The Dallas Cowboys open minicamp on Tuesday and there are plenty of storylines surrounding the defending NFC East champions as they head into the first mandatory workouts of the season.
For those who have been under a rock, here’s the short version: Jason Witten is back, Cole Beasley is not, Ezekiel Elliott got in trouble in Vegas, Kellen Moore is leading the offense and a couple of Cowboys need to get paid.
That’s just a light recap of some of the topics that will be at the forefront of discussions this week.
Unlike some other teams, where star players staying away from OTAs becomes a storyline for the offseason (see, Cleveland Browns), the Cowboys have not had a problem with attendance during the optional workouts leading up to minicamp.
That will allow the coaching staff and players to waste little time with pleasantries and get straight down to the nitty gritty at minicamp, which wraps up on June 14.
“I think it’s a huge part of the year,” veteran linebacker Sean Lee said. “You have to start building your team at this time of year. The shared sacrifice, the hard work — you start building those bonds right now.”
Jason Witten Hungry to Get Back on the Field
After a year in the Monday Night Football booth, Jason Witten is back with the Dallas Cowboys, although the extent of his role in the offense is still unknown. That should become at least a little more clear at minicamp.
First-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has liked what he’s seen so far, although he noted Witten likely won’t play 97 percent of the snaps like he did in the season before his hiatus.
“We feel great about where Whit is at,” Moore said on Wednesday. “Naturally, he’s probably not going to play 97 percent, but once you get 100,000 in the crowd, Whit is probably going to want to play a whole lot.”
Witten is a future Hall of Famer, but a year away from the game will slow anyone down a step or two — especially a 37-year-old tight end who looked limited even before he temporarily stepped away.
The Cowboys also have a collection of younger tight ends like Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers to work with.
However, Witten is the ultimate competitor, and won’t make it easy for the Cowboys to keep him on the sideline.
“Those coaches work long hours; they’re smart,” Witten told reporters during OTAs. “I think that I can’t worry about how that plays out. My job is to kind of make it tough on them. We all benefit if that’s the case.”
Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper Need New Deals
When Carson Wentz signed a healthy extension with the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Cowboys’ situation with Dak Prescott immediately gained some extra urgency.
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Dallas’ division rival paid their QB roughly $128 million over four years with a massive $107 million in guarantees, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
During a recent Q&A with fans, Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News said he expects Dak’s deal to be done before the season.
“I’d be surprised if it’s not done by the time the season starts. Both sides have made offers, so the lines of communication are obviously open. Both sides want to get it done. QB contract talks generally die down during the season. Neither side wants that on the mind of the most important player on the field.”
Amari Cooper is another story. The wide receiver — who Dallas acquired last season by sending a first round pick to Oakland — is looking for one of the largest contracts at his position, according to Calvin Watkins of The Athletic. The Cowboys will not likely want to do that.
Cooper racked up 725 yards and six touchdowns receiving in nine games with the Cowboys last season. That included a 217-yard, three touchdown performance against NFC East rival Philadelphia in Week 14.
Currently, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham has the highest average salary at $18 million per year, and also collected the largest guarantee ($65 million).
Ezekiel Elliott Dealing With Vegas Fallout
Ezekiel Elliott enters the year in familiar territory as the league’s reigning rushing champ.
The Ohio State product has collected two rushing titles in his three years in the league, and nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2017, despite playing in just 10 games.
What’s also not new is that he’s also dealing with some controversy surrounding an incident in Las Vegas where he knocked over a security guard at a music festival.
Elliott has been subject to suspensions, investigations and scrutiny stemming from his behavior off the field. Most notably, Elliott was served a six-game suspension in 2017 after a long legal battle against the NFL against allegations of domestic abuse. Elliott was never arrested or charged, but spent time on the sideline.
The latest episode in the Zeke saga came in May at the Electric Daisy Carnival festival in Vegas. In a video published by TMZ, Elliott is seen arguing with a woman. Later in the clip, a security guard confronts the Cowboys running back before he pushes him over a barrier.
According to Yahoo Sports, the NFL is expected to investigate the Vegas incident, although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters, “I don’t see that having any consequences for us.”
On the field, one of the primary concerns for first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will be trying to taper Elliott’s workload this season. Last year, Zeke rushed 304 times — 43 more than any other player.
“At the end of the day, we want to get him as many touches as we can. At the same time, you got to recognize what a 16-plus game season is,” Moore told reporters. “We’ll see how it progresses (with the other RBs), but if we can get it to Zeke, we’re gonna get it to Zeke.”
Training Camp, Preseason on the Horizon For Cowboys
After minicamp, the Cowboys has a final break before meeting up again on July 27 for training camp, which will be held in Oxnard, Calif.
The Cowboys have an interesting lead up to the season, with camp being held a few states away and a preseason content in Hawaii.
The game breaks an NFL drought in the 50th state since the Pro Bowl moved back to the mainland. Aloha Stadium hosted the all-star event for nearly 40 years until 2016.
The rematch of the NFC divisional round playoff game between the two squads will be the first NFL exhibition to take place at Aloha Stadium since 1976.
Here’s the Cowboys full preseason slate:
Aug 8: San Francisco 49ers (Santa Clara, CA)
Aug. 17: Los Angeles Rams (Honolulu, HI)
Aug. 24: Houston Texans (Arlington, TX)
Aug. 29: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Arlington, TX)
The Cowboys kick off the regular season against the New York Giants on Sept. 8 at home.