IRVING, Texas – Friday marked the unofficial start of another offseason for the Cowboys as the new rookie class, along with other selected vets and tryout participants taking part in the annual rookie minicamp at Valley Ranch.
Travis Frederick anchored a group of offensive linemen at the center position. Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams looked the part, being big targets and catching most of the passes thrown their way. Defensive backs J.J. Wilcox and B.W. Webb flashed some potential but also had some moments that showed exactly what this day was for the Cowboys – the first practice of the offseason and the introduction to the NFL for these wide-eyed rookies.
Meanwhile, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones checked out the afternoon practice after undergoing eye surgery on Wednesday. Wearing his shades for the entire media session, Jones addressed many important issues for the Cowboys, including Doug Free's contract situation, playing younger guys earlier in their careers, and even the naming rights for Cowboys Stadium.
Here are some of the highlights from the half-hour Jones met with reporters following the afternoon practice.
In reference to right tackle Doug Free, Jones said he wants to retain him, but made it clear it needs to be at the right price and considerably lower than his $7 million base salary scheduled for this season.
"I'd like to keep him. We think Doug Free can be an important part of the team," Jones said. "He's been here, we know him. We think with what we're doing in other parts of the offense, will bode well for us. But it's not secret we're trying to re-negotiate the contract.
"(But) he has to be equal … it takes two. I can't gauge closeness. We're still talking and trying to get something done."
Jones didn't address what Free's role might be if he were to stay on the roster. Last year, he split reps with Jermey Parnell at the end of the season. Jones said, "Obviously we're going to keep our best linemen. So how they line up is a function of how we evolve in OTAs and minicamp."
With the 49ers recently selling the naming rights to their new stadium to Levi's, Jones was asked about the status of Cowboys Stadium ever partnering up with a corporate sponsor as well.
Jones was in no hurry when the stadium opened in 2009 and nothing has seemingly changed on that front. The owner said it has to be the right fit, for the Cowboys and their state-of-the-art stadium to be associated with such a sponsor. For now, the timing hasn't been right.
"Timing is important, but how it fits is important," Jones said. "There have been some situations that potentially would've been interesting but it just didn't fit what you wanted the stadium to be, relative to America, or what we are in our region. Ideally, I've always tried to our relationships be with brands or services that is pretty high of the Cowboys. I have a pretty high bar and high standard if we wanted to be associated with for the rest of time."
No Time To Wait
Jones reiterated a point he said two weeks following the draft on trying to get younger players on the field earlier. While it can be difficult for coaches to often buy in on playing the inexperienced player with potential over a proven veteran, the Cowboys have been burned in the past on waiting too long to evaluate players, then having to sign them to longer, more expensive contracts without having a full grasp on their ability.
"We made a big commitment in this draft to get guys on the field and use them," Jones said. "We've always wanted to do that. It's the way to go. I think we drafted, we're going to give these guys every opportunity to get a spot on this roster."
Expecting To Start
Travis Frederick was drafted in the first round (31st overall) with the intention he would start at center, where he lined up for two practices Friday. Jones said that remains the plan and anticipates him starting right away.
We want him to come in and contribute immediately," Jones said. "(Garrett) said it right when he says there is competition. But certainly, there ought to be a spot for him on the offensive line. We think he has the combination of skill and mental to be able to come in and play immediately."
Something To Prove
When asked about the safety position, Jones said the word is "unproven" to assess the spot on the field.
"(Barry) Church, if he can play at the level he's shown us, we're going to have a really outstanding safety," Jones said. "I think we will benefit a lot from a scheme that emphasizes what these (younger) guys do – big, physical guys who like to hit. I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves."