The Dallas Cowboys will be on the field today for their first official practice of this year's training camp. To set the stage for 2018 in Oxnard, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett fielded questions for over 45 minutes at the Cowboys opening press conference yesterday.
While this is truly just the start of being able to discuss what stands out from the team each day, here are some initial highlights of the Cowboys first press conference.
Though the three Cowboys representatives on the podium yesterday were far from new faces, the team will feature plenty of these on the field this season.
Six new positional coaches and a new ST Coordinator in Keith O'Quinn will work under Jason Garrett, who calls himself a "work in progress" along with the rest of his team.
Entering his eighth full season, many members of the media feel that Garrett's Cowboys must progress into the playoffs for him to continue as the head coach in Dallas, but Jerry Jones firmly assured this isn't the case.
Is this a playoff-or-bust year for Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones: "No.
Doubling down on this confidence in Garrett by calling him a, "better coach than he was a year ago", Jones is "excited" for Jason to lead this team once again. Hopefully part of that excitement stems from the amount of young players that are not already embedded on Garrett's message, giving him a clean start with so many key starters.
Of course, this exact same thinking applies even more so to the Cowboys new assistants, making up a coaching staff that is Jerry's, "number one reason for excitement this year".
Missing Pieces on Defense, But Still Deep
It wouldn't be a welcome to Dallas Cowboys training camp without talking about the players that aren't here in Oxnard. David Irving is the only notable name on this list (and for good reason), although Garrett did inform the media that Randy Gregory didn't participate in the team's conditioning test yesterday.
Garrett does not expect Gregory -- who the Cowboys say is preparing to play at a current weight of 242 pounds -- to do much early in camp. Just having him with the team is a morale boost for the Cowboys. Part of Gregory's extensive reinstatement effort were letters to Commissioner Goodell by Sean Lee, Jeff Heath, and Tyrone Crawford.
Jerry Jones says the team is proud that Randy Gregory is here at camp now that his suspension has been lifted. #cowboyswire
A steady program that gets Gregory back on the field when the games matter is best for all parties involved here.
This includes a very patient Jerry Jones, who already deemed the Cowboys front seven on defense as "exciting" on "the first day of training camp". Mentioning both Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, it's hard to argue with this being the case for a Dallas team at full strength.
A front seven that welcomes back Irving and Sean Lee along with Jaylon Smith and first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch is as promising a group as Rod Marinelli has had in four years as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.
No Progress on Earl Thomas
The Seattle Seahawks hold their training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, located in Renton, Washington. This puts a Seattle team without Earl Thomas (holding out) some 1,140 miles from the Cowboys contingency in Oxnard, and this is still the closest the two sides have been to a blockbuster trade involving the All-Pro safety since the NFL Draft.
If given the choice again, I firmly believe the Cowboys would still pick Connor Williams over Earl Thomas, which is exactly what they did when choosing to stick with the 50th overall pick. The rookie out of Texas will get the first crack at a starting left guard job abandoned by Jonathan Cooper in free agency.
As mentioned, there will annually be an obsession with players that aren't with the Cowboys around this time, and Thomas' constant pleas to leave the Seahawks and join the Cowboys is more than enough fuel to keep this fire burning well after training camp.
If the Cowboys leave Oxnard with any added buzz at the safety position though, it's far more likely it comes from Xavier Woods. Giving Thomas' former secondary coach Kris Richard a chance to work with Woods and the rest of the Cowboys safeties would be the smart approach.
Even Stephen Jones, who did not speak much during this press conference, said that "we all know Xavier Woods did a lot of impressive things last year". I'd love to follow up with Stephen and ask who's included in "we" here.
Calls for the Cowboys to do whatever it takes to land Thomas are going nowhere, but so too is the needle on any drastic changes anywhere on this Cowboys roster. They feel great about the state of this young roster, and as previously mentioned the coaching staff too.
That leaves little margin for the Cowboys to match the Seahawks level of desperation in shipping away Thomas for more young pieces of their own, with the safety's holdout being noteworthy only for the team responsible for keeping Dallas out of the playoffs a year ago.
Sources: Cowboys are running blood tests on S Kavon Frazier for a potential disorder that impacts clotting. Those tests will help determine if the condition can be managed by medication.
To a fault, the Cowboys have been overconfident in their own players before, and the need for experience at safety was only heightened hours after this press conference with the news that Kavon Frazier was placed on the NFI list while being examined for a blood clotting disorder.
Earl Thomas is far from the type of player they'll need to target if back in the market for a safety soon, and its hard for anyone close to Kris Richard to not propel the same optimism he has for every member of the Cowboys secondary already suiting up today.
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Lastly, if I may for a moment -- this will be my fourth training camp covering the Cowboys here at Inside The Star. Simply writing that out leaves me speechless, although that won't be the case on these pages over the coming weeks and straight into the 2018 season.
To all of you that make it possible for me to do what I love, a sincere thank you is in order simply for triumphing through another offseason. We can celebrate the return of football together, which I am honored to do annually with the responsibility given to me by our amazing staff.
The Cowboys begin their first practice at 6 PM CT tonight, with a Jason Garrett press conference scheduled for 2 PM.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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