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Training Camp | 2023

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Mick Shots: So many ways to save the cat


OXNARD, Calif. – There are ways to do business, and Zack Martin and Jerry Jones figured out a way to settle this near monthlong stalemate.

And here was the sticking point, as always is the case in these contract disagreements:


Always is. And nobody wants to lose money in these high-stake games of poker. The player wants more of it. The team doesn't want to pay appreciably more. And not from Jones' pockets. He's got plenty. From the team's salary cap pockets, understanding how precious every million dollars is while navigating through an 18-week season that hopefully turns into a lengthy playoff run too.

As always, there is a deadline. For the team, having the player, and in this case Martin ready to start the season opener on Sept.10. Compensating for your future Pro Football Hall of Fame guard leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and your team in a precarious position.

For the player, being stubborn to hold your ground lasts only so long. Nobody wants to miss a weekly base salary paycheck, and those are written each week after being on the 53-man roster for the first game of the season.

In all my years covering the Cowboys, and this is the 40th, going back to 1984, remember only one instance of a player willing to miss an entire season for wanting more money. This goes back to 1985 when the Cowboys used a fifth-round selection to draft Texas A&M center/guard Matt Darwin. The negotiations were contentious. Neither side was wavering. Remember asking then president and general manager Tex Schramm if he was concerned over being unable to sign the team's fifth rounder, and a red-face Schramm grunted in so many words, "You think I'm going to lose sleep over a (so-and-so) fifth round guuuaaard."

He didn't. Darwin's agent dug in. The Cowboys already had. He never played for the Cowboys, re-entering the 1986 draft, then going in the fourth round to the Eagles. After that, saw stalemates with Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith, Alexander Wright, Jesse Solomon, Danny Noonan, Michael Irvin, Marcus Spears, Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott, just to name a few, all eventually solved.

My esteemed colleague at the _Dallas Times Herald,_ Frank Luksa, taught me this parable of sorts, comparing player contract holdouts to the commotion caused by a cat stuck up in a tree. Said Frank, "Have you ever seen a dead cat up in a tree? They eventually find their way down."

And probably 99 percent of these contract disagreements are solved.

So was this one between Martin and the Cowboys. Probably the best guard in the NFL and the most profitable owner in the NFL came to a compromise on Monday, with Zack at training camp practice here on Tuesday and Wednesday, pads and all, to participate in individual drills and likely ready to go for full practices next week.

Martin was wanting another $6 million added to each of his last two base salaries, making his contract more in line with the top paid guards in the NFL. The Cowboys didn't want to budge an inch, claiming Martin should honor the six-year, $84 million extension he signed in 2018, and pointing out they needed to be frugal with their salary cap dollars since so many of their tops players were in need of new contracts, either this year or for sure next year.

So here is how the two sides solved this issue. The Cowboys were willing to stuff another $8.5 million into the final two years of Martin's existing contract without out adding years to the expiring contract of a player that will turn 35 during his 2025 free agency season. But to make this a more palatable negotiation, Martin was willing to take less money but only if the Cowboys guaranteed the final two years of base salaries that were void of guarantees.


"The guarantees sealed the deal," Martin told me after his Tuesday afternoon press conference. "Didn't want to have to go through this again next year."

Meaning not wanting to have to dicker for more years or base salary guarantees heading into the final year of his current contract. Players for good reason hate going into the final year of their contracts void of guarantees. Too easy to waive them because of a bulging base salary. Ask Zeke.

Can't blame Martin for insisting on the guarantees. He's earned that right over his previous nine years with eight Pro Bowl and eight All-Pro selections.

And once again all's well that ends well, proving there is more than one way to save the cat.

  • Fine Predicament: Now, Martin did have to pay a price for withholding services during training camp since the new CBA does not allow teams to forgive the mandatory $50,000 daily fine for a player under contract past his rookie one holding out from training camp. Depending on how missed days are defined – like does Martin get fined for missing a player day off or not? – he will be out somewhere from $850,000 to $1 million. But as he said, he justified the holdout to himself, realizing, "If I got this done, I'll make more money than losing money."
  • Boys Will Be …: Well, Boys. Because on Wednesday, the ninth and last day in pads during the Oxnard portion of training camp, feistiness was at a premium, with two skirmishes breaking out, both times involving Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz. First mixing it up with Sam Williams as the third man in, after Williams and first-year offensive lineman Brock Hoffman engaged in three spirited one-on-one pass rush drills, lambasting Williams to support Hoffman, then tangling with a fist-swinging Micah Parsons later on. Said Parsons, "It's the last practice of camp; you've got to bring it. I'm here to make them better." As for Williams, "It was a good day. Just competitive." I'll say.
  • Kicking It: Another good day for kicker Brandon Aubrey, converting five of six field goal attempts, missing one from 33 yards. So for this week behind the line, Aubrey finished 15 of 17, or 88.2 percent. Saturday's Preseason Game Two will be vital in his attempt to make the 53-man roster.
  • Mojo Downer: In Wednesday's Mojo Moment Drill, the offense was charged during this spur of the moment scenario with needing a touchdown in an end-of-game drill, starting off first-and-10 at its own 35-yard line with 1:50 left in the game. Well, Dak Prescott systematically drove the offense right down the field to a first-and-goal at the 10 with the ball never touching the ground, and appeared to have thrown a 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Gallup on the next play. But for practice and competitive reasons a penalty was called on the defense to make it first-and-goal at the 5. After a throwaway, Dak tried to drill one into coverage to Jake Ferguson at the goal line, only for the ball to be picked off by Trevon Diggs.
  • Good Day: And not talking about waking up to 63 degrees with a foggy ground cover. Nope, Ferguson continues to show signs of becoming the Cowboys' highly capable starting tight end. And not just catching passes. On one running play, lined up tight to the formation, he pancaked linebacker Leighton Vander Esch lined up as a defensive end. Then undrafted rookie receiver David Durden, during a nine-on-seven drill, beats Diggs on a deep route for a touchdown. And thought Matt Farniok, who played guard in the first preseason game, performed awfully well moving back to center. Also, third-year receiver Simi Fehoko had several big catches, one an 18-yarder from Cooper Rush for a touchdown in a red-zone drill.
  • Faces In the Crowd: Actor Kevin Costner made an appearance during Tuesday's practice, a return visitor for sure. Also here for a few days was former Cowboys safety George Teague. And for the first time, former Cowboys wide receiver Anthony Miller, the former Tennessee Volunteers speedster spending the 1997 season with this team and living nearby, attended a Cowboys camp practice.
  • Hugging It Out: One of the happiest guys on the practice field to rub elbows with Martin had to be right tackle Terence Steele, realizing the benefits to having the generational guard playing next to him on the left. "Oh, my gosh," Steele said of his reaction to Martin walking back into the offensive line room, "I hugged him forever. He's the heartbeat of the team."
  • The Catch: Might have been the catch of camp, and we're talking football, not fishing. In a team drill Tuesday, the situation was this: First-and-goal at the 6-yard line, Rush throwing a high pass to the back of the end zone that Jalen Tolbert went way up to snag, while most of his body was falling out the back of the end zone except for his two feet coming down in the end zone for a touchdown. Google it.

And Mike McCarthy earns the final word this week, when asked with the changes in the offense and play-caller how has Dak been able to take ownership of this offense.

"How do you think he is?" McCarthy began rhetorically. "He's built for this. It's the approach I've always taken as a coordinator. I think it's so important for the quarterback and the play-caller to be connected. If you want to give them more responsibility at the line of scrimmage, that investment starts back in the offseason program, and I thought he knocked it out of the park during Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, and now we're working it. So he's taken complete ownership of the offense, and you have to because he's the one out there playing, and he has the best seat.

"And the reason why I've always done it that way, and you know everybody wants to have some level of responsibility for the quarterback at the line of scrimmage, but in my view, he's always in the best seat in the house. And not to take advantage of that is probably not the best thing."

Sounds right to me.

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