FRISCO, Texas – Offseason, huh?
Let’s see, we’ve had squad members in Orlando, Fla., for the NFL owners meetings, with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, COO Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett each conducting nearly hour-long interviews.
We’ve had guys in College Station for Texas A&M’s Pro Day workout, coaching staff in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the Tide’s Pro Day workout and also staff members in Austin for the Longhorns Pro Day.
Let’s see, most will reconvene here on Thursday for the official grand opening of the Entertainment District at The Star, complete with speeches, press conference, DallasCowboys.com-produced podcasts live out on the plaza, music entertainment and more over the next four days.
And then next week the Cowboys will begin bringing in their top-30 draft prospects from around the nation, along with staging their annual Dallas Day visits from those draft-eligible players with ties to North Texas. This, all while continuing to keep an eye on free agency that the Cowboys jumped into feet first for nearly a week by signing four new free agents, two wide receivers and two offensive linemen, plus one of their own.
As if that were not enough, a week after all that, come April 16, the Cowboys officially will begin their offseason workout programs, along with the NFL Draft coming to AT&T Stadium, expected to attracts thousands of people.
Offseason, my eye.
As I like to say, just don’t play games this time of year. There ain’t nothing off *about any of this, all amply reloading this week’s *Shots.
Record Breaking: There has been talk this non-game season of tight end Jason Witten potentially flirting with a career as a network analyst instead of returning for his 16th season with the Cowboys. But when asked at the owners meeting if there was any doubt of Witten returning, Stephen Jones quite succinctly and unequivocally said, “No!” That means, health willing, Witten will break the franchise’s long-standing record for years of service he tied at 15 this past season, previously held by Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Mark Tuinei and Bill Bates.
$64,000 Question: When asked about expectations for linebacker Jaylon Smith entering his second full NFL season, both Garrett and Stephen Jones danced optimistically around the question. But not Jerry Jones. The owner said that after consulting coaches, trainers and doctors about the linebacker’s continued recovery from knee surgery that had him dealing with drop-foot his first year playing in the league, “I’m going to make the call that he’s going to be better.” With Anthony Hitchens now a Chief, the Cowboys certainly need Jaylon to be.
Speaking Of Linebackers: So when you are trying to figure out Cowboys’ draft needs or what they still might do in free agency, Garrett didn’t pull any punches while discussing the loss of Hitchens and Kyle Wilber, plus some optimism over Jaylon’s continued improvement: “We’re going to have to add linebackers to our team.” And if you think Jerry hasn’t been doing his draft homework, even he offered, “There’s certainly linebackers there, defensive talent that has a chance to drop,” meaning in the first round. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, they would be cheering during the first 18 picks in the first round for the selections of all those top-rated quarterbacks, running backs, offensive tackles and even guards.
Dez Buzz: There seems to be no hotter topic than the continued speculation about Dez Bryant’s future with the team, mostly centering upon his $12.5 million base salary for 2018 after his average 2017 season. The Joneses continue to say there will be a meeting soon with their veteran wide receiver, stopping short of definitively stating the talks will be centering on a potential pay cut, with Garrett noting, “We love Dez.” They should. And as Jerry pointed out from the meetings, “I certainly have not had a thought about talking with (Dez) that did not anticipate him being with us.”
Depth Charge: While the wide-receiver signings seem to be drawing the most attention, to me the signings that should have you giving the Cowboys a Standing-O are the moves on the offensive line. The Cowboys re-sign good-guy, versatile-guy Joe Looney, then add versatile players Cameron Fleming and Marcus Martin. Now we’re talkin’, because lack of quality depth on the offensive line last year caused an offense that was ranked eighth after the first eight games and 17th in passing to plummet over the last eight games to 14th and 26th overall. That is the Cowboys’ second-lowest finish since 2001-02 when they wound up 31st both years. Only lower finish came in 2015, when Tony Romo completed just two of the four games he played, plummeting to 27th with backup QBs.
Heads Up: NFL passes rule to penalize players for lowering heads to make hits with the crown of the helmet. Good move. Also insist for the first time they will utilize instant replay to more fairly judge the play. Still working on, commissioner Roger Goodell said while wrapping up meetings, what becomes just a 15-yard personal foul penalty and what will determine if the transgression merits ejection. Stay tuned.
*Short Shots: *When the Cowboys made their first draft choice in franchise history in that 1961 NFL Draft, of course that was Bob Lilly, the 13th pick in the first round. But you should know the first overall pick that year was Tulane running back Tommy Mason by the expansion Vikings and the 14th and final pick in the first round was Syracuse running back Art Baker by Philadelphia … The combined 2018 salary cap hits for the Cowboys’ four new free-agent additions, Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Cameron Fleming and Marcus Martin, is right at $13 million, some kind of frugal shopping … There seems to be some anxiety over the Cowboys tendering restricted free agent David Irving at a second-round level, but Jerry Jones, knowing they have reserved the right to match an offer sheet he might sign, says, “We want David on the team.” … When asked if the Cowboys are about finished in free agency, Stephen Jones and Garrett reminded that all player acquisition is 365 days a year, and Jerry Jones put it this way: “Keep your pencils sharp.” … And beware draft day. Jerry Jones, after sitting tight in the first round the past four years, warned, “The rumor of the wildcatter’s demise has certainly been exaggerated.” … Can’t wait, just 29 days away.