While we are still waiting for practices to get underway at Dallas Cowboys training camp, we have had the moment that signals things are officially underway. That was the opening press conference in Oxnard. Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Mike McCarthy spent over an hour looking forward to the season as well as some other things. It was the first real news we have had about the team in a long time. Except, there really wasn’t much “new” about it at all.
Maybe it is the over thirty years that Jerry has owned the team and been doing these things. There is no indication that he is going to change his ways. The same applies to his son Stephen. McCarthy may only be entering his third season with the team, but he also knows the ropes from his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. It really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. It still does little to spark excitement or optimism about the team.
One of the most predictable things to emerge was Stephen Jones once again defending his approach to the salary cap, free agency, and contract negotiations. If you have been around the Dallas sports scene for long, you probably cringed at the use of the term “dry powder” to describe the large cap space the Cowboys sit on. Stephen went on to once again hammer the point that contract negotiations have to look to the future. In a win now league, he continues to emphasize winning later.
He also discussed the Dalton Schultz situation. He said they just could not get their arms around a long-term deal, leaving Schultz to play on the tag. This invites skepticism. The owners decide just how wide to open the old pocketbook. If they truly wanted a multiyear deal done, they would have done it. Instead they have pushed things back a year, so if Schultz does stay with Dallas, he is going to be more expensive. Stephen also talked a bit about how they were coming up on another contract negotiation with Dak Prescott since they had to do a shorter one with him last time. His concept of how things work continues to be a decade or two behind the reality of the league.
One thing that did provide a bit of new insight, or at least some confirmation of something suspected, was the discussion about the “question marks” on the offensive line. Stephen fell back on the old “opportunities” argument. Forgive me, but in my working days, that was always an attempt to sell a bad situation usually created by the management/leadership as something that the worker bees had to bear the weight of. What this did imply was that the dry powder is being held in case solutions to the line problems, and other things, don’t emerge from within the roster. While it may not be the best approach, it did work out when the team added Malik Hooker last year during camp. Don’t be surprised to see a fairly steady stream of offensive linemen, linebackers, and wide receivers visiting Oxnard for workouts.
It was obvious that Jerry Jones is sensitive to criticisms and comments in the media, including the social variety. He came out of the gate defending McCarthy and claiming there was no real thought of replacing him. Undermining his own point was his mention of having other options. That indicates the Cowboys have had some kind of conversations with those other options. He also replayed his explanations about fostering speculation about Dan Quinn moving up to the head coach spot as a kind of poker bluff. There was some pushback on this in the form of a question about why he hadn’t already extended McCarthy if he believed in him so much, but given that McCarthy is just in the third year of his five-year deal, it was a rather ham-handed attempt.
One of the more questionable assertions to come out of the elder Jones was that he felt the team was in better shape this year than it was last season. Given the high optimism about the talent and depth of the roster last year, that felt hollow. It also seemed a bit awkward when he said that some of the offseason departures were already being considered a year ago. While the decisions on La’el Collins and Randy Gregory did get some validation with news that neither will be ready to start camp with their new teams, that is undermined by the attempt to sign Gregory. And others pointed out how they did re-sign both DeMarcus Lawrence and Michael Gallup, running counter to the argument made about how important availability is in these decisions given the games they missed last year.
These opening press conferences have always been about trying to get the hype going. That act has gotten old given the long drought of true playoff success for Dallas. Jerry insisted that winning is the real priority, but it falls flatter every year. The act has grown tired.
A topic not relevant to the performance of the team just drove it home. The failure to add Jimmy Johnson to the Ring of Honor came up, and Jerry gave an explanation that we have also heard before. He explained that it is his decision alone. The only logical conclusion is that he just doesn’t want to do it. The reasons seem petty. Johnson was the architect of the glory years of the nineties that made the team the attention magnet it remains. Him not being honored is absolutely a snub.
Perhaps it is a hangover from how the last season ended and the desultory offseason that generally ignored free agency. But it may just be that the hype and optimism has failed to take hold as the ownership continues to stick to the course that has been so unrewarding for years. We have heard it all before. We are weary.