What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein explains why Ezekiel Elliot isn’t at Cowboys training camp. USA TODAY
OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys opened training camp Friday with physical evaluations, conditioning and a team meeting. Owner Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett held an opening press conference as well. Here are five things we learned from their remarks:
1. Ezekiel Elliott is late. The biggest story to open Cowboys training camp is star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout. Elliott did not report Friday and could be fined up to $40,000 a day for his absence. The team declined to say whether it would enforce the fine. Elliott is one of three key members of the offense seeking a contract extension. Quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper are both entering the last year of their deals. Each is in attendance.
2. Wild card factor in extensions. The Cowboys have a tricky salary-cap calculus, with so many stars seeking extensions. To complicate matters further, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season — before many of these extensions will conclude. Rules will change. “I think it does” factor in, Stephen Jones said. “It’s part of the equation. It factors in in terms of the rules are in place without a deal and then the rules that probably will be in place once we have a deal with the union. … You’ve got to figure out how to work through those things. So it makes it a little more complicated.”
3. Will Randy Gregory play this season? The defensive end is serving his fourth suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He received an indefinite suspension in February. Jerry Jones said he talked to Gregory on Thursday and is optimistic that Gregory has taken steps toward returning and that league decision-makers are noticing. Gregory notched six sacks and 15 quarterback hits in 14 games last season. That talent, paired with what Jones called Gregory’s “particularly impressive” intellect and people skills, keeps the team invested. “(People) come away and say, ‘Now that guy’s got some special aspects to him,’ ” Jones said Friday. “That to me, that’s worth spending some time and investing some of what you’re about as a franchise, the Cowboys, me individually. That’s worth investing in.”
4. Pro Bowlers highlight injury report. Two of the Cowboys Pro Bowl defenders open training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Cornerback Byron Jones (hip) and pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence (shoulder) continue rehabbing from offseason injuries. Center Travis Frederick, who missed 2018 with an autoimmune disease, is cleared to participate. Jones and Lawrence are each expected to be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the New York Giants. No Cowboys player is currently scheduled to miss the opener for health reasons.
5. Awkward Jason Garrett moment. The Cowboys head coach was not extended this offseason. Like Prescott and Cooper, Garrett enters the last year of his contract. He coached on the final year of his contract in 2014 before leading the Cowboys to a playoff berth and earning a five-year extension. Still, Jerry Jones didn’t respond when asked Friday what Garrett needs to do to coach the team past 2019. “I really didn’t hear you,” Jones said, cupping his hand over his ear after the question was twice asked. “You’ve got a damn drill going on back there. Next question.” Responding to a later question, he gave Garrett a more convincing endorsement. “There’s no secret that the guy to my right here, I want to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for as long as I’m around to spell it. That would be my goal.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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