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Cowboys' focus has to get back to game after tumultuous week off

FRISCO, Texas -- Even by Dallas Cowboys standards, last week was a doozy.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones brought attention into the locker room by saying a player would be benched if he did not stand for the national anthem. President Donald Trump appreciated Jones’ comments, but some players were confused. Jones later met with the team to discuss his stance, which came after a local labor union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

On the field, the Cowboys cut one of their opening day cornerbacks, Nolan Carroll. In March, the Cowboys gave him a $3 million signing bonus as their biggest free-agent signing. For less than six quarters of action, he will earn $4 million from the Cowboys ostensibly because rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis is ready to play more.

The Cowboys saw their opening day nose tackle, Stephen Paea, retire because of a knee injury that kept him out of practice since the first week of the season. Paea’s play in the preseason allowed the Cowboys to say goodbye to last year’s biggest free-agent signing, Cedric Thornton, despite owing him $3 million. Without Paea, the Cowboys have just one true defensive tackle, Brian Price, who was claimed off waivers at the start of the season.

Not long after the Cowboys said goodbye for the bye weekend, they learned running back Ezekiel Elliott will have to serve his six-game suspension unless he is granted a temporary injunction from a New York court that already has ruled in the NFL’s favor regarding commissioner discipline.

Oh, by the way, the Cowboys are one of the more disappointing teams of the young season with a 2-3 record.

“Our focus is football and trying to right the ship,” All-Pro center Travis Frederick said. “Things obviously haven’t gone as well as we want. One of the benefits we have as being the Dallas Cowboys is we always have distractions. There’s always stuff around. That’s just kind of the world we live in, so I feel like this team is good at kind of moving that stuff to the back and thinking about football.”

Talk of distractions always seem to envelope the Cowboys, but coach Jason Garrett’s process-oriented approach has the team focusing only on the day at hand and worrying about nothing more. Remember, a year ago this was a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, and handed the keys to a fourth-round pick.

All Dak Prescott did was put together one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, and the Cowboys responded with a 13-3 record.

Prescott is just 21 starts into his NFL career, but the Cowboys already have elected him a captain and will follow his lead.

“I think just make sure nothing changes,” Prescott said. “I think we’re doing enough. We’ve just got to keep going. I think the approach of the leadership roles within our team are making sure we’re staying focused. We’re not getting down on ourselves. We’re not losing confidence from one player or from one unit or from the team. Staying focused.”

Garrett will lean on his leadership council, a group of more than a dozen players from every position group that includes Jason Witten, Prescott, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and others.

“We rely on those guys to lead our football team,” Garrett said. “They have great credibility with me, with their teammates and with their coaches, so they’re certainly guys we count on to lead our football team day in and day out and respect their thoughts on things. The biggest thing we want to do is simply to get back to work. I think they understand that more than anybody else.”

The Cowboys officially get back to work Tuesday at noon CT for a conditioning run, followed by a team meeting.

A week ago, they still were stinging from the last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers, their second straight home defeat despite scoring 30 points in both games. They were dealing with Jones’ comments, unsure if Paea could continue to play or if Carroll even wanted to play. It took two more days for the Cowboys to learn of Elliott’s suspension.

Their off week did not go well, with every other team in the NFC East winning. Only the Chicago Bears (2-4), New York Giants (1-5) and San Francisco 49ers (0-6) have a worse record in the NFC than the Cowboys (2-3).

There is no panic, but there is a sense of urgency. To Frederick, there is a difference.

“A level of control, I would say. With a sense of urgency, you understand the situation and you are focusing on quickly identifying it and correcting it,” Frederick said. “Panic is, in my mind, pandemonium and you’ve lost control of the situation. I don’t think that’s an issue at all. I think the guys are really trying to get it right, not overreact.”