FRISCO, Texas -- Football is around the corner. The time for lazy days on the lake or hacks on a golf course is coming to an end.
While the time off has been rejuvenating, football is never far from the mind, and some things have me wondering. Five things, actually.
Away we go:
Jaylon Smith's every move will be watched when training camp begins. It was like that during the few opportunities the media saw him practice in the spring. He looked fine, but nothing definitive was learned because the snaps were so few. Teammates raved about him. Coaches mentioned how hard he worked. Until he is on the field repeatedly in the summer, it’s difficult to get a grasp on what he can do. I wonder if he will be a two-down linebacker as he feels his way back from the knee injury and gets accustomed to the brace. By working him in slowly, the Cowboys will give him the best chance to succeed. The expectations for him already are high, perhaps too high considering the seriousness of his injury. Making him a two-down linebacker might be the best way to work him into the lineup.
Another guard has a big-time deal with the Oakland Raiders signing Gabe Jackson to a five-year, $56 million contract. Like the five-year, $60 million deal signed in free agency by Kevin Zeitler with the Cleveland Browns, it will have an effect on Zack Martin’s negotiations with the Cowboys. But I wonder just how much. Somehow Martin has to be the highest-paid guard in football, but getting to that point could be tricky because the Cowboys could have Martin’s rights through 2021 (fifth-year option in 2018 and three years of a franchise tag, which would be almost impossible). So what’s the middle ground? That’s the rub in these negotiations. The Cowboys worked through it with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, who have the same agent, Joe Panos. The Cowboys have a good relationship with Martin’s agents, Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser, who repped Tony Romo. A deal will get done because both sides want one. As of now, there have been only cursory discussions, but that could change early in camp.
Every time a Cowboys player gets in trouble, it is invariably met with cries of "Cut him!" or "Jerry Jones is letting this team go down the drain!" or "Tom Landry or Jimmy Johnson wouldn’t have allowed this." I wonder if those fans study the history of this franchise. For all of its glory, there has been a lot of poor off-field behavior from players from the beginning. My go-to answer on this subject is this: "North Dallas Forty" was based on the Cowboys. It was written by a former Cowboy. And the 1990s Cowboys had their share of issues as well. While it’s easy to say they should cut Nolan Carroll or David Irving or Damien Wilson, it’s wiser to take the emotion out of things. That doesn’t mean you let everything slide, but I don’t know if you cut a player for public perception either.
I wonder whether the Cowboys’ leader in sacks will reach double digits in 2017. They have gone three straight seasons without a player reaching at least 10 sacks after having DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher reach at least 11 sacks from 2006 to 2013. The Cowboys went from 1997 to 2005 without a player reaching double figures, the longest drought in franchise history. DeMarcus Lawrence had eight sacks in 2015, but he had just one last year and is coming off his second back surgery in as many offseasons. Benson Mayowa had six to lead the Cowboys last season, but he might not be a starter or play more than 40 percent of the snaps. How the Cowboys rotate their pass-rushers plays a part in the individual sack total, but if they had a Ware-type rusher, you can be sure he would play a ton.
I wonder if those wondering whether Chidobe Awuzie will be the starting safety when the Cowboys open the season against the New York Giants need to take a step back. Awuzie did not take a snap of work as a safety in the base defense. He worked the spot only in the sub packages, but even that wasn’t as an over-the-top safety. It was as an in-the-box safety. The Cowboys went through a similar plan with Byron Jones two years ago. He worked almost exclusively at corner in his first offseason and in camp got some looks at safety. He was worked into the spot almost out of necessity by the end of the season. Awuzie very well may be the safety, but Week 1 sounds too early.