FRISCO, Texas – Amid an otherwise celebratory phone call, Mike McCarthy had a reminder for Jake Ferguson.
The Cowboys' head coach had spoken to his newly-drafted tight end at the NFL Combine back in February, and he wanted to make sure Ferguson remembered that conversation.
"I remember your words in your interview, so I'm going to hold you to it," he said.
That's an eyebrow-raising comment, overheard on the recorded audio of the phone call. It was only natural to ask if Ferguson did in fact remember those words -- and of course he did.
"Basically at Wisconsin, we go by these three words: smart, tough, dependable," Ferguson said. "That was my pitch to Coach McCarthy, telling him, 'Hey, I'm smart, I'm going to be able to pick up the plays. I'm tough, throw me into any scenario and I'll be ready, and I'm dependable. You can depend on me.'"
McCarthy clearly took those words to heart, and it's easy to see why. Even as a Day 3 pick, selected No. 129 overall last weekend, Ferguson joins this roster with a clear opportunity. Following the release of Blake Jarwin due to injury, the Cowboys' depth chart behind Dalton Schultz is wide open. And with Schultz currently playing on the one-year franchise tag, with little in the way of clarity about his long-term future, there's even more opportunity for Ferguson to establish himself in the big picture.
"I think he can play both on the line and off the line. I think he's good in the insert schemes. He makes some competitive catches and plays with some tenacity," McCarthy said. "Like I said, I was just real excited based on where we had him ranked, so to have him available there was excellent."
None of this is to put too much pressure on the rookie. This is still Schultz's show, as the fellow fourth-round draft pick is coming off an 808-yard season in 2021 and is slated to make $10.9 million on the tag.
Still, it's obvious the Cowboys' front office prioritized a backup, and potentially even a replacement. It's also evident that they wanted to find someone who can develop and excel as a blocker.
Ferguson has the traits to fit that bill. He produced consistently as a receiver at Wisconsin, averaging 404 yards per year over the course of four seasons and finishing his career with 13 touchdowns.
But, as anyone who follows college football can attest, Wisconsin comes with an identity all its own when it comes to running the football, producing 18 different 1,000-yard rushers in the last 20 years – including future NFL stars like Jonathan Allen, Melvin Gordon and James White.
"At Wisconsin, if it's first down, we're probably running the ball, so that went into a lot of it," Ferguson said.
If those credentials weren't enough, Ferguson is also the grandson of legendary Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who is largely responsible for building the program into a regular Rose Bowl contender.
"I think his versatility both on the ball and off the ball -- tough guy, grew up in it," McCarthy said. "Really liked his attitude and demeanor. I think he's an excellent fit for our guys."
Nothing is earned over draft weekend. The Cowboys re-signed veteran tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who served as Schultz's backup for most of last year, to a one-year deal. Developmental tight ends, Sean McKeon and Ian Bunting, who have both earned playing time as undrafted free agents, are also in the room.
The opportunity is obvious, though. Clearly, McCarthy and his coaching staff are hoping Ferguson can seize it.