FRISCO, Texas – So the other day on Twitter, the question to me was about the possibility of Ezekiel Elliott holding out from training camp next week:
Is there any truth to this rumor?
And my succinct, wise-guy response was, with an attempt to be sarcastic that I think fell flat, "If there was truth then you wouldn't be calling it a rumor."
But in any case, at least we've created some shots for this week during this rather slow time in the NFL, that is, until next week when teams begin reporting to training camp – some this week – including the Cowboys, departing here on July 25 for Oxnard, Calif. That's a week from Thursday.
- Copy Cats: Funny this rumor about Ezekiel Elliott potentially not reporting to training camp on time to show how serious he is about wanting a contract extension this year didn't come out over the weekend until after San Diego's Melvin Gordon told the Chargers he won't be reporting until he receives a contract extension on the final year of his deal. And I'll stay with rumor for now, since according to folks who should know around The Star, that threat hasn't been communicated to them. Oh, and any coincidence in the timing of this since Elliott and Gordon were headliners at this weekend's SportsCon event in Dallas? Oh, too, there is an NFL rule that states a player under contract (Zeke is) must report to training camp by Aug. 6 to receive that year's accrued season? I know, details, details. Anyway, let's look at the facts of this deal. It's being reported the NFL rushing leader two of the past three years is only making $3.853 million in the fourth year of his rookie deal. But actually, when considering the signing bonus he received in 2016, his cap hit this year is right at $8 million. That signing bonus does count as real cash, just that he received it already. So Zeke is not working for mere pauper's pay. Then, since the Cowboys picked up his fifth-year option for 2020, he's guaranteed another $9.1 million next year. And if the Cowboys needed to franchise him in 2021, that would earn him another guaranteed $12.57 million. A second franchise tag for 2022 would guarantee him a 120-percent raise, so, $15 million more. That comes to basically a guarantee of $44.67 million over four years. So my guess is, if Zeke's guys want an extension, that's where the guaranteed money must start on a four-year deal. That would take Zeke through age 27, meaning a new deal would be needed at 28. Look, here is the bottom line: The Cowboys aren't letting Zeke go anywhere.
- Complicating Matters: While the Cowboys have enough cap space this year to execute as many extensions as they feel necessary – meaning Zeke, Dak, Amari – the problem becomes the 2020 season. That would be the final year of the current CBA, and unless another deal is struck before 2020 league year begins, then the current CBA rules would apply, meaning base salary yearly increases are capped at 30 percent and can't be reduced. Usually when a player signs a new deal with a huge signing bonus, the base salary that first year is minimal. Take DeMarcus Lawrence. Signed a five-year, $105 million deal, with a $25 million signing bonus. Thus, this year's base is just $1.5 million since he was just handed $25 million. But his 2020 base goes to $16.9 million. No cap manipulating if this was next year without a new CBA. That means Lawrence's 2021 base is like $17 million. Just remember, when folks start talking extensions, and who deserves what, there is a salary cap in place. A hard cap, with rules, and not every team is in the same cap boat with their rosters.
- Cap Space: Don't let the $19 million of cap space the Cowboys reportedly have fool you. That's the amount left counting just the top 51 players on the 90-man roster. So, if you add two more players to that, getting to the maximum 53, they likely will count at least another $1 million. Then you have to budget a 10-man practice squad for 17 weeks, which amounts to roughly another $1.3 million – $7,600 weekly per player times 17 weeks. Then you have to factor in injuries, the Cowboys last year having to replace nine players ending up on the practice squad who still get paid, the likes of Travis Frederick, Datone Jones, Terrance Williams, Marcus Martin and Geoff Swaim. Also there must be a reserve in place for anticipated injury settlement releases and any other unplanned for expenses. That then leaves you closer to $13-14 million of excess space.
- Field Of Grass: This has been a couple of months in the making, but alas the outdoor grass field here at The Star that had to be moved over 10-15 yards to make room for construction of the new Dr Pepper administrative headquarters out here is now down. Old sod was rolled up. New sod is all in. Hate to know the water bill over the next month having to set the field set and get grass growing by time the Cowboys return from training camp to begin practicing out here again Aug. 20 – that is, if it's not too hot to be outside. Supposed to top out at 99 today.
- New Leaf: Remember back in early February when I pointed out how former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, who spent the 2001 season with the Cowboys, felt compelled to pay his respects at Wade Wilson's memorial service, and that how he was turning his life around after spending time in prison, starting to dabble in some media work with the Pac-12 Network last season? Well, the former No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft to Peyton Manning has been hired by ESPN to become a game-day college football analyst. He will be working with play-by-play announcer Clay Matvick for games being aired on ESPN2 and ESPNU. Leaf, who struggled with drug addiction, tweeted out: "Thank you to everyone who supported me along this journey. Ton of gratitude in the Leaf household tonight. Thanks to @espn for giving a flawed human being a chance to be better today."
- Forgotten Shots: Just as a reminder with camp right around the corner, here's a few statistical tidbits that might have gotten lost in the shuffle.
1. Dak Prescott is the first Cowboys quarterback to ever pass for 3,000 yards and at least 20 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons.
2. Over those final nine games of the season the Cowboys finished third in the NFL in completion percentage (71 percent), third in yards after catch (1,312) and first in third-down conversions (48.4 percent). Coincidence those were the nine games Amari Cooper played? Me thinks not. Oh, and all that happened to be with Dak at quarterback, running a Jason Garrett offense and with Scott Linehan as the OC.
3. OT Tyron Smith played the most passing snaps at tackle this past year in the NFL (489) without allowing a sack in 2018 (minimum 50 percent played).
And with all these shots, we draw closer to the start of camp. Can't wait. Can you?