IRVING, Texas – Don't want to be an I-told-you-so, because certainly no one around here is batting 1.000.
Plus, an unfair advantage was on my side when it came to the Dez Bryant contract negotiations, the one creating such a tizzy among so many fans, social media participants and mainstream media outlets, alike, one and all spending way too much time and energy fretting over whether:
- The Cowboys would sign Dez Bryant to an allowable long-term contract before the July 15 deadline.
- Dez would ever play for the $12.823 million franchise tag.
- Dez had the stomach to protest the Cowboys not signing him to a suitable long-term deal with guaranteed money, i.e. security, by sitting out training camp and making good on his threats to miss games, i.e thus forfeiting his weekly $754,000 paycheck.
Now what'd I say from the beginning?
Check with me on July 13, two days before this past Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline for franchised players to either sign a long-term deal or be forced to play the 2015 season for the franchise tender while holding their peace for a long-term deal until after the season.
OK, I missed by one day. Should have said July 14. Because that is when the Joneses and Tom Condon/Roc Nation got serious about these negotiations, and in less than 48 hours banged out a five-year, $70 million deal, including $45 million in guarantees, to make Dez an extremely happy camper for life.
My unfair advantage?
Well, look, I'm heading to training camp for the 30th time next week, and I've either heard about or seen it all when it comes to these player-owner contract negotiations that don't ever seem to get it done until a deadline is staring both sides right in the face, and at that time they usually say, let's make a deal.
I mean, why Roger Staubach told me the story about how one-year Cowboys original president and general manager Tex Schramm kept stonewalling him on a new deal. Roger would show up at Tex's office, and he'd keep his star, Super Bowl-winning quarterback waiting out there with the secretary, hoping Roger would just give up and leave.
Well, one day, Roger had it. He was going to get in with Tex, no matter what. So, in what was then a high-rise office building housing the Cowboys off Central Expressway, Staubach, I mean the team's meal ticket, opens up the window in the outer office, jumps onto the window ledge with the city of Dallas far below, and inches his way across the ledge to the next window.
Tah-dah! Here's Capt. America, precariously jumping in front of Schramm's window, nearly causing the team president to fall off his chair in his anxiety to open the window. Better believe Staubach got in . . . finally. Better believe he got his new contract.
Why I can remember in one of my first camps search parties back in Dallas discovering the missing Randy White on an East Texas lake fishing while the team was at training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., his holdout over before the start of the season.
Remember standing on the corner outside the executive dorm on the Cal Lutheran campus the next year, waiting for Tony Dorsett to finally drive in for camp, he disgruntled over the Cowboys signing Herschel Walker to a five-year, all of $5 million deal, becoming the highest-paid running back in the NFL before carrying the ball once. Dorsett when asked how he felt about the newcomer's contract, aid smugly, "I feel like a million dollars."
Look, before this new CBA, before free agency and a salary cap, way before the NFL capped rookies with a salary pool, what just took place with the Cowboys and Dez was a yearly occurrence. You could count on it. Someone was going to hold out, since before free agency that's the only contract negotiating leverage players had – if you were considered valuable enough.[embeddedad0]
My guess is I started becoming immune to these negotiations/holdouts after going through the ones in 1990 when the Cowboys' first two picks, Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Alexander Wright, missed all of training camp with their agents haggling over contracts, Wright eventually signing after the Cowboys returned to Dallas and Emmitt the Tuesday before the season opener.
Remember in 1991, after the Cowboys traded for the first pick in the draft and then Rocket Ismail decided to take the guaranteed millions from the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, head coach Jimmy Johnson telling his former Miami Hurricane Russell Maryland if you want to be the first pick in the draft you have to agree to a contract below what the first pick is slotted to receive. Maryland did, earning forever the distinction of being a No.1 pick in the draft.
And then there was 1992, becoming the defining immunization to all the verbal slings, the holding out, the threats and counter threats during negotiations. Get this, the Cowboys had just come off their first winning season since 1985, going 11-5 and winning a first-round wild-card playoff game, and the team had nine players skip at least a portion of training camp haggling over contracts. Eight of the nine were starters, and half of those guys would not play a single down in preseason.
I mean we are talking the likes of James Washington, Tony Tolbert, Jay Novacek, Mark Stepnoski and . . . and . . . Michael Irvin, exactly why I was surprised Irvin didn't show more reasonable restraint with his comments during the last couple of weeks when the Cowboys and Dez seemed to be stuck in negotiations blackout. Just from experience, Michael should have known better.
Check this out: The Cowboys were opening the 1992 season at home with a Monday Night Football game Sept. 7 against the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. Well, Washington and Tolbert didn't sign until Aug. 23, nearly 40 days after the July 16 start to training camp. Novacek didn't sign until Aug. 30. Stepnoski not until Sept. 5, rendering him inactive for the opener.
And Irvin? Not until Sept. 3, the Thursday night before the Monday night opener, the deal three years, roughly $4 million, oh and that's total for back in those days. In fact, Irvin's agent back in those days, Steve Endicott, tells the story of the first negotiation conversation on that contract with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, having presented Jerry with all these comparative numbers on why Michael should make at least $4.2 million.
"Jerry says to me, 'Steve you know that town out in West Texas, El Paso?'" Endicott recalls Jones saying of his proposal. '"Well, I think we're going to El Passo on that.'"
But not on eventually signing Michael, who practiced once in full pads before the game, a game the Cowboys won, 23-10, believe it or not after all that camp upheaval over contracts, the first victory during their season-opening three-game winning streak and first of seven wins in the opening eight games, the Cowboys on their way to a franchise best (at the time) 13-3 season and eventual Super Bowl victory.
So Michael, more than most, should have shown a little more reservation before spouting off the Cowboys would be "8-8 without 88," earlier in the week.
This was going to get done. Just a matter of time – and timing.
As usual, all's well that ends well, and I'd imagine Dez will be motivated the start of this training camp and during the entire season to prove he's worth every cent of that contract, one including a $20 million signing bonus, $7 million of that payment deferred until March of 2016, when if on the roster, about as sure of at least one 100-degree day out here every summer, will guarantee his 2017 base of $13 million. His $3 million base salary in 2015 along with the $9 million base of 2016 comprise the remainder of the $45 million in guarantees.
So now you know. Don't ever again buy into all that negotiating rhetoric that has been taking place for the better part of the past 4½ months. Amazing wasn't it, and surely not coincidental how four franchised players in the NFL all got long-term contracts signed just before Wednesday's deadline. Deadlines make deals, that's the lesson learned, because no one in their right mind if they want to make a deal compromises – player or team – before they absolutely have to.
Plus, do any of us pay our bills weeks in advance? Un-uh. We hold our money to the very last minute. Rich men are no different. Why would Jerry write a check for $13 million before he absolutely had to?
And so I leave you with this parable given me back during those contract squabble days of the mid to late '80s and early '90s by the late, esteemed Dallas columnist Frank Luksa, who had covered the Cowboys through five decades, going back to their inception:
Frank would equate these player holdouts and threats of missing games to a cat getting stuck in a tree. He would explain, oh the hand wringing that took place for the poor cat in the tree, the wailing over how would that cat ever get down, how fire departments must be called to save the day.
But, Frank would then reason, "Have you ever found a dead cat in a tree?" meaning somehow, someway, 'dem cats always come down.
Same with players and teams. Might take some time, even two games into a season, right Emmitt and Jerry, but they all eventually sign.
And now you know, first hand, for future reference.
Something you, too, can eventually pay it forward.