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Offseason | 2024

Ferguson challenged to become a Cowboys' great


FRISCO, Texas — When Jake Ferguson looked at his phone on one fateful night in April 2022, and saw the area code belonged to North Texas, it instantly hit him that he'd be tasked with potentially, one day, being the next big thing at tight end for the Dallas Cowboys — a fourth-round pick with a shot at replacing the previous fourth-rounder, Dalton Schultz.

One season later, having shown plenty of flash as a rookie, Schultz was out of Dallas and Ferguson was awarded the keys to a throne once owned by greats like Jason Witten, Jay Novacek and Billy Joe Dupree.

He'd go on to have a breakout season — catching 71 passes for 761 yards with five touchdowns and 40 first downs en route to his first-ever Pro Bowl honor, and was acknowledged by future Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce as the next in line at the position.

Not too shabby, but that's all in the past now, and the name of the game now is to make sure he has more than one hit on the album that will ultimately be his NFL career.

"He had a good year last year, but can you do it again?" said Cowboys' tight ends coach Lunda Wells, challenging his prized pupil to keep climbing. "The legends and the great players do it consistently over the years — Jason Witten, Travis Kelce, Tony Gonzalez — you can go down the list — the great ones do it consistently every year. You can't be one and done or a one-hit wonder, because those get lost.

"If you wanna be great, you've gotta do it every year, consistently, and I think that's the challenge he understands. And that's the best thing: he understands that. … [He] set the standard last year, now let's make sure we do it even better, like the great ones do."

Speaking in early May, Ferguson spoke to that very point.

"It's my consistency in my prep," he said. "To me, I think I'm not even scratching my surface. There's so many things that I want to get better at and I know I can get better at. We watch film every day of different games, even the practices we're doing now and I'm like, 'OK, I can get a lot better still.'"

As it stands, Ferguson has a very real chance at taking another leap in 2024, and one far enough to put him in the same conversation as Kelce and George Kittle.

"I need to make that exact same jump [as last year], but make it even bigger," Ferguson said. "In this league, you can't get complacent. You've got to keep getting better, and that's what I intend to do. We've got great vets in our facility — Brandin [Cooks] and Dak — and they teach you how to take care of your body and how to take care of your mind as you start to get older.

"I'm 25 and I'm like, 'Ooh, I am kinda getting old for a football player.' I've got to start making those strides and get better every year."

It's a player who is keenly self-aware, humble and hungry to figure out the few things that went wrong for him in 2023, as opposed to staring at everything that went well.

Also consider last season was Ferguson's first with head coach Mike McCarthy serving as offensive play caller, and that begs the question of what he might be capable of now that he's fully comfortable in the system and now that McCarthy knows exactly what he has in Ferguson.

"It's his consistency and his passion — his energy," said McCarthy. "And, really, it's his growth as a football player. We talked a little bit about his weight, and I think he's done an outstanding job in his transition phase of it. He's having a great offseason.

"He's very, very comfortable with the things we ask him to do on top of his production."

One look at his film and you can readily see why the Cowboys are expecting greatness from Ferguson, having already seen him improve in all facets of his game — from production (and all that lends to it) to his ability and willingness to seek out defenders to pancake on run plays.

He is proving himself to be the complete package, but the key will be understanding there's still some wrapping paper to be peeled away going forward.

No one can deny his gift, though.

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