The Cowboys don't schedule joint practices every year, but they have done it frequently enough in the past that for Cowboys fans they have become a routine part of training camp. In 2014, the Cowboys held joint practices with the Raiders, and before skipping a year in 2013, had joint workouts with the Chargers in 2011 and 2012 when Norv Turner was still the head coach in San Diego. Before that, the Cowboys frequently had such joint workouts with the Broncos and Raiders.
In 2015, the Cowboys held joint practices with the Rams, but the first day of practice degenerated into extended brawls that ultimately led to the cancellation of the second day of scheduled joint practices.
When the Rams moved back to Los Angeles in 2016, they would have been the natural choice for joint practices, but Jason Garrett made it clear, in the most diplomatic terms possible, that there wouldn't be any further practices with the Rams until changes were made to the top of the Rams' coaching staff.
"But you have to have a similar approach as an organization. We want to get the same thing out of this. We are not interested in fighting. We are interested in making these couple of days we are together productive. If we can find a team that we have shared valued with, it can be a productive time for your team."
The Cowboys didn't have joint practices with another team last year, but which team could the Cowboys pair up with this year?
The Rams replaced head coach Jeff Fisher with Sean McVay, and also swapped out both coordinators, replacing offensive coordinator Rob Boras with Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with Wade Phillips. That, along with Jerry Jones' help in getting the Rams moved to Los Angeles, as well as the fact that they have their training camp just a few miles down the road from Oxnard in Thousand Oaks, makes the Rams prime candidates for joint practices.
Joint practices are often held in the week before the two teams meet in the preseason, and the Cowboys and Rams are scheduled to meet in Week 1 of preseason in Los Angeles (Saturday, August 12) which would make them a very good fit for joint practices.
Geographically, the Raiders, Chargers, and 49ers, might also make sense. However, the 49ers have already committed to joint practices with the Broncos this year, so they're likely out for the Cowboys. The Chargers might still be upset with Jerry Jones' role in getting the Rams to LA, leaving the Chargers as the clear losers in the LA sweepstakes, and might balk at joint practices with the Cowboys. The soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders might be an interesting alternate if the Rams don't work out.
One attraction of practicing against the Raiders is that their fans bring a lot of energy to the atmosphere in Oxnard, so much so that the Cowboys and Raiders fans were separated the last time the two teams met for joint practices in 2014. But the Cowboys liked what they got from the joint sessions.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett considered the emotionally charged atmosphere for the team’s joint practices with the Oakland Raiders – created in large part by having Cowboys fans on one side of the facility and Raiders fans on the other – to be a great thing.
"I thought it was a fantastic day of practice," Garrett said. "I really did. It was as electric an atmosphere as I’ve been around on a practice field, really in my life. Our offense had a tremendous home-field advantage over there with a lot of Cowboys fans on the offensive side and the defense was playing on the road a little bit. But I just thought the atmosphere was great.
"I thought both teams handled it really well. We talked about scratch, claw, fight from snap to whistle. A couple of times it boiled over after the whistle, but I thought the teams did a great job just getting separated and getting back to work."
The Cowboys host the Raiders in Dallas in preseason Week 3 (Saturday, August 26), so Jerry Jones might see joint practices with the Raiders as a way to generate a lot of traffic to the new practice facilities in Frisco. The Cowboys will break camp in Oxnard on August 18 and will resume practices (which will be open to the public) on August 21 in Frisco.
Another option: the Cowboys host the Colts in preseason Week 2 in Dallas (Saturday, August 19), so the Colts could conceivably join the Cowboys for joint practices in Oxnard before traveling to Dallas together, though that feels like a lot of unnecessary travel for the Colts. Plus the Colts already have joint practices scheduled with the Lions the week before, so they might have already had their fill.
Overall, it looks like the Rams are the logical partner for joint practices this year, but the Raiders could be an interesting alternative.
The trick with these joint practices of course is to not let them degenerate into a two-day brawl, as they often did when the Cowboys and Raiders met up in the 90s. At that time, the joint practices were largely a product of the close relationship Jerry Jones had with Al Davis.
But not all teams like these joint practices. The Bears have already said they won't have any joint practices this year, largely as a precautionary measure against injuries. And early reports out of New York suggest the Giants will likely stay by themselves throughout training camp.
Other teams embrace these joint practices. The Patriots for example are talking to both the Texans and Jaguars about practicing together this year, and held joint practices with the Saints and Bears in 2016.
Joint practices can help break up the monotony of training camp, but they can also help improve player evaluation. As camp wears on, players begin figuring out and keying in on offensive and defensive tendencies of their teammates on the other side of the ball, which can make them look better than they actually are.
Practicing against an opponent that uses different schemes will give the players a new and different challenge, and gives coaches and scouts new and different film to evaluate. It also provides players with the opportunity to practice (and show up on film) in a "live" environment, especially since coaches usually script these practices. Because the practices are scripted, each team gets to practice exactly what they want - against NFL caliber competition.
Coaches can work their two-minute drills, practice 3rd-down situations, throw in some red zone work, and check out how the new wrinkles they've added in the offseason stand up against real competition. All in a controlled, scripted environment - something they won't get in the four (or five) preseason games.
Even though preseason games may not be real NFL football, they are still real games, where the play calls depend on the ebb and flow of the game. Your first team offense may not get a red zone possession before they hit their allotted snap count; your return unit may end up with a bunch of touchbacks and no returns; and the new play-action defense you just installed may not get tested because the other team had no interest in play-action.
All of this can be properly managed in a joint practice, where you can ensure the entire depth chart gets the reps they need.
And just as importantly, the joint practices allow veterans to get situational snaps in practice and then watch players on the bubble play in their stead in the preseason games, which will keep a team's key players out of the trainer's room or doctor's office in August and ready to go in September.
Notable joint practices tentatively announced:
- Lions @ Colts (Aug. 10 and 11)
- Jaguars @ Patriots (prior to Week 1)
- Patriost @ Texans (prior to Week 2)
- Broncos @ 49ers (prior to Week 2)
- Buccaneers @ Bengals (prior to Week 1)
Teams ruling out joint practices in 2017: Bears, Giants (probably)