I like to play poker, I’m better at understanding concepts than applying them at the table but I enjoy the game nonetheless
In order to be great at poker, a player has to be able to apply a vast array of skills. One of those is a concept called "Metagame". Without delving completely into the concept, it could simply be defined as follows:
Making a slightly unprofitable play in order to maximize profits on future plays.
A simple example would be where a player may attempt a bluff that doesn’t have a high likelihood of success because he can win the pot if he isn't called or if his bluff is called and he loses the hand, he is more likely to be paid off on future hands when he has a winner because his opponents will remember this bluff.
I believe metagame can be applied to football as well. It may not be referred to as metagame by coaches but I believe it’s a relevant concept nonetheless. Metagame can be applied to how plays are called on the field as well as how management decides who will be on their roster and perhaps other areas as well.
I believe New England applies metagame when they decide who they will keep and who they will let go.
I believe an example of this was when, much to the consternation of fans and players, New England released Lawyer Milloy after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. I believe they analyzed the situation and acknowledged that while Lawyer may have been rated an 8+ as a player and all they had as a replacement was say a 5-6 caliber player. However, when they took into account the upside of Lawyer vs. the replacement, the replacement player had room to improve whereas Lawyer was probably maxed out. Combine that with the cost of keeping Lawyer vs. the younger, cheaper and up and coming replacement player tilted the decision toward releasing Lawyer. I believe there were other consequences of this decision I believe may have been taken into consideration (or may have been an unintended consequence):
1. A message was sent that no player is greater than the team
2. No player can feel that they’re untouchable and must continue to compete
3. A healthy sense of insecurity is established which helps push a player to be his best
4. Younger players know they have a chance to move up the depth charts
5. A loud message was sent without any yelling, screaming or dog-cussing of a player
Perhaps there are other benefits, but these are a few that come to mind.
I believe metagame has been sorely lacking as it applies to creating the Cowboys 53 man roster and now is the time to take advantage of the situation we are in to apply a little metagame to our personnel decisions.
The firing of Wade Phillips is just the first part of applying metagame to the Cowboys current situation and I don’t believe it should stop there. I think players should be identified that are not likely to be part of the long term plans and that they should be released ASAP even if the short term consequence is that the team may not be as talented as a result of their release. I’m not qualified to say who those players should be, but if I had to choose, I would strongly consider releasing some combination of Barber, Davis, Sensabaugh, Columbo, Ball and Olshansky and perhaps others.
Do we have better players to replace them? Probably not.
Are the players that would replace them drastically worse? Maybe, but probably not.
Will keeping them or releasing them drastically affect our win loss record this year? Probably not
Will releasing them send a shockwave throughout the team that everyone is on notice and everyone’s job is on the line? I think it would and I think we would see a sense of urgency on the field and a more competitive effort even though it may not result in wins.
At this point wins don’t really matter in my opinion, it’s about finding out who will be on this team going forward, what type of team they’re going to field and changing the culture of entitlement that appears to be present.
While these moves might have a negative short term return, I believe they represent the beginning of a higher long term return which is in a nutshell what Metagame is all about.
I’ll wrap up this probably already too long thread with an excerpt from Jimmy Johnson’s book Turning The Thing Around. After describing how Curvin Richards had fumbled twice in the final game against the Chicago bears, Jimmy writes:
"…..Of course, the game was over with; it was late in the fourth quarter. But I was fuming.
The next day, I cut Curvin Richards.
People couldn’t understand it. It was the final game of the season; we had won; he was our backup running back; we were headed into the playoffs, and going strong. Even the league office didn’t understand. One of their guys called and said:
"Coach, why did you cut Curvin Richards yesterday? You know, of course, that you’re going to have to pay him the total playoff money and everything. He gets a full share, for as far as you go in the playoffs, because he completed regular season with you. It’s not like you’re saving money"
"I know all that."
"Because I couldn’t depend on him. Why are you asking me?"
"Well, it’s just something that has never been done. I don’t think anybody has ever cut somebody after the last game of the year, when they had the playoffs sewn up."
It had no bearing on anything that was going to happen, other than that it was the right thing to do. I talked to the players:
"When we get into the playoffs, you get no second chances. If it’s early in regular season and a guy fumbles the ball, even if we lose the game, we’ve got other games to play to situate ourselves. But I didn’t want to go into the playoffs with a guy I couldn’t depend on and you couldn’t depend on."
That made an impact. Ninety percent of the time I’m saying "Protect the ball; protect the ball." Then all of a sudden a player drops it on the ground twice, and he’s cut. That one time made more of an impact than all the times I’d said "protect the ball." It would do Curvin Richards no good, but for forty-six other individuals it was the guarantee that they had optimum retention of learning. And they would respond in the optimum way thereafter when I said, "protect the ball."
For the Dallas Cowboys, there was a profound new meaning when I told them what all coaches tell all teams as they go into the playoffs:
"You get no second chances"
I doubt Jimmy was even aware of the nomenclature of Metagame but I believe this is an example where it was applied masterfully and with great effect.