Skip to main content

Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: Sleeves rolled up with draft nearing


FRISCO, Texas – The juggling act continues out here at The Star, now just a week away from the start of the 2024 NFL Draft on April 25, this year in Detroit.

There still is a roster to prepare during the offseason, but at this point, that becomes less a priority to preparing for the draft, which the Cowboys are in full-speed ahead mode preparing their Big Board with eight days to go before they go on the clock at No.24 next Thursday.

With that in mind, let Cowboys COO Stephen Jones give you some perspective on just how the Cowboys have been managing their salary cap a month into free agency amid much criticism for not spending salary-cap money they, by the way, just don't have in abundance.

And the NFL doesn't allow use of league credit cards.

"We spend max, max money year in and year out," Jones tried to explain earlier in the week on Cowboys radio flagship station 105.3 The Fan. "All 32 teams can only spend the same amount of money over a five-year stretch. When we're all said and done, we max out our salary cap every year. We will have done that and what comes with having a good roster, which we do, we also are looking towards signing our own guys.

"It doesn't mean it happens overnight. But when you're wanting to sign players like Dak [Prescott] and Micah [Parsons] and CeeDee [Lamb], then certainly you have to hold money back if you want to have a realistic chance of signing those guys."

So if you've been scoring at home, the Cowboys have either lost, released or haven't re-signed a total of 11 significant players off last year's roster, re-signed the likes of Jourdan Lewis, Chuma Edoga, Rico Dowdle, C.J. Goodwin and Trent Sieg, and signed two unrestricted free agents from other teams, linebacker Eric Kendricks and this week veteran mostly backup running back Royce Freeman.

Nothing earth shattering when compared to losing the likes of starters Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Tony Pollard, Johnathan Hankins, Dorance Armstrong, then Leighton Vander Esch retiring after being released (failed physical), Michael Gallup designated a June 1 release for cap-saving purposes and waiting to see what happens with rehabbing starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder surgery).

And also emphasizing there is no such thing as not being "all-in" around here because "if you're not all-in, you're all out."

Meaning, you can only take expensive "shots" during the offseason if you have enough cap ammo.

  • Voluntary Mean: Here we go again, always this time of year when we're obligated to point out what former Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick had to say back at the turn of the century when missing the "voluntary" quarterback school workouts, forerunners to OTAs, and questioned about his absence upon his return for the minicamp. "What do voluntary mean?" Hambrick rhetorically asked. Well, there were few secrets out here when the Phase I workouts began this week and was reported that Lamb and Parsons were absent and might point out among others. Well, as usual, seems Micah is working out on his own as he did last year with a personal trainer in Austin, and apparently Lamb is making a point of not participating until the Cowboys sign him to a long-term deal instead of playing on his $17.9 million fifth-year option. OK, it's only strength and conditioning, no big deal, and certainly gaining no leverage in negotiations. It's the game many either franchised or fifth-year option guys play around the NFL since no one wants to be playing on the final year of their contract if they can avoid that. But here is what I don't understand. If a player works out on his own, off campus so to speak, and gets injured, the team is not financially liable, and if not ready for the start of training camp will be placed on the Non-Football Injury list, jeopardizing not being paid if unable to start the regular season. But the agents play this game, and hopefully they fund an insurance policy just in case. Hate to be playing chicken with such big bucks on the line.
  • The Maz: Certainly, the Cowboys didn't get out of last year's first-round draft choice Mazi Smith what they hoped to, the defensive tackle playing just 25.2 percent of the defensive snaps and now recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. You'd think between that question mark and with the free agency losses of Hankins and Neville Gallimore the Cowboys wouldn't rule out selecting a defensive tackle during the first two days of the draft. And there are a couple of good ones who should be available at No. 24 or later in the first round. But Jones seems hopeful not all is lost when asked about The Maz, saying, "He didn't play as much as we'd like," having to adjust from what was asked of him at Michigan to how the Cowboys wanted him to play the 1-tech here. But Stephen went on to point out what new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will now be asking him to do "is more in line with what he did and Michigan. … Feel really good about Mazi."
  • Still Room: Don't think just because the Cowboys signed Freeman, now playing for his fifth team after Denver drafted him in third round of 2018, that the running back room is full. Oh, contraire. Freeman basically signed a one-year, veteran exception deal, similar to bringing in veteran Ronald Jones last year in the offseason. Jones didn't make the team and guarantee you there is no guarantee Freeman makes the squad this season, having started just nine games during his six-year career, eight of those during his rookie season with the Broncos. And the 77 carries (319 yards, 1 TD) last year with the Rams is his highest single season total since 132 in 2019 with the Broncos. In fact, 262 of his career 471 carries came in his first two seasons in Denver.
  • Wideout Bucks: With CeeDee likely looking for a long-term deal averaging more than the $30 million of Tyreek Hill, the highest average among active wide receivers – and let's point out along with Minnesota's Justin Jefferson as well – Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith signed a three-year extension entering his fourth season (now under contract through 2028), averaging $25 million a year those three years, with $51 million of the $75 million package guaranteed and already picking up his fifth-year option. This pushes the number of NFL receivers averaging at least his $25 million a year to five. Lamb's three-year totals were a scooch more than Smith's, totaling 260 catches, 3,396 yards and 20 TDs in 49 games to Smith's 240 for 3,178 and 19 TDs playing in 50 games. That is until Lamb's fourth season breaking franchise records with 135 receptions and 1,749 yards receiving.
  • The Chase: The passing last week of O.J. Simpson at the age of 76 brought back the where-were-you memories of when his slow-speed police chase in his Bronco on the California freeways in the Los Angeles area took place on June 17, 1994. Where were you when you heard/watched what was going on? Me, I was attending my first ballgame at the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington that night. Had gone down to check on a Houston-New York Knicks NBA Finals Game 5 score on the concession stand TV only to see the game interrupted by what was making national news. (Hey, this was before cellphone internet service.) Riveting TV might add. The game ended, but not the chase, and the concession stand workers eventually turned off the television to close up shop with a whole bunch of us still watching. Time to go. But you know what, the chase still was ongoing when we got home 30 minutes later.
  • Shorter Shots: While the Cowboys have an estimated $6-$7 million in cap space available, the NFL 32-team average is at $18 million, the Patriots with a high of $53.7 million … With everyone so worried about getting CeeDee and Micah signed to extensions, which certainly the Cowboys would like to do, providing the numbers are right, they can hold CeeDee's rights for two more years, this year after picking up his fifth-year option and next year on a franchise tag, and Micah for three more years, this year on the final year of his rookie contract, 2025 on the fifth-year option and 2026 on a franchise tag, so they ain't going anywhere anytime soon … Talk about home cooking and can't remember seeing this stat, but in 2023 the Cowboys scoring 299 of their 509 total points at AT&T Stadium is a single-season franchise record and the fifth-most home points scored in an NFL single season, not far off the Saints' record of 329 points in 2011. And remember the Cowboys only played eight home games this season.

And for this week's last word, we return to Cowboys COO Stephen Jones when asked about accountability for the Cowboys falling short in the playoffs again, especially this past season when losing to Green Bay, the NFC's seventh seed, 48-32. In fact, he was specifically asked if he personally felt "accountable" for the playoff drought.

"Absolutely, I feel as accountable as anybody in terms of the success of this franchise," Stephen began. "And of course, you know, we want to have one of the top, if not the top franchise in the country, if not the world. And I think certainly we do in terms of what our brand's valued at.

"We certainly want to have more success on the field in terms of that part of it, but as I said, we've had a lot of success during the regular season, we just haven't had the success in the postseason.

"And we just – until we do that, we understand there will be frustration (from the fans), and I can tell you this, we'll be rolling up our sleeves and going to work."

And for sure, sleeves will be up over these next eight days.

Related Content