INDIANAPOLIS – It's too early to speculate about the future, according to Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones – but it's getting late quickly.
As is customary, Jones spoke with reporters on Monday, as the NFL arrives in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which takes over the downtown area for the rest of this week.
Another custom is for Jones to address the state of his roster and his salary cap, as the league looks forward to the start of the league year in just a few weeks. When he was asked specifically about the status of Amari Cooper for 2022, though, he wasn't quite ready to say.
"It's too early for me to address that yet. We're continuing to have conversations," Jones said. "A lot of things affect that. we've obviously been so fortunate to have those three great receivers on our roster. Obviously, that's hard to keep doing under a salary cap."
The cap has been one of the dominant talking points of the Cowboys' offseason, most notably as it relates to Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence – two veteran players commanding two of the biggest cap hits on a team that's currently well over the projected salary cap.
Throw in the fact that the Cowboys employ several marquee free agents, such as Randy Gregory, Dalton Schultz and Jayron Kearse, and they clearly have some work to do this week.
"I bet we're going to meet with over two dozen agents," Jones said. "But people are just feeling it out. You come hoping you might get some things done, but usually we're still a little early yet."
Strictly speaking, Jones is right that the Cowboys have time. As a member of the NFL Competition Committee, he got to Indianapolis earlier than most, meeting with members of the media on the last day of February.
But while the Cowboys are here handling the business of the offseason, not to mention evaluating this year's class of draft prospects, the calendar flips to March. By the time they get back to Texas, they'll have just over two weeks until free agency – and all the decisions that come with it.
Cooper is at the center of that speculation, mainly because of the way his contract is structured. His 2022 salary becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of this coming league year, which means this front office will need to decide on his future within the next three weeks. There is no such deadline for Lawrence. Though, if the Cowboys decide his future is not with them, it stands to reason that they might like to use some of those savings to sign other players in the coming month.
As Jones noted, those two players – talented as they may be – tend to stand out on the ledger.
"I know you guys may target guys that you think we may be looking at, and usually those are the guys that are making a lot of money," he said. "That comes with making money, unfortunately in this league, is the value there?"
It's not just about this year, either. NFL clubs tend to weigh future years when they consider their salary cap, and the Cowboys have good reason to do so. It's strange to think about right now, but with budding stars like CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons coming down the pipe, the Cowboys could have their hands full with future contracts to consider.
"We've got a cap sheet for '22, for '23 and '24. When you toggle something, what does that do to those three years? It's all in the formula and it's all in the decision making," Jones said. "There's a lot of moving parts to it. Everybody's contract comes into play, and you're looking at each of the line items when you're looking through that, where there might be opportunities. It's kind of how that works."
It's a lot of food for thought, as per usual. And at the outset of this Combine week, the Cowboys aren't ready to give much in the way of clarity. That might be fine for now, but decision-making time is quickly approaching.