FRISCO, Texas – As the NFL hits the pause button, know the Cowboys will open the 2019 season, the 60th in franchise history, in 81 days.
Much is made of opening with the New York Football Giants – again, the sixth time in the past eight years – but more should be made of the Cowboys playing six games against 2018 NFL playoff teams: Super Bowl champion New England, NFC champ L.A. Rams, NFC South champion Saints, NFC Central champs Chicago and two games against NFC East second-placers Philadelphia.
Somewhat daunting, and since they are playing the NFC Central this season, that means Minnesota, too, finishing 8-7-1, a half-game from the playoffs, meaning seven games against 2018 teams with winning records. That all leaves the Cowboys with a schedule strength of .504, tied for 14th hardest with the Green Bay Packers, who by the way they play at AT&T on Oct. 6.
The Cowboys are punished for winning the NFC East in an NFL that rewards the meek when it comes to scheduling, having as it turns out to play the other three NFC division champs, the Rams and Saints, along with Chicago since they are playing the NFC Central this year.
And thanks to playing the AFC East, that means the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., for the first time since 2011. Not since a 20-17 overtime victory in 1987 have the Cowboys won in Foxboro. And did so in dramatic fashion, kicker Roger Ruzek tying the game at 17 on a 20-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in regulation and then winning it on the third play of overtime, Herschel Walker going 60 yards for the winning touchdown, giving him 173 yards on 28 carries.
No need to ask. I was there.
Now for some up-to-date shots.
· Magna Carson: You might recall the Magna Carta was a 3,600-word document hand-written on parchment sheets with quill pens containing 63 clauses. Well, I'm told Carson Wentz's four-year contract extension is as extensive, the actual contract going 60 pages. Most continue to call the four-year, $128-million extension a $32 million average, and want to say that sets market value for Dak Prescott. One thing, though. It's an extension. The way the contract is spread out, the actual money Wentz will earn over the next six years – he still had this year and the Eagles had picked up his fifth-year option for 2020 – totals $154.98 million, and that averages out to be $25.83 million a year. And believe me, there are a whole bunch of checks and balances (roster and option bonuses) to protect the Eagles.
· The Other Stuff: When Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was asked about what you look for in a quarterback besides those much-need physical qualities after praising Dak for his intangibles, he starts off by saying, "That's why we start with, 'What kind of guys is he? Is football important to him? Does he love it? Is he mentally tough?' Talent matters but the other stuff matters more. They certainly have the ability, but do they have all that other stuff?" Other stuff? Listen up: "I'll make the argument, I'll make it until I'm blue in the face and on my death bed, but if Troy Aikman walked in here you would say, 'Wow, I've never seen a guy like that, 6-foot-4, 225, long arms, big hands. You watch him go out and throw and you've never seen a guy throw a ball like that.' What makes him great is this (pounds his heart) and this (touches the side of his head). That's why he's in the Hall of Fame, and why he's one of the all-time greats. So I had an up-close and personal view of him for eight years and you understand what makes an individual player great is the other stuff. They have to be talented, I get that, but the other stuff is what differentiates guys, and that's certainly what you want in your quarterback." Was a privilege to have the same up-close and personal view of Troy for all 12 years of his Hall of Fame career.
· Where's Dak? No matter Dak's numbers, his number of wins, his two Pro Bowl selections and two NFC East titles in three years, some just don't get him or his talent. Latest example rests in the 2019 Top 100 NFL Players list on CBSSports.com, compiled by veteran sportswriter Pete Prisco. The Cowboys have seven players listed: Ezekiel Elliott (16), DeMarcus Lawrence (26), Zack Martin (48), Tyron Smith (58), Jaylon Smith (80), Byron Jones (85) and Travis Frederick (99), with like another 20 or so listed as Just Missed, including Leighton Vander Esch. But no Dak. Yet another growth spurt for that shoulder chip.
· Broken Record: We've heard this so many times, that records are made to be broken. But this one was made over the Cowboys' first three decades in the NFL, and most everyone swore it would never be broken, and not just in the NFL but in professional sports. The Cowboys' record 20 consecutive winning seasons, stretching from 1966 when posting the franchise's first winning season at 10-3-1 in their sixth season through 1985, going 10-6 in what turned out to be Tom Landry's last winning season of his 29-year coaching career. Well, the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots are going strong at 18 consecutive winning seasons, all with Tom Brady on campus, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight as long as the two remain in place.
· Mini-Shots: Oh, BTW, no Amari Cooper on that Top 100 list either … As if Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers didn't have his hands full attempting to make the Cowboys' 53-man roster, what with the return of Jason Witten and youngin's Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin leaving the converted basketball player in their dust last year, but now comes the one-game suspension. Guess that buys him a one-week grace period … Strength has always been a missing ingredient for 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton, but if looks aren't deceiving, Taco appears to have hit the weights, having grown a chest and arms to be proud of … And Lou Brock's 80th birthday Tuesday reminds me of how us White Sox fans could ridicule our Cub-fan friends growing up back in 1964 when the Cubs essentially traded the young future Hall of Famer to St. Louis for pitcher Ernie Broglio.