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Takeaways from Cowboys’ VP Stephen Jones at NFL Combine

After failing to hit a bullseye last year, Stephen Jones and the Dallas Cowboys are already preparing for ways to improve the roster in 2023.
Nov 3, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (left) with his son, executive vice president Stephen Jones prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — The NFL Scouting Combine begins this week and while the workouts haven’t begun yet, the Dallas Cowboys’ brass is already in Indianapolis making the rounds. Preparing for the draft is a big part of attending the combine, but it’s also a place where front offices can lay the foundation for many of their offseason moves.

Cowboys Executive VP and COO Stephen Jones wasted no time talking about the state of the franchise, reflecting on what went wrong in 2022, and discussing potential changes coming this season. Some of the highlights from Jones’ conversation weren’t surprising whereas others may have provided clues for the future of the roster.

Here are three takeaways from Jones’ discussions at the combine:

Second guessing WR plans

Unlike his father Jerry Jones, who said he had no regrets over the decision to trade away gifted wide receiver Amari Cooper last year, Stephen Jones did offer some small measure of second guessing and lamenting over how things panned out in the team’s efforts to replace Cooper.

Unfortunately for Jones and the Cowboys, this was easy to predict. In fact, it was difficult to find anyone who thought re-signing WRs Michael Gallup and Noah Brown, adding free agent James Washington, or drafting Jalen Tolbert left the position in a better state rather than keeping Cooper. The team could’ve done all those things and kept Cooper instead of trading him.

Cooper outperformed all of his replacements in Dallas by himself, he had more catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns than the four players expected to pick up his production.

The biggest miscalculation from the Cowboys was that they chose to keep Gallup, who was coming off a major injury, over a veteran WR who had been quarterback Dak Prescott’s top target for years. The erroneous move left the Dallas passing game woefully short on talent and playmakers, and that hole became extremely apparent in the playoff loss.

Dak Prescott extension looming

The Cowboys are currently over the salary cap and one of the ways that they can manipulate that number is by doing something with Prescott’s contract. Currently, Prescott is scheduled to count $49 million against the cap this season, a number that cannot stand if the team is going to make any improvements on the roster.

An option is to rework Prescott’s contract, pushing more money into the last year of the deal, making next offseason the time to extend the franchise quarterback.

However, perhaps the wiser move is to extend Prescott now, lowering the cap hit for 2023, and keeping the signal caller in Dallas for more years. While explaining the team’s cap situation, this seems to be the path Jones is more comfortable exploring. "We've got to have a plan to ultimately extend Dak," Jones said.

It appears that the Cowboys and Jones might have learned their lesson from the last round of negotiations with Prescott, where waiting only cost them money in the end. If the team puts things off until next offseason to try to extend Prescott, the price will likely be more expensive, especially when considering that there are at least three big name quarterbacks who are in line to get new deals.

QBs Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow are all set to cash in on new lucrative, market-setting contracts, so the Cowboys would be wise to get in front of these paydays with Prescott and save themselves money. If the Dallas braintrust balked at the price for Prescott last time around, they’ll cry at the cost if they wait again.

Change in free agent philosophy?

The blueprint for how the Cowboys work in free agency has been adhered to quite strictly recently. For about the last 10 years, the organization has made the decision to sign their own drafted players to extensions, and then wait for the second and third wave of free agency before jumping in to improve. Dallas prefers to not pay the high cost of signing the prominent players on the market, opting to wait on the bargains that come later.

That philosophy hasn’t worked, as the Cowboys haven’t gotten to where they want to go. Jones may have hinted that he’ll now be willing to add a quality player or two to get over the proverbial hump, especially on offense.

"Offensively, we've just got to have, maybe add a playmaker to it," Jones said. "Add a little juice. Add a playmaker to it and see if we can do that.”

This could be interpreted as the Cowboys now getting aggressive to help Prescott and the offense. Jones also mentioned hoping to become “one click” better everywhere and that might come from signing, or acquiring via trade, a top-tier weapon.

Of course, the talk could also mean nothing more than the team will sign a second-tier WR or will draft someone who they think will give them that extra offensive juice. Savvy Cowboys fans are used to not believing anything that comes out of either Jerry or Stephen’s mouth. Seeing will be believing in this case.

Yet it does sound like the Cowboys will be more aggressive in adding talent on offense to relieve some of the pressure on Prescott. That would certainly be a shift in strategy from a team that rarely goes against their nature, but the tone feels different from Jones.

Do you think the Cowboys will make the right moves this spring? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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