Jerry Jones expects more than 90% of Cowboys players will receive COVID-19 vaccine

Jori Epstein

OXNARD, Calif. — Front-office members and coaches called players. Head coach Mike McCarthy shared his initial hesitancy and how the science won him over. Players swapped questions and answers, communicating among themselves. 

The result: The Cowboys expect roughly 84 of the 89 players on their current roster will soon be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“It was a many-faceted effort,” Jones said Wednesday morning in a news conference to launch Cowboys training camp. “From the standpoint of the players, from what I call ‘in the pipeline’ that is committed at some various stage of whether they need two vaccine shots and they’ve got one, or they’re waiting a period of time to have the vaccine and go through the protocol. 

“We have a handful that in my mind that have still to commit to this. A handful and a hand is five. That’s iffy that in my mind. Several of that hand of five are on the way to potentially having their vaccine. 

“We’re very satisfied with where the Dallas Cowboys are as far as looking at our competition.” 

Like with many NFL teams, such vaccine buy-in has not been a given.  

NFL Network reported on July 12 that seven NFL teams had surpassed the 85% vaccination threshold that other sports leagues have identified for reducing team restrictions. A person with knowledge of the Cowboys’ vaccination rate told USA TODAY Sports that night that Dallas was not one of those seven. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly disclose the information, said they didn't foresee enough players even receiving first doses for the team to clear that bar before training camp. 

The NFL has not solidified a team vaccination rate protocol, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, instead coordinating restriction on an individual basis. Even after a team has more than 85% of players vaccinated, any unvaccinated player will be subject to masking, testing and distancing protocols, McCarthy said.

Monday, on the eve of the Cowboys’ departure to Oxnard, the person with knowledge of the Cowboys’ vaccination rate said the club had a “pretty good run of guys going to get it recently.” 

“My opinion is (vaccinations) absolutely will not limit us in any way … as to being competitive as early as when we play Pittsburgh in the first preseason game,” Jerry Jones said of the Cowboys' Aug. 5 competition in Canton, Ohio.    

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks on the field before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones clarified that players “in the pipeline” – those who decided to get vaccinated more recently or those who have said they will but have not yet received a shot – will not all be vaccinated by the opening preseason competition. Negotiating a team threshold around 85% is "still a work in progress," Stephen Jones said, but “I do think we’ll hit that threshold and more.”   

Per NFL policy, all Cowboys staff members and media who will interact with players were required to be vaccinated for admission to training camp in Oxnard. Media members were required to verify their vaccine – both online and via showing a hard copy of a valid vaccine card – in addition to showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Tracking devices are required while on premises. 

Player vaccination is not required, but unvaccinated players are subject to daily testing, masking, isolation and additional restrictions on in-person activities including meetings and workouts. That factored into the decision for McCarthy – who acknowledged he “wasn’t the first one to jump” – to get vaccinated. 

“At the end of the day, professionally, we’re here to win championships,” said McCarthy, who added that he consulted medical professionals. “This is part of the responsibility and it’s an educated, it’s an individual choice.”

Cowboys Hall of Famers from the 1990s Super Bowl days have publicly encouraged the vaccine. Running back Emmitt Smith recently partnered with First Lady Jill Biden to promote vaccines in Dallas, while receiver Michael Irvin said a player who declines the vaccine isn’t doing everything he can in pursuit of a Super Bowl. 

Jerry Jones said Irvin’s message was “outstanding.” 

“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,” Jones said. “He comes with all the credibility in the world.  

“So when he talks, I listen.” 

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein