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Spagnola: It's All About The Team, The Team


FRISCO, Texas – Let's bring some clarity to these sometimes confusing times this time of year.

Especially since there is this preoccupation when it comes to free agency and the NFL Draft that the Cowboys' only concerns are the re-signing of Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, going after some big-name free agents who are free for a reason and selecting the positional flavor of the month in the first round, as if that one position will drive the Cowboys over the top.

Come on, there is so much more to these next two months, requiring some depth perception for sure to widen out such singular, short-sighted focus.

And for that clarity, we should thank Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, COO Stephen Jones and head coach Mike McCarthy for supplying some much-needed perspective these past few days from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

A bigger picture to, uh, trump some faulty perceptions.

And the overall theme you are about to find out, with respects to former head coach Jason Garrett's signs and T-shirts, is The Team, The Team, The Team.

So let's start here. Dak Prescott is not going anywhere. Period. He will either be signed to a long-term deal over the next two weeks, or he will receive the franchise tag by the now extended March 12 deadline to either buy more time for negotiations or to settle for that one-year, guaranteed $27 million payout for 2020.

As Jerry Jones said, "I am not in any way not going to have his rights for one minute."

And as for reserving the rights to Dak and Cooper before the March 18 start to free agency, Jerry says they are committed to doing both, "We'll figure out a way to do it."

But see, there is much more to putting this team with 25 guys slated for unrestricted free agency back together again, a team, and I'll say it again, that had enough talent going into this past season to have won the NFC East title threes time in the previous five seasons between 2014-18.

So for that, McCarthy provided his philosophy on this matter, and probably won't appease all those hoping the Cowboys will simply open up a war chest to sign as many of those expensive castoffs we read about ranked in the, oh, top five of their positions as they can. Because, not so fast.

"At the end of the day, coaches, you want to keep your own players. You want to build off of a lot of good things that have happened there in the past," McCarthy says, "Particularly the past year. And hopefully we can build off those things."

Meaning, if financially possible, McCarthy would like to bring back the likes of Byron Jones and Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown and Sean Lee and Randall Cobb. Just make sure restricted free agent tight end Blake Jarwin doesn't get away. Along with bringing back so many others with a hand in the Cowboys winning 40 games over the past four seasons.

And guess what, and I know winning only two playoff games and no Super Bowls minimizes this accomplishment, but only one other NFC team over those four seasons has won more regular-season games than the Cowboys. That would be New Orleans, with 44, and Seattle matching with 40 of their own.

See there, as Jerry says when trying to discuss the dilemma of signing Dak to a huge contract. This is not about his money. It's about the _Cowboys'_ money, meaning managing a salary cap that is hard and fast.

"This is not about Dak," Jerry says, "it's about the team and how to win."

Great that you can have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, possibly making him one of the top-five highest paid ones in the league. Great you are trying to re-sign Cooper, some estimations out there considering him one of the top-3 potential unrestricted free agents heading into the market.

But you also need those worker bees out there, like the third receiver and the third cornerback and a second and third safety and a backup swing tackle, three tight ends, backup defensive ends and tackles. At least two or three more linebackers. Oh, and by the way, the Cowboys need a kicker, too, and will need at least $1 million to re-sign deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur.

"My first goal is to try to get as many of the guys back as you can," says McCarthy, a parallel philosophy with what Stephen Jones and Will McClay have been preaching this past decade.

McCarthy went out of his way to point out that in the 2010 season when Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV, the Packers went through 77 players on their 53-man roster.

"You want as competitive a roster as you possibly can," McCarthy says.

That is why Jerry and Stephen must manage the cap, must make sure they don't spend the majority of Cowboys cap space – and remember when talking cap space, it's not just for 2020 they worry about, but also for 2021, 2022 and on – on just two players while sacrificing the quality of the guys who must block for Dak or try to get the ball back to him.

So when you see these negotiations dragging on and wondering why, as if the Cowboys are minimizing Dak's ability, which they aren't, remember this, as Jerry says, "You know it isn't because of me trying to keep a penny that I'm not doing something to build this team. It's a question of trying to make the _Cowboys_ as good as we can make them."

Again, the team.

And when it comes to the draft, McCarthy and Jones seem to be on the same page of what's the Cowboys' greatest need with that 17th pick in the first round this year:

Best player.

Sounds boring, right? Especially if you guys subscribe to these mock drafts that are called mocks for a reason. They normally don't take into consideration what the club is thinking, but more so are born out of what the greatest needs are. And as we know, need and availability don't always coincide come draft day.

"Can't have enough good football players," McCarthy says.

He means if the Cowboys get to No. 17, and the best guy there is, oh, say, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, take him. If the best guy there is a cornerback, say C.J. Henderson, take him. And if that guy is a safety, he darn well better be head and shoulders better than a pass-rushing defensive end or defensive tackle, then take him.

"The best player that is sitting there, the very best player," Jerry says of addressing that perfunctory "need" question. "One thing Mike has basically emphasized with everybody is, 'I can change what I'm doing to the skills of the player if he's _the_ player.' He says, 'Get me the good player, and I'll put him to work with what he does best.'"

Or as Jerry says, "It's instinctively the best feel good to get the best football player."

Because the best football players usually make the best team.

And that's what this is all about. Not about spending the ranch to sign one or two players. Not about reaching simply to fit a need. Those needs should be minimized in free agency.

This is about putting together a team, causing Jerry to say of getting Dak signed, "The art of this deal is trying to get as much as you can," meaning doing as much as you can to get your cake but having enough remaining to buy something to wash it down.

So Jerry wants Dak and Amari, but Cobb, too. He wants Byron Jones, but Quinn, too. He wants Lee and even Jason Witten, yet still enough cap space for Collins, too.


Maybe, but the Cowboys must try the best they can. Because after all, the end idea for Jerry is this:

"It's a question of trying to make the Cowboys as good as we can make them."

And my guess is, that's darn sure what you guys want, too.

Yep, because it's all about The Team.