Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboy Uniform Facts

The Dallas Cowboys home uniform has remained essentially the same for the past four decades and is widely considered one of the classic unis in American team sports. ESPN’s Paul Lukas reminds us, though, that there are all manner of little quirks to the look.

The Cowboys almost always wear basic white jerseys, their helmet design is timeless and classic, and their basic aesthetic approach is blissfully free of extraneous bells and whistles. All in all, they present a simple, straightforward look.

Or so it would appear to the untrained eye. But to the practiced uniform acolyte, the Cowboys’ attire is rife with idiosyncrasies. In fact, America’s Team wears what is arguably the quirkiest uniform set in all of professional sports, full of unexplained anomalies and team-specific protocols found nowhere else. Look back into their history, and you’ll find even more aberrations.

So come along as Uni Watch takes a tour of the Cowboys’ top-10 uni-related nuances, past and present — many of them annoying, a few of them admirable, but all worthy of closer inspection:


Look on the back of any Cowboys helmet, and you’ll see a little blue label at the base of the white stripe. You’ve probably noticed it countless times over the years without even thinking about it. That’s a Dymo Tape name label, which has been a Cowboys visual signature for years — all the way back to the mid-1960s, in fact.

Uniqueness Factor: High. Smartypants readers (you know who you are) may be aware that Dymo Tape has occasionally been used for helmet identification by other NFL teams, like the Browns in the late ’60s (plus it’s also been used extensively in baseball). But no other team has had the chutzpah or intestinal fortitude to use the little labels so obsessively, or for so long.

Annoyance Factor: Low. Uni Watch actually loves the little labels and grudgingly salutes the Dallas equipment staff for having the dedication to turn a dorky little detail into an indispensable component of the club’s visual identity. Just try to imagine a Cowboys helmet without the little blue strip — it’s unthinkable.


Ever notice that the lower collar area on most of Cowboys jerseys — just above the uniform number — usually looks a bit pinched or crimped? Look closer, and you’ll see there’s actually a little shoelace or string that’s tying down the jersey to the shoulder pads.

How do they do this? By sewing a butterfly-shaped fabric panel onto the sternum area of each jersey. The panel is equipped with an eyelet, which the player can use to tie down the jersey to his pads. Sometimes additional eyelets are added so the player has multiple tie-down options.

Uniqueness Factor: Very high. To Uni Watch’s knowledge, no other team utilizes this type of jersey modification. A few former Cowboys, however, have tried to duplicate it after moving on to other teams. Keyshawn Johnson, for example, used a primitive tie-down when he moved from the Cowboys to the Panthers, and Larry Allen has been going tied-down with the 49ers.

Annoyance Factor: Very high. The crimped collar looks totally bush. And even if a player opts not to use the tie-down, you’ve still got that extra fabric panel just sitting there in plain view. Plus, there’s something untoward about modifying a uniform like this — is it even legal? Roger Goodell, please investigate.


The Cowboys always wear silver pants, right? Right — sort of. The team actually has two different sets of silver pants in its wardrobe: one with a greenish-blue tone and royal blue piping, which is worn with the white jerseys, and a more conventional silver version with navy piping, which is worn with the club’s seldom-seen blue jerseys. No vaguely reasonable explanation for this has ever been proffered. Not only that, the Dallas helmet doesn’t match either of the pants’ hues, meaning the Cowboys actually use three shades of silver.

Uniqueness Factor: Very high. Some teams occasionally have trouble matching their helmet color to their jersey or pants, because fabric dyes work differently than plastic dyes. But the Cowboys don’t have one intended version of silver that accidentally turns out three different ways — they actually have three different silvers in their official color specs. No other NFL team has this kind of color confusion codified in its uniform design.

Annoyance Factor: Very high. Kindly pick one silver and stick with it for all applications, end of story.


The Cowboys’ chromatic inconsistencies go beyond silver. When they wear their white jerseys (i.e., about 90 percent of the time), their socks, pants striping and uni numbers are royal, but the blue on their helmets is navy, so the two blues clash.

Uniqueness Factor: Very high. Other NFL teams understand the simple concept that your colors should match.

Annoyance Factor: Huge. Are these people colorblind, or what?

Wearing dark jerseys at home has been an unofficial football tradition for generations, but the Cowboys opted to buck that trend during the franchise’s earliest days. It was GM Tex Schramm’s idea: He figured that if the team wore blue at home, every home game would look the same — blue jerseys versus white jerseys. By wearing white at home, the team would give its fans a chance to see an ever-shifting range of colors as a new team came into town each week. Since most other NFL teams chose to wear their colors at home, the Cowboys usually ended up wearing white on the road, as well.

Uniqueness Factor: Medium-high. Other teams have favored home whites over the years, most notably the Redskins, Dolphins and Browns. Plus, some warm-weather teams opt to wear white at home early in the season to avoid baking in the sun. But the Cowboys were the first to go this route, and they’ve stuck to it more single-mindedly than any other club.

Annoyance Factor: Low. Schramm’s original rationale was an admirably early example of uni-based marketing. And, let’s face it, the white jerseys look better than the blue ones. Which leads us to …


The Cowboys were the designated home team in Super Bowl V, which meant they had to wear blue (the rule since has been changed to allow the designated home team the choice of wearing white or colors). Dallas lost the game, and the legend of “the blue jersey curse” was born. In subsequent years, opposing teams periodically have worn white at home just to force Dallas to wear blue — most famously in the 1981 NFC championship game, when the Eagles wore white at Veterans Stadium and won, thereby cementing the blue jersey’s status as uni non grata.

Uniqueness Factor: High. While there are other NFL teams that prefer to stick with one jersey, no other team has developed such lore and superstition around one uni element.

Annoyance Factor: Low. Uniform-based rituals and mythologies are A-OK with Uni Watch.

Most teams’ white and dark jerseys are essentially mirror images of each other. There might be minor distinctions, but they pretty much have the same typography, the same striping and so on. But look at the Cowboys: The white jersey has block uni numbers, two plain stripes on each sleeve and no wordmark on the chest, while the blue jersey has outlined uni numbers, a thick, star-studded stripe on each sleeve and a “Cowboys” wordmark on the chest. It’s not just that these jerseys aren’t twins — they are barely second cousins.

Uniqueness Factor: Very high. No other NFL team has this type of disparity between its jerseys.

Annoyance Factor: Very high. Yo, people, look around at the rest of the league, see how it’s done and please get with the program.

In 1982, someone decided it wasn’t enough for the Cowboys to have uniform numbers on their chests, backs and shoulders. And so it came to pass that the Cowboys began wearing uni numbers on their hips — useful if you’re trying to identify a player who’s only partially shown in a photo, but pretty bogus-looking otherwise. The ‘Boys stuck with this format until 1989, when sanity, in the form of numberless pants, was restored.

Uniqueness Factor: Fairly high. Only two other NFL teams have gone this route — the 1984-87 Packers and the 1982-86 Colts.

Annoyance Factor: Massive. One of those “innovations” that nobody was clamoring for. A solution to a non-problem. Textbook case of failing Uni Watch’s standard “Is it good or is it stupid?” litmus test.

9. SPIRIT OF ’76

Not many people seem to remember this, but the Cowboys gave new meaning to “America’s Team” in 1976, when they changed one of their helmet stripes from blue to red, creating a patriotic effect for the nation’s bicentennial.

Uniqueness Factor: Very high. No other NFL team modified its uniform — much less introduced a new hue to its color scheme! — for the bicentennial.

Annoyance Factor: High. Truth be known, Uni Watch kinda likes this move, at least when viewed in a vacuum. But in the context of all the “America’s Team” nonsense, it’s just another example of the institutional hubris that makes it so easy — so necessary — to hate the Cowboys.


Little-known fact: During the Cowboys’ first four seasons, they wore a bizarre crossover-style collar, which created an odd wraparound effect that didn’t look so hot. Further details and lots of additional photos are available here.

Uniqueness Factor: Off the charts. As far as Uni Watch knows, there’s nothing else like this in NFL history.

Annoyance Factor: Negligible. While the collar looked awful, it was one of those obscure historical subtleties that are Uni Watch’s raison d’être.


When Tom Landry died in 2000, the Cowboys decided to memorialize him on their uniform. But instead of taking the boilerplate approach of wearing his initials on a helmet decal, they took his signature fedora and depicted it as a chest patch.

Uniqueness Factor: High. Uni Watch can’t think of another NFL team that’s used a simple graphic symbol as a remembrance.

Annoyance Factor: Exceedingly high. In fact, this is arguably the most annoying Dallas quirk of them all, because it’s so brilliant. How’s Uni Watch supposed to keep hating the Cowboys when they come up with something this cool?

I like quite a few of the things that Lukas hates. Most especially, I think having very different blue and white unis is fine. I’ve long thought, though, that having multiple shades of blue and silver looked strange, since the helmets and the pants clash. Why they do that, I couldn’t say. And the Dyno labels are rather high schoolish.

Hat tip: Robert Wilonsky


Denver Broncos Greg Eslinger Gettin’ Props

Denver Broncos backup center Greg Eslinger was named to the All-NFL Europa League team today. Ok, so I heard it over at Mile High Report.

Only time will tell but I think Eslinger is going to be a solid player in the NFL. Just remember where you heard it….

Eslinger was a four year starter at the University of Minnesota. After his senior season at Minnesota in 2005, Eslinger was named the winner of the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s outstanding interior lineman, and the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s best center.

The Broncos selected him in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL draft.

As of now, Eslinger has to wait in the wings. After all, He is Tom Nalen’s relplacement. Big shoes to fill.

I also believe Eslinger will be a solid player. Although, I am going to go a step further. Remember, he has excelled every where he has been. Greg Eslinger will be a very good player in the NFL.

FYI for all you Greg Eslinger haters out there. It has been announced that the 2nd year Center, currently playing for the Cologne Centaurions has been named to the All-NFL Europa Team.

Who’s hatin’? Let’s get em!

In all seriousness, who can hate on that trophy case. Eslinger has more honors than most could dream of. I won’t like it when Tom Nalen retires. As, with all my favorite players.

Father time has to come calling. And, the back-up plan looks very good.


Giants 2006 Season Recap Part 4: The Future

A good, basic read on first time DC Steve Spagnuolo.

I love the draft. Everything about it. The excitement, hope and promise of a successful future often hinges on draft day picks.

My general feeling concerning the NFL draft (and other sports) is to take the BPA (best player available) early on (unless there’s absolutely no need for it – like QB or DE for the Giants, or a desperately needed player is not far behind the BPA). That’s how I feel the Jints should draft for the first two rounds, then concentrate more on need. With that in mind, here are my positions of need for the Jints.
1. CB
2. S
3. OLB
4. RB
5. DT
6. WR

What I expect:

#1 Oakland – QB Jamarcus Russell, Louisiana State (videostats)

Most mock drafts have the Raiders taking Russell with the #1 overall pick. I would agree with that. With a tremendously weak offense, a scrambling QB is preferable to the more traditional pocket passer type, like Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn. With the poor offensive line Oakland has, they’ll need a QB who can escape the constant pass rush.

#20 Giants – DT Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State (stats)

I’m going with Pitcock because I think several better players (Marshawn Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Leon Hall, Ted Ginn, Amobi Okoye, Lawrence Timmons) will be off the board at this point. Pitcock will be the best value at #20, but I’d love to take Ginn, Okoye or Timmons. With injuries that ravaged the d-line (causing Adrian Awasom and William Joseph to play extended periods at DE), the Giants, despite having two solid DTs, need to shore up their overall d-line depth, which should mean a better pass rush and better run D, which was exhausted at the end of the season, allowing Washington and Philly to run at will.

Since CB is such a difficult position to judge through the draft, I’d love the Jints to sign either Asante Samuel or Nate Clements (two proven but young vets) to be the #1 CB, enabling them to focus on other areas come draft day. I’m not that high on signing LB Lance Briggs or Adalius Thomas, who I think are mostly products of their overall defenses.

Some other potential Giants picks:

The dream pick is Louisville’s 19-year-old DT Amobi Okoye. He began college at 15, and will begin his NFL career at just 20. He is not the best DT right now, but because of his youth, has probably the most upside among all defensive players in the draft. Stats/bio.

In several mock drafts, Ohio State’s Ted Ginn is taken #19 by Tennessee. Damn, would I love to see him drop one more spot to the Giants. I know WR is not a priority, what with Plax, Shockey, Amani returning, and Moss getting more playing time, but he’s just so damn exciting. Simply from a fan’s perspective, I would love to watch Ginn on a weekly basis. Kevin Gilbride has been talking about stretching the field next season, and there’s no one better at that in the college ranks than Ted Ginn. However, after he (I expect) shines at the combine, he’ll be taken in the top 15. Watching his highlights almost makes me want the Jints to trade up to get him – but then I remember what we gave up to get Eli… Videostats/bio.

Now that Tiki is retired, the Giants (not necessarily me) may want to select a RB in rd. 1. The only reason I’d concur is if Cal’s Marshawn Lynch falls to #20. Otherwise, I don’t have a problem depending on Big J to be the primary runner in ’07. He has two years under his belt, and should be primed to step into a full-time role. There are some other good RBs that can be had later in the draft: Florida State’s Lorenzo Booker, Ohio State’s Antonio Pittman, and Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe (just to name a few). They can be the lightning to Big J’s thunder. However, I expect Green Bay to take Lynch with the 16th overall pick – they need a solid RB desperately. Videostats/bio.

A common pick among mock drafts is Pittsburgh CB Darrelle Revis to the Giants. He apparently was so feared by opposing offenses that the ball was only thrown his direction 9 times all season! I can’t verify this, but if true, it would be astounding. Some mock drafts have him as the first cornerback taken, so I would be surprised to see him fall farther than #17. Videostats.

Another CB expected to be taken high is Michigan’s Leon Hall, considered the best all-around CB in the draft. He was part of a great defense, and even returned punts. He’s not as physically gifted (speed, agility, size) as some of the other CBs, but is smart and strong which should make him an early pick. The Giants would be lucky if Hall fell to them. Videostats/bio.

A gaping hole was exposed after Lavar Arrington went down: speed at the LB position. Florida State’s Lawrence Timmons is somewhat raw, but has tremendous talent. He could wind up being a better LB than his old teammate, Ernie Sims, who was taken 9th overall last year. I’m an FSU fan, so I watched him a number of times this year. He is capable of wreaking havoc on an offense (making a sick 18 tackles for a loss this year!), and has the speed to run down RBs from behind. However, I expect he also will excel at the combine and be taken before #20. Stats.

And do not forget about my sleeper pick of the draft, Maryland QB Sam Hollenbach. He was, honestly, by far the most accurate college passer I saw this season (something Eli needs desperately). And it’s not just the touch and pinpoint precision, but the arm strength to throw beautiful deep balls, and the size (6’4″) to succeed at the NFL level. Videostats/bio.

I can’t wait until April 28th. (Of course, there’s one game left to play…)


DeMeco Ryans Defensive Rookie of the Year

On a day when University of Alabama football news tops the sports world, its perhaps fitting that alumnus DeMeco Ryans was just named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and his former Tide teammate, Bears lineman Mark Anderson, finished second.

DeMeco Ryans came into the NFL as Houston’s second choice to bolster its defense. He leaves his first pro year as The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The linebacker, chosen at the top of the second round of last April’s draft — 32 spots after the Texans made defensive end Mario Williams the first overall selection — was a runaway winner of the award announced Wednesday. Ryans led the league in solo tackles with 126, and his 156 total tackles were 33 more than the next-best rookie, Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims.

In fact, no rookie in the last 20 years had more tackles than Ryans, who was an All-American at Alabama in 2005. And Ryans had more tackles than any of the other five linebackers who won the award this decade, including Brian Urlacher and Shawne Merriman.

“It’s always nice to be touted as one of the best and have a big-time stat, but I credit that to the other 10 guys that are around me on defense,” Ryans said. “We wouldn’t be talking about me without those other 10 guys out there.”

Well, we might be, because Ryans came into training camp, was moved to the middle and almost immediately established himself as the premier rookie defender on the roster. Better — by far — than Williams. And Ryans never let up. “It wasn’t a big ‘Wow’ moment to me and there wasn’t any nervousness or anything like that. I was comfortable from the time I began,” he said. “Nothing really just shocked me going through the year. I played in a big game atmosphere in college, so I was used to that. I knew what the competition level would be like. Nothing really surprised me.”

The ease with which Ryans won the award might have been surprising. He received 36 of the 50 votes by a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Second was Chicago end Mark Anderson, who was Ryans’ teammate at Alabama, with five votes. Green Bay linebacker A. J. Hawk was next with four, while Cleveland LB Kamerion Wimbley got two votes.

As a Cowboys fan, I would note that Bobby Carpenter, who was picked 18th overall, received no votes and, indeed, barely played this year.


Dallas Cowboys Sign FS Tony Parrish, Wave KR Skyler Green

Len Pasquarelli reports that the Dallas Cowboys have claimed Tony Parrish off waivers.

Hoping that a proven veteran might rectify the glaring deficiencies that have existed at free safety for much of this season, the Dallas Cowboys have claimed Tony Parrish off waivers.

Parrish, 31, was released earlier this week by the San Francisco 49ers, who needed to create a roster spot to address injuries at linebacker. The 49ers signed seven-year veteran Jay Foreman to augment the position.

It is not known how quickly Parrish can assimilate the Dallas defense and contribute in the secondary. But for a team that is on a roll right now, and which suddenly possesses Super Bowl aspirations, the addition of Parrish might provide a significant boost.

On an otherwise outstanding defense, Dallas has struggled at free safety, and lacks a player with the kind of ball skills requisite to the position. Rookie Pat Watkins, a fifth-round draft choice, began the season as the starter. But the former Florida State standout demonstrated poor awareness, and while in position to author meaningful plays early on, failed too often to play the ball, and surrendered several long completions. After six games, the Cowboys replaced him with veteran Keith Davis, who started 15 games at free safety in 2005. But Davis, a four-year veteran, is better suited to playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and is miscast at free safety.

The Cowboys have gotten just one interception from the position in the first 12 games of the year.

In Parrish, the Cowboys are getting a nine-year veteran who has played in 130 games and has 640 tackles, five sacks, 30 interceptions, 45 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. The former University of Washington star combines the deep range of a free safety and the hitting ability of a strong safety. Five times in his career he registered three or more interceptions, and he totaled 16 pickoffs in 2002-2003, including nine in 2003, when he tied for the league lead.

His problems in San Francisco began when Parrish broke his right fibula in a Nov. 13, 2005 contest, his 121st straight game. He missed the balance of the ’05 season after undergoing surgery that included the insertion of several screws into his leg. In camp this season, San Francisco coaches hinted that Parrish, despite his diligent rehabilitation, wasn’t up to his normal speed.

Parrish opened the season as the starter, then began splitting time with Mark Roman at free safety, and eventually lost his starting job altogether.

If he is healthy, which Parrish claims he is, the veteran can certainly help the Cowboys on the field. And the classy Parrish is the kind of leader coach Bill Parcells will welcome to his locker room.

By claiming him on waivers, the Cowboys are liable for the prorated portion of Parrish’s 2006 base salary of $2 million, which would come to $470,588 for the final month of the season.

Dallas also released rookie kick returner Skyler Green, a fourth-round draft pick.

I’m a bit dubious that a player who couldn’t stick with the hapless 49ers is going to be a substantial help to a top defensive unit. Then again, rebuilding teams don’t have much need for 31-year-old players.


Kurt Warner May Be Benched for Matt Leinart

Matt Leinart may get become the Arizona Cardinals’ starting quarterback a season early, after two bad weeks in a row by Kurt Warner.

Arizona coach Dennis Green declined to say on Monday whether he would stay with Kurt Warner at quarterback or replace him with rookie Matt Leinart for next Sunday’s game at Atlanta. “I don’t talk personnel on Monday,” Green said. “We’ll start looking at things and have a staff meeting and take it from there.”

Green’s noncommittal comments came in the wake of Warner’s awful performance in Sunday’s 16-14 home loss to the St. Louis Rams. The 35-year-old quarterback was intercepted three times — once with the team at the Rams’ 1-yard line and another at the St. Louis 14. To cap it off, Warner fumbled a snap at the Rams’ 18 with 1:46 to play as Arizona was positioning itself for what would have been a game-winning field goal.

Warner was named NFC offensive player of the week after Arizona’s season-opening victory over San Francisco, but the offense has produced just 24 points in subsequent losses at Seattle and against the Rams.


Warner finds himself in this precarious position for the third time in his career. After leading St. Louis to two Super Bowls in three seasons, he lost his job to Marc Bulger, then signed with the New York Giants in 2004. He was the Giants’ starter for nine games but was benched in favor of rookie Eli Manning.

Warner came out of nowhere to have three storybook seasons before the wheels came off. Warner is almost certainly a better choice than Leinart if Green thinks the team has a shot at the playoffs. Otherwise, Leinart may as well take his lumps now.


NFL Draft Not an Exact Science

Anyone who follows the NFL closely knows there are quite a few big-time draft busts. As Rick Gosselin notes, there are quite a few undrafted gems, too.

Two of the best players on the field in the NFL season opener Thursday night were Willie Parker of the Steelers and Wes Welker of the Dolphins. Neither was drafted. In hindsight, you wonder how 32 teams could have whiffed on these guys on draft day.

It makes you wonder, to be sure. This year, the Cowboys released their 4th and 6th round draft picks, along with their 2nd rounders from the 2004 and 2005 drafts. Yet, undrafted free agent Tony Romo is challenging for the starting quarterback spot and two undrafted wide receivers forced cuts of pricey free agents and mid-level draft picks.


Dallas Cowboys Roster Cuts

Mickey Spagnola has an excellent piece describing the agonizing process the Cowboys are going to have in getting down to 53 players. Finally, the team is in a position where it has a surplus of talent at several key positions and will have to cut ties with a lot of players they’d just as soon keep.

Do you go with youth and building a foundation for the future or do you go with veterans who are more inclined to help you win now?


[S]ince 1999, 49 of 54 draft choices at least have made the initial roster or were placed on injured reserve. That, though, was more of a sign this was a team in need of help or couldn’t afford to purchase adequate help in free agency because of salary cap limitations. A sure sign of that? Only 17 of those 49 from the past seven drafts are still on the roster – all from the 2003-05 drafts.

Parcells said he already has his top 39 players – 18 on offense, 18 on defense, along with a punter, kicker and deep snapper. “I will probably be at 45 or 47,” he said by after this game.

Here will likely be his most difficult decisions:

* How many wide receivers does he keep? Five as usual, or six because a couple of young guys force his hand? Sam Hurd, Jamaica Rector and Miles Austin are making life hard on Green and Terrance Copper, especially if the Cowboys should trade for a moderately experienced guy. And if you keep six receivers, then where do you shave from? Maybe only nine DB’s instead of 10? Maybe only nine offensive linemen?
* Does he go young or old at safety? Roy Williams, Keith Davis and Watkins are on this team. But if he keeps just four safeties, does he go with first-year guy Abram Elam, who he obviously is intrigued with, or veteran Marcus Coleman? Or must he keep five?
* Same at cornerback. The top three are locks, with Terence Newman, Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn. But Jacques Reeves had a couple of rough days this past week, and Nate Jones is a hard kid to cut, but Quincy Butler is making a little noise, and do you keep less corners but more safeties?
* What about Fabini? The Cowboys signed the veteran tackle to be at least the swing guy and possibly the starter at right tackle. Monday night will be huge for Jason Fabini, because so far it doesn’t seem as if he’s got this team made, no matter the $1.7 million bonus he was paid. He will start at right tackle and play a half. Do you keep him just because of his experience, but at the expense of say McQuistan?

“Every coach comes to a point and looks at a veteran player,” Parcells said. “Where is he in this world? Where are we going to be six months from now? Where will we be one year from now?

“If the veteran player is definitely superior and gives you a better chance to win, that’s when the real conflict comes. If you think a month from now or six weeks from now or eight weeks from now this young player is going to be better than the veteran, then you have to bite the bullet.”

Parcells recalls this tough lesson learned back when he was the head coach of the Giants. He had veteran Tony Galbraith as his third-down back. But then, too, he had this rookie, Dave Meggett, who appeared to be a budding third-down back and kick returner, too. He could only keep one.

His GM at the time, the late George Young, told his young head coach this of Galbraith: “The day before he dies, he’s going to be able to beat someone out of the backfield.

“Do you like Meggett?”

“Yes,” Parcells recalled his response.

“Then don’t stop progress” were Young’s words to Parcells. “Don’t stop progress.”

Parcells says he has remembered that forever more, and he now has Cowboys owner Jerry Jones asking the same question when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, veteran vs. youngster: “Is he a progress-stopper?” Jones will ask.

Nobody has offered to make me an NFL coach, GM, or scout and for good reason. Still, Young’s advice accords with my own philosophy: If there’s any question as to whether to keep–or for that matter, start in an early season game–a veteran (or senior) or a rookie (or freshman), they you go with youth. If the experienced guy is just barely ahead of the kid despite the experience, then it stands to reason that getting a little experience will make the kid better in the not-so-long run.


Matt Leinart Signs with Cardinals

Matt Leinart has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, the last first round pick in the 2006 draft to do so.

Matt Leinart ended his two-week holdout and signed with the Arizona Cardinals. The team announced the signing late Monday night and Leinart was expected to begin training camp Tuesday.

The six-year deal can bring the rookie up to $51 million, agent Tom Condon said. Leinart will be guaranteed $14 million, according to Condon. Earlier Monday, Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green criticized Leinart and his representatives for rejecting “a more than generous” offer from the team. Leinart was the last first-round pick to reach a contract agreement. ESPN first reported the agreement on “Monday Night Football.”

The agreement came three days before the Cardinals will end their camp at Northern Arizona University. They play at New England on Saturday.

After winning the Heisman Trophy, Leinart might have been the No. 1 pick in the draft a year ago, but decided to remain at USC for his senior season. This year, he unexpectedly fell to the Cardinals at the No. 10 spot, a tumble that cost him millions. He was the first quarterback chosen in the opening round by the Cardinals in 19 years. Leinart was the second quarterback chosen in the draft, behind Vince Young of Texas, who went to Tennessee with the No. 3 pick overall, and one spot ahead of Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt, who went to Denver. Young signed a six-year contract worth up to $58 million, with $25.7 million guaranteed. Cutler signed a six-year deal worth as much as $48 million, with $11 million guaranteed.

It looks to me like Leinart essentially got the slotted deal his draft position entitled him to under the NFL’s rookie system. Why a holdout was necessary to get to that point, I don’t know.

It is rather amusing, however, when players try to negotiate on the basis of where they think they should have been drafted. Both Reggie Bush and Leinart tried and failed to do that this year.


Punt Returns New NFL Emphasis

Len Pasquarelli notes that the recent draft class marked a new emphasis on punt returns, a declining stat in recent years.

For every action, it seems there is always a reaction in the NFL, and that was reflected in the uncharacteristically large number of return specialists chosen in this year’s draft. Beginning with the selection of Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush (New Orleans) with the second overall pick, through the final choice in the lottery, Maine wide receiver Kevin McMahan (Oakland), there was an unprecedented grab on prospects with standout return skills. Players such as defensive backs Danieal Manning of Abilene Christian and Devin Hester of Miami, both chosen by the Chicago Bears in the second round, became priorities. So did guys such as UCLA tailback Maurice Drew (Jacksonville, second round), Florida State wide receiver Willie Reid (Pittsburgh, third round) and LSU wideout Skyler Green (Dallas, fourth round), among others.

So why a sudden emphasis on multitalented prospects teams hope will offer big returns, literally and figuratively, on their investments? Well, for openers, consider this: The league average for punt returns in 2005 was a puny 8.10 yards. That represents the fifth-lowest punt return average in the NFL since the 1970 merger, and the most anemic since 1979, when the league standard was a measly 7.65 yards. It marked the second consecutive season in which the average dipped below 9 yards, the first time that has occurred since the 1990-91 seasons. And there were only nine punt returns for touchdowns, the fewest since 1991.

Puny punt returns
The leaguewide average for punt returns during the 2005 season, just 8.10 yards, ties for the fifth-lowest mark since the 1970 merger. It marked the second straight year in which the league average was under 9 yards, the first time that has occurred since the 1990-91 seasons. Here are the 10 worst seasons, in terms of punt return average, since 1970:
Year Average
1971 7.02


1970 7.36

2005 8.10


1982 8.13

1978 8.38
1990 8.43
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Fact is, there were just a combined 21 touchdowns in the league last season on punt and kickoff returns. That is the lowest number of combined kick returns for touchdowns since 1995, when there were 19. But the continuing slippage in punt return average — last season marked the fifth straight year in which the average declined and the seventh straight in which the NFL norm was less than 10 yards — was almost certainly responsible for the considerable contingent of return men chosen in the 2006 draft.

Clearly, the shrinking punt return average has garnered attention around the league and inflated the need for electrifying return specialists. “The [punt return] numbers are a little bit of a concern,” said Atlanta Falcons team president and general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL’s influential competition committee. “They are too low, definitely, and it may be something we have to look at in the near future. We always take a hard look at the kicking game. Six or seven years ago, we talked about some things like not allowing teams to punt the ball out of bounds or not allowing the ‘gunners’ to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. In terms of rules changes, though, there probably isn’t a whole lot we can do.”

So in this year’s draft, obviously, teams sought to change the human element. The glaring shortcoming on punt runbacks was addressed by franchises adding mercurial players they hope can dodge coverage units and run a long way. Of the top 10 punt return specialists from the 2005 college season who were eligible for the 2006 draft, nine were selected in the seven rounds of the lottery. And that didn’t even include Bush, who ranked No. 38 in average punt return in the NCAA statistics.

“It’s a game-changing opportunity, every punt or kickoff return, and it seems like more teams realized that in this draft,” said former Olympics moguls skier Jeremy Bloom, chosen by Philadelphia in the fifth round and expected to pump excitement into the Eagles’ return units. “It seemed like, once one or two return guys went off the board, the position kind of became a hot commodity. It really exploded.”

As accomplished as those return men were in college, however, they will have to step up their games to deal with the NFL’s ever-shrinking punt return average. But why is the league’s punt return average, which between 1992 and 2003 registered 10 yards or more in three seasons and never slipped to less than 9 yards, suddenly in such a perilous decline? “I think punters have bought in more now to the importance of net average,” said Buffalo Bills assistant head coach Bobby April, one of the NFL’s premier special teams mentors. “A guy like [former longtime NFL punter] Dan Stryzinski, he basically eliminated the punt return game by forcing so many fair catches every year. And guys see the wisdom of that. “Plus, as special teams coaches, we’re getting so much more practice time devoted to the kicking game than we ever did in the past. It’s certainly not any revolutionary changes in technique or mechanics or, for that matter, coaching. And, let’s face it, in an athletic matchup between the return man and a cover guy, who’s going to win? So you work harder at, get a guy to punt the ball more for net than gross average, and these are the results. I mean, no one ever wants to give a return guy any space.”



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