Just after the team finished practice last week on Monday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones met with the media on the field in Oxnard.
“You realize, not having him here, it could happen on the next play and you not have him (because of injury),” Jones said when asked about All-Pro guard Zack Martin’s holdout leaking into the third week of training camp. “You got to put that one on and say we just move on here without him.”
Jones spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone. His comments were an extension of the very public hard line he had drawn in the sand against Martin. Everything that verbalized throughout this saga — coming from one side, as Martin let his actions do the talking — seemed a bit strange.
Ultimately, it was all quite predictable.
Martin had every reason to take issue with his contract. As Jones was quick to remind the masses in recent weeks, when Martin signed his six-year deal in 2018, the Cowboys made him the highest-paid guard in NFL history. In the four years since, Martin has more than held up his end of the deal while falling to eighth in the NFL in salary amongst active guards. There are not seven players better at the position than Martin.
Back to Work.
— Zack Martin (@thegob70) August 14, 2023
For those, inside or outside of the Cowboys’ organization, taking issue with Martin wanting to alter the terms despite what he inked his name to in 2018, that argument would hold a lot more weight if the NFL teams issued guaranteed contracts, but they don’t. Chances are, had Martin’s play faltered or had he suffered a significant injury in the past four years, the team would have been the one to bail on the terms that were agreed upon in 2018.
Jones mentioned in an interview that accommodating Martin’s request would set a bad precedent for other players who could ask for raises the minute they begin to outperform their deal. On the surface, it’s a logical argument but it doesn’t hold much weight because it isn’t true. Jones knew that. It was simply a negotiation tactic to try and win the court of public opinion with logic. Caving to Martin’s requests doesn’t set any sort of precedent, unless the future player asking for a mid-contract raise is a future Hall of Famer, currently at the top of his game and asking for a raise that wouldn’t break the bank, or if the player is the franchise quarterback. Both situations are extremely rare.
To Martin’s credit, he handled the situation the best way possible. He deflected being a non-participant in OTAs, chalking it up to a minor soft tissue injury to the media. Clearly, Martin never wanted this to escalate to a point where things become public. That’ll happen, though, when you’re not on the charter for training camp. Holding out was the only option Martin had and although it cost him $50,000 per day that he missed training camp (those fines are mandatory, another gem the player’s union agreed to in the last CBA), the raise of a guaranteed $8.5 million he got over the course of the next two years was also an eventuality that was always going to be worth it.
In situations where two sides are pitted against each other, there’s the urge to paint one as the bad guy. Given Martin’s spotless resume, it would be convenient to mark Jones as the villain. That’s not necessarily the case.
It’s important to remember, Jones is the owner and general manager. As the general manager, Jones knew he had very little ground to stand on in negotiations with Martin and his camp. The asks for a raise were reasonable and the Cowboys are constructed with too much talent this year and are entering the season with high expectations, and potentially some jobs on the line. In 2019, the urgency entering Jason Garrett’s final year was high so Jones got a deal done with Ezekiel Elliott, even though his asks were far less reasonable than Martin’s. You think the owner who has repeatedly said that he doesn’t have time to have a bad time would throw away this sort of season over $4 million per year? There was never any chance of that, but the general manager side of Jones had to give it his best shot.
Projecting Cowboys’ final roster with seasons starting in less than a month
It’s the same vein of Jones’ comments about not being able to give Martin a modest raise because he has to pay Micah Parsons, which is laughable. Anybody with a basic understanding of the Cowboys’ cap situation knows that Martin’s raise will not hinder the Cowboys’ ability to re-sign Parsons to what will likely be the richest deal for a defender in NFL history, especially after Dak Prescott’s figure for next season is restructured with his eventual extension as well.
Jones, the general manager, was just playing the negotiations publicly and giving it his best shot to save a few bucks. At a macro level, it’s not terribly dissimilar from how the last Elliott negotiations went. Jones said things publicly then as well — remember “Zeke who?” — but the end result was a deal in place before kickoff for Week 1.
As a guard, Martin may not have had the leverage of a franchise quarterback but everybody, including Jones, sees what the Cowboys have in the current state of the offensive line. For a team loaded with depth at a lot of positions, the offensive line is the exception. It’s a group that’s just formidable enough with Martin; without him, there’s potential for disaster.
In the end, Martin’s money over the next two years became fully guaranteed. His salary went from the neighborhood of $14 million to just more than $18 million. Instead of being the eighth highest-paid guard in the NFL, Martin is now third on the list, behind Chris Lindstrom in Atlanta and Quenton Nelson in Indianapolis. It’s also a big plus to get this done nearly a month before the season opener, giving Martin enough time to get into football shape and work out any quirks that need to be addressed and learned in the new Mike McCarthy offense.
Two weeks ago, speaking generally, Jones said that he would never alter an agreed upon contract unless it favored the Cowboys. Financially, this will look like a one-sided win in favor of Martin. But Jones and the Cowboys won, too, because Martin is back on the field. Reality is, he’s probably still a bit underpaid.
(Photo: Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)
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