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Combine: 10 Things We Learned From Jerry in Indy


INDIANAPOLIS After a wild few days of weather in both Dallas and Indianapolis, Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones arrived at the NFL Combine late Friday evening to meet with reporters. Here's the top ten takeaways from his conversation on the team bus:

  1. Tag, you're it, Tony Pollard?: The discussion of how to keep running back Tony Pollard on the Cowboys roster has been one of the top topics of concern for the team this offseason. Although he suffered a broken leg & high ankle sprain against the 49ers in the final game of the season, Pollard proved his value long before the playoffs. That being said, Jerry Jones said it's possible the team will utilize the franchise tag if a long-term deal cannot be reached by the March 7th deadline. "That franchise [tag] is there and should be used judiciously used for the right spot," he said. "I really don't want to say it's a done thing because as these things come and go, you don't know where you are until the deadline comes and goes but right now, certainly Tony is a big part of our plans." He later added that while the leg injury would be "problematic" to navigate while the team works on a new-look offense, it doesn't change the fact that they want him in Dallas.
  2. Keep feeding Zeke: The 1-2 punch was effective last season when the run game was at its peak, with veteran Ezekiel Elliott as the starter before rotating Pollard in after a few series. But it's no secret that Zeke wasn't at his full potential for some of the season as he battled through a knee injury that sidelined him for a few weeks before the bye. He finished the season with 876 rushing yards on 231 attempts, finding the end zone 12 times (T-5th). Still, Jones said he doesn't see why the team can't keep both on the roster, IF the numbers work. Currently, Elliott is scheduled to earn a base salary of nearly $10.1 million, while carrying a cap hit of $16,720,000, which simply cannot work if a deal is also to be done to keep Pollard. "I know I've got a reputation for being reluctant to look at great players as they go into the later years of their careers, but I don't need empathy or a feeling of 'Look what he's done for us,' to turn on the tape and look at what a difference-maker he was last year," said Jones. "If I could replicate the feeling that I had before Tony Pollard got hurt, and the feeling I had with Zeke with good weeks of practice behind him ready to go into the playoffs, I'd dial that up right now.
  3. "Dak is a born mistake-eliminator": After breaking his thumb in Week 1 and missing most of the first half of the season, Dak Prescott threw a league-leading 15 interceptions in 2022, the most of his career in a single season. He also helped reinvigorate an offense that finished with an average of 27.5 points per game, good for 4th in the NFL. But one thing Jones and the coaching staff continue to emphasize is Dak is their guy. "He has the physical skills to do this at the level to win us a Super Bowl… does he do it with some of the same nuances that several of these other quarterbacks do it? No, he doesn't. He's got some things that he can work on and be more effective," said Jones. "Let me put it like this: Dak is a born mistake eliminator. I would rather start with him as raw material than anyone I've been around at that position."
  4. OBJ still an option: Yes, Cowboys fans, Jerry Jones is *still* interested in adding Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cowboys roster; Jones says he hasn't communicated with Beckham directly but has been in contact indirectly with the free agent three times. The Cowboys are looking to bolster a wide receiver room that did little to meet expectations in 2022, with the exception being a breakout season from second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb. And while Jerry is still intrigued by the idea of having OBJ rock a star on his element, it is his mother who is stealing the show during his recruitment. "I did have a very impressive – the most impressive of all – with the most important one in this whole proposition: that's his mother," said Jones, who met with Heather Van Norman while at the NFL Honors. "You can see where he gets a lot of his [qualities]… certainly he is somebody that I have the same kind of interest in that I had during the season."
  5. Can Dalton Schultz still fit? No position group displayed the ideology of "draft and develop" more in 2022 than the tight end duo of fourth-round draft pick Jake Ferguson and UDFA Peyton Hendershot; not only did their personalities provide a spark, but their ability to make meaningful plays in their first season stood out as a trademark for the Dallas offense… which makes it difficult to determine where Dalton Schultz could fit next season. "The tight end position and Schultz – it's important for me to say those together to remind us that we as well as the position have other players involved here, and I think we're very fortunate to have had the young players that we had last year really step up," said Jones. "But I'm not going to be as emphatic until we – which we started this week – until we have had a few more days to really establish what we what the tight end to be with what we're doing with not retooling but adjusting with what we're doing with our offense." Schultz played the year on the franchise tag, earning $10.9 million in 2022. Despite working through a knee injury early in the season, he was still a common target for Dak Prescott, finishing with 57 receptions for 577 yards and 5 touchdowns.
  6. Why Mike McCarthy has earned the right to call plays: Head coach Mike McCarthy spent the bulk of his time in Green Bay as the play caller for the Packers offense, but relinquished those duties when he joined the Cowboys in 2020, letting former OC Kellen Moore dictate the direction of the offense. The franchise feels, however, it's time to move in a different direction – and Jones believes his head coach has earned the ability to lead the offense. "I have the number of [head] coaches that [call plays] since I've been in the NFL. Then I go to the ones that have won a Super Bowl, and Mike's one of them, as you know, and he did it while managing and coaching the entire team and the position of leadership as the head coach while basically running the offense while calling plays," said Jones. "The natural thing to do was to look at how to give more to what Dak can be was to call on what Mike can bring to the table… I think that by [Mike] putting more of what he can bring with his background to the offense, we're so fortunate to have the coaching staff we've got, and he's got the ability to have the special teams, and the defense and the hands of his coordinators that he's got." McCarthy shared his excitement with reporters earlier in the week, saying being more involved has him "the happiest he's ever been" since taking over the team.
  7. Dak can't do it alone: Jerry Jones acknowledged it wouldn't be easy to build around Prescott's $49.1 million salary-cap figure, which could be adjusted by way of restructuring or offering a contract extension. As mentioned previously, Jones has high praise for his QB1, stating that just as Tom Brady continued to get better and more impactful as his career went on, so can Dak. But the key will be getting the proper weapons around him to increase the chance of that success. The problem? It's pricey out there. "We want to get all the help around him, but as we know when you have a competitive-paid quarterback in the NFL, then you're not going to be able to get the most skill around him; you're going to have to pick your spots and you're going to be a little slower one year than the next. Not slow in terms of speed, just in what you're doing," said Jones. "You can't pay that position – forget Dak for a minute – you can't pay that position at that level, take that much of the available dollars and then put the exact thing around him."
  8. The proof is in the youth: Dallas's draft philosophy has stemmed from developing mid-level prospects and integrating them into key roles; that process was on full display in 2022 thanks to a plethora of impressive players in their first season. First round draft pick Tyler Smith headlined a group of incredible rookie talents that set the bar pretty high for incoming classes, but Jones is committing to building around the future. "We really did hope that we could have some young players last year – like some of the lesser named players – that could really step in there and do what we wanted to do. As we look at our offense this year, one of the things that I'm wanting to see is how we can take players that we're counting on that might be younger that don't quite get to where we wanted them to go, and I want an offensive system in place that makes them productive," said Jones. "If we learned anything from last year, let's take players that are drafted in the middle round or the early middle rounds and let's understand that we might not get what we're looking for there but how about an offense that can use them the way they are?"
  9. "Don't dismiss us doing something big": That being said, let's not ignore the impact experience can have on a roster; take TY Hilton for example. When the veteran receiver joined the Cowboys last December, the impact was immediate, both on and off the field. It was an important move, but in perfect Jerry Jones fashion – he wants more. "I want to tell you, don't dismiss us doing something special with the right veteran free agent. At any place, I would in a New York minute, if I think it fits more than a short-term situation for us," said Jones.
  10. Addressing "The Drought" From Jerry : It's been 27 seasons since the Dallas Cowboys last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy; that might be discouraging for Cowboys fans, but not to Jerry Jones. That's not to say he is making excuses for back-to-back disappointing playoff exits. "We really did turn the ball over, we really did not do those things that resulted in us having I thought a hell of a team, and I sure thought one that had a chance to get there," he said. But in terms of addressing questions about "the championship drought," the concern doesn't necessarily lie in how long it's taken to get back to Super Bowl, rather to get the actual results this season. "I thought we had the quarterback to do it; I did the year before too. I think so this year," said Jones. "I don't get discouraged when you say, 'You haven't been to the Super Bowl in X years.' I do not do that because I could have won the last five and still might not get another Super Bowl, and I ought to be working my butt off to get the next Super Bowl as if I had lost five or four. That's reality."

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