FRISCO, Texas – Let's start here, and I'm going to need some help.
Phase I of the NFL's offseason began on Monday. This phase is four weeks of strength and conditioning work, under the jurisdiction of the strength and conditioning staff. No coaches allowed. No footballs on the field. No contact, other than with the grass under their feet. Meetings can be held, but virtually.
So far, at the advice of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and player president JC Tretter for players to "make a personal decision about attending voluntary workouts and take into consideration the unanimous recommendation from the NFLPA COVID committee that we have an entirely virtual offseason" the majority of players from 19 of the 32 teams have decided not to attend any of the three-phase sessions.
Again, so far, the Cowboys, as a team, are not one of those 19. Players have been here at The Star participating in the first two days of strength and conditioning workouts under the jurisdiction of new head strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash.
Here is what I don't understand. See, I get wanting teams to back off from the OTA and minicamp workouts as we've known them. Always thought those workouts in helmets, jerseys and shorts, no shoulder pads, were a tad too physical. I mean, boys will be boys, and if you ask them to compete with very limited physical contact, guys only know one effort. If they must dive for a pass, they will dive. If they must leap for a deflection, they will do so without enough regard for possibly falling on their unprotected shoulders.
What about just walk-throughs?
But this part, and saying it's in the name of an abundance COVID precaution, doesn't ring true. Like, teams are still required to daily test players coming into the facility. Facemasks and social distancing still are in place. Even though the vaccination rate is on the rise, the Cowboys still are following their in-season protocols, just as every team in the league still must.
And to me, one of the most important aspects of the offseason is strength and conditioning, getting bodies ready for the rigors of playing football. Like, wouldn't this be the safest place to do that? And we all know working in groups and under the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches is the absolute best way to get in shape.
For if players aren't at their facilities, where will they get this type of training? Not everyone has a home gym. And don't tell me going into a health club for workouts is a more safe alternative than working at a team facility. Not around here, for sure. Health clubs think the pandemic has ended, especially those attending. Mask off if you want, and so many are wanting.
So I don't get the letter stating, "It is the recommendation of the NFLPA based on medical experts' advice that if the voluntary offseason program is in person, players should not attend."
Doesn't explain how you pull off strength and conditioning virtually, but the Cowboys players understand the value of the almighty dollar, 19 of them having workout bonuses in their contracts, ranging from $50,00 to $500,000 for majority attendance, and as COO Stephen Jones says, "We like to hope we create a great environment for them" at The Star to work out.
But feel free to take a shot helping me out.
- Thirty Years Ago: Thought we'd turn back the clock to April 21, 1991, 30 years ago today when the Cowboys, after trading up for New England's first pick in the draft, selected Miami's first Outland Trophy-winning defensive tackle Russell Maryland. This is somewhat of a convoluted story. The 1-15 Patriots earned the first pick in the draft. But when it became apparent they could not meet projected first pick wide receiver Raghib Ismail's asking price, they unloaded the pick on Friday to Dallas before Sunday's NFL Draft for the Cowboys' first (11th overall), a second and three players: cornerback Ron Francis and linebackers David Howard and Eugene Lockhart. At that point, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones put Ismail's representatives on a 48-hour clock: Agree to sign, which was allowed back then if owning the very first pick before the start of Sunday's draft (see Cowboys signing Troy Aikman in 1989) or the Cowboys were out. Well, at 2 a.m. Sunday, Ismail inked a four-year, $26.2 million personal services contract with Toronto of the CFL, far too rich those days for the Cowboys blood, offering a five-year, $9 million package. So the Cowboys turned to head coach Jimmy Johnson's former University of Miami tackle, basically telling his rep Leigh Steinberg, we don't think Russell is worthy of the first pick in the draft or the money that comes with the pick, but if he signs this package (five years, $7.9 million, with a robust $3 million signing bonus) we'll make him the first pick in the draft everyone will remember forever. Well, Russ did, and we just did, too, Maryland eventually becoming one of just seven of the 27 first-round picks to earn Pro Bowl honors.
- Defense, Defense, Defense: Not to worry about what the Cowboys draft-day priorities are, Stephen Jones saying, "Barring anything opportunistic (See CeeDee Lamb), we certainly want to improve our defensive football team." And when asked about a particular defensive position, Stephen was all encompassing. Cornerbacks, defensive linemen, safeties "it's across the board," and then added, "Can't have enough linebackers who can cover." As you might have realized by now, my exact sentiments.
- Thank You Note: If you have any doubt about Jacksonville selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the draft, this should seal it. When Lawrence missed the NFL physical combine in Indianapolis because he was getting married, Jaguars fans ended up sending him wedding gifts and making donations to charities he and his now wife Marissa support. In turn, Lawrence thanks them all on social media, and points out when they get to Jacksonville, he and his wife will donate $20,000 to various city charities. Sounds like he knows where he is going.
- Buffalo Badge: In the city known for wings and four consecutive Super Bowl losses, the Bills maintain only fans with proof of being fully vaccinated will be allowed to attend games at Highmark Stadium this season. And no exceptions for not being vaccinated, not for religious or medical reasons. The state of New York is coming up with an Excelsior Pass app to show proof, and sounds like only those from the state will be allowed in with tickets.
- Backup Plan: Sure seems like the Cowboys, even if they should draft a quarterback, but no sooner than in the latter couple of rounds, still might sign a veteran backup quarterback. Remember, they waited until after the draft to sign veteran Andy Dalton last year on May 4. Again, with the possibility of at least five quarterbacks going even in the top of this draft, there is a good chance a veteran quarterback for backup duty will come available after the draft when roster shedding begins. And seems there is another out there on the free-agent heap, veteran Blaine Gabbert still unsigned and Tampa Bay deciding to sign backup Ryan Griffin instead of him. Gabbert only appeared in four games last year for the Buccaneers, completing nine of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns, but he has started in 48 of 60 games over the past 10 years since Jacksonville selected the University of Missouri quarterback coming out a year too early with the 10th pick in 2011.
- Scattering Around: As if the NFL Draft is not enough to look forward to, the NFL has just announced the 2021 schedule reveal for May 12, 7 p.m. that Wednesday night on NFL Network. How about the Cowboys opening at SoFi Stadium since the Chargers are currently selling season tickets in hopes of fans being allowed in for the first time … The NFLPA is touting a high level of play in 2020 without the benefits of in-person offseason workouts and no preseason games by pointing out an NFL record 12,692 points being scored and games averaging 49.6 points, highest since the 1970 merger. Yeah, well, that's because defenses were pitiful, and we can certainly vouch for that, the Cowboys giving up a franchise record 473 points … And touting a 23 percent decrease in injuries, though saw no decrease around here, the Cowboys finishing with 16 players on some sort of injury list at season's end and 27 guys missing games for injury- or COVID-related reasons … Trouble and former Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith continue to be unfortunate bedfellows. Just two days after signing a one-year deal with Seattle, Smith has been charged with second-degree assault in, of all places, a Chalmette, La., coffee shop for allegedly choking a guy unconscious who is maintaining to police they were acquaintances. Go figure.
And the last word this week goes go to Stephen Jones. When asked during a Monday interview with flagship radio station 105.3 The Fan about his dad saying he is "intrigued' with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who figures to become a top-10 pick next Thursday, he responded by saying, "You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who knows football, personnel-wise in the NFL, coaches, who can't see a vision the problems a player like Kyle Pitts can present. I think he's a unique player that doesn't come around every year, and certainly Jerry was just acknowledging that."
At least there is someone else out there who is a Jerry Whisperer.