With the 2021 NFL draft in the rear view, it’s time to take inventory with another version of the NFL Power Rankings. While this draft was unprecedented due to the lack of a combine, visits to team facilities and in-person pro days, the decisions made in constructing this draft class will shape the futures of many NFL teams.
But we’re taking more of a micro look at this draft. We asked our NFL Nation writers to pick players already on the roster of the teams they cover who benefited most from the draft. Whether it’s players who have more talent around them now (Aaron Rodgers, if he decides to reconcile with the Green Bay Packers), veterans who are happy their teams passed on possible replacements or heir apparents (Tua Tagovailoa on the Miami Dolphins) or star players who simply have more support surrounding them (Myles Garrett on the Cleveland Browns), here are the guys who might excel the most after draft day.
How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.
Post-free-agency ranking: 1
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Patrick Mahomes
The Chiefs finished a rebuild of their offensive line by trading their first-round pick to the Ravens in return for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and then drafting center Creed Humphrey in the second round. That means the Chiefs will have eight new linemen this upcoming season, and there’s a strong possibility the Chiefs will have a completely different group of starters. Mahomes is unlikely to be harassed like he was in Super Bowl LV. — Adam Teicher
Post-free-agency ranking: 2
Neither Barrett nor Pierre-Paul like to come off the field, but the addition of first-round draft pick Joe Tryon as a rotational player could help keep both players, especially Pierre-Paul, who is now 32, fresh, especially when that midseason lull starts to kick in. Perhaps Tryon’s presence will help a more-rested Barrett and Pierre-Paul excel down the stretch. — Jenna Laine
Post-free-agency ranking: 4
Player who benefited most from draft: CB Levi Wallace
Draft experts, football pundits and fans all expected the Bills to take a cornerback within the first two days of last month’s draft; instead, general manager Brandon Beane waited until the sixth round to select Wisconsin corner Rachad Wildgoose, who probably won’t be usurping Wallace as the Bills’ starting cornerback in his rookie season. While Wallace will still need to stave off impressive 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson, the fact Beane didn’t spend an early pick on a cornerback signals his confidence in Wallace, a three-year starter. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Post-free-agency ranking: 6
The Rams lost center Austin Blythe to the Chiefs in free agency and did not draft a replacement. That means Allen, Shelton and Corbett will compete for the starting job in 2021 and possibly earn the opportunity snap to quarterback Matthew Stafford for several seasons beyond. Allen has the most experience after starting nine games as a second-year pro in 2019, but he has not appeared in a game since suffering a season-ending knee injury that year. Shelton has no NFL experience at the position, and Corbett, who started the past two seasons at guard, has played the position in only the preseason. — Lindsey Thiry
Louis Riddick argues that Aaron Rodgers eventually will take his talents elsewhere and finish his career away from Green Bay.
Post-free-agency ranking: 3
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Aaron Rodgers
Should Rodgers choose to embrace it, he would see that the draft improved his chances of getting over the hump after consecutive NFC title game losses the past two years. The two biggest holes on the roster last season were at cornerback (where Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan were exposed) and on the offensive line (without injured left tackle David Bakhtiari). The Packers picked speedy corner Eric Stokes in the first round and also took three offensive linemen to give them more options up front. Oh yeah, and they finally drafted a receiver before Day 3, taking Clemson’s Amari Rodgers in the third round. — Rob Demovsky
Post-free-agency ranking: 5
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Lamar Jackson
The Ravens gave Jackson two polished route-runners and a mountainous offensive lineman in the first four rounds. Jackson received help in the passing game with wide receivers Rashod Bateman (first round) and Tylan Wallace (fourth round), who are known for getting open and catching everything in their grasp. Think Keenan Allen and Cooper Kupp. In the third round, Baltimore drafted a 6-foot-6, 357-pound interior bodyguard for Jackson. Guard Ben Cleveland allowed one sack and three quarterback pressures in 741 pass-blocking snaps across four seasons at Georgia, according to Pro Football Focus. This investment provides a boost to the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing attack. — Jamison Hensley
Jeff Darlington and Keyshawn Johnson examine the back end of the Ravens’ schedule.
Post-free-agency ranking: 7
Player who benefited most from draft: DE Myles Garrett
Too often last season, Garrett had to carry Cleveland’s defense. That became too much after he caught COVID-19 and labored with his breathing even after returning. Garrett will have a lot more help moving forward, thanks in part to the draft. With their first two picks, the Browns nabbed cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, players who weren’t expected to last to Cleveland’s first-round pick at No. 26, much less fall to the second round, as Owusu-Koramoah did. Adding that kind of talent should make life easier on Garrett, both this season and long term. — Jake Trotter
Post-free-agency ranking: 9
Player who benefited most from draft: C Ethan Pocic
Not drafting a center showed that the Seahawks have more confidence in Pocic than many observers do. Sure, having a league-low three picks was a factor, but it seems telling that they passed on a center with their first pick at No. 56 despite only one center coming off the board by that point. While they could still add a veteran in this post-draft phase of free agency, Pocic is the clear-cut favorite for the job. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks hope he’s still ascending at that position after playing guard for his first three seasons. — Brady Henderson
Post-free-agency ranking: 13
Players who benefited most from draft: The receiver group
Picking one player who benefited most is difficult, but the players who were probably happiest to see the Niners not make a significant draft addition were the wide receivers. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are the unquestioned top two but with Kendrick Bourne gone to New England, many thought the Niners would at least add someone to compete for the open slot receiver job. Instead, the 49ers eschewed the position for the first time in the past 19 drafts, leaving the likes of Richie James, Jalen Hurd and Mohamed Sanu Sr. to battle for Bourne’s vacated snaps. — Nick Wagoner
Post-free-agency ranking: 8
Player who benefited most from draft: TE Anthony Firkser
Firkser remains the most likely candidate to be the lead tight end for the Titans because they didn’t use any draft picks to add to the group. The Titans also avoided selecting a slot receiver to take over the third-down specialist role. That leaves Firkser as the best option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to target when they need to move the chains. Firkser had 19 receptions on third down last year, of which 14 (74%) resulted in a first down. Firkser’s fortunes could change if the Titans are active in the post-June 1 free-agent sweepstakes. — Turron Davenport
Post-free-agency ranking: 12
By drafting two talented cornerbacks in Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan, the Cardinals strengthened their cornerback room significantly after losing Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick this offseason. Adding those two defensive backs will give the Cardinals better depth and the ability to rotate at corner, keeping fresh legs on the field, which in turn will help Watt and Jones off the edge. Better, more consistent cornerback play will allow the two elite edge rushers more time to get to the quarterback, who’ll likely be forced to hold the ball longer because of better coverage, which could lead to more sacks. — Josh Weinfuss
Post-free-agency ranking: 10
Player who benefited most from draft: DE DeForest Buckner
The Colts lost 15.5 sacks of support for Buckner along the defensive line with the departures of Justin Houston (8.0) and Denico Autry (7.5) during the offseason. The Colts hope first-round pick Kwity Paye will help make up for some of those sacks. Paye, an edge rusher out of Michigan, will have the inside track to become an instant starter. Paye had 11.5 sacks during his college career. Buckner will also get even more help at some point once second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo returns from his torn Achilles. Odeyingbo, an edge rusher who played at Vanderbilt, tore his Achilles while working out in January. — Mike Wells
Post-free-agency ranking: 15
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Kirk Cousins
Phew! For a minute it looked like Cousins wouldn’t have a viable group protecting him on the left side of the offensive line. Minnesota sought not only prospects to fit its zone-blocking scheme but also found more size. First-rounder Christian Darrisaw is now responsible for Cousins’ blindside, and the Vikings can be confident that the rookie left tackle will fare well after allowing just three pressures and one sack on 264 pass blocks last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But perhaps the biggest benefit will be the expected improvement of the Vikings’ interior pass protection thanks to the drafting of guard Wyatt Davis in the second round. — Courtney Cronin
Post-free-agency ranking: 14
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Tua Tagovailoa
All of the offseason chatter surrounding the Dolphins was about building around Tagovailoa, and build they did. Adding a speedy wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle, an NFL-ready offensive lineman in Liam Eichenberg, depth at tight end in Hunter Long and a power running back in Gerrid Doaks is key for the maturation of the Dolphins’ offense under its second-year signal-caller. And let’s not forget Miami addressing the potential mentor role, signing backup QB Jacoby Brissett in free agency and declining to draft any competition at the position. This is Tagovailoa’s team, and it’s set up for him to take the Dolphins to the next level. — ESPN Staff
Post-free-agency ranking: 11
The Steelers didn’t draft a Day 1 starting tackle, and that’s good news for both Okorafor and Banner. With Alejandro Villanueva departing in free agency, Okorafor is “penciled in” at starting left tackle according to what Mike Tomlin said in April. Banner, coming off an ACL surgery, is projected to start at right tackle — the position he won in a training camp battle a year ago. Both have more job security, with the Steelers opting to wait until the fourth round to take an offensive tackle. — Brooke Pryor
Marcus Spears and Domonique Foxworth reveal their expectations for the Dallas Cowboys this season.
Post-free-agency ranking: 18
Player who benefited most from draft: S Donovan Wilson
Safety has been a need for years for the Cowboys, even if Wilson showed he could develop into a productive player with his ability to be around the ball. The Cowboys added three safeties in free agency in Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, but Neal is expected to begin at linebacker, Kazee is coming off an Achilles tear and Kearse is mostly a special-teamer. The Cowboys did not select a safety in the draft but will move sixth-rounder Israel Mukuamu, a cornerback, to the position. That is good news for Wilson’s standing, not just on the roster but as a starter. — Todd Archer
Post-free-agency ranking: 17
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Justin Herbert
The Chargers weren’t playing around when it came to protecting their franchise quarterback. They went out in free agency and signed All-Pro center Corey Linsley along with tackle Matt Feiler and guard Oday Aboushi, and then drafted their left tackle of the future in Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 pick. They also added veteran Jared Cook at tight end and an experienced backup quarterback in Chase Daniel to go with their new, upbeat coaching staff. It will be exciting to see if it all works. — Shelley Smith
Post-free-agency ranki: 16
Player who benefited most from draft: WR Tre’Quan Smith
Smith already had a big opportunity to emerge as New Orleans’ No. 2 wide receiver this year after the Saints released veteran Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. But his role was further cemented when the Saints didn’t draft a WR until Round 7. Smith has shown flashes of potential since being drafted in Round 3 in 2018 and provides extra value as a blocker. But he has never tallied more than 34 catches or 448 yards in a season and could use a breakout heading into the final year of his contract. — Mike Triplett
Post-free-agency ranking: 19
Player who benefited most from draft: OT Isaiah Wynn
The Patriots didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the sixth round (William Sherman), which simplified their decision to pick up Wynn’s fifth-year option for 2022 and guarantee him $10.4 million. Wynn has played 18 of a possible 48 regular-season games, as injuries have created obstacles for him in becoming the player the Patriots hoped they were getting after taking him No. 23 overall out of Georgia in 2018. When healthy, he has been mostly solid at left tackle. — Mike Reiss
Post-free-agency ranking: 22
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
For the first time in a while — maybe ever — Fitzpatrick will play without a clear replacement behind him. There’s no Jameis Winston, Josh Rosen or Tua Tagovailoa — among many others — lurking. Washington considered drafting a quarterback but didn’t feel desperate. Not only does he have a new level of freedom, but Washington drafted a speedy wide receiver in Dyami Brown to pair with free-agent signee Curtis Samuel and holdover Terry McLaurin. It also selected an offensive tackle (Samuel Cosmi) and a tight end (John Bates). Fitzpatrick might have his best chance to lead a team to the postseason for the first time in his 17-year career. — John Keim
Post-free-agency ranking: 24
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Matt Ryan
The Falcons didn’t take a quarterback in the first round (or any round), once again giving credence to the thought Ryan is still in Atlanta’s future plans (although as we’ve seen with Matthew Stafford and Sam Darnold, things can change considerably in a year). The Falcons also gave him a tantalizing new offensive option in No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts, who head coach Arthur Smith could line up anywhere. Barring injuries, Atlanta’s offense should be one of the most productive in the league, and Ryan — with potential security in his job — would be the catalyst for that. — Michael Rothstein
Post-free-agency ranking: 20
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Derek Carr
After another offseason full of rumors that had Carr being replaced at different times by Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and/or Aaron Rodgers, the Raiders stood pat. They did not draft Carr’s heir apparent and, actually, strengthened the roster around him with what the Raiders contend is a cornerstone right tackle in Alex Leatherwood. They also rebuilt the defense, as five of Las Vegas’ seven draft picks came on that side of the ball. No more excuses, right? — Paul Gutierrez
Post-free-agency ranking: 21
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Daniel Jones
The Giants were going to draft DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle with the 11th pick if they had fallen to that spot. They didn’t. But the Giants were so intent on getting more playmakers for Jones that they still drafted wide receiver Kadarius Toney after trading down to No. 20. As if adding Kenny Golladay, John Ross III and Kyle Rudolph in free agency and getting back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL wasn’t enough, now Jones has Toney (referred to as an “offensive weapon” by one coach) in the mix. Any lack of success from Jones in his third season won’t be due to a lack of talent around him. — Jordan Raanan
Marcus Spears predicts that Justin Fields will be named the starter for the Bears by the end of training camp.
Post-free-agency ranking: 25
Player who benefited most from draft: WR Allen Robinson II
The arrival of Justin Fields will greatly benefit Robinson, who is playing on the one-year franchise tag. Whenever the Bears deem Fields ready to start, the rookie out of Ohio State represents a serious upgrade over the quarterbacks Robinson has played with over three seasons in Chicago. Despite the often shaky quarterback play, Robinson still managed to post impressive numbers, catching 102 passes for 1,250 yards last season. Whether Robinson is a Bear beyond 2021 remains to be seen, but the (expected eventual) emergence of Fields might convince Robinson to stick around a while longer. — Jeff Dickerson
Post-free-agency ranking: 23
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Sam Darnold
Everyone the Panthers drafted, even first-round CB Jaycee Horn, helps Darnold. Consider second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr., whose 11 TDs inside the 10 the past two years were the most in college football; WR Shi Smith, whose 153 catches from the slot are the third most in the SEC since 2014; RB Chuba Hubbard, who will allow more opportunities for Christian McCaffrey to be used in other places; Tommy Tremble, whose 83.7 run-blocking grade (PFF) in 2020 was the best by a TE in college football; and OG Deonte Brown, who didn’t allow a sack in college. One could argue the entire Carolina draft was to benefit Darnold. — David Newton
Post-free-agency ranking: 27
It’s a tie because life could be far better for the Broncos’ two most prominent pass-rushers given all of the team’s offseason work on the secondary. Not only did they sign cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby in free agency, re-sign safety Justin Simmons to a megadeal and bring back safety Kareem Jackson on a one-year deal, the Broncos also selected Alabama CB Pat Surtain II with their first-round pick. Surtain will be in the mix for significant playing time from the moment the equipment staff hands him his helmet. It all points to improved coverage and more sack opportunities for Denver’s pass-rushers. — Jeff Legwold
Post-free-agency ranking: 26
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Jalen Hurts
The Eagles not only passed on opportunities to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones, but did not use any of their nine draft picks on a quarterback. Instead, they reunited Hurts with a pair of fellow Alabama alums by taking wide receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson in the first two rounds, then added do-it-all running back Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth. This will be Hurts’ show barring a late blockbuster trade, and he’s now set up pretty well for it. — Tim McManus
Post-free-agency ranking: 29
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Zach Wilson
After drafting Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, the Jets actually gave him some help by following up with three consecutive picks on offense — guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, wide receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter. The previous time they opened a draft with four straight choices on offense was 1983. This is a departure from how the Jets built around Wilson’s predecessor, Sam Darnold. Wilson already has struck up a friendship with Moore, who figures to play immediately. Vera-Tucker projects as a Day 1 starter at left guard and Carter could work his way into playing time in a backfield that lacks a true RB1. Call this draft “Wilson & Friends.” — Rich Cimini
Post-free-agency ranking: 28
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Joe Burrow
While the former No. 1 overall pick didn’t force his opinion on Cincinnati’s front office, Burrow made it known he enjoyed the idea of playing with WR Ja’Marr Chase again. And sure enough, the Bengals selected Burrow’s former LSU teammate with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft. Chase gives Burrow another big playmaker who will be asked to beat defenders early and often. Burrow also gained a projected starting right guard in Clemson’s Jackson Carman. The Bengals clearly indicated they’re backing their young quarterback. — Ben Baby
Rex Ryan explains what Tim Tebow can bring to the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially in short-yardage situations.
Post-free-agency ranking: 30
Player who benefited most from draft: WR DJ Chark Jr.
Really, all the receivers will benefit from the addition of Trevor Lawrence, but Chark is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 (53 catches, 706 yards, 5 TDs). He made the Pro Bowl and was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, and the upgrade in QB play over Gardner Minshew II, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon — all of whom started games last season — gives him a chance to surpass 1,000 yards again. The addition of vet Marvin Jones Jr., helps, too, because defenses can’t just focus on Chark any longer. — Michael DiRocco
Post-free-agency ranking: 31
Player who benefited most from draft: QB Jared Goff
Ahead of the draft, the new Lions quarterback was assured by the front office that the team wouldn’t select another QB. They didn’t, which he said gave him a “nice foot of confidence” entering his first year in Detroit. They also beefed up the offensive line by drafting a potential generational talent in Oregon OT Penei Sewell to help protect him. Although building up the offensive and defensive lines was a priority, Goff was also “excited” for fourth-round WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, who could be a good fit. — Eric Woodyard
Post-free-agency ranking: 32
Player who benefited most from draft: RB David Johnson
While the Texans have three veteran running backs on their roster, none are under contract past the 2021 season. The Texans had already signed Phillip Lindsay after they had restructured Johnson’s contract but by not drafting a running back, Houston didn’t add another player who could take carries away from Johnson. Johnson was the Texans’ lead running back last season and ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries in 12 games. — Sarah Barshop
Linebacker Vince Williams, 31, informs Pittsburgh Steelers of his retirement after eight seasons
Williams, 31, played eight seasons with the organization after being selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Williams was initially released by the team in March because of cap constraints, but he was re-signed in April on a one-year veteran minimum deal.
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) July 21, 2021
The former Florida State player emerged as a team leader in Pittsburgh and started 69 of 121 career games, racking up 20.5 sacks, 479 combined tackles and 50 tackles for loss.
Beyond Spillane and Bush, the Steelers will likely look to rookie Buddy Johnson and safety-turned-inside linebacker Marcus Allen for depth at the position — but with a strong camp, a fully healthy Ulysees Gilbert III could also land a roster spot to round out the group.
Jerry Jones confident Dallas Cowboys’ vaccination percentage ‘will not limit us in any way’
OXNARD, California — The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp under stricter COVID-19 protocols because they did not reach the 85% vaccination threshold, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he does not believe it will impact the players’ preparedness for the regular season.
“My opinion is it will absolutely will not limit us in any way, the issue of vaccination, will [not] limit us in any way as to being competitive as early as when we play Pittsburgh in the first preseason game,” Jones said Wednesday at the opening news conference of training camp. “When people say, ‘Where do you think you stand right now with vaccine relative to your team and as it pertains — this comes to my mind — the competition,’ and I think we’re one of the leaders.”
Jones indicated as few as five players have not made a pledge to get vaccinated at present, and a portion of players are “in the pipeline” toward becoming fully vaccinated, a number that would help the Cowboys reach the mark.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones noted the four weeks between the first shot and full vaccination for not being able to pinpoint an exact date. With 90 players on the roster, 77 need to be vaccinated to reach the current threshold that would ease COVID-19 restrictions at training camp.
“I don’t know that the 85% has been totally negotiated yet,” Stephen Jones said. “I think it’s a work in progress, but, yes, I do think we’ll hit that threshold and more.”
Stephen Jones credited the players for listening to the information the team made available regarding the vaccine.
“They understand that everybody was recommending the vaccine, in and around the country, but they really did their homework,” he said. “They had a lot of great questions. We provided them with lot of education, a lot about the science, and I think they were able to get their hands around it.”
The Cowboys’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated, according to Jerry Jones, but Mike McCarthy said he told his players he needed some convincing early on before getting the shot.
“Frankly, I shared my own personal experience where the facts that I was not particularly 100 percent on board with the vaccination, but through the relationships that we’re fortunate to have in the medical community, you watch, you listen. I think that same approach was given to our players,” McCarthy said. “We just wanted to make sure they had all the facts … Really, the position of where we were numbers-wise in my opinion was more about timing.”
Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin was critical of the Cowboys for not reaching the threshold, questioning their commitment to winning.
“Yeah, and it should upset them,” Irvin said. “It should upset them. Dude, you’re not thinking right. You’re not thinking right. Whatever you got, I don’t give a damn. Nothing else can be more important. You’re not going to get this (winning a Super Bowl) easily. Nothing else could be more important. Jimmy [Johnson] made that abundantly clear (during Irvin’s playing career). Nothing else is more important. And not being one of the [teams] says there’s other things to a great number of people on this team that are more important than winning championships, and that makes me worried.”
Jerry Jones said he understood Irvin’s comments.
“Michael Irvin is the best example that I know of how much will and how much body language and how much of heart and sacrifice mean to winning championships. He is that. So when he talks, I listen. I know that,” Jerry Jones said. “And I think he has a good reputation with the current group of players because of his visibility and his activity with the network where he is as an individual. So he comes with all the credibility in the world. He’s a Hall of Famer and then not only part of — because he’s a talented football player — but a big part of why he got there was that total commitment going above and beyond.
“That’s what he was trying to say. That it isn’t normal things we want from each other as players. We want everything to go above and beyond. And so I thought it was an outstanding message.”
Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones says he’d ‘do anything’ to make Super Bowl LVI
OXNARD, Calif. — Over the years, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has not been afraid to talk about Super Bowl dreams before the start of a season. But as the franchise’s championship drought pushes past 25 years, Jones stayed away from making headlines Wednesday.
Still, making it to Super Bowl LVI is at the top of Jones’ mind.
“I’d do anything known to man to get to a Super Bowl,” Jones said. “That’s a fact.”
Jones became emotional at several points of a nearly hour-long news conference, starting with when he was asked how he intends to get the Cowboys back to a time when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the 1990s.
“I’ve always had to be pragmatic at the end of the day because if not, you’ll end up on the outside looking in. You have to be real,” Jones said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never thought that we couldn’t be better or never thought that we couldn’t make it happen, even when we were not on paper or we weren’t as technically as good or sound. But I’ve never thought that, and I’ve got too many examples of how shorthanded people have knocked them out of the park before. A lot of them. In a lot of different areas.
“I really don’t know that I have any days or have any weeks where I don’t think, ‘There’s a pony in here somewhere.’ You have a lot of days where you ask yourself, ‘What are you doing in the middle of this?’ That has served me well. This isn’t an ‘I, me,’ but I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You’re naive’ or say, ‘He’s naive.’ Well, it’s a beautiful world. … It’s a better world to be naive than to be skeptical and be negative all the time.”
Jones choked up when discussing former coach Jimmy Johnson’s tenure with the Cowboys now that Johnson is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.
“Well, I just think of those great times, and Jimmy’s a great coach,” Jones said. “Ridiculous. My role here was, my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good. Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”
The current Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, including a 6-10 finish in 2020 in Mike McCarthy’s first season as coach. Dak Prescott played in just five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, but he will be a full participant when practice opens Thursday. A number of other key players also missed significant time due to injury.
“I think we got a way to make it work big for this season,” Jones said. “You put those two things together, and I think we got a chance to be a really good team.”
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