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Cowboys training camp: Present is meeting the future across the Dallas roster

The Cowboys are constantly looking ahead.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever people ask me what my favorite movie is I always respond that it is Back To The Future... the trilogy. The three movies are one gigantic story. Of course they are individual movies that were released at individual points in time (no pun intended) the first two literally end with “to be continued” messaging, but nobody can watch a single BTTF movie in a vacuum.

How the story ties together the complex idea of time travel with the plots involving the characters is very impressive, especially part two of the franchise when Marty and The Doc have to re-visit 1955 together and run into their past selves who are also on a mission related to time travel.

This feels relevant these days because with the Dallas Cowboys squarely now in the middle of training camp it is obvious how they are doing their own bit of management across different points in time, the present and the future.

It is clear that the Cowboys have plans in place at key positions along the roster

Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson wrote about the Cowboys following their initial press conference out in Oxnard and talked about the pressure associated with Zack Martin’s holdout. It is excellent and very much worth your time.

Not to speak for Mr. Robinson, but the premise was that the Cowboys have a bit of a window that seems to be closing that is evidenced by someone like Zack Martin, a situation that exacerbates the idea of getting him taken care of in order to maximize the window. You get it. This section sums up the idea well.

That layering of talent includes some core players who are entering a portion of their career where they are either deep into their prime years or tiptoeing toward the end of it. Among them, you can now count quarterback Dak Prescott, who will turn 30 on Saturday and has now started 103 games — including the playoffs — during his career. Surrounding him, a pair of 32-year-old offensive pillars in tackle Tyron Smith and Martin at guard (when he eventually reports), and wideout acquisition Brandin Cooks, who turns 30 in September. Rounding out the longish-in-the-tooth defensive experience: defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (31), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (32), and a pair of late-20s safeties in Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson.

That’s not exactly an “all-in or bust” group when it comes to experience. But the implications of this team are clear. The Cowboys have a roster saturated with young talent and a handful of aging stars or starters who are entering dicey territory when it comes to the implications of their contracts. Prescott is entering a phase where he’s going to need to do an extension next offseason to get some relief from a $54.9 million salary-cap number. Martin’s impending push for a raise could signal a literal changing of the guard next offseason. Meanwhile, Smith, Lawrence and Gilmore could all be let go in free agency next offseason.


This is how the 2023 Super Bowl push should be processed: as a last grasp for a handful of aging players who might not be in Oxnard when camp kicks off in 2024. But also as a group of lingering foundational veterans who helped Dallas recapture some winning consistency under McCarthy. A group that has captured the heart of Jerry, who is the only general manager in the league who can see his aging talent through the lens of three decades of players who came and went without a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of merit to what Robinson is writing about here. The Cowboys have a lot of very good players on their roster and the nucleus of them is a bit older when it comes to how the sport of football measures time. Tomorrow is not promised, let alone the 2024 or 2025 season as far as the current state and talent levels of everyone in Oxnard right now.

I was mentally rolling through players who are already on the Cowboys that are seemingly well-equipped to slide in for the “older” veterans whenever they are no longer around. And then on Thursday afternoon the mothership’s Kyle Youmans summed up the idea well.

The Cowboys have an incredibly young team which is why we are excited about the future, even if that future is a world without some names that we hold near and dear to our hearts. Shoot, we have spilled a lot of ink this offseason talking about names (Trevon Diggs, Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Terence Steele and Tyler Biadasz) that are in need of some new contracts. That in and of itself is a sign at how well-stocked the Cowboys are setting themselves up to be when the likes of Gilmore, Cooks, Lawrence, Pollard, Vander Esch or whoever else are no longer a part of the team.

Of course there is just as much a non-guarantee that the younger players on the Cowboys will easily step up and become high-level contributors like some of the people we have listed. But, and forgive the cliché beam of optimism so early in camp, the Cowboys are sort of having their cake and eating it too here. They have a stout roster at the moment and are wisely preparing for when it has to go through inevitable change.

It is hard to live in both the present and the future but the Cowboys seem to be toeing that line as well as they have in recent memory. Good for them.

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