OXNARD, Calif.— Jerry Jones’ tone spoke as loudly as his words.

The Cowboys owner, on Tuesday, referred to narratives he was “sensitive” to; narratives that make him “uncomfortable.” He follows and invites talk surrounding his high-profile NFL franchise. And yet, when narratives spin from his control, he’s apt to try to draw them back in.

So yes, the owner who doubles as general manager is aware fans have questioned the Cowboys’ commitment to winning this offseason.

If they’re raring for a championship, some wondered, where were roster upgrades after the wild-card loss? Why did the Cowboys’ coaching staff remain nearly identical, save a new wide receiver coach and special teams assistant? And why does a team so often concerned about salary cap limitations now carry the second most free money in the league? (The Browns have $48.3 million in available cap room, according to overthecap.com, before the Cowboys’ $22.5 million trounces the league’s remaining 30 teams).

NEVER MISS A SNAP:Sign up for our NFL newsletter for exclusive content

Jones answered at length Tuesday even when he was not asked directly and, on some topics, not asked at all.

“We have put a lot out there for the fans,” Jones said. “A lot for the Dallas Cowboys out there. And we are not screwing around.”

Here are four key takeaways we learned about the Cowboys’ self-assessment:

Roster remorse?

Cowboys fans decried trading star receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland for merely a fifth-round selection. They scoffed at defensive end Randy Gregory signing with the Denver Broncos when the Cowboys offered him identical financial terms. They questioned starting right tackle La’el Collins’ release.

“We’ve lost three really high-profile players,” Jones said. “Those decisions were made more about availability than ability.”

Cooper missed two games last season while battling COVID-19 while unvaccinated. Collins missed five games due to suspension for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. Gregory missed one due to COVID and four due to injuries that ultimately required knee and shoulder surgeries in the offseason.

Jones repeated “availability” six times in his explanation.

“Your standards go up,” Jones said. “Your bar is higher. Your conduct is higher. Your attention to the team is higher. Not just your performance, but everything.

“I don’t want to demean any player. I love those players personally. But you have to have the No. 1 thing, is how we win a football game, if you want to be in the top 10. Check ‘I’ at the door. It’s ‘we’ when you go through the door.”

Expect returning receivers CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup (still recovering from ACL tear) to receive help from free-agent James Washington, third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert and versatile weapon Tony Pollard. Veteran Dante Fowler Jr., re-signed Dorance Armstrong and second-round rookie Sam Williams will complement starting left end DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tag, Dalton Schultz is it

The Cowboys placed a $10.9 million franchise tag on tight end Dalton Schultz in March. No momentum for a long-term deal built before the July 15 negotiating deadline. A person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports two days prior to that deadline that the deal had “less than 1% chance” of closing as no progress had been made in the three weeks leading to the deadline. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly disclose details.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones painted a rosier picture on Tuesday.

“We tried,” Jones said. “It wasn’t that we necessarily weren’t talking about a long-term deal it just gets into, not unlike DeMarcus Lawrence, who ended up being a stalwart here, a foundation player for us; not unlike Dak Prescott, we know what we think of him. Sometimes when you’re getting your hands around what this team is going to look like not only this year but what this team will look like in the future, then you have to play that hand that way.

Schultz caught 78 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He contributed in every game, catching seven of eight targets for a game-high 89 yards in the Cowboys’ 23-17 wildcard loss to San Francisco.

Quarterback contract craze

The Cowboys awarded quarterback Dak Prescott a four-year extension worth $160 million 16 months ago. At the time, the only NFL player in history with a higher annual salary or guarantee was Chiefs quarterback (and Super Bowl winner) Patrick Mahomes.

In the short period since, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford have also reached and (all but Stafford) surpassed Prescott’s contract value. The Packers and Raiders also gave Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr, respectively, average annual salaries higher than that of Prescott.

The Cowboys see. They know.

“Any time you have a franchise quarterback, and we’re blessed to have one in Dak Prescott, that’s just the life you live,” Stephen Jones said. “We lived it with Troy (Aikman). We lived it with Tony (Romo). We’re living it with Dak and that’s a good thing. It’s a blessing we have a guy like Dak Prescott, who is not only a great, great football player but he’s a better man off the field.”

Prescott enters training camp healthy after a 2020 compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle, followed by 2021 strains to the latissimus muscle in his throwing shoulder and then his calf. The Cowboys hope the seventh-year passer can stay healthy and elevate young receivers this year.

Most room to improve

The Cowboys’ season ended in a confounding manner against the 49ers. Prescott had scrambled 17 yards, then slid. After some traffic on the way to the line, he and center Tyler Biadasz aimed to spot the ball for one last play. Miscommunication with officials resulted, and time instead expired before a valid spike. The suddenness shocked players. And yet, the Cowboys’ struggles to play within the rules had seeped through the entire season.

No team had more penalties in 2021 than the Cowboys’ 127. Only the Raiders (with 1,104) forfeited more penalty yards than Dallas’ 1,103. Training camp practices will emphasize the discipline needed to combat that trend.

“We want an aggressive, physical playstyle, and we crossed the line too much,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Our discipline is pulling back. This is not a group that I have to push forward. That’s is very important in how you train and the reality of the mistakes that are made and how we need to tighten it down.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys defend offseason strategies as NFL training camps begin

Source: Read Full Article