In an offseason plagued by contract disputes and critical financial decisions, the Dallas Cowboys roster is nevertheless undoubtedly a collection of young talent and undeniable experience, capable of reaching the bright lights of the Super Bowl.
Following a season which saw the Cowboys reach the divisional stages of the postseason, those in attendance at ‘Jerry World’ will be watching on anxiously again as their team endeavours to end a more than twenty-year wait to be crowned champions.
Their recent draft classes have given them the foundations to do just that with the draft period being a time for the Cowboys to acquire skilful additions to a squad already dominant in some areas of the field. It seems however that the financial luxury of rookie contracts have this season come back to bite them. And hard.
Star players on both sides of the ball have place demands for a significant salary increase into the public eye and have left onlookers wondering throughout, ‘Will they, won’t they?’
A closer look at the offseason
Out of all the contract negotiations, the Cowboys’ offseason has primarily been saturated with the news that running back Ezekiel Elliott would be demanding a new contract, two years before the expiration of his current rookie deal.
A ballsy move in the eyes of many football pundits and one that saw fans across the league give the face of player-power a look of disapproval and annoyance. But in a move that saw fantasy owners scrambling aimlessly for news regarding contract negotiations, it ultimately proved to be the right one for Zeke who received a six-year $90 million-dollar contract ($50 million guaranteed), a record for a player at his position.
He was not however the first of the Cowboys’ players, nearing the end of their rookie contracts, to receive a new multi-million dollar deal. Instead that award went to the head-turning talent of middle linebacker Jaylon Smith. A player whose injury struggles throughout his college career ultimately took a negative knock on his draft position and how GM’s around the league perceived his durability.
But the move by the Dallas front office to take him early in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft has proven a fruitful one, with Smith arguably performing as one of the best at his position in the NFL. And with his off-ball ability complimented with a ‘head down and get on with it’ attitude, Smith saw his efforts justly rewarded.
It is incredible to think however that a team’s quarterback, also nearing the end of his rookie contract, was not consistent headline news throughout the free-agency period and training camp. Instead quarterback Dak Prescott chose the patient road. He waited to see the investment Dallas was willing to make in him before stating his demands to be paid like some of the stars of the game. It was a bold statement from Prescott, one met with ridicule and hysteria within countless Twitter feeds as debates surrounding his talent came into question.
To date, Prescott is yet to receive an adjusted contract offer and his chances of receiving his high demands may have to wait a little longer, at least until Cowboys management have analysed and assessed his early-season form. Another factor may also be wide-receiver Amari Cooper, acquired from the Oakland Raiders last season, who is also awaiting an upgrade to his salary. Whatever Jones and co. decide, one thing is for certain. They will be spending the majority of their time this season assessing their cap space going forward and ensure that new deals for both Prescott and Cooper do not hinder the future of the franchise financially.
Back to the Gridiron
Conversations regarding Dallas’ offseason and forthcoming moves will likely endure throughout the season but at some point their attention has to turn to what really matters: Sunday performances.
And that begins with the New York Giants entering town this Sunday. Whether they sign integral players or not will depend on their ability to win games whilst displaying the potential to make a successful run beyond the regular season. And they are in prime position to progress from the NFC East despite the Philadelphia Eagles gearing up to reclaim the division.
Their offence is made up of one of the most superior lines in all of football. Constructed with veterans who can all handle themselves against troublesome pass-rushers and nose-tackles alike. The return of centre Travis Frederick will also be a welcome addition. It’s a line that will buy Prescott precious time in the pocket and enable Zeke to power through holes as the Cowboys look to drive seamlessly down the field against their opponents all season long.
The return of tight-end Jason Witten will also provide a safety net on short to intermediate routes to a wide-receiver core looking to beat opposing man coverage defences over the top. Cooper will want to build on the form he demonstrated upon his arrival at Dallas and former Packer, Randall Cobb will also be looking to play the role of red zone threat and provide crucial touchdowns for the team.
Defensively they will also look to excel and lead the way. A line-backing core filled with the talents of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch will attempt to continue from last year where they guided the Cowboys defence in the right direction with a total of 261 combined tackles. Key players in the likes of Demarcus Lawrence and corner Byron Jones will also be deemed integral to the Cowboys success and will need to replicate past-season performances to keep them on this upward trajectory.
The Cowboys have real quality. Enough to challenge for another championship. They have an established run-game in Elliott and a brick-wall of an offensive line to allow Prescott and his weapons at wide-receiver to develop into match-up nightmares.
The defence is solid and infused with game-changing talent that will look to get off the field on third-down plays and let the offence play to their potential. And that right there is what the Cowboy’s season hinders on. Potential.
The potential to allow financial decisions to be nothing more than momentary distractions, the potential for Dak Prescott to silence his critics, and the potential for the Cowboy’s to finally bring a conclusion to the curse associated with their postseason form.