FRISCO, Texas – After listening to the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' 28-minute interview from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday, here is what began occurring to me the more he continued to talk.
And this will have nothing to do with anything specifically he had to say, and he had a lot to say, ranging from retaining his head coach, to his quarterback, to his defensive coordinator, to ultimately having "laid an egg" in the first-round playoff loss, 48-32, to Green Bay.
Good gosh, the Cowboys have a lot of work on their hands this 2024 offseason over the next six months with training camp once again set to likely begin that final week in July.
See, we hear a whole lot of speculation over what the Cowboys likely will do – have to do – with quarterback Dak Prescott's financial albatross of a contract. We hear a whole lot about Dak and head coach Mike McCarthy now entering the final year of their contracts.
But the more Jerry talked, the more my mind wandered, thinking about the totality of what needs to be accomplished over the next several months. That's not even giving quarter to the yearly staples of scouting Thursday's East-West Shrine Bowl being held right here in the Cowboys backyard Ford Center; the Senior Bowl on Saturday; the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 27; the start of free agency March 13 and, of course, the NFL Draft April 25.
So allow me to make a list:
- Figure out what to do with Dak's impending $59.45 million cap hit – either hold, restructure or extend out the Pro Bowl quarterback.
- Try to sign Pro Bowl wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to an extension, thus lessening his fifth-year, $17 million contract option on at least the 2024 salary cap.
- As they are holding their breath over defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's status, will he stay or will he go – Washington, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the only NFL head coach opening remaining – because if he goes just who will replace him in the top defensive seat. And might the Cowboys consider replacing him with one of a couple defensive-minded ex-head coaches currently out of jobs.
- How many of their 16 unrestricted free agents can they financially re-sign with their highly restrictive salary cap space, or for that matter, how many do they really want to sign. This group includes such starters as Tryon Smith, Tony Pollard, Tyler Biadasz, Johnathan Hankins, Stephon Gilmore, Jayron Kearse, Jordan Lewis, Trent Sieg and rotation defensive end Dorance Armstrong, second on the team with 7½ sacks.
- They must restock the linebacker position since they finished the season with as many true linebackers on injured reserve, Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarvion Overshown, as they did on the active 53-man roster, Damone Clark and rookie Tyrus Wheat, who played all of 31 defensive snaps this season.
- That brings us to the decision on what to do with Micah Parsons: Is your three-time sack leader a defensive end or a linebacker? And they will have until May 2 to decide if they are picking up his quite expensive fifth-year option for 2025.
- Speaking of 2025, Dak is not the only significant player entering the final year of a contract. So are Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, Lamb (if not signed to an extension), along with starter Osa Odighizuwa and Vander Esch, depending on if he decides to even continue with his NFL career.
- They must restock the cornerback position. Sure, Trevon Diggs returns, and hoping he does so from his repaired ACL in top form, but even at that, the only two sure things at cornerback today would be Diggs and Pro Bowler DaRon Bland, since they did not have the confidence in either Nahshon Wright or sixth-round draft choice Eric Scott Jr. (inactive all 17 games) to replace Gilmore against the Packers, who played with a harnessed shoulder requiring surgery. Remember, Gilmore and Lewis are unrestricted.
- They must answer the question on Tyron Smith. Is he re-signed? If so heading into his 14th season, is he your starting left tackle or swing tackle? And if he's the swing tackle, do the Cowboys move Pro Bowler Tyler Smith from left guard to left tackle? Or do they find a starting-caliber left tackle, either in free agency, and those don't fall off trees, or one in the first or second round of the draft capable of stepping right in?
- One way or another, they must find a way to run the ball better, and we can start with the running back position that will need attention, since Pollard and backup Rico Dowdle are unrestricted. Will they re-sign them? Can they re-sign them? Or how high in the draft would you select a rookie running back? And remember in 2023, two teams were brave enough (smart enough?) to select running backs with a top-12 pick: Atlanta (Bijan Robinson, 8th) and Detroit (Jahmyr Gibbs, 12th). The Cowboys' 4.1 yards a carry was their lowest since averaging only 3.6 in 2012.
- One way or another, with Quinn or without Quinn, the Cowboys must find a way to play better against the run. They gave up more than 100 yards rushing in 11 of 18 games and in five of their six losses, including highs of 222 to Arizona, 170 to San Francisco, 266 to Buffalo and 143 to Green Bay.
- And finally, rushing the quarterback. Their 46 sacks tied for 13th in the NFL, and having none in the 18th game sure didn't improve their status. Just once in the final seven games did they finish with more than one sack (four vs. Washington), going 4-3 in those games.
See what I mean?
There is a whole lot of remodeling needing to be done, and is one reason why Jerry and Stephen Jones did not have all those definitive answers most were looking for on a bunch of the big-ticket items at the Senior Bowl. They feverishly are working on finding those answers but know they have a limited amount of salary cap dollars available and time to get all these ducks in a row.
Best stay tuned.
- Big Oops: Lions head coach Dan Campbell, the Cowboys' former tight end from 2003-05, certainly wasn't going to take back his two fourth-down decisions to go for it late in the game, but did admit it was a mistake in the NFC Championship Game, losing 34-31 to San Francisco when electing to run the ball on third-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 1:05 to play, trailing 34-24 and still having three timeouts remaining. He didn't consider the downside making that call, that if the Lions didn't score, he'd have to burn a timeout before the fourth-down play. That would mean he would only have two timeouts remaining if the Lions did not recover the onside kick with less than a minute to play and the Niners could basically kneel out the clock. Well, Campbell explained, the right play was called, but a missed block led to a loss of two yards. Sure enough, the Lions had to burn that timeout, threw on fourth down for the TD, couldn't recover the onside kick, and without the third timeout available, time indeed would run out on them.
- Dan The Man: Two big questions surrounding Quinn's candidacy for the Washington head-coaching job still open after Seattle decided to hire Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald on Wednesday. If offered, and he takes the job, will the Commanders use some of their abundance of salary cap money to sign a veteran free agent quarterback instead of sticking with Sam Howell? And second, and this is always dicey when a defensive guy is named a head coach, who is his offensive coordinator. Because remember, when Jerry in 1989 hired Jimmy Johnson, a defensive guy as head coach, he was at the mercy of his offensive coordinator. His first choice didn't work out so well, Dave Shula fired after two seasons, the offense struggling mightily despite first having rookie quarterback Troy Aikman in 1989 and then rookie running back Emmitt Smith the next year. But Jimmy solved those offensive problems in 1991 when hiring this rather unknown Rams wide receivers coach named Norval Turner as his OC, and you know the rest of the story.
- How The NFL Turns: And now, after one year away, former Cowboys backup quarterback, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and favorite of Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore will be calling plays against the Cowboys in 2024, the Eagles hiring him as offensive coordinator. Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni had this to say of hiring Moore after his one year with the Chargers: "We're bringing in a guy to bring in new ideas, to do the things that he's done in the past. But it would be crazy not to add some of the things that we've done in the past here as well. I don't know if it's going to be 95 percent this, 95 percent that – we're not there yet. We're working on getting the best guy in here for the job, and a guy who has a vision, a guy who's going to call the plays, a guy who's going to be able to coach the quarterback in the same sense there. It's just about getting the right guy, and then we'll decide where that goes, but I'm hiring him to do a job and to be in charge of the offense."
- Shorties: Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who withdrew his name after preliminary interviews for head-coaching jobs to remain Houston, is the son of former Cowboys defensive assistant Bob Slowik (1992) … It's being reported Detroit OC Ben Johnson was asking for too much money from the Commanders, who were on their way to Detroit to interview him when finding out he was pulling out to remain with the Lions, but maybe he realized the job wasn't for him and priced himself out … You know the Raiders back in 2005 tried to hire Cowboys assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Sean Payton as their head coach, but Payton backed out, didn't really like the quarterback situation with the Raiders, and for good reason, heading to New Orleans the very next year, and we know how that turned out … See where lower-level seats like 20 rows up on the 30-yard line for Super Bowl LVIII are going for $19,166 on SeatGeek … Seriously.
And with so many choices for this week's last word after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones held court for nearly 28 minutes, let's go here when asked what's going to be different heading into the 2024 season after deciding to run it back with head coach Mike McCarthy, knowing the Cowboys, despite three consecutive 12-win seasons, only going 1-3 in the playoffs.
"What I would say is, I hope it's not different going into the first playoff game where we got the second seed. I hope it's not different at all to that point, where we got the second seed. OK, now let's talk about how we might make it different when we're playing in that game, and get a win, OK. We need to stop the run better and we need to be more physical, and we need to run better, to be specific.
"We need to do those kinds of things more, and so my point is, I look at that and I look at – I thought we made a pretty good move four years ago when we hired Mike McCarthy, and he's had some great in-season success. Now, he's come up short three times, three times advancing us in the playoffs, OK, but I like that fact that he's hanging around the rim, and I like what the team has done to hang around the rim. So I think what the answer that I would have is that I'm aware that we're hanging around the rim, we're not getting the ball in, but we're hanging around the rim.
"Let's don't discount hanging around the rim, and where we are right now with the players we've got, and I'm thinking about it from the whole look."
Meaning now he's looking for the slam dunk.