IRVING, Texas– Monday marks the beginning of the voluntary portion of team workouts, both for the Cowboys and the NFL as a whole – though you wouldn't know it's optional, judging by the full parking lots at Valley Ranch.
The NFL CBA lays out the framework for offseason workouts, which can begin today and will eventually lead up to veteran minicamp in June. The first two weeks of the program are strictly for strength, conditioning and rehabilitation, and they fall under the title "Phase One" in the CBA.
Before anyone gets too excited for the return of football, Phase One features a fairly limited set of options for participants. Only the Cowboys' strength and conditioning coaches are allowed to work with players for these first two weeks, and no helmets or footballs are allowed to be used. The one exception is that the team's quarterbacks may throw with receivers, provided the receivers aren't covered by anyone.
The mention of quarterbacks does raise one newsworthy item, however. Tony Romo was at Valley Ranch on Monday morning, and it was confirmed by club sources the Cowboys' starting quarterback will be participating in team workouts.
Romo has been the subject of some speculation since he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in January. At various points this spring, Cowboys executives and Romo himself have reiterated that he is expected to be available for the offseason program – and that is indeed the case.
Interestingly enough, Monday is also Romo's 34th birthday – which seems like a fitting day to return from injury speculation. Romo missed a good deal of the team's offseason program last spring after having surgery to remove a cyst from his back.
Phase One will carry Romo and the Cowboys up to the week of the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins May 8 and lasts until May 10. The three weeks of Phase Two consist of player instruction and drills, with all coaches allowed to participate in activities. That said, helmets are still not allowed and no live contact or offense vs. defense work is allowed.
The team's rookie minicamp is tentatively scheduled to begin May 16, roughly a week after the draft, and last until May 18.
Phase Three will see the Cowboys undergo their 10 days of offseason team activities, or OTAs, over three weeks, starting May 27 and lasting until June 12. Mandatory veteran minicamp has a tentative start of June 17, lasting until June 19.
The Cowboys are expected to leave for training camp in Oxnard, Calif. around the fourth week of July.