FRISCO, Texas — As the Dallas Cowboys hosted Odell Beckham Jr. for a visit Monday and Tuesday, two lines of thinking emerged.
Should the 9-3 team bring on a high-ceiling talent in hopes he’s the missing piece, or at bare minimum welcome receiver depth, ahead of their Super Bowl push?
Or should Dallas cut through the flash (yes, team owner Jerry Jones created plenty of it himself) to the substance, critically evaluate Beckham’s rehabilitation from a February ACL tear, and avoid the financial and medical risk in favor of allocating snaps and 2023 salary-cap space to their current roster core?
Consider some of the posturing from Cowboys brass this week.
In one interview, an executive said they’d “probably do something uncomfortable with him” and prioritize reward over risk because “we’ve got a quarterback [in Dak Prescott] that really could make some music with him.” Beckham is “the real deal” with tread left in his career. “I want this to work,” the executive emphasized. “I’m going to be trying to make it work. I’m going to be looking for reasons to do [the deal], not reasons not to do.”
Now, consider another interview from Cowboys management this week.
“I’m not confident at all,” the team executive said about Beckham’s current health. “We’ve got to come in with our eyes wide open [because] make no mistake about it: medical is big.” The executive declined to confirm that a return-to-play timeline after this season would indisputably take a deal off the table. “That’s harsh right there,” the official said. “But this year is paramount.”
The second interview concluded with the following comments framing the deal-or-no-deal prospects ahead.
“One way or another, there’s not a failure here,” they said. “There’s not disappointment here.”
From whom, and when, did these remarks come? The answer is telling.
The 2 sides of Jerry Jones
The first interview, dreaming of rainbows and unicorns and butterflies with Beckham donning the star, came from Jerry Jones. He spoke to reporters until after 11 p.m. Sunday, outside the team’s AT&T Stadium locker room following Dallas’ 54-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Dallas had won its ninth game of the season. Beckham was on his way to visit the facility mere hours later. Opportunity awaited.
The second interview?
That one aired Tuesday beginning at 8:30 a.m. CT on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan, the Cowboys’ flagship station. Less than 34 hours had elapsed since Jones’ postgame comments.
Beckham had already met with Jones, McCarthy, head athletic trainer Jim Maurer and director of rehabilitation Britt Brown. He had already sat courtside at the Dallas Mavericks game alongside Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons and Cowboys All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs. Further Tuesday meetings awaited, including a visit scheduled with the players on the Cowboys’ leadership council, namely Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 6, 2022
Amid the buzz of Beckham’s visit, who gave this far more cautious, hesitant, borderline pessimistic interview?
None other than the same man who spoke Sunday night: Jerry Jones.
Jones’ role with the Cowboys is multifaceted, but most often divided into two buckets. He is the team owner. He is also, unlike the majority of the NFL’s other 30 owners (or the ownership group members who hold shares in the Green Bay Packers), the team’s general manager. Over the years, Dallas media has come to draw a distinction that head coach Mike McCarthy has stated publicly multiple times this year.
When you hear Jerry Jones speaking, the thinking goes, consider which Jerry is speaking: team owner Jerry or GM Jerry?
Sunday night, the team owner and promoter-in-chief was on full display.
Tuesday morning, the general-manager lens shined more clearly.
Players pump brakes on Beckham hype
On Wednesday morning, after Beckham had returned home, McCarthy characterized Beckham’s visit as “very positive” and “productive.” Like Jones, he was impressed with Beckham. Like Jones, he focused his praise on Beckham’s character rather than his potential to augment Dallas’ roster.
“I really don’t have an update” on a timeline, McCarthy said, filibustering with a reminder that the Cowboys are preparing for a game Sunday against the Houston Texans. He said he had not spoken to Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones or vice president of player personnel Will McClay about negotiations.
Stopped in the hallway by Yahoo Sports on Wednesday afternoon, Jerry Jones reiterated he had no update to report on negotiations.
“We’re still working on it,” Jones said, citing the sensitive nature of health discussions when declining to answer some questions.
McCarthy declined to confirm if Beckham was ready to play. He declined also to share whether the team had extended an offer to the receiver.
“There are a lot of variables as far as the medical,” McCarthy said. “Not only do I not speak on the medical, I don’t speak on the financial. That’s the business component of our business.”
Parsons, who visited with Beckham for several hours at the Mavericks game, said Beckham pegged his return-to-play timeline at five weeks. That would rule out Beckham for the entirety of the regular season. Returning to full-speed for the postseason would be difficult.
Cowboys LB Micah Parsons said Odell Beckham Jr. told him he’ll be ready to play in 5 weeks pic.twitter.com/Q2XRkXmcPo
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) December 7, 2022
The Dallas Morning News’ veteran writer David Moore reported that Beckham did not work out or do any “physical activity” during his two-day visit. It appears that is contributing to team hesitancy regarding his health.
The tenor of the locker room, as well, began to shift Wednesday in the aftermath of Beckham’s visit. Multiple players indicated in conversations with Yahoo Sports that they wanted to focus on the team’s upcoming games and present situation rather than speculate about a player who is not yet healthy enough to play. Veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence declined even to confirm it was “fair” to see he wanted Beckham in house.
“It’s fair to say I’m trying to reach a Super Bowl,” Lawrence quipped. “So if he can come and help us with that, then yes, I’ll accept him. But if we’re just gonna do the circus, no I don’t.
“I’m focused on this year, this team, what we have in this locker room and the journey we’re on.”
Some players worried about a distraction derailing what they believe can be a special season.
Could a Beckham deal still materialize? Neither he nor the team have publicly ruled out that possibility, even as their silence and inactivity speaks loudly. Could Beckham go unsigned this season, instead signing with a team in the spring once he’s expected to be not only medically cleared but also ready to resume football activity? Growing sentiment surrounds that notion.
McCarthy reiterated one reflection from Tuesday that has characterized this whole college-style recruitment of Beckham.
“I’ve never been part of this type of situation in December,” he said. “This is a very unique situation.”
And the Cowboys, as the Beckham recruitment displayed spectacularly, are a very unique team.
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein