OXNARD, California – The stretch starting Thursday and running through Aug. 17 is the best part of this job. It’s the only time we actually get to see football.
During the regular season, our time watching practice is limited to essentially seeing the players stretch. During training camp, we get to see everything and, hopefully, relay what we see back to you guys.
With that in mind, there are plenty of things to wonder about as we look ahead and, sadly, look back in the first training camp edition of Five Wonders.
Away we go:
Surely Le’Veon Bell was paying attention to the extension the Los Angeles Rams just gave Todd Gurley. I’m sure Ezekiel Elliott was, too. Gurley received a five-year, $60 million deal with $45 million guaranteed that included a $20 million signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Gurley was under contract through 2019 with the fifth-year option counting $9.63 million. We all know about the shelf life of running backs. With this deal, the Rams made sure Gurley is under contract through 2023, when he turns 29. Elliott can be under the Cowboys’ contractual control through 2020 if they pick up his fifth-year option next spring. I wonder if the Cowboys look at giving Elliott a second contract next summer the way the Rams have done with Gurley. After a tumultuous 2017, things have been quiet around Elliott this offseason. He certainly has been productive, leading the league in rushing as a rookie and finishing 17 yards short of 1,000 in 2018 despite being suspended for six games. If the Cowboys give him a five-year extension next year, Elliott would be 29 by the final year as well. By doing a deal early, provided Elliott remains healthy and out of trouble, the Cowboys would buy his prime years and not have to worry about bloated salaries for a running back over the age of 30.
The passing of Tony Sparano stunned many folks across the NFL and hit the Cowboys hard as well. Sparano was a Cowboys assistant coach from 2003 to ’07. He was Jason Witten’s first position coach. While Bill Parcells receives a lot of credit for Witten’s success, Sparano was with Witten daily as a rookie, pushing him, prodding him, forcing him to ask more of himself. It was the perfect marriage of committed coach and ultracompetitive player, and they remained incredibly close over the years. Here’s the wonder, and it’s one I’ve had before: I wonder how the Cowboys would have fared if Jerry Jones chose Sparano as head coach in 2007 and not Wade Phillips. Jones interviewed Sparano and many others but opted for Phillips because of his background in a 3-4 defense. Phillips had a good run with the Cowboys, making it to the playoffs twice before seeing the bottom fall out in the first eight games in 2010. To me, Sparano would have kept all of the Parcells toughness and preparation and let Jones be Jones without any issue. As talented as the Cowboys were from 2007 to ’09, they lacked the discipline to become a Super Bowl team. Sparano would have brought more of that.
I wonder if the Cowboys will hold recently reinstated defensive end Randy Gregory out of the early part of training camp. While he might feel ready to go and those who have seen him say he looks to be in good shape, he has not done anything football related since the 2016 finale. Having him go out there on the first day of practice doesn’t take into account the big picture. I’m not so sure if a week or two would knock off the rust completely, but it would at least buy him some time to work back into feeling what football pads are like again. The worst thing that could happen would be to have him strain a hamstring and keep him out for a ton of the summer work in Oxnard. At some point the Cowboys will have to see what Gregory can do, but it doesn’t need to be the first week of camp.
I wonder who will be the out-of-nowhere player in camp to make the roster. The candidate this year is safety Marqueston Huff. A fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2014, Huff spent time with five teams before joining the Cowboys in January and has one sack and one interception for his career. If you look at the current state of the safety position, the Cowboys have Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. They had a decent draft grade on Huff when he came into the league, and he will get every chance to show he can contribute.
I wonder if the heat back in Texas over the last few weeks has the Cowboys thinking of re-upping with Oxnard for years to come. When the Cowboys move their camp back to Frisco, they will practice inside Ford Center at The Star. It’s a great setup, but there’s something about being outside on the grass and getting ready for a season. They simply can’t do that when the temps are hitting 110 degrees. Plus, there’s something about being close to Los Angeles that brings the stars out to camp, which Jerry Jones loves. At some point LeBron James has to show up, right?