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Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: Taking a peek at that first opponent


FRISCO, Texas – All seems quiet on The Star front so far this week, save working out a few UFL players with NFL experience and the potential to sign a couple since the Cowboys had saved four spots on the 90-man roster just in case something caught their fancy.

Having temporarily hit the mute button includes the paused status of CeeDee Lamb, since far too many just assumed since Justin Jefferson signed his extension last week that CeeDee's deal was just around the corner. Not so. And as explained last week, it's complicated.

So thought would provide a little Cleveland Browns update, you know, since the Cowboys open with the Browns on Sept. 8 at once again named Cleveland Browns Stadium, departing from the FirstEnergy naming rights.

Here are the first two things that caught my eye.

First, at quarterback. Remember, initially this was supposed to be Deshaun Watson's team. But the veteran QB started just six games last year, completing only one pass in that sixth before suffering what turned out to be a season ending shoulder injury. The Browns then started four more quarterbacks: Joe Flacco (5), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (3), P. J. Walker (2) and Jeff Driskel (1).

Yet somehow finished 11-6 and qualifed for the AFC playoffs, creating a little NFL history by becoming the first team to reach the playoffs when starting five quarterbacks during the regular season, finishing with then 38-year-old veteran Joe Flacco starting the final five and again in the first round of the playoffs, a 45-14 loss to Houston. But at least he earned himself the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, the oldest to do so since Jim Martin in 1963.

But Flacco has moved on. It's Watson's team again, and while throwing for the first time in Tuesday's minicamp practice since his season-ending shoulder surgery on Nov. 21, there is some uncertainty if he will be ready to start in the opener against the Cowboys. Next in line at QB is Jameis Winston, then Thompson-Robinson and Tyler Huntley.

The Browns have even more uncertainty at this point at running back, since star rusher Nick Chubb is on the road to recovery after two knee surgeries interrupted his 2023 season, the second for a torn ACL the second week of November, and this after an early-season surgery to repair knee damage to his medial capsule, meniscus and MCL. It's not a given he will be ready for the season opener.

And even though the Browns signed Nyheim Hines in free agency, he still is rehabbing the torn ACL suffered last summer in training camp with the Bills.

As you can see, other people have problems, not just the Cowboys.

  • Et Tu, Amari: Don't think the Cowboys are the only team left having problems signing their star wide receiver. Yep, the Browns and former Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper seem to be at a contractual standstill, too. Coop was listed Tuesday as an "unexcused" absence at the Browns' first mandatory minicamp practice. Cooper, traded by the Cowboys in March of 2022 to the Browns for only a fifth-round pick and exchanging places in the sixth to save his $20 million base salary, now is on the final year of his five-year, $100 million deal he signed with the Cowboys in 2020. At his non-guaranteed $20 million base this year, there are 11 receivers averaging more money per year than Cooper, the only receiver in Cleveland history to put up consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, as unbelievable as that might seem. And as we know from Cooper being with the Cowboys for those four seasons, he can be stubborn.
  • No Surprise: Here is another former Cowboys player holding out of the first day of minicamp, and this would come as no surprise to the front office folks upstairs. Randy Gregory, always something it seems. This time it's missing Tampa Bay's first minicamp practice after signing with the Buccaneers for a one-year, $3 million base salary with the possibility of making $5 million. Bucs head coach Todd Bowles, the Cowboys former secondary coach, termed the absence "unexcused," and claims, "It's disappointing when anyone is not here." You'd think after all the trials and tribulations Gregory has been through since being a Cowboys second-round pick in 2015, he'd be grateful after Denver moved on from him.
  • Sad Week: Tough week in the world of sports, starting with the death of Cowboys Hall of Famer Larry Allen last week. Then NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton. And this morning we learn of the death of another NBA Hall of Famer, Jerry West. He spent 15 years with the Lakers, then 12 more years as the Lakers general manager, along with GM stints after that with Memphis and then board member with the likes of the Warriors and Clippers. West, 86, was part of eight NBA championships during his career and was twice named NBA Executive of the Year. And from a local standpoint in the DFW area, 96-year-old Robert Hughes passed away on Wednesday, known as the all-time winningest high school basketball coach. Hughes spent 32 years at Fort Worth Dunbar, taking his teams to 30 consecutive playoff appearances before retiring in 2005. May all rest in peace.
  • Dak Attack: Here is a little know Dak fact. As we know, Dak Prescott led the NFL this past season with 36 touchdown passes, four more than some guy named Jordan Love (32) in his first full year starting for the Packers and beating the Cowboys in the playoffs. Dak's 36 is 13 more than Roger Staubach's 23 in 1973 when he tied for the NFL lead with Roman Gabriel, who was in his first season with the Eagles after spending 11 in the NFL with the Rams. In fact, Gabriel passed away this year, too, at the age of 83 on April 20.
  • June Shots: The Cowboys completed signing this year's eight-man draft class with second-round pick Marshawn Kneeland inking his slotted four-year, $6.8 million deal, with a $1.78 million signing bonus this week. His first two base salaries are guaranteed, totaling $1.9 million … The Cowboys currently have seven players' 2024 cap hits, Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, CeeDee Lamb, Zack Martin, Trevon Diggs, Terence Steele and Brandin Cooks, taking up $145 million of their allotted $260.4 million salary cap, so rounding out to 56 percent – six of those seven players having earned Pro Bowl honors, the exception being Steele who might have been on his way to the Pro Bowl in 2022 before tearing his ACL … And now one year removed from that surgery, watch for Steele to regain that top form … And if you are wondering, after the Cowboys went into the 2024 league year with 16 unrestricted free agents, they currently are scheduled to have 13 more unrestricted in 2025, including all three quarterbacks.

This week's last word goes to 2022 first-round draft choice Tyler Smith, sort of a role reversal for him after completing his second season with the Cowboys. Wasn't that long ago the Cowboys starting left guard was being asked what it was like to make the transition from college ball at Tulsa to the NFL. Now facing the possibility of playing between two rookies if first-round pick Tyler Guyton ends up winning the starting left tackle job and third-round pick Cooper Beebe ends up making a fast transition from guard to center as a rookie.

So, Tyler, somewhat of a veteran now, what are your thoughts about this Cowboys 2024 rookie class?

"As far as the O-Line room goes, like I've been blown away," he begins. "We went out and got great athletes and great football players in Coop, Tyler and Nathan [Thomas in the seventh round]. They are extremely athletic guys. Guys who have a lot of upside. Guys who are learning fast, who have come in pretty polished already. We are just working on them learning the offense, cleaning up technique things but extremely impressed with them so far."

And what kind of approach are you taking this offseason with the possibility of having a rookie starting on each side of you if Guyton and Beebe win starting jobs?

"Just in terms of keeping them up to speed," Smith says. "Because I know the things I struggled with my first year. It's a lot, learning a new offense, just going through stuff like that. So definitely just giving them the tricks of the trade that I can, just making it easier for them from the outset. And the quicker we kind of jell together, learn each other, learn the offense together, I feel like we'll just play that much better.

"So that's been my focus so far."

Good focus. Needed focus. Required jelling for sure.

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