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Are Dallas Cowboys improved after franchise-high eight free agents signed? – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys in 2021 have added their most expansive free-agent class in franchise history.

That’s expansive. Not expensive.

The Cowboys have signed eight unrestricted free agents. The team’s previous high since free agency became a thing in 1993, was seven in 2012 when they brought in guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, guard Nate Livings, cornerback Brandon Carr, linebacker Dan Connor, quarterback Kyle Orton, safety Brodney Pool and fullback Lawrence Vickers.

This year the Cowboys have added long-snapper Jake McQuaide, tackle Ty Nsekhe, safeties Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, linebacker Tarell Basham and defensive linemen Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban.

Collectively, that group will count $12.712 million against the salary cap. Neal has the largest signing bonus at $3 million. Basham has the highest cap figure at $2.5 million. Kearse, Kazee and McQuaide are on minimum-salary benefit contracts.

Perhaps there will be more additions as the offseason moves along, but the question now is: Have the Cowboys gotten better with their additions?

The answer: Possibly, but there are a lot of ifs.

If Neal, 25, is healthy, then the Cowboys have gotten better at safety, linebacker or wherever he plays. Every time the 2016 first-round pick played a full season (or close to a full season) for the Atlanta Falcons, he had 100 tackles. But he missed most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with knee and Achilles injuries. The Cowboys were able to sign him in part because of his injury history. Without it, more teams would have made bigger financial commitments to him.

If Kazee, 27, can return to form, the Cowboys have a playmaker at safety. He had seven interceptions in 2018. The Cowboys have not had a defender with more than six interceptions in a season since Everson Walls had nine in 1985. But Kazee played four games last season for Atlanta because of a torn Achilles.

Kearse, 27, can also play a hybrid role, like Neal, and he can be a contributor on special teams.

While coach Mike McCarthy has not closed the door on the return of defensive end Aldon Smith, it appears the Cowboys have traded Smith for Basham, who had a career high in sacks last season for the New York Jets. Basham had 3.5, or a half-sack more than what Smith had against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 last season. It’s fair to wonder whether the Cowboys regret not trading Smith to the Seahawks when they had the chance at the trade deadline?

Watkins, 27, is the Cowboys’ latest dip into the Houston Texans‘ defensive line. In the past few years, Dallas has added Terrell McClain, Christian Covington and traded for Eli Ankou last season. If Watkins can be as good as McClain, then the Cowboys have found a hit. If he plays more like Ankou, then he might not make the final roster.

Urban, 29, seems like a replacement for defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, who recently retired after nine years with the Cowboys. Crawford’s versatility was a plus, and it just so happens Urban can play multiple spots along the front as well. Urban had a career high in sacks (2.5) last season with the Chicago Bears; Crawford had two sacks in 2020.

Because of the injuries offensive linemen Tyron Smith and La’el Collins had last season, the Cowboys wanted to have a veteran protection at offensive tackle. Nsekhe turns 36 in October, so there’s experience there and the Cowboys believe he has a lot of tread left. Nsekhe needs to be better than Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, who each started most of the games last season for Smith and Collins.

McQuaide, 33, might have the biggest shoes to fill at long-snapper, and all he has to do is be perfect to equal what his predecessor, L.P. Ladouceur, did for 16 years. If he has one wayward snap, then folks will wonder if the Cowboys should have brought Ladouceur back for a 17th season.

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Aldon Smith wants to ‘make the best’ of his chance with Seattle Seahawks

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RENTON, Wash. — Aldon Smith declined to answer questions Saturday about his pending legal case in Louisiana or how it might impact his availability this season with the Seattle Seahawks.

“I can’t comment on that right now,” he said.

In his first interview since signing with the Seahawks in April, the 31-year-old pass-rusher had much more to say about his four seasons away from the NFL and his latest opportunity following last year’s comeback with the Dallas Cowboys.

“Every day I just try to get better, and as long as I keep that mentality and keep learning and keep developing, the sky is still the limit for me,” he said. “I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank and a lot to offer this game.”

Smith is getting his first chance to prove that to the Seahawks. He didn’t take part in the their voluntary offseason program — several of the team’s veteran players skipped the majority of it as well — and received an excused absence from their mandatory minicamp. Coach Pete Carroll said that was so Smith could get in shape, which he has since done.

Wearing the No. 99 he wore when he began his career with the divisional rival San Francisco 49ers, Smith has been on the field for all three of Seattle’s practices since the start of training camp and hasn’t appeared limited. Early in Thursday’s practice, he engaged a tackling sled, lifted it up and nearly flipped it over.

“He’s made a good first impression about learning stuff,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a very bright kid. … He knows what’s going on in the game, brings us experience and background and all of that. He’s having no trouble picking things up. He’s got a real style. He’s always had this marvelous length and reach and hands and hand play, and you can just tell, he’s got a strength and power to him that’s really unusual.”

Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has 52.5 sacks in five seasons.

None of that means he is a lock to stick with the Seahawks. He was guaranteed only $137,500 on his one-year, minimum-salary deal. And he’s more of a potential luxury than a necessity, given how loaded the Seahawks are with edge rushers, including veterans Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder as well as promising young players such as Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson and L.J. Collier.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” Carroll said. “I hope you can see it already. It already shows. But once we get into pads, I’m anxious to see where he stands with that.”

Smith’s pending legal case adds to the uncertainty. He faces potential legal and NFL discipline over an alleged second-degree battery in the New Orleans area in April. Smith was arrested after he was accused of choking a man unconscious during an altercation that began inside a coffee shop. According to the police report obtained by WWL-TV, Smith had confronted the man about marital issues the man was having with one of Smith’s relatives.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said later in April that the team would “let the legal process take its course.” Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 24, though that date could be pushed back.

The Louisiana incident was the latest of Smith’s several brushes with the law, which have included multiple DUI arrests and a domestic-violence charge. Those incidents and others led the NFL to suspend Smith from 2015-19 for violations of its policies on personal conduct and substances of abuse.

Smith was asked what he learned during his time away.

“That football is an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and when you get opportunities in life, you should make the best of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who wish that they could play this game and I’m glad that I just got a chance to be able to do the things that I needed to do to get mentally right, that I could be in a position that when I came back, I could be focused and give it what I need to give it to play.”

Smith had five sacks in 16 games for Dallas, with three coming in one game against Seattle and all of them coming in the first half of the season. He felt he got too heavy and has since worked to get back to his preferred weight, which is around 270 pounds.

“I was kind of fat last year,” he said.

Smith stayed in a sober living home last season in Dallas and is doing so now in Seattle. He said his “tremendous support staff” helps him with his ongoing battle to remain sober.

“For me it was just making myself vulnerable and being willing to trust and lean on [those] people,” he said. “I’ve always had people that were there, but I would always try to carry everything on my shoulders. So letting people help me and accepting that help was a major game-changer.”

Carroll said Seattle felt comfortable signing Smith after “a lot of homework” and several conversations with him. Smith made a positive impression on Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. when both were with the Raiders in 2015, which factored heavily into the decision.

Carroll said Smith has demonstrated the vulnerability he talked about “in that he was very open and very upfront and he said, ‘I need some work right now, I need some help right now and it’s going to take me a while to get this done and that done.’ He was not trying to cover for himself. He didn’t pull any punches on it at all and was very up front, and it was most refreshing.”

Carroll said that while it’s ultimately on Smith to remain sober, the Seahawks will support him “every step of the way.”

“I want him to succeed at this in the worst way and I want him to come through and do what he needs to do, so we’re going to give him every opportunity,” Carroll said. “The level of communication is very clear and he’s been very open with us, and he’s told us when things were harder than others and he’s been upfront in that regard and that’s helped us understand and believe and trust that he’s working at it, and that it isn’t easy and it’s a lifelong commitment that he has to make.

“We really sense that the more we can support him, the more obviously we can be there for him, the stronger it makes him. So that’s really what our intent is here.”

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Veteran QB Sean Mannion signing with Seattle Seahawks, source says

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RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks are signing free-agent quarterback Sean Mannion, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.

The signing adds apparent competition for one of the backup jobs behind Russell Wilson and reunites the 29-year-old Mannion with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Waldron was an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams for two of the quarterback’s four seasons with the team.

The Seahawks have had Danny Etling and Alex McGough as their third and fourth quarterbacks behind Wilson and Geno Smith, who has served as Wilson’s backup the past two seasons. The Seahawks typically keep two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and another on their practice squad, though they began carrying another backup on their practice squad late last season as COVID-19-related insurance.

The Seahawks re-signed Smith this offseason to a one-year, minimum-salary deal worth $1,212,500, with $137,500 guaranteed.

Mannion entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Rams out of Oregon State in 2015. He spent his first four seasons with the Rams and the past two with the Minnesota Vikings. He has appeared in 13 games (none last season) with two starts and has completed 45 of 74 passes for 384 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions.

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Arizona Cardinals’ Jordan Hicks says he requested trade after learning he can’t vie for starting job

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — A few days after the Arizona Cardinals drafted linebacker Zaven Collins 16th overall on April 29, general manager Steve Keim called Jordan Hicks, one of the team’s starting inside linebackers the past two seasons, and told him he couldn’t compete for a starting job this season, Hicks said Saturday.

Hicks, 29, has played in all 32 games since signing with the Cardinals in 2019 and has the sixth-most tackles and snaps over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

He said he was “pissed off” but also understood the business behind the team’s decision to name Collins the Day 1 starter at inside linebacker alongside last season’s first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons.

According to Hicks, that discussion with Keim led to Hicks requesting a trade this offseason. A deal has yet to materialize, but he has garnered interest, Hicks said.

“When everything happened, it was tough to handle,” Hicks said.

“I respected the fact that he told me straight up. I respected the fact that he told me he was going to work with me to try to honor a trade. And, so, there’s a part of you that respects that, but then there’s a part that just wishes you had had an opportunity to compete, which is all I asked for.”

Hicks, who didn’t participate in the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp, said there was a point this offseason when he didn’t expect to be a Cardinal in 2021. He said he believes the reduced salary cap in 2021 was partially to blame for him not getting traded. Hicks’ contract was restructured in late March to make his $3 million salary this season fully guaranteed. He also has a roster bonus that’s worth up to $1 million if he’s active for all 16 games. He could earn another $2 million in bonuses, partially from playing time.

Even though Hicks said he’s “excited to be here,” he also said he would welcome an opportunity to start — anywhere.

“I think at this point, I think I’ve proven that I’m a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field,” Hicks said. “And, so, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, if given the opportunity to compete, I think I can have a starting job.”

Hicks said he has thus far been impressed with Collins, who’ll be entrusted with calling the Cardinals’ defense. Hicks, who had that role the past two seasons, described the task as “tough.”

“I’m gonna be very honest with you, Zaven has done a great job. He has,” Hicks said. “He’s really impressed me in his ability to pick up the defense and be out there commanding it, as well.

“It’s a tough job and takes a lot of responsibility, especially when you’ve got guys like Chandler Jones and Budda Baker and J.J. Watt looking back at you to make sure that you’re getting the right call in. So, it’s a lot, but if you can handle it, you can handle it, and that’s part of the game I know, for me, specifically, I love it. That’s one thing I excel at.”

Hicks has been seen at training camp working with both Collins and Simmons on the sideline, showing them different moves or talking through plays. Even though he’s preparing his replacements, Hicks has accepted his role as a mentor. Hicks looked back on how DeMeco Ryans, now the San Francisco 49ers‘ defensive coordinator, answered all of his questions and helped him when he was a rookie in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said he used that as an example of how he wanted to approach this season.

“I don’t try to waver who I am,” Hicks said. “Whether I’m out there starting or whether I’m not, I’m going to help whoever needs help, because I feel like I’ve got a lot of knowledge to share.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph didn’t rule out the possibility of Hicks earning playing time or spelling Collins should Collins struggle. Joseph was among the Cardinals coaches who were in touch with him throughout the offseason.

Joseph said there could be a package that includes Hicks and the two young linebackers. A glimpse of that was on display during Saturday’s practice.

Hicks said the best players should play, plain and simple.

“This year, it’s such a make-or-break year,” Hicks said. “We’ve got to win games, and this division isn’t getting any easier. “And, so, we’ve got to focus on winning. We’ve got to focus on execution.”

After Hicks finished a revealing news conference in which he didn’t shy away from any question, he tried to open the door that connected the media room and the locker room.

It was locked.

Hicks laughed.

The irony wasn’t lost on him.

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