The NFL drought is underway. We face one every year after the conclusion of OTAs, but it got off to an early start during the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic. While the Dallas Cowboys gave us a lot to be excited about with what looks like a productive group of free agent signings and that stunningly good draft, now we are just counting the days until actual football activities resume - with no idea exactly how high the count will get.
That doesn’t stop us from thinking about the Cowboys.
The Dak contract impasse
Keeping it very brief, the Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on QB Dak Prescott while negotiations on a new contract are at an apparent standstill. The block to getting that done reportedly comes down to length, with the team wanting five years to get more control over him, and his side insisting on a four-year deal to get him to his next, and presumably much more lucrative, contract negotiation.
All reports indicate that the average annual value for both options is $35 million. If they see much extra value in having him on the longer deal, they need to man up and make it more rewarding. In other words, they need to make it worth more per year, since signing for five will keep Prescott from getting to a bigger payday one more year, while facing the ever present risk of injury that could ruin it all.
Dallas is looking around the league and realizing that the $40-million-a-year quarterback is just a matter of time, and with Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson all in a position to get new contracts through extensions within the next year, it isn’t much time. Mahomes may get his bag before the start of camp.
So the Cowboys really need to bite the bullet and put some extra money on the table if they really want that fifth year. Otherwise, it just seems unreasonable to expect Prescott and his agent to agree to the longer term. My prediction is that the Jones family is not going to budge, and will either let him play on the tag, which will just make it almost certain he enters that $40 million strata after this season, or, as they have done with Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarcus Lawrence, cave and sign him for four years just before the July 15 deadline.
If you would like a much more detailed analysis of the intricacies of this negotiation, former sports agent Joel Corry has one that gets into the real nitty-gritty at CBS Sports that might interest you.
The tight end situation is intriguing
The Cowboys currently have five tight ends on the roster, but right now, only Blake Jarwin is a roster lock. That leaves Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell, Sean McKeon, and Cole Hikutini contending for the remaining spots. The question is not how they shake out in camp. It’s how many spots there will be.
The advent of Mike McCarthy has already led to some obvious changes in the approach to building the roster, like the “scout’s draft” that was, at least on paper, so wildly successful and the acquisition of a man-mountain in Dontari Poe to man the nose tackle position. Another change may be a de-emphasis of the tight end, particularly in the running game. As has long been argued here, the best way to open up running lanes for Elliott, Tony Pollard, whoever else makes the squad as a ball carrier, and even Prescott, is not to put an additional in-line TE on the field. It is to go with three or even four wide receivers and spread the defense out.
If wishes come true, the Cowboys will just carry three TEs on the season roster. And the primary consideration in who makes the team should not be blocking, but how good a target they are for Prescott. That is clearly Jarwin’s value. The fact they moved on from Jason Witten is another hint that this might be the direction now.
The worst job on the Cowboys
The harsh reality is that while the team can carry 90 players in the offseason, there are only 65 positions available after camp, between the game day roster and the expanded practice squad. Two of those PS players will be eligible under the new CBA to be activated each week, so there is some extra money in the offing for them.
But that means that 25 players will see their football dreams end with the cutdown at the end of camp, unless they can hook on with another team. (There will also be more churn after that.) And some of the current members of the roster have to realize that their chances are slim at best.
While just being part of the Star for a brief time is nice, it is rough to know that you are in reality just a camp body. And given the current situation, the one player that likely realizes he falls into that category is Clayton Thorson. In the quarterback room, he is looking at the franchise QB for now and the future, arguably the best QB2 in the league in Andy Dalton, and McCarthy pet cat Ben DiNucci. Thorson has to feel at times like an afterthought, whose only real contribution looks to be spreading the workload around.
Everyone else can at least keep some faint hope alive of catching fire and finding a way to keep a job with the team. The only other player who might feel the same is long snapper Joe Fortunato, who was brought in as a way to keep from overworking Mr. Perfect L.P. Ladouceur. But even he can find some tiny hope in his role as an insurance policy. I don’t even think that is a chance for Thorson.
Of course, Jameill Showers found a way to hang around for a couple of years playing special teams, so who can really say? Still, it has to be rough on Thorson looking at that steep and slippery slope ahead of him.
Finally, a personal note
I’ve been thinking about how in August I will start my tenth year writing for Blogging the Boys. This incredibly fun journey started out with no real confidence that I could measure up to a staff that included tremendous writers and analysts like One Cool Customer, K.D. Drummond, and Rabblerousr, but here I am, still plugging away and enjoying it all. I’ve even branched out into podcasting, which I hope will be a part of my participation as long as my voice and (I old) memory hold out.
But the amazing thing is that when I write something for the site, it attracts thousands of readers. That still seems unreal to me. I always wanted to be a writer with an audience, although I never envisioned that this old band geek would find that as a football guy, much less covering the glamour franchise of the NFL, and the team I have followed since I started watching the games with my father as a teenager. And the one of the best parts of doing this is that I get to sit around and just think about things, then share those thoughts with you. I get to live my dream.
To everyone who read and hopefully enjoyed any of my articles, and those who for some reason like to listen to me rambling on in the pods, thank you so very much.
Now let’s cheer this team on to another ring.