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When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, nothing is simple.One must read between the lines when deciphering just what the Cowboys might do.

Without question, Dez Bryant’s future is the biggest question facing the Cowboys in 2018. Yes, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is set to be a free agent, but the Cowboys know he will be in their lineup one way or another because of the franchise tag. Yes, they would like to sign Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to an extension, but they know they have him under contract for 2018 thanks to the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Yes, defensive lineman David Irving is set to be a restricted free agent, but the Cowboys will likely put a second-round tag on him and either match a deal if one comes from another team or accept a second-round pick in return.

With Bryant, nothing is certain.

On Monday, executive vice president Stephen Jones went on the team’s “Hangin’ with the Boys” podcast and seemed to set up the Cowboys’ offseason position with Bryant. Since signing his five-year, $70 million deal after the 2014 season, he has not been the same receiver. This past season he played in every game and caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns.

“We pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s aware of it as anybody when he talks to Jerry and myself,” Stephen Jones said. “He knows when you get paid that kind of money, there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. Those are all things that we have to look at as a team, as an organization, when we start to put our team together for next year.”

Bryant is set to make $12.5 million in 2018. He has a $16.5 million cap figure. The Cowboys can release him and save $8 million. They can designate him a post-June 1 cut and save $12 million and he will count $4 million against the 2019 cap.

The Cowboys could ask Bryant to take a pay cut, but the last time they faced a dicey contractual situation with one of their all-time greats, DeMarcus Ware, they did not make him an offer because they did not want to hurt him with a lowball contract. They eventually cut Ware and he signed with the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in his second season there.

Also on the podcast, Stephen Jones said that Bryant’s sideline outbursts are a distraction. Over the years, Jason Garrett has defended Bryant’s actions as a sign of passion. On Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Stephen Jones was asked to clarify what he meant.

“Well, Dez is an emotional guy. He plays with emotion. That’s part of his game,” Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “We work with him constantly on trying to really channel his energy in positive ways. I just think when he has those types of emotional roller coasters, I think at the end of the day he needs to understand that it does affect more than just Dez. He loves his teammates. He obviously has made so many great plays for us over the years but when you start to look at the things that we need to be better at, that’s one of them. I think he needs to understand that it’s not something that’s just affecting him, it does affect his teammates.”

On Tuesday from the Senior Bowl, Jerry Jones played something of the good cop when he was asked if Bryant was still a Dak Prescott-friendly receiver as the Cowboys look to direct their offense around their third-year quarterback’s talents.

“Well again, I’ve said this and I’m so proud of Dez and proud of where he is today, with us,” Jerry Jones said. “I believe Dez to have a lot of gas in the tank. I think we need to improve across the board with our receivers, and I think we will. In doing so, it should be an opportunity for Dez.”

Does he expect Bryant to be on the team?

“Well, everyone we’ve got under contract right now — and I’m not addressing anyone — but everyone we’ve got under contract and have years left on their contract, I expect to be with the team,” Jerry Jones said.

And this is where you can read between the lines. If Bryant was a dead-set lock to be on the roster in 2018, Jerry Jones could have just said yes. He was direct in some of his answers about the coaching staff. Here he left the door open with the “expect to.”

Nothing that has been said this week is new to Bryant. He addressed his situation late in the regular season. He knows the NFL business. And he said he would not take a pay cut if asked. He has not been asked yet.

Like Ware, he might not be asked either.

The door for Bryant’s departure seems to be open.

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David Irving is the ultimate tease.

In eight games, Irving’s seven sacks were second on the defense to DeMarcus Lawrence’s 14.5. He had 19 quarterback pressures. The coaches credited him with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, six pass deflections and a forced fumble.

“I keep thinking, ‘What if I had played all of the games?’” Irving said. “I probably could’ve got 15, 16, maybe more [sacks]. So I just got to come back next year, stay the hell out of trouble, hopefully don’t get injured and see what I can do next year.”

Irving missed the first four games last season because of a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He missed the final four games because of a concussion. There is nothing he could do to avoid the latter, but he could have done everything differently to avoid the former.

In 2016, Irving had four sacks, five tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures, five pass deflections and four forced fumbles, including three in one game. By the end of the season, he was the Cowboys’ best defensive lineman.

There are just not many people on the earth at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds who can do the things Irving can do on a football field.

When he came back from his suspension, he played mostly defensive end, but he shifted inside when the Cowboys moved Maliek Collins to nose tackle.

“Honestly, it doesn’t make any difference; put me at nose guard, left end, right end, three-technique, it really doesn’t matter,” Irving said. “Wherever I can make plays, wherever I can help the team. I’m capable of playing any position on the line, so wherever the coaches need me, wherever my team needs me.”

As for his health, Irving said he is “progressing slowly but surely.” The headaches are less frequent, and he hopes to be working out fully in a few weeks.

“It’s weird, man,” he said. “You’ve just got to rest up. Some days you have good days. Some days you have bad days, but the bad days are not coming as much.”

Consistency has been Irving’s issue, on and off the field. His talent will give him chances others won’t get, but he confounds coaches at times. He did not practice in part of the offseason for reasons not really known. He did not show up for the first reporting day of training camp at The Star before the Cowboys went to Oxnard, California.

Irving’s future depends on becoming more reliable. He is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys are likely to give him the second-round tender in hopes that 2018 becomes the year he puts it all together, on and off the field.

Had Irving already showed he was responsible, the Cowboys might have opted for a long-term deal with a bigger financial commitment.

As he addressed the media Monday, Irving on multiple occasions talked about staying out of trouble, which is likely something he heard from the coaches in his exit interviews.

“You’ve got to be mature,” Irving said. “You have to be an adult. You have to be responsible. When you’ve got something to lose, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble. I’m definitely going to be staying out of trouble.”

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Late in the season it’s not so rare to come up with more than seven inactive players.

In attempting to figure out the Dallas Cowboys’ 46-man active roster for Sunday night’s game against the Oakland Raiders, it’s easy to come up with more than seven players to sit.

First, cornerback Orlando Scandrick (back), defensive end David Irving (concussion), linebacker Justin Durant (concussion) and wide receiver Brice Butler (foot) have been ruled out because of injury.

The Cowboys also don’t need a third tailback (Trey Williams) or a fourth tight end (Blake Jarwin).

You can make the case they don’t need an eighth offensive lineman (Chaz Green), ninth defensive lineman (Daniel Ross) or eighth defensive back (Bene Benwikere), too.

So when you get down to the final few spots, who brings the most value?

Let’s start with Benwikere. He has become a pretty big part of the special-teams unit, but if something were to happen to Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown at cornerback, Benwikere can step in and play.

Given the presence of Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, Ross makes some sense because he can bring size to the defensive line at 305 pounds. Ross has yet to play since the Cowboys claimed him off the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad, but his addition was made with a long-term view.

With La’el Collins getting two practices in for the first time in three weeks because of a back injury, Green would seem to be the most dispensable. With Byron Bell already active as the swing tackle, Green’s only real function without two injuries up front would be on the field goal protection unit. Is that enough value to dress on gameday?

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As things have soured for the Dallas Cowboys in these past three weeks, it’s almost as if they are waiting for something bad to happen.

More often than not, it did.

Before Philip Rivers lit up the Cowboys for 434 yards and threw three touchdown passes, he should have had a pass intercepted by cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the second quarter. Of course, the sun might have played an issue with Lewis dropping what should have been the second interception of his career. But Jerry Jones will say the sun doesn’t play an issue in late afternoon games at AT&T Stadium. Hey, the aesthetics of the place are great.

Trailing 9-0 in the third quarter, the Cowboys nearly had their first touchdown since the first quarter of their loss to the Atlanta Falcons when Dak Prescott ran 34 yards. But left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for a holding penalty, negating the score. On the next play, Prescott was pressured and forced to throw the ball away, leading to a punt. Los Angeles scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and a 16-0 lead was insurmountable.

The Cowboys’ margin for error is infinitesimal at this point.

“You have to focus on doing your job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You have to focus on making good things happen for you, and when we play our best we do that.”

The Cowboys’ past three losses have followed a similar script. They trailed 10-7 at halftime against the Atlanta Falcons and lost 27-7. They led the Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 at halftime and lost 37-9. They trailed the Los Angeles Chargers 3-0 at halftime and lost 28-6.

The redundancy is stunning. The Falcons, Eagles and Chargers all scored on the first drive of the second half. In the past three games, the defense has given up eight touchdowns and a field goal in 14 possessions. Two of those possessions ended with the opponent taking a knee. Atlanta had a touchdown wiped out by a penalty on its final drive and gave the ball up on downs at the Dallas 26.

Offensively, the Cowboys have had 13 second-half possessions in their three-game losing streak and scored one touchdown. Five possessions have ended in turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) and five have ended in punts.

“We come out, it’s still a game in the second half and we can’t figure out how to put points on the board,” running back Alfred Morris said. “Then we turn around and before we know it we’ve put our defense in a bad spot. The defense is getting tired. We’re keeping them out on the field too much. Too many three-and-outs. We’re not converting on third down. … I really don’t have an answer. I wish I did because then maybe we’d find a solution. It sucks and we’re better than this. We’re better than this these last three games. But it seems like the same old, same old these past few weeks. We can’t do this another week.”

A year ago, the inverse was happening for the Cowboys. Everything that could go right, did go right. One win turned into two and then 11 in a row. Confidence swelled so much that when something would go wrong, they believed it would eventually go right again. It’s what happened in an overtime win against the Eagles after Prescott struggled for three-plus quarters. It happened again in Minnesota when they recovered a fumbled punt in the fourth quarter that set up their winning touchdown.

“We just have to sit here, grab ahold, get back and see if we can do better to win some games,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.

If teams can make their own good fortune, the opposite is also true. That’s the vortex the Cowboys can’t seem to escape.

“How we’re playing is who we are,” defensive end David Irving said. “We are what we repeatedly do. And if we don’t fix it — and fast — then, yeah, this is who we are.”

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Last week, David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence offered advice to Ezekiel Elliott because at the time the Dallas Cowboys running back was on the suspended list.

Now that Elliott will miss Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and is out for at least next four games and in all likelihood the next six, their advice remains solid on Friday since both players have dealt with suspensions the last two seasons.

Irving was suspended the first four games of this season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Lawrence missed the first four games last season for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Both said watching the games was the most difficult.

“Zeke, don’t watch the games, bro. Don’t watch them,” Lawrence said. “Just watch highlights.”

Lawrence said the frustration from watching was borne out of seeing plays he could have made.

“I didn’t really watch them play too much,” said Irving, who has five sacks in the three games he has played since returning. “It was tough. I felt like I was supposed to be out there. I’m part of the team, but now I’m not. I can’t talk to anybody. I can’t see anybody. It was tough.”

Lawrence said he kept himself busy by being a “stay-at-home dad.”

“It’s tough being away from your natural habitat and your environment, just being up here every day,” Lawrence said. “That’s the main thing that kills you. Once they take that away, you start losing hope, but you got to keep hope alive because he’ll be back.”

Elliott will miss at least the next four games and, in all likelihood, the next six pending the result of a Dec. 1 appeal hearing in front of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If he doesn’t win a preliminary injunction, he is out until Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Lawrence and Irving said they passed the time working out, staying in shape. Irving credits a foray into boxing helping him improve his conditioning upon his return.

“I knew what I had to do,” Irving said. “I knew that now, more than ever, I needed to be in even better shape. I couldn’t come back out of shape. I had to come back and make an impression.”

Irving had more advice for Elliott.

“Stay in shape,” he said. “Stay low. Stay out of trouble.”

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At the midway point of the season, the Dallas Cowboys have five wins. Can they win five of their final eight games? Which could be enough to earn a wild-card spot.

Fives are wild, especially on a day in which we ponder Five Wonders.

Away we go:

With the way he is playing, I wonder if the Cowboys already have to pencil in a first-round tender offer to defensive lineman David Irving as a restricted free agent this offseason. The Cowboys could put the second-round tender on him, but that might not scare off every team in the league from making an offer sheet to Irving. Teams with beaucoup amounts of salary-cap space might be willing to give up a second-rounder for Irving, who is showing he can play end or tackle. A first-round pick is a little different story. Irving has six sacks in four games this season. He admits to wondering what kind of numbers he would have in a full season. So do the Cowboys. But considering the price it will take to keep defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, the Cowboys’ budget might be tighter than expected.

** I wonder if the Cowboys need to start looking at the big picture with left tackle Tyron Smith. This is not to say it’s time to move on from him. Not at all. But he has been bothered by different back injuries over the past two seasons. While the back tightness this season has not cost him any games, there has to be some concern, considering Smith has not practiced on a Wednesday in a month. This week he likely will be limited because of a groin strain he suffered on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith doesn’t turn 27 until December, but the Cowboys might be wise to look at another tackle of the future type in the upcoming draft to serve as a game-day swing tackle, in case Smith isn’t able to hold up. The Cowboys have restructured Smith’s contract the past three seasons. For a mini-wonder inside a wonder, I wonder if they’ll pass on doing the same in 2018.

** I wonder if the Cowboys will call up Lewis Neal from the practice squad as a result of the injury to Brian Price or if they will look outside the building for defensive tackle help. At 318 pounds, Price was the second-heaviest defensive tackle the Cowboys had. Richard Ash checks in at 320 pounds. With the importance of the run defense, getting a wider body than Neal, who is listed at 280 pounds, makes a lot more sense. The Cowboys like Neal, but he is a better pass-rusher from the interior than a run-stopper. This is why the Cowboys trust vice president of player personnel Will McClay. He seems to be able to find players to fill specific niches.

I wonder if we are seeing how much Cole Beasley is benefiting from the Cowboys’ ability to run the zone-read in the tight red zone and/or the attention being paid to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Beasley has four touchdown catches on the season, and the longest is 7 yards. The other three are 2, 5 and 6 yards. Normally, a 5-foot-8 receiver wouldn’t be such a red zone target, but the Cowboys have found a way to isolate him in man coverage in the slot that gives him the chance to get to the middle of the field or out to the sideline.

** It’s too early to wonder about Pro Bowl spots, but the Cowboys have some obvious candidates in offensive linemen Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin; running back Ezekiel Elliott; quarterback Dak Prescott; defensive end Lawrence; and linebacker Sean Lee. I wonder if a case can be made for Kavon Frazier as a special-teams player. Frazier leads the Cowboys in special-teams tackles, and he set the tone on Sunday with a big tackle of De’Anthony Thomas on the second punt of game.

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Coming into the season, some of the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest questions were about their pass rush.

Where and whom would it come from?

A year ago, the Cowboys recorded just 36 sacks, and their biggest attempt to improve the pass rush was drafting Taco Charlton in the first round, No. 28 overall. The Cowboys are still waiting for Charlton to get the first sack of his career. Last year’s leader, Benson Mayowa, who had six sacks in 2016, also has been shut out so far.

Yet the Cowboys have 25 sacks in seven games. An unknown has become a strength of the team.

“It doesn’t matter what the outside noise is, man,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “I’ve been taking heat from a lot of people from the outside for a long time. I understand that. A lot of people, a lot of fans don’t understand what’s going on in here and the brotherhood we’ve got and then the type of work we put in. We’ve been good for the last couple of years. It’s just we haven’t been connecting, haven’t been able to get the sack when we needed it. This year we’re connected and doing that.”

DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks. He has set a career high in seven games. He has had at least one sack in each of the first seven games. He had one sack all of the past season.

David Irving missed the first four games because of a suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. He has five sacks in three games.

Crawford has four sacks, one short of his career high.

Seven players have recorded at least one sack this season. A year ago, the Cowboys had 13 players record at least a half-sack.

They entered the season hoping a quantity-over-quality approach would work, but they have found that they had more quality in-house than many anticipated.

“Impacting the quarterback is one of the most important things you can do to play good defense, and quarterbacks in a comfortable environment in this league can really hurt defenses,” coach Jason Garrett said. “So what you’re trying to do is make them uncomfortable. And the first way to do that is by rushing them. If you can get your down guys to rush, your four pass-rushers, having an impact on the quarterback’s environment, you’re going to have some success. … Not only have they pressured them, they sacked them, and particularly in the game [Sunday against the Washington Redskins] I think they caused some turnovers, which is the most important thing you can do on defense.”

The Cowboys sacked Kirk Cousins four times in the 33-19 win. Yes, the Washington offensive line was without three starters entering the game and lost two more during the game, but the Cowboys did what they were supposed to do: affect the quarterback.

“I think the D-line has done a great job getting a lot of pressure, strip sacks and making plays,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “You cause more pressure, and you cause turnovers.”

The Cowboys have recorded at least four sacks in four games this season. They had four or more sacks in four games all of last season. The Cowboys did not record their 25th sack in 2016 until Week 14. They are on pace for 57 sacks, which would be the most since they put up 59 in 2008, when DeMarcus Ware was the runner-up for defensive player of the year. Since moving from the 3-4 scheme that served Ware so well to the 4-3 alignment in 2014, the Cowboys have not had more than 26 sacks in a season.

Lawrence is doing his best Ware imitation. Irving has played better than expected off the suspension. Crawford has a sack in three straight games for the first time in his career. Maliek Collins, who has 2.5 sacks, has shifted to nose tackle with Stephen Paea’s retirement.

“Probably individually, with the experience they have, but maybe more importantly than that just playing together and playing off of each other,” Garrett said of the success of the pass rush. “Obviously, David Irving being back in the lineup has a big impact. Tyrone Crawford playing over at the right end spot has been a good home for him. I think he’s settled in over there, and I think he’s having an impact, both as a run defender and affecting the quarterback. DeMarcus has just played very well right from the outset. I think Maliek has done a good job transitioning to play more nose tackle here the last couple of weeks.

“Each of those guys has been good individually, but I think more importantly, it’s playing off of each other — physically and technically, but maybe more so than anything else, emotionally — having a nice, healthy competition to be productive in a ballgame. I think they’re spurring each other on in a real positive way for our team.”

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When the Dallas Cowboys are at their best, they like to say they play complementary football in which all three phases contribute.

Sunday’s 33-19 win against the Washington Redskins was the perfect example.

Ezekiel Elliott finished with 150 yards on a career-high 33 carries and had two more rushing touchdowns as the Cowboys’ offensive line controlled the tempo so well Dak Prescott did not need to do much with his arm (143 passing yards).

After giving up points on their first three drives, the Cowboys’ defense was able to sack Kirk Cousins four times, including one in the third quarter by DeMarcus Lawrence to give him 10.5 on the season and at least one sack in the first seven games. They also limited Washington to 49 rushing yards.

But it was a special teams’ play that changed the tenor of the game.

Staring at a 16-7 deficit late in the second quarter, Tyrone Crawford blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by Nick Rose. Orlando Scandrick returned the block 90 yards to the Washington 4-yard line. Two plays later, Elliott had his second rushing touchdown of the game for a 14-13 lead.

It was the first of three fumble by the Redskins that let the Cowboys slowly take control of the game.

On the sixth play of the second half, Crawford sacked Cousins and forced a fumble that Lawrence recovered. The Cowboys were able to turn that into the first of four second-half field goals by Mike Nugent, their new kicker, filling in for Dan Bailey.

On the ensuing kickoff, Keith Smith forced a fumble on returner Chris Thompson that Bene Benwikere recovered. The Cowboys turned that into a 48-yard field goal and a 20-13 lead.

The lead grew to 26-13 before Washington made it interesting with a touchdown with 4:35 to play but then the Cowboys simply wore down the Redskins’ defense with more Elliott and a key third-down conversion from Dez Bryant to chew up more than three minutes.

It was fitting the Cowboys ended the threat of a Washington comeback when Byron Jones intercepted a Cousins’ pass that was deflected by David Irving and returned it for a touchdown. The last time the Cowboys had an interception return for a touchdown was Rolando McClain in 2015.

That was complementary football at its best.

“When you look at us last year when we went on the run, there was great complementary football,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “We were helping each other, being able to get stops and turnovers for the offense and playing well together. That’s something we have to continue to do going forward. We’ve done a better job these last two weeks.”

For the first time this season, the Cowboys have won back-to-back games and, most important, they were able to stay within shot of the 7-1 Philadelphia Eagles with their second NFC East win of the season.

Later this week, the Cowboys could learn if they will have Elliott for the rest of the season, pending his preliminary injunction hearing in New York on Monday.

If they don’t have their leading rusher for six games, either starting this week against the Kansas City Chiefs or the following week at the Atlanta Falcons, they at least can point to this formula for success.

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Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed a complaint against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, alleging owner and general manager Jerry Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening players if they choose not to stand for the national anthem.

Jones said earlier this week if a player “disrespects the flag” and national anthem by not standing, then the player will not play.

According to the filing to the National Labor Relations board, “the employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity.”

Jones has said players will not play, not that they would be fired, if they do not stand for the anthem, but Wade Rathke, Local 100s chief organizer, said that is a “distinction without difference when it comes to the law.”

The Cowboys will not comment on the filing, according to a spokesman. The NFL has declined to comment.

“You can’t discipline somebody for something that is a right they have under the law, whether that discipline be termination or benching or giving a slap on the wrist or writing up in their files they’ve been a bad boy,” Rathke said. “That’s just not what they can do when it comes to concerned activities. I know in the modern age people think workers shouldn’t have rights, but they still do. This union was offended by those comments. Mr. Jones just got carried away being a rich guy and there’s no laws he has to respect.”

According to Rathke, the NLRB will assign a field agent to investigate the claim and if there is a determination that there is a violation of the act it will go to trial if no settlement is reached.

“I’m hoping this doesn’t go to hell and back on the labor board,” Rathke said. “I think Mr. Jones should just say, ‘I stepped out of line.’ Fine. … We’re not looking for blood.”

According to the NFL’s game manual, players are not required to stand for the anthem, however, it is written that they “should” stand at attention.

On Tuesday, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams expressing a belief that “everyone should stand for the national anthem” and that the dispute surrounding the issue is “threatening to erode the unifying power of our game.” He spoke of a plan that will be reviewed with the teams at next week’s league meeting, which would “include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues.”

President Donald Trump has called on NFL owners since last month to fire players who do not stand for the anthem, saying their protest “disrespects the flag” and the country.

Before their Sept. 25 game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys players, coaches and staff, which included Jones, stood locked arm in arm and took a knee before the anthem. During the anthem, they stood arm in arm. In the past two games, the Cowboys have stood on the sideline as they had before President Trump’s initial comments.

Defensive linemen Damontre Moore and David Irving raised their fists at the end of the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. They told Cowboys coach Jason Garrett that they did so “well after” the anthem, and the coach said they would not be disciplined.

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, Jones left open the opportunity for a player to have a form of silent protest before the anthem — similar to the way the Cowboys handled the situation before the anthem in Arizona as a team — or after the anthem.

“If we’re going to have any other recognition the place to have it is before the anthem in my view and be real clear that it’s not associated with the anthem,” Jones said. “I think it’s real important for our players that they have that to reply to anybody whether they’re asking them to express themselves or not that the way we do it where I work, where I earn my livelihood is that we stand for the flag.”

When asked if he would really sit a player like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, Jones initially deferred.

“The policy and my actions are going to be that if you’re not honoring, standing for the flag in a way that a lot of our fans feel that you should, if that’s not the case, then you won’t play,” Jones said. “That’s nothing new as far as that being my wish on the way that I want the Cowboys to have. As far as whether or not I will basically institute or basically do what I said, I just would say that the implication that we’re not respecting the flag … is just not going to be accepted and so I would just ask anybody to look at my record relative to what I say I’m going to do and you go from there.”

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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.