Editorial note: This was written before Jason Witten’s return was announced, which just makes the headline all the more true.
The NFL Combine is underway! That means that after the long, three-week drought, football is back at the forefront of the sports world where the Good Lord meant it to be. Or something. The annual Underwear Olympics have morphed from a way to get a bunch of top college prospects together so all the teams can do some intense scouting at once into a true event - and not always because of the hopefuls getting measured, doing drills, and meeting with teams. The media gets to meet with owners, coaches, and agents, digging for information to feed the always hungry audience. And no team gets more attention than the Dallas Cowboys. That remains true, despite them not even having a first-round pick this year. (Insert obligatory, repetitious Amari Cooper reference here.)
Heck, the Cowboys have even started a legitimate tradition in Indianapolis.
I like to think one day every team will have their own bus at the combine. So far still 31 teams to go pic.twitter.com/DyxKOYGC2p— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) February 26, 2019
For some reason, other owners are more interested in buying obscenely expensive yachts than something as plebeian as buses. But it really makes sense that when the Cowboys speak, everybody listens. After all, there is really only one owner (or family of owners, since Jerry and Stephen Jones share the limelight) that anyone is really interested in talking to. (OK, Robert Kraft would certainly pull a lot of interest, but that is a rather specific and limited duration thing - and he would probably make Bill Belichick look absolutely loquacious in comparison).
Of course, sometimes events conspire to generate headlines about Dallas, as the team found out that Randy Gregory is out of football again.
#Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory has been suspended indefinitely for violating the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the terms of his conditional reinstatement. Big blow for Dallas.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2019
This is another tradition for the Cowboys, although definitely not the good kind, as they have had a projected starting defensive lineman suspended at the beginning of every season since Tom Landry retired, it feels like.
But this article is to remind you that there are a bunch of good things going on for the Cowboys as well. And to point out why the Jones family is the must-watch ownership of the entire league.
It’s not hard to figure out, and no, this is not a reference to Jerry’s, shall we say, rather eccentric and entertaining way of expressing himself. No, it is because he and Stephen have something unique that sets them apart from the rest of the owners.
They have football jobs. And actually do them.
To be completely honest, most NFL owners simply don’t understand what is going on with their teams the way the Jones family does. They don’t make day-to-day decisions, don’t grasp the true intricacies of cap management and contracts, or the complications of roster building. Most of them probably don’t know all of their players by name (even enough to mispronounce it, like the well known “Jason Whitten” Jerry often refers to) or their full staff. Heck, I’m not sure many of them can explain the difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, or what 11 personnel means.
But when Stephen Jones talks about contract negotiations, as he did on Tuesday, he has all the knowledge. His assessment of the status of things with DeMarcus Lawrence has credibility. It is the same with his father, Jerry. Both are involved deeply in just about everything that goes on with the Cowboys, especially involving contracts, free agency, and the draft. Even when the two seem to have a different slant on things, the reporters who hang on their every word realize that they are likely getting two views of a yet-unresolved position.
With all that in mind, the things that Stephen shared on upcoming contracts with their current players are very encouraging. Since the end of the past season, there has been a good deal of hand-wringing over whether the team could work out something with Lawrence without having to resort to a second (and very costly) tag on him. It turns out that reports of no progress were greatly exaggerated. The wording involved is worth noting as well, as was pointed out by Mike Fisher.
.@1053thefan Note the Quote: Stephen Jones confirms #Cowboys have ‘made our FIRST offer’ to @TankLawrence ... The exact opposite of Fightin words. https://t.co/tBY4XuUswG— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) February 26, 2019
Fish goes on to note that the overall tenor of things from Stephen were rather softball, as he spoke of coming to agreement on extensions, and lucrative ones, with Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones.
You wish that the league wasn’t so dedicated to the fiction of no early negotiating with free agents and their representatives. The question of what the team hopes to do about Earl Thomas, the great white whale for the Cowboys this year, was one you know every reporter wanted to ask. But, tampering and other such nonsense. The team certainly doesn’t want to do anything that would give Roger Goodell a way to divert attention off a situation that probably has him inventing new curse words as he faces yet another chance to display the smooth, just operation of the NFL’s discipline system.
Fortunately, free agency is just days away, starting on March 13th. And it may be the optimist in me, but the way Stephen was talking about how he was gonna pay everybody has me thinking that they have a definite plan for freeing up the money they need to get it all this year. Both their own and a key outsider or two. He as much as said they have an overall plan already in place, at least in some preliminary form.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones: “We’ve got it budgeted that we’re going to pay Zeke a significant contract at some point. ... We certainly saw what Gurley got paid and we know that’s probably where it starts, and we’ll go from there.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) February 26, 2019
This is what so many don’t stop to think about. Just because we don’t know about negotiations, that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Prior to this week, neither Stephen or Jerry was saying anything specific about such things. Reading into his statements (perhaps a bit too much, sue me) it could be that they already have some frameworks in place with most or all of the concerned representatives for what the new deals are going to entail.
That may include with Thomas as well, although that would never be admitted by any of the parties involved. It also may include the Gregory suspension, since teams often have a heads up about that stuff that we don’t know about. It may have even been a bit of impetus for getting that offer on the table as they seek to lock up the top free agent in the league and get a better handle on what they need to do to shore up that now weakened defensive line.
The Gregory news was obviously a shock to the system. Still, other things seem to be moving along for the Cowboys. The path ahead just got a lot more difficult, but there are still some reasons for a bit of optimism. The personnel office for the Cowboys, with Will McClay doing his job so skillfully finding talent to add to the roster, has been very strong in recent years. Another good performance will help keep the team on track for the coming season. It is mostly off to a good start despite the latest bad news.