Perhaps in many respects, what we have seen in the last 12 hours is simply how life in the NFL works.
A rookie emerges. A veteran blows out his knee. A prospect retires. A signing changes his mind. It is a roller coaster of emotions surrounding a series of practice sessions.
For it was around 10pm Central time last night when word started circulating that a deal with Brandon Moore was close for the Cowboys. Then, within the hour, word broke from a number of reliable sources that, in fact, the deal was done. They had signed a right guard who had played 11 seasons in the same New York Jets uniform, starting most of those 11 seasons and playing at a very high level with impressive health.
I watched about 200 of his snaps last night to break down his ability from 2012 on this blog and I will tell you that although I would not consider him to be Carl Nicks or Mike Iupati when it comes to All-Pro Guards, he would have easily been the best guard the Cowboys had in their lineup since Leonard Davis in 2007 or so.
Watching Moore play a strong game for a Jets team that was a squad that had no choice but to play a strong and powerful run game made you understand how strength is a real factor in running zone stretch plays, but more importantly, inside runs and pulling guard opportunities. He was stout and almost never turned back (Vince Wilfork could do it) and when he got on the move – which the Jets featured often – he was a very impressive player who would seek and physically dominate guys around the corner as he opened a path for his running back.
In pass protection, he hardly had anything to criticize. He was confident and strong and generally not challenged on pass rushes and looked like he had seen everything 1,000 times. Most likely, because he had.
If you have read my work for a week, you know my feelings about the offensive line. And therefore you likely realize that I was pretty excited about the prospect of adding a guy like this who almost nobody in the NFL circles have anything bad to say about the guy. He would have filled out that 3rd interior spot with a level of play that was beyond my expectations since the Cowboys neglected to upgrade their guard situation in the spring when it is best addressed.
Brandon Moore would easily walk from the street to being perhaps the offensive lineman you would rate behind Tyron Smith as the guy you least have to worry about in 2013. And, he verbally agreed to terms last night and was going to fly in, and medicals pending, sign today.
Well, that changed at sunrise.
Moore decided that he second thoughts and instead has decided to retire. He had played from his house for 11 years and with his family had settled in nicely. To change all of that and leave them all to move to Dallas for 1 more year (most likely) was something that he tried to sleep on and couldn’t.
He also told Sirius NFL Radio that the time to prepare was critical as well, as he had no desire to show up in August and not play at his normal level. Had this been in March or April, he could have confidently prepared as he normally does, but now just 1 month from the opener was not enough time for him to feel good about where he would be in Week 1. He wanted to do this because of his personal regard for Bill Callahan, but between family and preparation time, he had cold feet this morning.
Now, that leaves us with a number of questions that you have presented me with:
1) – If he is so great, why was he available on August 6th?
Well, this is the CBA these days. Many players make a ton of money. But, the long-time veterans get to a spot where when their contract expires, they find that multi-level deals are not offered to 33 year old guards who play at a solid level. 1-year deals for the veteran minimum are everywhere, but they are accustomed to long term details at $4m a season, they are not dying to jump across the desk to sign in May. So, they sit out, waiting for something better. As July arrives, they start to ponder whether they still want to play if the money is only at that level. And that is where many vets over 30 sit right now. If they have managed their money well, each day comes closer to them pondering if they really are that committed anymore. Obviously, Moore decided that whatever the deal (thought to be around $2m) was not worth his trouble. And given that he made very solid money for the last decade, you can understand that he didn’t feel he had to leave his setup for a 5 month work detail in the NFL trenches.
2) – Were the Cowboys telling us that they are in big trouble on the Offensive Line?
I think that this verifies that the first 2 weeks have not told them good things about their starters from 2012 – Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Both have had poor health summers after mediocre seasons and the combination of the 2 has many wondering if either were going to start on Opening Night. This, combined with Travis Frederick at center and Ronald Leary at Left Guard playing so well has put the OL in a different spot altogether from where it was 12 months ago. The premise that they were ready to cut Bernadeau if they got Moore done is not a difficult idea to wrap your head around. David Arkin is not a starter, Phil Costa doesn’t appear to be, either. So, with Livings out the next month, and Bernadeau is what he is, you can see that they could go with Leary-Frederick-Bernadeau if they had to, but who would argue that Leary-Frederick-Moore is a major upgrade from that and anything they have run out in 5 years?
3) – So What Do They Do Now?
Everyone is discussing Brian Waters, but he hasn’t played since 2011 and I think the football department is not nearly as interested as the fan-base. I think they saw Moore as unique opportunity because of his friendship with Callahan and saw that as an easy chance to upgrade with a guy who understood the system. That doesn’t mean that they were panicked and had to make a move and now sign the next guy. I don’t love Bernadeau starting for me, but I do think he can be ok there for now and the real idea is to get Leary and Frederick to prove their merits to see if they are truly as good as they look at this moment in time.
Either way, I feel better about the line. But, for about 10 hours, I felt great about the upgrades when it looked like Moore was in the fold. Now, we must return to the reality that they have plenty of work to do and plenty of “ifs” that they are going to try to prove as realities.
As teams across the NFL find out every day, there is no telling what the next 24 hours might have in store for a team preparing for a season.