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Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: After a draft passes through The Star


FRISCO, Texas – There are football players on the football field out here at The Star, and with the start of the Phase II workouts this week, actual coaches, too, for the first time in the offseason.

This will last for three weeks, and includes next weekend's rookie minicamp before OTAs commence the week of May 20.

Also good to see back out here on the practice fields Ezekiel Elliot and linebacker Damien Wilson already, not to mention veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, the team's most significant free agent signing – so far – taking part, too. Voluntarily, of course.

So, let's get right to it with a whole bunch of leftover shots to clean up after the draft.

  • Rules Are Rules: Many are asking what took the Cowboys so long to sign Zeke to this one-year, max $3 million deal with $2 million guaranteed, which signals the Cowboys are serious about their former 2016 first-round draft choice being part of this 2024 team. Same with former linebacker Damien Wilson, who spent the final two weeks of last season on the practice squad. Well, there are rules pertaining to the awarding of compensatory picks based on the quality of unrestricted free agents lost against those signed. Well, the Cowboys lost five starters but had only signed Kendricks and Chuma Edoga. That should give them a pretty good haul of compensatory picks in 2025. And any free agents signed after the draft, i.e. Zeke and Wilson, do not factor into that compensatory formula. One reason why the Raiders likely waited until after the draft to sign Cowboys' June 1 release Michael Gallup.
  • Inflation: Seems at every turn the price for a top-quality wide receiver continues to inflate. What had once been a high of $30 million a year now rises to $32 million thanks to the Eagles extending A.J. Brown with a three-year, $96 million deal. Not only that, $84 million in a convoluted way is guaranteed, with an untenable $45.4 million cap hit in 2026. That now becomes the negotiating basement for the likes of CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase, all probably having quarterback-money hopes at the end of their financial rainbow. And as for another negotiating nugget in CeeDee's favor, his yards receiving total of 5,145 through four years is the fourth most in NFL history, behind just Jefferson (5,899), Michael Thomas (5,512) and Randy Moss (5,396) and more than the likes of Tory Holt, Jerry Rice and A.J. Green.
  • Big Board: Better factor this in when grading the Cowboys' selection of defensive end Marshawn Kneeland with their second-round pick, 56th Saw one Big Board from a trusted analyst ranking the Western Michigan defensive end 32nd. Another had the guy – who reminds me of DeMarcus Lawrence the way he plays the run, and goodness knows the Cowboys are in dire need of upgrading their run defense – ranked 39th. Also saw this comp: Veteran DE Za'Darius Smith, a nine-year, three-time Pro Bowl veteran with 60 career sacks and 156 career QB hits. Plus, returning defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the former Minnesota head coach, had to play against Smith twice a year for two seasons when with Green Bay.
  • Don't Forget: With the release of Gallup and knowing 11-year veteran Brandin Cooks turns 31 in September, many expected the Cowboys to select a wide receiver much higher than the sixth round when taking Ryan Flournoy (Southeast Missouri State). They did not, leaving them with a void of experience behind Lamb and Cooks, banking on the likes of Jalen Tolbert and KaVontae Turpin to step up. But am reminded there still is the curious case of Martavis Bryant, the 32-year-old, 6-4, 210-pound receiver with three-and-a-half years of NFL experience before interrupted by various suspensions for violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. He last played eight games in 2018 with the Raiders before being indefinitely suspended for violation of his conditional reinstatement terms. After being reinstated in 2023, the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 8, released him to make room the final week of the season for insurance veterans like La'el Collins and Damien Wilson and then re-signed him as a futures free agent Jan. 18. He's still here. Still 6-4. Still has 145 NFL receptions for 2,183 yards and 17 touchdowns. And they liked what they saw of him on the practice squad after not playing in the NFL for the previous five years. Let's see, because after kicking around in the CFL, XFL and indoor leagues, his 145 NFL reception total is 102 more than all the rest of the receivers on the roster not named Lamb or Cooks combined (43).
  • 7: ranked the Cowboys' first meeting with Washington (date TBD) as its seventh-ranked top-10 game of the 2024 season. Kind of weird pointing out Commanders' No. 2 pick, quarterback Jayden Daniels, will be playing his first game in this longtime rivalry, also facing Micah Parsons. In addition, Cowboys former players leaving in free agency, Tyler Biadasz, Dante Fowler Jr. and Dorance Armstrong, will be facing their former team for the first time. Great. Good matchup. But, duh, what about new Washington head coach Dan Quinn, the Cowboys defensive coordinator the past three seasons, facing his former team with intimate knowledge of the Cowboys roster?
  • Trey, Trey: During last week's draft, San Francisco general manager John Lynch was reminded the Niners were participating in the first round for the first time in three years since trading away three firsts and a third to Miami for the No. 3 pick to select quarterback Trey Lance. And in trying not to disparage his former QB, only receiving a fourth last year from the Cowboys for the deposed Lance, Lynch said, "I always am careful of this because Trey Lance's story hasn't been written yet. He's in Dallas right now and I still think Trey's got good football in him. We'll see. That will play out." Big time this offseason, training camp and preseason.
  • No Shame: The Cowboys are being ridiculed for not selecting a running back in the three-day NFL Draft. But does every critic realize only 20 running backs were selected over seven rounds, but none in the first, one in the second (Jonathon Brooks 10 picks before the Cowboys were on the clock at 56), three in the third (Trey Benson going No. 66, seven picks before the Cowboys' 73rd) and Blake Corum at 83 (four ahead of the Cowboys at 87). After that, seven running backs went in the fourth, where the Cowboys didn't have a pick (trade for Lance) and then nine over the last two rounds, with nary a one selected in the seventh. By then, probably no running back was any better than Rico Dowdle, so there was no panic to move up drafting for need or for enough quality by spending two precious draft choices on one running back.
  • Over Draft: Only three of the Cowboys' 16 unrestricted free agents still are unsigned: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, safety Jayron Kearse and tight end Sean McKeon … Cowboys offensive line coach Mike Solari called first-round offensive tackle Tyler Guyton a "tremendous athlete" with a "lot of upside" and having "blue feet," meaning in rating colors top notch, not any sort of disorder … Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, probably can vouch for this, the Bears selecting quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick after trading that first selection away last year to Carolina (Bryce Young) is the first time having the No. 1 pick in the draft since 1947 when selecting the now late Bob Fenimore, the then Oklahoma A&M (now State) running back who played just 10 games for the Bears that year before retiring, saying he could make more money selling insurance than the $9,000 he made playing for Chicago . . . And lastly, after the Cowboys only used three first-round picks on offensive linemen from 1961-81, they have drafted five first-round offensive linemen over the past 14 drafts (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyler Smith and Guyton).

A lot of "welcome backs" for sure already for the Cowboys franchise this year, not only the returns of Zeke and Wilson this week, but good to see 1998 first-round pick Greg Ellis in the building again. He's back with the Cowboys as the defensive end assistant coach after paying some coaching dues at the NAIA level.

So why not turn this week's last word over to Greg, somewhat of an expert on the position, talking about the second-round draft choice Kneeland on's The Draft Show, giving some insight into the 6-3, 237-pound defensive end from Western Michigan. At one point during the interview, Ellis, who spent 11 seasons with the Cowboys, points out his agent sent a play into the Cowboys from his college days at North Carolina when playing, he said, against TCU or SMU (had to be TCU in 1997).

"I'm rushing the quarterback, and they throw a flair pass out to the flats. I spin out and hustle to the ball to make the tackle," Ellis says of the play on video. "Kneeland reminds me of that, kind of a Greg Ellis. That guy hustles, hustles, hustles. You see him running down the field. You don't see him taking plays off. And I'll be honest with you, nowadays that's kind of hard to find.

"I haven't seen another guy who plays as hard as him. I'd say the same thing even if we didn't draft him. I haven't seen another defensive guy, defensive-line guy that plays as hard as this, as hard as Marshawn does."

A comp for those of us watching Greg play all can understand.

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