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Cowboys News: Stephen Jones says defense is the general priority this offseason

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Plus, how many Cowboys are at the top of the list of free agents?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Coach Mike McCarthy Press Conference Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys plan a defense-driven offseason, but that does not indicate a return for CB Byron Jones - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys haven’t been shy about their desire to ink Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to new deals this summer, but that sentiment hasn’t extended to Byron Jones. And even with a stated plan to focus on defense this offseason, Jones still isn’t getting much hype from the front office.

Cornerback is considered one of the deepest positions in the draft, which is April 23-25. Then again, wide receiver is viewed to be deeper yet.

The Cowboys have chosen to prioritize Cooper, for whom they traded a 2019 first-round draft pick when acquiring him from the Raiders in 2018. Stephen Jones said he met with Cooper and his agent, Chafie Fields, at the Super Bowl in Miami last month, calling the conversation “very upbeat.”

Dallas must sort through other areas on defense. Its defensive line is fluid with Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, Michael Bennett, Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington all due to become unrestricted free agents. Quinn and Collins, in particular, figure to command significant interest on the open market.

“In general, defense is the priority for this offseason,” Stephen Jones said. “Whether it’s getting some our own guys back or whether it’s free agency or whether it’s the draft, if you look at our roster obviously most of our offensive roster are either under contract or are going to have restrictions to where we’re going to have a great opportunity to keep them.”

Cowboys to begin talks to extend Blake Jarwin - @SlaterNFL

The Cowboys may or may not see Jason Witten return to Dallas next year as he weighs his options in free agency, but it seems that the team is about to get moving on another tight end whose contract is expiring this summer.

2020 NFL Draft: Tua Tagovailoa clarifies comments regarding Cowboys, says words got ‘changed around’ - Patrik Walker, CBS Sports

On Monday, Alabama star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sent Cowboys Twitter into a fit when he said the Cowboys would be his favorite team to play for. On Tuesday, Tagovailoa clarified his statements to ease any theories about the Cowboys making a massive trade up to get him.

“I grew up a Cowboys fan. I have two dogs that are named Dallas and Star. Just to tell you how big of a Cowboys fan I was. I’d be grateful to be drafted by any team.”

Even if Tagovailoa had/has eyes for the Cowboys, the likelihood of him landing in North Texas is virtually nil for a variety of reasons. Team owner Jerry Jones and VP of player personnel Stephen Jones have never wavered in their belief Prescott is both the present and the future of the franchise, and the latter recently hammered that point home yet again.

“Absolutely not,” the younger Jones said when asked if there was even a remote chance Prescott wouldn’t be the Cowboys signal-caller going forward. “Dak’s our quarterback. He’s our quarterback for the future.”

Cowboys position preview: Future of Dallas WR group will be decided in free agency and the draft - David Moore, DMN

The Cowboys wide receiver group will be a lot better if they can re-sign Amari Cooper.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones has said signing Cooper is the team’s No. 2 priority after quarterback Dak Prescott. If a deal isn’t reached soon, it will take a franchise or transition tag to keep him from hitting the open market. If a new collective bargaining agreement is reached and the Cowboys have only one tag to use, Cooper could unexpectedly find himself on the open market.

Still, the odds are Cooper will remain with the team. Cobb would like to return and you would think Mike McCarthy would want him back since he flourished under his system in Green Bay.

So, even though two of the team’s top three receivers from last season are free agents, it’s not out of the question the group will remain intact.

Top 101 NFL free agents of 2020: Tom Brady fourth-ranked QB - Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, NFL.com

It’s no secret that the Cowboys have some pretty big players with expiring contracts this year, but it may come as a shock just how many of them made NFL.com’s list of 101 top pending free agents.

#1. Dak Prescott - He began his rookie contract as an incomparable bargain, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and sending Tony Romo to the broadcast booth. He ended his rookie deal as an incomparable bargain, spending the 2019 season’s first three months on the periphery of the MVP race while leading one of the league’s most productive offenses. The free ride is over. The chickens have come home to roost. The bill has come due. It’s time to pay the piper. The bag man cometh.

#3. Amari Cooper - One of the league’s premier route runners and boundary specialists, Cooper’s presence in Dallas is one of the primary reasons for Prescott’s place atop this list. Dak has played the best ball of his career since the former No. 4 overall pick arrived to fill the No. 1 receiver void left by Dez Bryant’s decline and departure.

#9. Byron Jones - Jerry Jones isn’t one to lose his stars, but he’s in a bit of a bind with Jones as the talented third wheel, tagging along behind Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper in the contract line. A rare athlete, Jones started his career at safety before moving to his current cornerback role that calls for the weekly stifling of top receiving threats.

Ron Rivera explains why he took Redskins job, passing on interest from Cowboys, Giants, and Browns - Jordan Dajani, CBS Sports

As it became clear the Cowboys would go hunting for a head coach after the 2019 season, Ron Rivera’s name popped up as a candidate for the job in many people’s minds. Yet, Rivera signed with the Redskins pretty quickly. On Tuesday, he explained that while he did have interest from Dallas, he preferred Washington.

“It’s funny because everyone kept asking, ‘Why did you take the job so quickly?’” Rivera said. “It ain’t about the money. I really thought about it. I could’ve waited on the Giants. I could’ve waited on Cleveland. I could’ve waited on Dallas. Those are the teams we kept hearing (had interest). This is about the fit, and the more I listened, the more I looked at it, the more I looked at the roster, that’s what impressed me the most, the more I knew.”

“I came in (to initial talks) with some trepidation, but as I’ve gotten to know Mr. Snyder, I understand really all he wants to do is figure out how to win, and that is pretty exciting.”

Redskins owner Dan Snyder is known for wanting to be more involved with roster decisions than the average owner, but with a savvy coach now in the building, it appears he’s now comfortable with a new power structure for the organization. Rivera will have more control and responsibility than he did with the Panthers — which is certainly another thing that is attractive about this job.

Rivera will reportedly oversee more front-office moves, and has brought Rob Rogers with him from Carolina to serve as senior vice president of football administration in charge of the salary cap as well as contract negotiations.

Could Salary Cap Issues Force Cowboys Into Restructuring Contracts? - Jess Haynie, Inside the Star

The Cowboys are set to enter free agency with a pretty big amount of cap space, but they also have a big list of players to pay. With such a tricky situation incoming, they might look to restructure some contracts to ease their ability to pay everyone they want to.

The players that immediately come to my mind here are our star offensive linemen. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all have received their big paydays and still have significant wiggle room on the back ends of their contracts.

Let’s look at Tyron specifically. Here are the remaining years of his contract with their current cap hits, base salaries, and dead money:

2020: $10M base, $13.5 cap hit, $5.3 dead (if released)

2021: $10.5 base, $12.2 cap hit, $1.7 dead (if released)

2022: $13.5 base, $13.5 cap hit, $0 dead (if released)

2023: $13.6 base, $13.6 cap hit, $0 (if released)

You see where the Cowboys might get enticed? They have the potential to create some major space in these seasons by converting Smith’s base salaries. The cost, though, would be losing flexibility in the later years. And while we’d like to think that Tyron Smith will still be an elite left tackle for the next four seasons, there are some red flags against that hope.

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