Cowboys say second-round pick agreed to 'work ethic contract' before drafting him

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Dallas Cowboys asked UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill, the team’s second-round pick (and top overall selection), to agree to a “work ethic contract” with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli prior to the team picking him on Friday.

Even with it being a “handshake deal,” this report raises all kinds of questions — starting with it not likely being binding in any formal way. The NFLPA is certain to get involved in this story and start poking around to ask what exactly was signed, because from an NFL standpoint the “contract” is likely not at all enforceable on any level.

Hill is a talented player who lost his starting job with the new coaching staff at Central Florida last season, starting only one of his 13 games played. His numbers actually went up, but Hill didn’t buy into the system initially, according to what scouts had told Yahoo Sports during the run-up to the draft.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli spoke about Hill to the Dallas media after the pick was made and said that this was a standard agreement he asks of all his players.

“I do this with every guy from a free agent to a draft pick, just my own copy of it, back and forth, front and back,” Marinelli said. “It talks about how we play, what I ask of you in practice, day of games, all of it. I am very clear on it. I said to him, ‘If it doesn’t fit you, tell me now, because you will not be happy here. I told him to keep it, and he said, ‘Coach I feel great about this.’

“It’s just about how you play. It’s a lot of different things, but how you carry yourself, how you play in our system. The effort and the want to, every snap. We’re unique that way – how hard we practice and play. I usually see that on film early with guys. He really plays hard. If you watch his tape, he really hustles. That’s the passion we want in these guys.”

So if he has the passion ... why the need for this “contract?” That’s the burning question here.

UCF defensive lineman Trysten Hill was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys but not before he signed a "work ethic contract." (AP Photo)
UCF defensive lineman Trysten Hill was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys but not before he signed a "work ethic contract." (AP Photo)

What exactly is a ‘work ethic contract?’

This is new for us, especially before a player has been selected. We’ve heard of coaches issuing codifications — i.e., a verbal, non-binding agreement — with players on their expectations once a player has joined a new team. But we’ve never heard of a team saying a player needed to agree to something prior to being picked.

Plenty of players enter the NFL with reputations for not having great work ethics. But the onus is on the individual clubs to do their own research and scouting on players and determine the level of risk they’re willing to invest before spending a draft pick on them. Asking them to agree to terms as a condition of their being selected is not allowed in any binding way.

This certainly is in direct violation of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and is sure to anger the players’ union. Yahoo Sports has reached out to Hill’s agent, Jon Perzley, as well as the union and is waiting to hear back for their responses.

How Trysten Hill felt about the contract

Hill said he met with Marinelli at his pro day and had dinner with him. It’s not clear if Hill agreed to anything then with his now-defensive coordinator, or whether that happened later on.

But it sounds like he’s all in on whatever the agreement was.

“I can’t put into words how important our relationship is with each other,” Hill said. “He wants the best out of me, and I want to give him everything I’ve got. Him really taking hold of me this whole process, and me being able to call him and chat with him and hear his voice was huge in this whole ordeal.”

Head coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys did do their homework on the player and made several calls to figure out if he had the work ethic to follow their demands.

“We absolutely did. We got very comfortable with the question. We had the same question everybody else had,” Garrett said. “He plays well in 2017 and then is not a starter in 2018, but he’s playing a lot. What’s going on there? That’s one of the questions we tried to get to the bottom of. The scouts do a great job providing a lot of that background for us.

“We as coaches got into that discussion when we got to know Trysten a little bit more. We talked to a lot of people there. We talked to a lot of guys on the previous staff and felt very good about the kind of young man he is. He’s still a young guy. He’s still maturing. The stuff that we think is most important, he loves ball. He wants to work at it. He wants to be great. He wants to be part of something special. We feel like he has all those qualities. Hopefully, we put him in a good environment where we bring all that out of him.”

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