INDIANAPOLIS — Jerry Jones grappled with the dilemma.
Should he vote in favor of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement? The Dallas Cowboys owner believed that the deal’s parameters, and closing a deal this year rather than next, were in the league’s best interest.
Or should Jones vote to best give his Cowboys a competitive advantage? If a new deal didn’t pass, he had an extra trick up his sleeve to control free agency for quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper. NFL teams usually are able to only designate one free agent with a franchise tag to maintain their rights at a fixed salary for the next year. On the last year of a league labor deal, teams gain access to a second tag called the transition tag.
In the end, he voted in favor of what seems to benefit the league and long-term interest rather than the Cowboys’ 2020 roster build.
Jones isn’t naïve to that reality.
“There’s no question it’s going to prove a bigger angst,” he said Thursday afternoon aboard the Cowboys' bus in Indianapolis. “Strategically, that was really thought of a lot because with our negotiations with Dak and our negotiations with Cooper, certainly, just that nuance alone.”
The Cowboys now will look to lock down Prescott, Cooper or both by the March 12 tag deadline. Given the intricacies of quarterback contracts, Dallas may be more inclined to strike a deal with Cooper soon. Team officials met with Cooper and his agent, Chafie Fields, this offseason. Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones characterized a Super Bowl week discussion with Cooper and Fields as “very upbeat.” The team met with Prescott’s agent Wednesday.
Jerry Jones on why Dak Prescott’s Cowboys deal will get worked out: pic.twitter.com/yUlyB8fb5a
Jerry Jones said Thursday he does not consider the March 12 deadline as a reason to expedite Prescott’s contract. He will use the franchise tag on Prescott if a deal is not done.
“It’s a technicality,” Jones said. “Certainly have and going to keep his rights. (So) no, it’s not a concern of mine. … I am not, in any way, going to not have his rights, for one minute.”
Jones didn’t speculate on when he expects to strike a deal. He said negotiating with Prescott is like negotiating with his son, Stephen. “There's no going forward without Stephen or one of your family members,” Jones said, “so you got to get it figured out.”
Jones reiterated that as owner and general manager, he will sign the check that ultimately validates Prescott’s deal. He will not, he said, do a deal he doesn’t believe fits with broader organizational plans. The holdup isn’t about Prescott, Jones insists.
"It’s about the team and about how to win," Jones said. "That's not being, in any way, negative. I think the world of Dak. But it’s about the team. And if it doesn’t feel right, it won't happen."
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Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy: “Defenses get you to the championship. Quarterbacks win championships. And I definitely feel Dak is that quarterback.” pic.twitter.com/1UHsUhyvTC
Jones acted similarly when approving the collective bargaining agreement. He wanted to consider just short-term implications. At 77 years old, “I’m on, probably, my last contract,” Jones said.
The Cowboys owner and general manager longs to lead his franchise back to a Super Bowl, which it hasn't won since 1995. The team hasn’t even competed in a conference championship in 24 years. Jones believes his team is capable of contending now. He hired Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy to capitalize on what he believes is a talented roster.
Access to both the franchise and transition tag might have helped keep that roster intact. Jones said he knows NFL owners who voted the deal down in hopes of maintaining more flexibility to keep talented players in 2020.
“There is a substantive more amount of dollars, if we act now than if we don't act,” Jones said. “That was a big influence to me because I always had rather be in the room that's got money in it rather than one that doesn’t have any money.”
Soon, perhaps, Prescott's time will come for that money.
“That’s what counts: when you just decide it’s time to make it work,” Jones said. “What counts is when it looks like it fits and I’m just proud for Dak and I’m proud for us that we’ve got the resources to make something happen.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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