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Friday, July 12, 2024

Cowboys ‘very aware’ of fan frustration over lack of free agent moves, clarify ‘all-in’ mission for 2024

SportsCowboys 'very aware' of fan frustration over lack of free agent moves, clarify 'all-in' mission for 2024

One could make a fair case that the Dallas Cowboys gaslit their fanbase this offseason. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones firmly declared Dallas would be “all-in” after getting wiped off the field in a 48-32 NFC Super Wild Card Weekend loss against the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers

Most people equate the phrase “all in” as it pertains to NFL roster construction as throwing caution to the wind and spending a lot of money and/or draft capital in the offseason to best position a team for a short-term run at the Super Bowl. The most recent team to successfully win a Super Bowl with that approach is the 2021 Los Angeles Rams

That’s not what the Cowboys have done this offseason. They’ve essentially done the opposite of that. Dallas was the last team to come to an agreement with a player in the league’s legal tampering period ahead of the start of the NFL’s new league year on Wednesday afternoon. That agreement was to re-sign long snapper Trent Sieg. Since then, the team has signed three others, two of whom have been re-signings: cornerback Jourdan Lewis returned on a one-year deal, special teams ace C.J. Goodwin is back, and the Cowboys signed 32-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker Eric Kendricks, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones communicated that the team is “very aware” of Dallas fans’ frustrations with its offseason moves after his father’s claims of being “all in” this offseason. Former wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receiving touchdowns, believes Dallas is signaling that it is rebuilding based on its relative inaction at this point in the offseason. 

“There’s a lot to be played out between now and our first game next year,” Jones said. “I don’t think you win a Super Bowl championship on the first, second or third day of the league year.”

Jones then revealed what he and Jerry define as “all-in”: retaining their own players. He also acknowledged the intensity of Cowboys fans’ discontent being noticeably different than after past postseason slip-ups. 

“Everybody certainly has that right,” Jones said. “I know where the frustration is; it’s the fact that we have not had a lot of success in the playoffs to their satisfaction. Until we do that, the criticism is certainly something that’s going to be there … but we are going to stick with what we believe will ultimately get us a championship for our fans. We don’t define all-in by what you spend in free agency. It’s keeping the core [together].”

On that front, Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb (both entering the final years of their contracts), as well as Micah Parsons (extension eligible for the first time this offseason) are all awaiting clarity on their long-term futures with the Cowboys. Other key Dallas players like left tackle Tyron Smith, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jayron Kearse remain unrestricted free agents at this moment. 

“It’s not frustrating because it means we’ve done a good job with the draft,” Jones said when asked about the team’s free agent inactivity in comparison to the rest of the NFL. “That’s just a sign, in my mind, that our organization, Will [McClay] and the scouting department, the coaches, we’ve done our job in terms of developing players. It’s a great thing when you have Micah and CeeDee and the Dak [contract] challenge ahead of us, in terms of getting them under the cap. We’re certainly all in on getting that done. When you want to keep your players that you’ve developed and worked so hard to get … then you’re not going to be able to go out and chase those (high-dollar free agent) guys. … The way I look at things, I’ve always said it, player acquisition is 365 days a year. It’s not just the first or second or third day of free agency.”

Why so many Cowboys fans’ frustrations are evident to Jones and the team’s management is because of their inaction in getting deals done with Prescott, Lamb and Parsons, Dallas hasn’t had much cap space to bring in external free agents. The team has had the opportunity to negotiate with Prescott, whose $59.5 million cap hit in 2024 is set to be the second-highest in the league, and spread that hit out across future years, which would have allowed the Cowboys to have the financial flexibility to contend for big-name free agents. Their NFC East rivals have all made major moves with the Philadelphia Eagles signing Saquon Barkley, the New York Giants trading for and extending Brian Burns and the Commanders signing multiple former Cowboys. 

“The cap number is so overblown in a given moment because you have to look at the cap with what the situation is going to look like not only this year, but next year,” Jones said of Prescott’s cap hit. “If you have to franchise (tag) because you’re having a tough negotiation not unlike we had with Dak three years ago, you have to be able to account for all things. But no, I feel like we’re able to cut and shoot. Dak has been willing to work with us. We’ve had great discussions about him and his contract. He’s all in on working with us. We’ve had personal discussions with Dak as well (as his agent). Other than that, that’s about all I’ll say about our negotiations with him. We want to keep those private. We won’t get into timelines or anything like that. Certainly a priority of ours.”

A number of Cowboys free agents departed for new teams in the opening days of free agency with Dallas not having much room to spend: running back Tony Pollard (three-year, $21.75 million deal with Tennessee Titans), center Tyler Biadasz (three-year, $29.3 million contract with Commanders), defensive end Dorance Armstrong (three-year, $33 million deal with Commanders), defensive end Dante Fowler (terms unknown on deal with Commanders) and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (one-year, $1.79 million contract with Miami Dolphins).

However, the Cowboys haven’t given up on Smith playing his 14th NFL season with them in 2024. 

“Tyron Smith’s going to be a Hall of Fame football player, and he’s had an amazing career,” Jones said. “We’ve not shut the door on a continued career here in Dallas. … He’s one of the great left tackles to play the game.”  

The Cowboys now claim their plan of attack going forward is to pounce on players who weren’t initially available during the legal tampering window as well as focus on the 2024 NFL Draft and beyond. 

“I don’t look at it as the next few weeks. I look at it as all the way up and through the season, in terms of how we continue to address this,” Jones said. “Just as we’ll all see, that first negotiating day, it’s wild and it’s big, big, big dollars. But as you see now, things are calming down. That’s where we think you can be efficient and do good things. I think we have in the past, whether it’s via trade or whether it’s via just like we did yesterday with Eric Kendricks. I’m sure there will be more players released around the league as people move forward and work within their cap. You never know what you might see that you don’t see today. Those are all things that we feel very prepared to make quick decisions on. And I look forward to it.”  

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