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FRISCO, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott’s decision to forego any further appeals and serve the six-game suspension provides the Dallas Cowboys some closure, but little else.

Instead of hoping against hope that he could win his Dec. 1 hearing for a preliminary injunction and see him return before they play Dec. 10 against the New York Giants, the Cowboys know the next time they will see him at The Star will be Dec. 18 and the next time he can be on the field will be Dec. 24.

With how this has played out at the end, there has to be some wondering inside the Cowboys’ organization if Elliott should have just taken the suspension at the start of the season. However, Elliott was doing his best to keep from being labeled an abuser. At the end, the debate was not about whether Elliott struck a former girlfriend on multiple occasions. It was about Roger Goodell’s power as commissioner to impose discipline.
Legally, Elliott was never charged by the Columbus, Ohio, authorities, but the NFL put the label on him through its personal conduct policy with a 13-month investigation in which their lead investigator did not believe Elliott should be disciplined.

Since the NFL announced the suspension on Aug. 11, the Cowboys have known that at some point — either at the start of the season, middle of the season, end of the season or even next season — their lead running back would miss time.

Their first attempt to show that life without Elliott would work, failed — a 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week. Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden combined to run for 65 yards on 15 carries, or roughly what Elliott picked up in a quarter and a half of action, on average, in his past four games.

Without Ezekiel Elliott, it's up to the Cowboys coaches to put together a game plan that suits the strengths of Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden.

Without Ezekiel Elliott, it’s up to the Cowboys coaches to put together a game plan that suits the strengths of Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden.

The Cowboys actually missed All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee more against Atlanta than they did their All-Pro running back.

While “next man up,” is a terrific philosophy, it is up to the Cowboys coaches to do more than just run the same stuff without Elliott and Tyron Smith on offense. Expecting Morris, Rod Smith and McFadden to be able to do what Elliott did, does not make sense. Expecting Chaz Green and Byron Bell to block like Tyron Smith, does not make sense.
Jason Garrett often tells his players to control what they can control. He repeated that message to Elliott throughout the running back’s legal odyssey. It’s up to the coaches to control what they can control, and that is putting together a plan that better fits the strengths of Morris, Rod Smith and McFadden and not so much what Elliott did best.

The Cowboys now know they will not have Elliott until the day before Christmas.

To make sure the final two games of the season matter, the coaches have to find a way to better adjust to life without Elliott.

The goal is to be at 7-7 or 8-6 by the time Elliott returns. That should keep the Cowboys in the wild-card chase.

And then the hope would be a rested, fresh and likely motivated Elliott can carry them in the final two games.

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FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has not had any discussions with Jerry Jones regarding the owner and general manager’s comments Sunday that players “disrespecting the flag” would not play.

Two players, defensive ends Damontre Moore and David Irving, raised their fists at the end of the national anthem at Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Garrett said he had not heard from any players regarding Jones’ comments, but he spoke with Moore and Irving.
“They did that well after the anthem was completed and it was a private thing they did for themselves,” Garrett said.

Garrett sidestepped a question from a reporter who asked him whether he would have any issues if players express themselves after the anthem.

“Again, we want to approach the anthem in a very respectful way. Want to approach the flag in a very respectful way. And my understanding of what both of those guys did based on the conversations I had with them was that occurred after the anthem. And they wanted to keep it private,” he said.

He said, however, that neither player would be disciplined.

After Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, Jones was asked about Vice President Mike Pence leaving the Indianapolis Colts’ game after more than 20 members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem. Jones said the NFL cannot, “in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag,” and issued a warning to his players if they did use a form of silent protest.
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said. “Understand? We will not … if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”

Asked whether the Cowboys’ owner’s mandate puts him in an uncomfortable position, Garrett said: “You can ask Mr. Jones those questions.”

Cowboys chief operating officer and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said in an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Monday that he hasn’t talked to his father about his comments but maintains that his father wasn’t making an order to his players.

“I know this. He’s been very pleased. I think we’ve had great communication with our players in terms of the way to do things in terms of how we can certainly have respect and be sensitive to the things that they’re faced with as we did in Arizona,” he said. “But at the same time, I think they understand and trust Jerry, trust our organization that we also need to pay the proper respect to the flag.

“I think they’ve had a great understanding. Jerry’s never told them to do anything, he’s always asked them to. I know we’ve been very pleased with the way we’ve handled it … our players as a team, as an organization, the way we’ve handled obviously a very difficult situation.”

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement Monday that in meetings last week with team owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and Giants owner John Mara, the chairman of the NFL management council, assured union leaders that they would “respect the Constitutional rights of our members without retribution.” Smith also said that “no player is disrespecting our country or our flag” by protesting during the national anthem.
Before the Cowboys’ Sept. 25 meeting at the Arizona Cardinals, Jones, his sons Stephen and Jerry Jr., and daughter, Charlotte Anderson, took a knee and locked arms with players, coaches and other staff on the field before the national anthem as a compromise to the events that surfaced after President Donald Trump said players should be fired if they protested during the anthem. During the anthem, the players stood locked arm in arm.
In the two games since, the Cowboys have stood during the national anthem.

Leading up to the Arizona game, there were a number of meetings between players, players and coaches and the entire organization. It wasn’t until roughly 20 minutes before kickoff that Jones mentioned the pre-anthem kneel that the players accepted.

Garrett said he was not sure whether he would meet with the players about the subject again but said the “conversations I’ve had with our team have been very positive.”

“Again, I believe our team believes in the approach that we take in regards to the anthem and showing respect for the flag and for the national anthem prior to the game,” Garrett said.

Jason Witten shows he’s all in, once again, with latest extension

FRISCO, Texas — Almost every time Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks about tight end Jason Witten, the message is the same.

“He’s as professional a person, as professional a player as I’ve ever been around,” Garrett said last season. “His commitment to doing things the right way, his commitment to excellence is unmatched. Again, it’s beyond just a day, it’s everything he does within that day.”

With Witten signing a four-year extension through 2021, according to league sources, he is again showing what he is about.

This deal doesn’t add any guaranteed money to his pockets. As the franchise leader in receptions and just 17 yards away from being the leader in yards, he could have waited on a new deal with more guaranteed money in the future. He could have waited to test the market in 2018, even as a 15-year veteran, to potentially chase a Super Bowl ring with another team.

With his résumé, he could have demanded more than he received.

But Witten’s intention is clear. If he is going to win a Super Bowl, it will be with the Cowboys. He is doing what Garrett says he does — pouring his heart into this team.

Witten is the soul of these Cowboys. Going into the last year of his deal, it would have been difficult for him to lead the way he has without the security of added years, if not added money. He did not want teammates to wonder where he would be after the 2017 season. He did not want to incessantly answer questions as to whether this will be his final year with the Cowboys.

He took care of that by taking care of the Cowboys.

The Cowboys have the right to restructure his $7.4 million base salary this year to create nearly $4 million in room. The money can come in handy if the Cowboys have the opportunity to acquire a difference-maker in a trade later this offseason or even during the season.

Witten’s cap numbers in the future are manageable and will allow the Cowboys to keep their younger talent when they come up on contract years.

As much as this can help the Cowboys’ salary cap in 2017 and beyond, it’s more than that.

Witten arrived in Dallas as a 21-year-old kid full of optimism. He is now a 34-year-old father of four. He has become the franchise leader in a number of categories and will add more in 2017, but he is also the conscience of the locker room.

Last season, he perfectly handled the personal disappointment of seeing Tony Romo get injured — and ultimately lose his job — while also supporting Dak Prescott. Witten has the gravitas to handle any situation in the locker room, on either side of the ball, with veteran players and younger players.

A little more than a dozen players were part of the council that created the much-lauded players’ creed last season, but Witten led the discussions. If players become upset with different situations, Witten can calm the waters. He bridges the concerns of players to coaches and coaches to players.

As he stood in the locker room after the loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, Witten was emotional as he answered questions. He realized his chances to get to that Super Bowl were dwindling. Retirement became a real option for the first time.

Now, that will have to wait.

As the informal captains practices go on at The Star, the Cowboys’ training facility, Witten is there every morning, running and lifting and serving as the example for every other Cowboy to follow.

Once again, he’s all in.

Season doesn’t end in Super Bowl, but Cowboys primed for future

The Dallas Cowboys’ season ended with a 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round Sunday. Here is a look at the season and what’s next:

Season grade: A

Season summary: You can be disappointed the Cowboys were not able to secure their sixth Super Bowl trophy, but that should not dampen the mood from a season that was as unexpected as any in recent memory. When Tony Romo went down Aug. 25 with a compression fracture in his back, the hopes many had were dashed before the first regular-season game, but then Dak Prescott had one of the best — if not the best — seasons in NFL history by a rookie quarterback. Ezekiel Elliott dealt with high expectations as the No. 4 overall pick and over-delivered, leading the NFL in rushing. The offensive line was the best in football. Defensively, the unit exceeded expectations with only one star player in Sean Lee. Jason Garrett deserves credit for how the team dealt with the adversities of the season, such as Romo’s injury and injuries to other starters and suspensions. They tied the franchise record for most wins in a season (13) and set the franchise mark with 11 wins in a row. The Cowboys have plenty of decisions to make in the offseason, but this is still a team that has a young core of talent that should grow together, led by Prescott and Elliott. Even through this loss, the future for the Cowboys looks exceedingly bright.

Biggest draft need: Some of it depends on what the Cowboys do in free agency, but, like last year and the year before that, they have to find pass-rush help. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the second round in two of the past three drafts and they each had one sack this season; however, it was mostly because of suspension and, in Lawrence’s case, injury. The Cowboys went through the process of building the offensive line through the draft and must make the commitment to do the same at defensive end. Picking late in the first round, however, will make that job tougher, but they have to find players who can affect the opposing quarterback.

Key offseason questions:

What happens to Tony Romo? This will be the story of the NFL’s offseason. Jerry Jones can say it is possible to keep Romo and his $24.7 million cap figure in 2017 all he wants, but it’s just not practical. Prescott won the job after Romo’s injury and kept the job after Romo returned. Romo turns 37 in April and has played two full games since 2014. The relationship between Jones and Romo should mean that a split will be amicable. Jones will not trade the quarterback to a team that he doesn’t want to play for. That limits the field and could lead to a release over a trade. Romo can refuse a trade simply by saying he will retire. He said in November the fire still burns, but the Cowboys are the only team he has ever known. We know he can still play, but does he want to play? There is no timetable on a potential move, but by early spring this should be worked out either way.

Do the Cowboys revamp the secondary? Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox are free agents. Carr played in every game and almost every snap. He had just one interception but had his best season. Church missed four games with a fractured forearm but continued to make plays and the defense was better with him on the field. Wilcox rebounded with a solid season mostly in a reserve role and is the defense’s biggest hitter. Claiborne was off to his best start but missed nine games with a groin injury. The Cowboys would rather keep their own than sign other free agents and they don’t have a safety ready to move into a starting role, so Church could be back. Carr’s durability is a plus over Claiborne but Claiborne is younger. One of the two could be back, but the price on both might be good enough for the Cowboys to keep them together for another season.

Can the Cowboys stand success? They went 12-4 in 2014 and appeared to be on the upswing. Then they finished 4-12 in 2015. Most of that had to do with losing Romo to a broken collarbone — twice — for 12 games. Prescott has room to grow and a year of experience should do him a world of good. Elliott played with a possible suspension looming over his head the entire year and the NFL has still not officially cleared him. The Cowboys are about to go through a change in leadership with Romo expected to be elsewhere and Jason Witten potentially looking at retirement. Garrett has shown he can take a team that had low expectations outside the building and succeed. He did it in 2014 and this season. Now he has to show he can lead a team that will be expected to be successful and keep the work level the same, potentially without a proven leader like Witten to keep things sailing smoothly.

Up to Cowboys coaches as to when Tony Romo will be available to play

When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will next be in uniform and available on game day has moved from a medical decision to a coaching decision, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

“Any time a player comes back from an injury, you have feedback from the player as to how he’s doing,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who would not confirm that the decision was up to the coaches. “You watch him as a coach, you see how he’s doing. The trainers watch him and you come up with a decision as to what his status is in the game, and we’ll do that with 10 guys at practice today.”

Romo has been recovering since suffering a compression fracture in his back during a preseason game in Seattle. Depending on how he responds to more extensive work in practices this week, Romo could be in uniform for the first time this season when the Cowboys visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, barring any physical setback.

“He’s champing at the bit,” Garrett said Wednesday. “But you know, we’ll watch him today at practice and see how he does.”

Romo was listed as a full participant in Wednesday’s practice for the first time this seasons, which could be a sign that he is trending toward being active on Sunday. He was listed as limited for two practices last week.

A final determination seems unlikely until late in the week.

“That will be a coaching decision,” a source told ESPN.

Romo has remained on the active roster and has been with the team on the sideline each week this season, but he has not dressed for a game while rookie Dak Prescott has led the Cowboys to an NFC-best 7-1 record. The Cowboys have not publicly committed to having Prescott continue as the starter when Romo is available, but there have been strong indications that is the plan.

Romo has thrown just 121 regular-season passes since the end of the 2014 season and hasn’t played a regular-season game since Thanksgiving Day last year.

“He’s been throwing the ball well. He had two good days of practice last week,” Garrett said Wednesday. “… The last couple of weeks have been really good for him.”

Because of Prescott’s performance and the team’s record, Jones has said the Cowboys would not be forced to have Romo return prematurely and risk reinjury — as has happened in that past — and that they’re in position to ensure he is fully recovered from an injury unrelated to his many other back problems.