OXNARD, California – Yes, it’s the real “return to football” for the Cowboys out here at boot camp.
For the first time at this camp, the pads arrived on two consecutive days this week, before head coach Mike McCarthy calls Wednesday a “sham game” workout, more of a walk-through workout without pads, before two more padded exercises on Thursday and Friday.
Real men’s soccer is those cushioned drills just before getting the guy on the ground with the ball. Just hit them open once you know the definition of a hit.
“I want it turned up,” McCarthy said ahead of Monday’s padded workout. “I want the fur to fly. I want the juice.”
Unfortunately, with flying fur and running sap comes injuries, and the Cowboys found that out quickly on Monday and then again on Tuesday.
Brad Sham once again confirmed what my camp roommate has taught me over the years: “We come to training camp to find out who gets hurt.” Never fail. And we didn’t have to wait long for disturbing _gunshots_ to ring out. Keep it up, we’re moving fast here.
- Raise the threshold: The Cowboys quickly recognized the lack of depth at the linebacker position and settled with ninth-year veteran Anthony Barr, a former Minnesota Vikings first-round draft pick in 2014. Here was the concern. If the Cowboys played a 4-3 base defense with three linebackers, it would include Leighton Vander Esch at center, Micah Parsons at an outside point and…and…who? Could have been Jabril Cox, who came back from a cruciate ligament rupture last year as a rookie. Sobering may have been that Cox missed Tuesday and Wednesday training with knee pain expected, although he is also expected to return soon. In early July, the Cowboys had shown an interest in Barr. Of some concern, Barr has only played 13 games over the past two seasons, only two in 2020 after a pectoral tear and six in 2021 with a knee and hamstring. Also of concern is that the Vikings have restructured the five-year, $67.5 million package, including $33 million guaranteed, that he signed in 2019. To do that, they allowed Barr to waive the last two years by freeing up the cap space by reducing his base salary for 2021 of his contract. Doing so now will cost the Vikings $9.89 million in dead money this year. The Cowboys should have an inside look at Barr, the current senior defensive assistant who was in charge of linebacker George Edwards, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, for the first six seasons (2014-19) of Barr’s career. Additionally, the Cowboys were able to get a crystal-clear look at Barr’s abilities by speaking with former Cowboys assistant 13-year-old Mike Zimmer (1994-2006), Barr’s head coach throughout his career.
- damn 5 metatarsal: Last year, it was DeMarcus Lawrence who broke the fifth metatarsal of his right foot during practice in the second week of the season. Now this. Veteran wide receiver James Washington, who started out as part of an exhausted wideout group, headed back to Dallas on Tuesday to have doctors surgically repair his fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot, which he suffered in his first-ever padded workout moved in on Monday. He had a metatarsal screw surgically placed to allow for a faster recovery. According to early estimates, he will be missing six to ten weeks. For example, Lawrence missed 10 games last year, a span including the bye, which is 11 weeks. The Cowboys’ dilemma will be whether to place Washington on injured reserve 24 hours after landing on the 53-man roster so he can return after four games, or whether to keep him on the 53-man roster, in hoping for a recovery in fewer games. The Cowboys are just under six weeks from their Sept. 11 season opener against Tampa Bay. For an amateur athlete like me, it took three months before I was allowed back on the tennis court with the same injury – without surgery – and had to go to the training camp in San Antonio that summer with boots and crutches. No bueno.
- What to do: At this point, nothing seems to be immediate receiver position, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said of Washington’s injury, “It’s part of the game but injuries give some younger guys a chance to get up and make games.” Well, the Cowboys have a number of youngsters with those opportunities as prospective No. 2 wide receiver Michael Gallup may miss the first month of the season recovering from his ACL knee repair. This means that apart from No. 1 CeeDee Lamb, no other healthy receiver on the current roster has caught a touchdown pass in the NFL. The names you will hear now are 3rd round draft choice, Jalen Tolbert, sixth year backup, Noah Brown, freshman undrafted receiver, Dennis Houston, freshman undrafted receiver, Brandon Smith, senior year in fifth-round picks, Simi Fehoko, who only played seven snaps on offense in his rookie season, recently signed rookie free agent KeVontae Turpin and the 6-6 freshman TJ Vasher, a rookie practice Squad last year. Regarding the addition of a veteran free agent, Jones said the Cowboys would wait a bit as they realize some of the guys they may be interested in are coming off injuries and aren’t ready for camp. The list of available free agents includes Will Fuller, TY Hilton, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Odell Beckham Jr., DeSean Jackson, Allen Hurns and Adam Humphries, among others. Bet they’ll sign a veteran in time, close to a spotless recovery by Washington or Gallup.
- Canter along: Speaking of Gallup, while he’s developing well, there seems little chance he’ll be ready for the start of the season. If the Cowboys let him on PUP early in the season, he will have to miss the first four games before he can return. If medical staff believe he can return sooner, the Cowboys would have to carry him on the 53-man roster from the start.
- Also tackle this: There seems to be a good chance the Cowboys are in the market for an experienced offensive tackle after potentially losing fifth-round rookie Matt Waletzko. Sounds like he suffered a shoulder subluxation that would leave him out for the rest of this week with any surgery that may be needed. Medical staff must decide whether he can play with a shoulder harness like players have done before, or whether surgery is now required. That leaves Josh Ball as the only likely candidate on the list to fill the backup swing tackle and he has yet to play NFL football. Good thing the Cowboys have kept their salary cap “powder dry” in case they need to dip in free hand for a veteran guy. The problem here is that there isn’t much available, and if you should hear any familiar free agent names, they’re either aging or recovering from injuries from the last year. A veteran backup swing tackle guy has just been signed by the Bears, 33-year-old Riley Reiff, an 11-year veteran who has signed a one-year, $3 million contract that has increased to $7.5 million US dollar can rise if he plays at least 10 percent of the snaps. Reiff played for the Bengals last season ($7.5 million), but after signing La’el Collins this offseason, the Bengals decided not to fire Reiff again.
- cap load: And now you know why the Cowboys had about $20 million in cap space heading into camp. For those very emergencies, or to carry them over to next season when Lamb is likely to ask for an extension. Maybe Trevon Diggs too. Hey, should they need a backup swing tackle, a veteran receiver, possibly a veteran kicker, and already signing Barr, that $20 million will melt away quickly.
- seesaw fight: Speaking of kickers, it’s between undrafted rookie Jonathan Garibay and CFL veteran Lirim Hajrullahu so far. One day, LH shines and Garibay fights. The next Garibay shines and Hajrullahu fights. Take Tuesday, Garibay makes six tries out of eight while LH makes three tries out of eight. Now the wind is difficult out here when it kicks into it like they did in live special teams sessions. McCarthy said: “This is necessary, we need this competition. We have to give these guys chances. Right now we don’t know much about any of them.” Except that they weren’t consistent.
- Fast hitters: McCarthy says, “I’m not a fan of defenders who can’t catch the football.” … Then this from CeeDee Lamb, asked if he’s been helped by the huge contract extensions recently signed by receiver DK Metcalf (3 years, $72 million) and Deebo Samuel (3 years, $73.5 million max). , is motivated to produce a great 2022 season as he will be eligible for a contract extension in 2023 and said: “Not much. My motivation is the playoffs.” … This is welcome news from Tyron Smith, who says of how he’s feeling physically at camp: “Actually, I feel like this is probably the strongest thing I’ve felt in a while. It’s the fastest I’ve felt in a while. I’m excited to see how this season is going to go.” …Special teams coach John Fassel said of his inexperienced kickers, “I want them to have a rough couple of days sooner” so he can see how they look for mistakes reacting that will occur during the season….And one last from McCarthy, when asked for his opinion on young receivers, he said, “I believe in receiver development.”
- billion dollar business: Sportico has ranked the Cowboys as the most valuable franchise of any sport at $7.64 billion, an estimate that includes the value of the team, the value of the stadium owner, and any real estate or business investments. The Rams ranked second among NFL teams with $5.9 billion, with New England third with $5.8 billion. Stephen Jones of Sporticos Rankings said: “Sport may not be for everyone, but for those who love it it is true fertile ground. Whether it’s a Legends platform, a real estate platform, or a tech platform, we’ve seen that the star, the cowboys, and the sport can leverage the power to really improve business.”
And the final word this week goes to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, when he was asked why he decided to return to the Cowboys after interviewing the head coach following his great coaching job in 2021 and a terrible Cowboys defense in the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently said he had taken care of him financially.
“First rule of fight club is never talk about fight club,” Quinn began, spreading the financial part of the question. “Unless my Jersey roots have changed, you don’t talk about contracts.
“But honestly, I’m having a great time here, I really am. I enjoy the whole process of what we do. I just want to add value to Mike and the defense first. Every now and then you find out where your feet are and you’re in a good space and you feel it, and that’s really how I felt here.