WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As far as they're concerned, the Dallas Cowboys think they can stretch their dollars a bit further.
That's the takeaway from listening to team owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who spoke to reporters Monday morning for the first time since this 2022 league year opened two weeks ago.
Obviously, a ton has changed in that time frame, as the usual exchange of free agents has been compounded by a laundry list of blockbuster trades to make this one of the busiest springs in NFL history.
For Jones and the Cowboys, though, the story starts and stops with two of their most high-profile players, neither of whom is still with the team. The Cowboys opted to trade Amari Cooper to Cleveland in exchange for a fifth-round pick and a swap of sixths. Just days later, they watched Randy Gregory join the Denver Broncos after contract talks broke down in Dallas.
As they process those two developments and look to the future, Jones made one thing fairly clear: the Cowboys think they're better off investing their money elsewhere.
"We had to look hard at the 10 or 11 players who are getting two-thirds of the money," Jones said. "We have to make sure every one those players are pulling as much weight as you can because of the economic emphasis."
That's a popular topic of conversation on a team with so many big-money salaries. Dak Prescott's newly-signed contract goes without saying, and DeMarcus Lawrence just re-did his deal to afford the front office more salary cap space. Restructures and guarantees in Ezekiel Elliot's $90 million contract make that conversation a non-starter.
With all that in mind, offseason speculation had always centered around Cooper – who, the team indicated on numerous occasions, was not pulling his aforementioned weight on the $20 salary he would have been owed as a member of this roster.
And while finances are a big part of that decision, Jones added that the Cowboys must weigh age, injury history and player availability, as well. The implication was hard to miss, as it's been well-noted that Cooper has dealt with injuries – not to mention a two-game absence due to contracting COVID-19 – in the recent past.
"At the end of the day, it is a financial allocation toward the talent, and you've got to consider availability, and that sometimes departs from the best route runner," Jones said.
The Cowboys weren't contractually tied to Gregory in 2022, but it's clear from looking at his contract in Denver that they felt similarly. Gregory signed a five-year, $70 million contract with roughly $28 million in guarantees to join the Broncos. It was widely reported that his offer from the Cowboys was roughly the same.
To hear it from Jones, the Cowboys still had a chance to salvage that partnership with Gregory but opted not to do it.
"Literally, I was on the phone with Randy and his agent, and I said 'El Paso,' that little West Texas town. I said 'El Paso – thank you, but no thank you.' And he said 'I'll go ahead and get on the plane,'" Jones said. "So we could have done something there, and they asked if we would do that, and I didn't do it. And I didn't do it of my own volition.
That is how this free agency cycle will be remembered. By trading Cooper and not re-signing Gregory, the Cowboys freed up funds to add the likes of Jayron Kearse, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler Jr., Leighton Vander Esch and James Washington – not to mention placing the franchise tag on Dalton Schultz.
The obvious criticism will be whether that's good enough. At times during his career, Cooper has played like one of the best receivers in football, while Gregory had finally started to consistently show the talent that made him one of the most talented prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft. With that in mind, Jones did note that he has no ill-will about the way things ended with Gregory – while also noting the potential of his former pass rusher.
"I want him to have a lot of success, except when he's playing the Cowboys," he said. "But I'm a fan of Randy's and I was thinking that his best was ahead of him."
That ties into the talking point to come. The Cowboys are betting that their money will be better spent on a few players, rather than one or two. There are plenty who will disagree. Who's ultimately right? That will have to wait.
"It's a call that, we'll just see," Jones said. "But we got at least three more top players with what we would have spent there."