Cowboys’ Joneses on Dak’s future, Zeke’s return, OC change, new OBJ pursuit
Much of the Cowboys brain trust is in Mobile, Alabama this week for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. And while the thrust of the all-star event is for clubs to meet and evaluate high-potential prospects in advance of the NFL draft, the format also allows plenty of time for teams’ mouthpieces to give updates on how their organizations will approach the draft, free agency, and contract negotiations over the next several months.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones both managed to find a contingent of of the team’s beat writers on Wednesday, and neither was shy about offering a peek behind the curtain when it comes to what’s on the offseason agenda at The Star.
Here’s a sampling of what the Joneses had to say about some of the more pressing issues facing America’s Team, as per on-site reports from Todd Archer, Nick Eatman, Clarence Hill Jr., and Calvin Watkins, as well as the team website.
On current OC opening
Aug 4, 2022; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore (left) and head coach Mike McCarthy during training camp at River Ridge Playing Fields in Oxnard, California. Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry did confirm to reporters that head coach Mike McCarthy will call plays for the offense in 2023. He also revealed that Panthers assistant head coach/RB coach Jeff Nixon and Rams assistant head coach/TE coach Thomas Brown were interviewing for the open offensive coordinator position.
Stephen Jones also explained that philosophical differences between McCarthy and Kellen Moore were a factor in the decision for Moore to move on from Dallas.
“I think Mike really felt like it was in our best interest to keep Kellen when he first got here, because Kellen’s outstanding,” Stephen said. “But the more he’s been around Kellen, and as much as he respects him, there’s still a part of it that doesn’t totally jibe, if you will, with what he wants out of the offense.”
And what McCarthy wants, apparently, is something closer to what he had with the Packers.
“It will be- I’m sure with added nuances of the times, but more importantly the personnel,” Jerry explained, “but it will be in principle, the way he operated in Green Bay, which, I’m sure he’ll tell you, evolved.”
On Dak Prescott's future
TAMPA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 16: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts at the line of scrimmage against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Interceptions or no, the Cowboys aren’t moving away from Prescott as their quarterback, but that doesn’t mean the position won’t get some offseason attention from the Dallas front office.
The team is “committed” to Prescott long-term, said Stephen, who went on to suggest that the veteran could be the franchise quarterback “for the next 10 years.”
Prescott’s current contract runs for the next two seasons, but he could return to the bargaining table far sooner. Stephen offered that the team is open to extending Prescott’s contract as a way to clear some salary cap space in the short-term. He’s set to have a $49 million hit in 2023 and over $52 million in 2024; a restructured deal would give the club more cash to work with while spreading out the financial obligation to Prescott and also showing their commitment to him.
Stephen noted that the top 10 to 12 quarterbacks across the league will earn more than $40 million this coming season and that Prescott “deserves to be in that number.”
But fans can still expect the team to draft a young passer this spring. Jerry told media members that he should have long ago committed to drafting one every year as a matter of procedure, constantly refreshing the talent pool with a young arm just in case it’s needed. (Watching seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy lead the 49ers to a conference championship is sure to have several club- not just the Cowboys- re-thinking their draft strategy at the position.)
On Ezekiel Elliott's future
Dec 29, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) waits to take the field before the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Both Jerry and Stephen said that they want Elliott back with the team in 2023. Despite the seven-year vet’s career lows in rushing attempts, rushing yards, yards per attempt, yards per game, and 100-yard games, Stephen bizarrely went so far as to claim that he didn’t see a dropoff in the running back’s production this past season.
But the astronomical contract Elliott signed in 2019 will indeed be a factor, and bringing him back to the Cowboys for an eighth season “has to work financially” for both sides, Stephen admitted.
Elliott is scheduled to make $10.9 million in 2023, a figure that comes with a $16.72 million cap hit. The two-time rushing champ has said he’d be willing to restructure his deal and take a pay cut in order to stay with the team.
Fellow Cowboys rusher Tony Pollard could also play into any decision regarding Elliott. Pollard had the better statistical season, but he suffered a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula in the team’s playoff loss in San Francisco and is set to become a free agent this offseason. If the Cowboys are unwilling or unable to retain Pollard, losing Elliott at the same time would force the club to start from scratch at the position.
But Stephen also said that Pollard will likely get a new contract if he is not given the franchise tag.
On state of Cowboys' WRs
PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 22: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the New York Giants runs to the field prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Cowboys made a tactical error in their approach at wide receiver in 2022, and Jerry admits it. Trading away Amari Cooper weakened the team at the position, but Dallas elected to essentially cross their fingers and hope for the best from a room full of youngsters, newcomers, and players coming off injury.
“You could say that we probably had too much reliance on what [rookie Jalen] Tolbert could do, because we were high on him coming out and thought he could immediately be a factor. We had thought that possibly we could have better results relative to [Michael] Gallup as far as his rehab,” Jerry said.
The owner maintains that he likes that the team used the money they saved by dealing Cooper to sign players such as Dorance Armstrong, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jayron Kearse, but he also knows the team has to get more from their other pass-catchers in 2023.
Stephen does, too, and appeared to hint at the team making another run at Odell Beckham Jr. After a very public midseason courtship, it was determined that the free agent receiver wasn’t close enough to a full return to help the team in December and January. The two sides, though, agreed to revisit the situation during the offseason. “That’s how we left it,” Stephen said.
Current player updates
Aug 21, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) blocs Houston Texans outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (50) in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Joneses gave updates on a few other notable players, too.
Offensive lineman Tyron Smith had “minor” arthroscopic knee surgery, but is expected to be back with the Cowboys in 2023.
41-year-old offensive lineman Jason Peters is set to be a free agent, but Stephen believes he’ll return, calling him “a valuable piece for us.”
Safety Malik Hooker had thumb surgery; linebacker Luke Gifford underwent a procedure for a core muscle injury.
Jerry said that the Cowboys are “starting over” at the kicker position.