
Meanwhile, the NFL has now made chop blocks illegal, a move that frankly will make the league far safer in the future than the new touchback rule. And the NFL missed a chance to really help teams out by voting not to expand the gameday roster from 46 to 48 players. Against the backdrop of those two items, this whole kickoff thing seems a little superficial.
4. In this week's edition of Mock Draft Friday I attacked the quarterback question by exploring what might happen if the Dallas Cowboys chose to draft a quarterback in a particular round. So I ended up with five different scenarios with the Cowboys taking quarterback in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth rounds. Two things caught my eye. First, there is a significant drop-off in talent after the first round. Second, if the Cowboys are interested in getting better sooner, they're better off attacking their defensive needs early and finding a mid-round development project behind Tony Romo. I've not been happy with a single mock draft I've done when I take a quarterback in the first round, and I think that's emblematic of what the Cowboys need right now.
And as a helpful reminder I'm not the only CowboysHQ.com writer doing 7-round mocks this week. Check out Jordan Ross' take today.
5. I'm not buying the stealth courtship of Paxton Lynch … yet. Our Mike Fisher chats with Bobby Belt on CowboysCast about how the Cowboys are saying little on Lynch and that might say a lot. Now, it's not unusual for a NFL team to go radio silent on a player at this time of year. In fact, the Cowboys will likely draft at least one player next month they've never spoken to or personally worked out. That happens frequently. But the reason I'm not biting on this is because drafting Lynch would mean the Cowboys must trade back, and I'm don't believe that's where the Cowboys are at right now. It could change in a month, and lord knows Jones and company trade back all the time. But if we're talking strictly about the No. 4 pick, I would have serious concerns if the Cowboys' big board had Lynch valued higher than Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey, the two most popular defensive picks in most Cowboys mock drafts. (Here's my Friday feature, a collection of ways to Mock the Cowboys.)
As you see in the video above, the Cowboys might not be the only team with a QB in his 30's who could use a No. 1 on a QB heir.
6. Brandon Carr isn't sweating contract talk. He's too busy working on behalf of his hometown of Flint, Mich., which is dealing with perhaps the worst water safety crisis in modern U.S. history. He's already donated $110,000 to the cause, so he doesn't seem concerned about a perceived pay cut or even being released.
I've been saying this for a couple of years now — Carr has all of the leverage here because, even if you devalue his talent, he's still the third-best cornerback on the team. And these days you need three corners just to survive in the NFL. This is part of the reason why the Cowboys have been pursuing a veteran corner in free agency. Unless they have a backup plan, they can't ask Carr for a pay cut or release him. They just can't.
7. Meanwhile, in quarterback news, the Cowboys have had no luck luring a veteran backup to supplement Kellen Moore. The pickings right now are thin, to say the least. The top free agent is Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he's not coming to Dallas to sit. If the Cowboys want to sign a veteran backup with starting experience who would probably jump at the chance to play in Dallas, call Matt Flynn, the former backup in Green Bay who is from nearby Tyler, Texas. He would do in a pinch. Or have you forgotten who authored that epic comeback against the Cowboys back in December of 2013? Yep, that was Flynn who threw four touchdown passes that day.
8. Great Moments in Headline Porn for this week? "Cowboys' Jerry Jones said to be ending plan to dominate D-FW doughnut scene," From the Dallas Morning News. Hard to believe a man who conquered oil, football and stadium construction is being brought to his knees by fried dough. But, then again, haven't we all been brought to our knees by fried dough at one time or another?
9. Earlier this week I had the chance to make my regular appearance on Wess Moore's "Game On" radio show in Little Rock. Moore's show is part of the Fox Sports Arkansas radio, which can be heard in Little Rock on 93.7 FM and 690 AM, Hot Springs on 99.7 FM and in Arkadelphia on 106.9 FM. This week we talked about Alfred Morris, Patrick Robinson, the quarterback situation and which defensive player the Cowboys might take at No. 4 overall.
10. Checking out Pro Days for this coming week. Here are some players that the Cowboys might be taking a look at this week (player availability is subject to change). This week represents the last full week of pro days.
March 28: Ole Miss (OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Laquon Treadwell, DT Robert Nkdemiche
March 29: Florida State (S Jalen Ramsey); Western Kentucky (QB Brandon Doughty)
March 30: Maryland (OLB/DE Yannick Ngakoue); Miami (FL) (CB Artie Burns, S Deon Bush); SMU (S Shakiel Randolph); Tennessee (OLB Curt Maggitt, WR MarQuez North)
March 31: Notre Dame (LB Jaylon Smith, WR Will Fuller); TCU (WR Josh Doctson, WR Kolby Listenbee, QB Trevone Boykin)
April 1: Indiana (OT Jason Spriggs, RB Jordan Howard)