Thursday, May 26, 2022

Cowboys free agency 2022: Jerry Jones explains decision to trade Amari Cooper, fallout from Randy Gregory

Currently in a state of disarray usually reserved for teams who are teetering on the edge of a rebuild, it doesn’t feel like the Dallas Cowboys finished the 2021 season with a 12-5 record. Part of this is because of their abysmal showing against the San Francisco 49ers in their first-round playoff exit, but the rest is because of their personnel choices in 2022 free agency — e.g., Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, Randy Gregory — combined with a sizable dose of controversy, both on and off of the field. 

Speaking from the NFL‘s annual meetings in Florida, owner Jerry Jones opted to place aside paternity suits and voyeurism settlements, instead addressing the team’s roster moves in free agency — skirting the fact there have only been two outside acquisitions in wideout James Washington and linebacker Dante Fowler

The signing of Washington was a move made out of a necessity created in trading Cooper to the Cleveland Browns as opposed to restructuring his deal for instant cap savings, and for merely a 2022 fifth-round pick, along with being unable to re-sign Cedrick Wilson (who now joins Connor Williams and Byron Jones in a Miami Dolphins uniform). But as it relates to Cooper, Jones admits the four-time Pro Bowler can be “great”, but didn’t view it as having happened consistently enough after signing him to a five-year, $100 million contract two years ago.

“We had to look hard at the 10 or 11 players who are getting two-thirds of the money,” Jones said of the decision to part ways with Cooper, per the team’s website. “We have to make sure every one those players are pulling as much weight as you can because of the economic emphasis. … At the end of the day, it is a financial allocation toward the talent, and you’ve got to consider availability, and that sometimes departs from the best route runner.”

And then came the controversial split with Gregory, something the Cowboys tried desperately to avoid. 

Having failed to begin negotiations with Gregory until NFL legal tampering began, the Cowboys effectively waved off the inside track on retaining the former second-round pick and instead pitted themselves against multiple teams bidding for his services — the Denver Broncos emerging as a frontrunner to poach him away from Dallas. Things imploded after the two sides agreed to terms on the aforementioned five-year deal due to a dispute in contract language after the fact, but before pen touched paper, and it was indeed the Broncos who went on to land Gregory after a whirlwind few hours of contract controversy. 

Sources confirmed to CBS Sports that Jones, who was initially livid at the outcome after having stepped in to close the deal with Gregory before what can only be viewed now as LanguageGate, reached back out to Gregory and his agent in a last-ditch effort to woo them into pivoting back to Dallas. It didn’t work, and Jones alleges this time it was he who said no, despite the fact it was he who made the call.

“Literally, I was on the phone with Randy and his agent, and I said ‘El Paso,’ that little West Texas town. I said ‘El Paso — thank you, but no thank you.’ And he said ‘I’ll go ahead and get on the plane,'” said Jones. “So we could have done something there, and they asked if we would do that, and I didn’t do it. And I didn’t do it of my own volition. … I want him to have a lot of success, except when he’s playing the Cowboys. 

“But I’m a fan of Randy’s and I was thinking that his best was ahead of him.”

It’s debatable if Jones is attempting to save some type of face in an offseason that’s seen it drenched with egg, but the fact of the matter is what’s most relevant is the front office’s determination — as of late — to sell themselves on how quantity is always better than quality.

“It worked out,” team exec Stephen Jones said of signing Fowler, Dorance Armstrong and Leighton Vander Esch with money that was originally put on the table for Gregory. “We feel really good about that situation.”

It bears mentioning that Gregory’s cap hit for 2022 would’ve been only $6 million, while the combined cap hit for all Fowler, Armstrong and LVE is $8.3 million, a tidbit that undermines the supposed salary cap victory Jones is trying to purvey; and regarding a player the Cowboys did all they could to keep in the building, the language disagreement notwithstanding.

The elder Jones mirrors the sentiment regarding quantity, though.

“We got at least three more top players with what we would have spent there,” he said, before vaguely admitting there’s a chance it doesn’t pan out how they hope it will. 

“It’s a call that, we’ll just see.”

Losing Gregory to the Broncos, combined with Cooper’s trade and the release of starting right tackle La’el Collins, has put/kept tens of millions of dollars in the Cowboys pockets for new signings and re-signings, but while they’ve mostly done well thus far with the latter, they’re severely lacking on the former. And things could have also been precipitously worse, if you can fathom it, had they stuck to their guns in offering All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence a deal he deemed “disrespectful”, leading to him asking to be released before ultimately working out a new contract with the club.

As the 2022 NFL Draft speeds toward them, the Cowboys will have to ace that test in order to balance out an offseason that sees them failing at so many others. Otherwise, a pivotal season to come for head coach Mike McCarthy might become his swan song.

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