OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys signed a “dynamic” player with pro football honors and off-field questions on Thursday.
Wide receiver KaVontae Turpin won USFL MVP in June after the versatile weapon raced to 921 all-purpose yards, including a league-best 540 receiving yards.
He did not receive an NFL opportunity in the initial four years following TCU dismissing him from his team in conjunction with assault charges.
“We’re obviously aware of the situation with him coming out,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday morning ahead of the team’s second training camp practice. “In life, if you get a second chance, you do the work. My understanding is he was responsible and accountable and he did the things he needed to do.
“He’s well aware of what’s expected of him and obviously that behavior is not what we’re looking for.”
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In a 2018 affidavit obtained by USA TODAY Sports, a Tarrant County peace officer said Turpin’s then-partner of five years told the officer that he was “dragging her, he slammed her to the ground, which caused her pain, and they started to wrestle .” Turpin “had gotten angry” after believing his girlfriend de ella sent photos of herself to other people, she said. A witness said he watched Turpin “manhandle” his then-partner de ella by “grabbing her from behind de ella with one arm across her neck de ella, her feet dragging de ella as she kicked and yelled at him.”
Turpin was arrested for assault and in 2019 pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily injury to his girlfriend. He received two years’ deferred adjudication probation in 2019, according to The Dallas Morning News, and was ordered to complete a 27-week partner abuse intervention program.
“The classes helped me,” he said Thursday after practice. “I’ve learned my accountability and consequences. I just look forward, put that behind me and looking forward to becoming a greater man now.”
Turpin was also charged in New Mexico in 2018 with disorderly conduct, criminal damage to the property of a household member (under $1,000) and interference with communication. He pleaded no contest to the disorderly conduct charge and not guilty to the damage count, the latter two dismissed by prosecutor per plea agreement, according to a copy of the docket obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
Turpin has since played professional for the European League of Football’s Wroclaw Panthers in Poland, followed by the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. There, he flashed elusiveness that caught USFL and NFL eyes.
“When you watch the tape the thing that jumps out is he’s dynamic with the ball in his hand,” McCarthy said. “He’s a returner, then his responsibility for him on offense will be secondary. He has some Tony Pollard-type traits, I think, from an offensive perspective. So once again, I think this is a really good opportunity, and we’ve been talking about this for quite some time.
“As far as the plan with (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) and the packaging and so forth … this is a very good opportunity.”
Turpin said the Cowboys were the first team to reach out to him since the USFL season ended. He was waiting for a follow-up call on his couch, he said, when the opportunity at last materialized. Turpin said he feels like he’s in great shape three weeks removed from active play. He’s also comfortable with the durability of his 155-pound frame on it.
“I’ve always been the smallest guy on the field, so I feel like that’s no problem with me,” said Turpin, adding his fastest 40-yard dash clocked at 4.29 seconds. “Speed kills (and) I’m going to do whatever I can to beat the guys with speed.”
He believes he can add value at returner automatically, but wants to demonstrate receiver value with a play style similar to DeSean Jackson and Tyreek Hill.
“I’m here to prove to everybody I’m a true receiver,” Turpin said. “I’ve moved around. TCU, I was mostly the slot guy. USFL, I was slot. So now I guess the Cowboys want me to be a slot. I’m very comfortable in the slot, so I guess that’s what I’m looking forward to playing.”
The Cowboys had question marks at wide receiver after trading Amari Cooper to the Browns for a fifth-round pick in March and losing Cedrick Wilson to the Dolphins in free agency. Cooper caught 68 passes for 865 yards last season, no teammate surpassing his eight receiving touchdowns mark (tight end Dalton Schultz tied it). Wilson caught 61 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns, also returning 11 punts and completing all three of his pass attempts for 88 yards.
The Cowboys look to CeeDee Lamb (1,102 receiving yards, six touchdowns in 2021) as their new top receiver. Michael Gallup is expected to return around late September from rehabilitating an ACL tear. The Cowboys signed veteran James Washington in free agency and drafted rookie Jalen Tolbert in the third round as additional weapons. Pollard and Schultz are expected to contribute as pass catchers as well.
The Cowboys waived fullback Nick Ralston on Thursday morning to clear space for Turpin, who integrated into individual drills in practice immediately. He will ease into team drills after playing nearly year-round with little down time between his Polish, USFL and now NFL chances.
The Cowboys waived fullback Nick Ralston on Thursday morning to clear space for Turpin, who integrated into individual drills in practice immediately. McCarthy said they’d ease him into team drills, particularly after he played in the USFL through June.
“(The USFL) is great for these young players that are kind of at the crossroads or a fork in the road and are looking for another opportunity,” McCarthy said. “So obviously ourselves and the rest of the NFL pay close attention because you see these guys get opportunities in the league.
“When we talk about the receiver room, the ability to play more than one position, you have inside players, outside players, you have players that give you some dynamic in the backfield. He definitely has those traits.”
Contributing: Tom Schad
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @joriepstein.