Austin On Dallas: Cowboys’ Off-Season Decisions Already Looming large


Dallas fans can thank Mike Jenkins later, yet the benefits of keeping the former Pro-Bowler on the active roster are already becoming apparent.  His value will only increase now that safety Barry Church is permanently on the shelf from tearing his Achilles.  In an odd twist it wasn’t another cornerback going down that unveiled Jenkin’s importance.  Who would have known Brandon Carr would be a very viable option to play in a pinch at safety?


The old saying in NFL circles “you can never have enough cornerbacks” is far from a stretch of the imagination.  Especially when your fourth corner is a former Pro-Bowler still playing at a high level.

Against Tampa Bay, Brandon Carr was inserted at safety for a significant portion of the game due to Barry Church already nursing injury, even before suffering the season ending Achilles tear.

The Mike Jenkins luxury then became evident to most doubters. Jenkins was able to move into Carr’s corner spot and played very well in short relief.  On the year, Jenkins has played in a relatively low 41 total snaps.  With only 2 targets going his way, he has 1 pass deflection and is yet to surrender a completion.

Dallas has verbally announced their intentions to strongly limit Carr’s time at safety and keep him in his natural position.  However, under the dire circumstances I’m not so sure that’s not tongue-in-cheek coachspeak.

No knock on Danny McCray or Mana Silva, but when Dallas returns to facing deep, potent passing offenses it should reveal the second-option limitations of both backup players in pass coverage.

When the cuts gets too deep, Carr will surely slide back to safety during the game to minimize the damage. Jenkins will then man the corner, demonstrating he’s far from a backup in this league.  It may not be a permanent move, but if a stop-gap is ever demanded at safety, Carr is likely the most reliable option.


There’s no question that Brandon Carr is displaying at cornerback he’s worth every cent of his lofty contract. Through 182 snaps, Carr has been targeted 10 times with 2 pass deflections and only 3 completions.

A cornerback defending at a 30% clip is nothing to sneeze about.  As a matter of fact, it’s second in the entire league (for CB’s playing 25% or > of their teams snaps) to only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Eagles.

While Carr has everyone’s respect at the corner, not many considered he could be very effective in a safety role also.  It’s not often a corner is freshly asked to spend quality minutes at safety only a week ahead, and seemingly not miss a beat on gameday.

It was quite evident when Carr played the safety role there was no new vulnerability as a result.  For the price of a star cornerback, the Cowboys seem to have snagged a hybrid who can rotate into either role when needed.  For a guy who has spent the vast majority of his NFL snaps at corner, it’s quite an impressive feat.


While this neglect began in the off-season with not adding a solid veteran center to supplant a shaky Phil Costa, it continued into training camp.  Costa began nursing his back injury in August and missed most of camp.  With Bill Nagy out and backup Kevin Kowalski dealing with a serious ankle injury, Jerry Jones continued to place all his eggs in the ailing Costa’s basket.  Trusting a below average center who is nursing a back injury with the success of the offense?  Bad business.

Only 3 plays into the year Costa’s back flares up and there goes the starting center.  Newly signed replacement Ryan Cook did an adequate job through two weeks.  But the real test in my mind was when he faced a powerful, dominating defensive tackle.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought such to town last week, and Gerald McCoy used Ryan Cook and Mackenzy Bernadeau like ragdolls on the way to harrassing Tony Romo all day.  If it wasn’t evident by the severe QB pressure mounting on the interior, it was very apparent DeMarco Murray had nothing available to run through in the middle.

Clearly Ryan Cook is not the answer when the competition at defensive tackle steps up to the higher levels.  I’d hate to see what Ndamukong Suh would do to Cook if Dallas had to line up against the Lions this year.  Surely the coaches and Jerry Jones realized Cook is in over his head as the starter.

So what is the planned alternative?  Dallas will start Cook another game until Phil Costa returns with a healed back following the bye week.  That’s bad new versus the Bears this week, as in three games Chicago’s tackles have a combined 5 sacks and 8 QB hurries.  Poor Tony, I hope he’s breaking in a new flak jacket this week in practice.

Once the bye week passes, it’s once again back to trusting Phil Costa and his iffy back.  The same back that made it 3 plays into the season before giving way for a second time in two months.  It seems that Jerry just won’t learn his lesson that the center position is crucial to the success of the offense, and even the health of his star quarterback.  Playing patchwork GM with the crucial center position is watching a ticking time bomb that will go boom at some point.

POSSIBLE CENTER SOLUTION:  We know the problem, so what is a viable alternative with limited options on the market?  Sign Montrae Holland to play guard like they should have a month ago.  Let Holland take over at guard for Bernadeau, and use the two practice weeks during the break to see what Bernadeau can do at center.  At the very least Holland can match Bernadeau’s production at guard, while he slides over to provide a bigger, stronger body than Costa or Cook at center.


The Cowboys made excellent decisions in weathering the storm with a disgruntled Mike Jenkins, and also acquiring the surpisingly versatile Brandon Carr.  To find this out so early due to a safety injury was completely unpredictable, yet the value of either player was never a question on my end.

As for the center position, my scalp is raw from the scratching over the absurd, continued neglect.  The same gross irresponsibility that began way back in February.  Aside from blocking and quarterback health concerns, all we have to do is observe the countless false start penalties to realize the value of a center.

He is the guy who sets the timing for the entire offense.  Numerous times already this season the Cowboys set themselves up in short down-and-distance situations, only to relinquish a cheap 5 yards over the broken unison of the snap.  Sooner or later, Jones will need to find a permanent center alternative for the season in lieu of the current cast.  Let’s just hope no one gets hurt in the process, including the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.