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The Dallas Cowboys’ signing of linebacker Jaylon Smith to an extension Tuesday wasn’t such a big deal because of who got signed, but rather who didn’t.
Now management is using the deal as a weapon in the team’s very public contract negotiations with their offensive stars.
While the Cowboys locked up a key piece of their emerging young defense, their three offensive stars remain without new deals.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are all in reported negotiations with the team.
Cowboys use Smith deal to target agents
The team made Smith’s contract extension public on Wednesday in a news conference.
Cowboys brass leveraged the occasion to ramp up pressure on negotiations, with executive vice president — and son of Jerry Jones — Stephen Jones taking his shot in the ongoing contract soap opera.
Jones set his sights not on the players, but their agents.
“I have a lot of respect for, you know, most agents,” Jones told reporters. “I really do. I think they’re trying to do their job for these players. But I do think sometimes they don’t have the end game that maybe the players should and we do.”
Who’s the intended target?
The comment wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. No names were named. But with Elliott’s holdout escalating into a public spat between agent Rocky Arceneaux and Jerry Jones, it’s not hard to do the math on who the target is here.
Arceneaux is a veteran NFL agent who founded the Alliance Management Group that has represented players like Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson. He’s negotiated high-profile deals before.
But by leaving names unnamed, Jones made sure the message was delivered in terms of Prescott and Cooper’s negotiations as well.
So do you care about money or winning?
Jones continued to pile on the pressure with talk of winning and championships, shining a negative light on players and agents fighting for their own financial best interests in an apparent attempt to pit players against their agents.
“I think sometimes our players have to realize that their representatives don’t always have what’s in the best interest, getting the very most they can for the players may not be in the interest of their long-term future if they want to – and I’m totally convicted all our players do – want to win championships and keep these young players right now. I don’t think the representatives, and they’re all good ones, feel like that’s their problem.”
Jones is right there on one point. It’s not the agents’ problem to worry about championships. Their jobs are to get the best possible deals they can for their clients. It’s management’s job to worry about budgeting in terms of building championship contenders.
Blame the salary cap
And it’s a challenge of their own making. Ownership has engrained the salary cap into the fabric of the collective bargaining agreement. And the Cowboys are left to worry about divvying up the pie rather than pay true market value for their stars.
And make no mistake. This is 100 percent a salary cap issue. Forbes recently estimated Jerry Jones to have a net worth of $5 billion after buying the Cowboys for $140 million in 1989. Paying players their true market value is not an organic problem for the Cowboys.
But the cap exists, and the Cowboys are in a quandary because of it.
‘There is less pie left’
Jerry Jones addressed the cap issue directly Wednesday in light of Smith’s deal, noting “there is less pie left, make no bones about it.”
He also appeared to recruit Smith in delivering the team’s messaging.
“Allowing myself to understand my ego but not identify with it,” Smith said of his contract negotiations. “I can be aware we all have egos for better or for worse, but if you don’t identify with them, you’re really able to be present.”
Meanwhile Elliott remains in Cabo San Lucas, apparently nowhere near a deal that satisfies his demands.
This promises to get uglier before the two sides find resolution — or don’t.
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