I've been frustrated lately by the things I keep reading from the Jones family and the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff. It was making me wonder if they were living in a fantasy land or just in denial about where the team is after a disappointing and injury-marred season.
Jerry Jones was probably the last person I expected to say things that would restore my hope that the team can move in a positive direction. But the owner and general manager of the team did just that.
"We're running out of time as to the playoffs. Do we have enough time? It's numerically possible, but you got to really step out here this week and do the right things to win a ballgame on the field. You have time to do that."
For a man whose most famous recent quote involves the words "glory hole", it was a truly honest and well-measured statement. He also spoke of the importance of evaluating the players and figuring out who was going to be the core for the team moving forward.
After admittedly beating away on the off-key statements that have preceded this, I have to give Jones a lot of credit for getting it right. He made a realistic assessment, held out a reasonable amount of hope, and served notice of holding people responsible for their performance without throwing anyone under the bus.
The most important thing that I read in what he had to say was the part about evaluating players. Dallas has a lot of questions to address next year, no matter how the remainder of the season plays out. This is a good approach to take, since it certainly should motivate the team to put their best performance on the field while still injecting that dose of reality I was so gratified to see.
Here is a list of some of the questions that I would consider the most pressing.
Can the team sign Anthony Spencer?
Archie covered the positive impact Spencer has had this year. Most would have to agree that the franchise tag was well-used in retaining his services. I shudder to think how things might have gone without that move.
But now the team, with the limitations of the John Mara designed cap penalty on top of the existing contracts that have to be managed, faces a tough task. Can they afford a contract that would keep Spencer in Dallas? They could franchise him a second year, but at the 120% rate required under the CBA, that could also be too much. However, if he continues to be as vital to the defense has he has been, the team may have to find some way to make things work. Otherwise, he will be a huge loss.
The quick response is yes. Jones especially seems to be of limited value. Lance Dunbar is showing some measure of promise and running back is one position that a team can often find good, unheralded players in the college ranks. Jenkins is a bit harder to make a definitive call on. The team still is a bit thin at cornerback, despite the huge investments it made in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. But with all the other needs, I don't think he will be around next year, either.
Which receivers will you bring back for camp next year?
Past Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, this is a wide open race. It is not looking good for Kevin Ogletree. The evidence is becoming overwhelming that he is a camp warrior who cannot carry his performance over into real games.This opens the door for Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley to show they can be reliable targets for Tony Romo, and recent pickup Anthony Armstrong also has a chance to prove himself. Andre Holmes was cut, but immediately signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers, so the team still thinks there is some potential there. And goatmouth victim Danny Coale may be able to live up to his potential now that the hoodoo curse is no longer in effect, and will not be reapplied. I promise.
Where does the team go with the offensive line?
This is the biggest question, and the most complex. I can come up with lots of suggestions, but have no idea what the team will actually do. I can see almost anyone currently on the team being cut, with the exception of Tyron Smith. I can also see almost anyone being kept based on the evaluation of their performance. The most intriguing positions are right tackle, where Jermey Parnell seems to be challenging Doug Free as the best option, and of course center, where Dallas has started three players and could conceivably try a fourth in Kevin Kowalski before the season is over. And will David Arkin ever actually play?
Whose career will injury derail?
I am not even going to mention names here, but a look at IR and the players who are not able to go week to week just makes you wonder what might have been.
There are also some free agent pickups to consider, such as Ernie Sims, Brady Poppinga, and Charlie Peprah. One or more of these may prove to be good enough to take a roster spot going into next season.
The remaining five games give the team a good chance to figure some of this out, while still trying to fight for a playoff spot. But for me, the most important thing is the indication that Jerry Jones has taken a deep breath, a hard look at his team, and put the often unfounded optimism on the shelf. I know that my opinion, or the opinion of fans overall, is not really of any importance. Still, for at least a moment or two, I feel much better about what is going on with my favorite team.