Anyone who has studied, dealt with, followed, debated, or complained about politics understands that public messages often require some deciphering. When listening to politicians, or the leaders of the Dallas Cowboys, it is important to remember each individual has their own hidden agendas, personal undertones, and multilayered motives for messages sent to a variety of audiences. When Jerry Jones holds a press conference, his coaches, other franchises, and agents are listening. When Jason Garrett speaks to the media, his messages are also directed to his staff and players, not just the fans. Depending who is speaking, a specific form of translation seems necessary.
Let's begin with the (in)famous owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones is a business man who thinks very highly of himself. Cowboys fans are his stockholders, the players are his employees, and the front-office and coaching personnel are his management team. When Jerry speaks to the media, you can almost see the clock-work gears grinding as he ummms his way to a reply. So don't confuse these pauses as a sign of a lack of intelligence. Jerry Jones intends to be very careful and specific with his words. He understands (perhaps too much) that his words hold power over various groups and aspects of the team. For example, when Jerry said the Cowboys would have drafted rookie Michael Brockers if they didn't trade up, he may not have been trying to sell tickets to his fan base. In fact, he may have been continuing his sale of snake oil to general managers in the NFL. Don't forget, the Cowboys traded for ‘Pick 6' with the St. Louis Rams, who (coincidentally) drafted Michael Brockers after trading down. Honesty may not have been Jerry's primary objective when he made his message to the media. Perhaps he didn't want to show his cards after pulling in his winnings; hiding the bluff that helped him negotiate the trade with the Rams, instead of some team picking after the Cowboys that were willing to give up more to trade up.
To properly translate the politics involved with the leaders of the Cowboys, it should be understood that each speaks differently, and for different reasons. Jerry Jones is a salesman. When he states the idea of the Cowboys running formations with four corners more often, he is not just implying to the fans that the NFL has become a passing league and his team will compensate. He is also telling Mike Jenkins and his (shall not be named) agent that there will be plenty of opportunities for Jenkins to display his skills with the Cowboys during his contract year. If you want more accurate information with less political intrigue, there is a different Cowboys leader to listen too. And yet another if you want to know the master plan spoken in cryptic truths. Let's take a look at some of their quotes from this week.
Rob Ryan appears to be the antithesis of Jerry Jones when it comes to translating his statements. This is a man who kept talking up Anthony Spencer though he was heading to contract negotiations and free agency. While fans were screaming from every corner of Texas about the inadequate play of Spencer, his defensive coordinator was making re-negotiations more difficult. If Jerry Jones was the one sending the message, I would be worried that Spencer was not playing well and Jerry was trying to entice other teams to overpay for his services. But (too often) I have seen members of Rob Ryan's family be blatantly clear about their true feelings. Bounty Bowls, impassioned rants about adversaries and feet; nothing is taboo enough for a Ryan to not speak bluntly. Thus, when Rob Ryan says Morris Claiborne was drafted to play, Brandon Carr is locking down everyone at practice, and there is competition along the cornerback depth chart, I tend to believe that Carr is currently playing like the Cowboys primary corner, the rookie is talented and will see snaps on game day, but he will be competing with Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick for reps. Notice the difference in messages. While Jerry Jones is saying how often they will run with four corners, Rob Ryan has a harder time selling the rhetoric.
"I don't know if we'll do that," Ryan said. "If we ever get in a need to play all those guys, then we can do that certainly. They have good skill sets where I'm sure they could match up with a tight end, a smaller tight end or whatever. It's just if that need ever shows up, then you can definitely play those four guys."
At a time when Jerry Jones is desperately trying to sell a message to Jenkins, Ryan is heralding the incredible practices of Carr and Claiborne. His messages do not have the same objectives as Jerry's.
Ryan's misdirection is rarely presented through the media. His messages seem very clear, though sometimes lacking "business sense" and "political correctness." Only his defensive schemes hold disguises and confusion. However, Ryan may unintentionally be befuddling the media as if they are opposing offenses and quarterbacks. While stories of Victor Butler lining up as a nose tackle and Barry Church and other safeties practicing as linebackers are being reported by the media as displays of some crazy scheming by Rob Ryan, I think the truth of his varied fronts and designs may be hiding a greater truth. I don't think we will see Butler lining-up as a nose tackle often. I think what is more likely is a phenomenal coaching philosophy. Ryan is teaching his players the skill sets of other positions to help make them more versatile for his schemes. I think he is helping teach Butler (and other outside linebackers) how to fight off bigger blockers and attack the line of scrimmage from the middle of the field; an immersive exercise to help an edge-rusher learn the skills of rushing up the gut and playing against the run. When Barry Church lines up as a linebacker, I think it is to help him work on techniques he used, and will once again, frequently as the third safety in sub-packages; an exercise to further teach techniques of stacking the box against the run, blitzing, and playing underneath coverage. After all, these are OTAs. Ryan may be teaching more technique than specialized packages right now. This isn't to say he won't be placing players in various spots along his schemes, but I think Butler will likely be playing as a blitzing inside linebacker more often than a nose tackle.
And then there is the Red-headed Genius. Jason Garrett appears to be a mix of his fiery and honest defensive coordinator, and his subtly clever general manager. When Jason Garrett states:
"Anybody who watched our team last year understood the injury situations that we had, and we were getting down to our third, fourth and fifth corner really quickly," head coach Jason Garrett said. "So when teams are putting three receivers out there, four receivers out there and sometimes five receivers out there, you have to have an arsenal of guys who can cover. We think that's an important thing.
"We think we made a lot of moves to help us in that area. The specifics of how we use those guys is yet to be determined."
I tend to believe him. Garrett does an incredible job of speaking the truth without any semblance of a sales job, while also supplying screaming undertones of a philosophy and messages for his players. It seems Mike Jenkins is more important to the team for the competition and the need for depth at corner than a pressing need or guarantee of a starting position. Unlike Jerry and Ryan, Garrett will not oversell rhetoric nor loudly proclaim his true feelings. He may indeed think Jenkins has the best shot at the #2 corner job, but he would never say that to the media. It would ruin the team identity and philosophy of competition that he is striving to instill. Garrett does not pander to an agent or disgruntled player, and he'll also limit information when it benefits his team.
In fact, I think Garrett ingeniously has sent several different messages. To Jenkins and his agent, I think Garrett presents the reality of the need for four or five capable corners, ensuring Jenkins he will get a chance to play while also underselling the drafting of Claiborne to take his place. To players already learning and competing at OTAs, Garrett makes it clear that nothing has been determined, no matter your draft position or contract size. To fans, well, I think Garrett is making it clear that Jerry Jones will never stay silent if he wants to speak (it's his right, it's his team), but he doesn't necessarily see things the same way. Garrett is not saying the team will often run with four corners on the field and desperately need Jenkins; he is speaking about depth at an important position and competition to rule the depth charts.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this and my experience with politics has left me jaded. But I do believe that the same message can often be misinterpreted when presented by different speakers. But therein lies the good news. Though it appears the leaders of the Cowboys are sending slightly different messages, they are all working off the same page. Perhaps the bluntness of Ryan is something Garrett closely considered when searching for coaches, having someone with the passionate appeals and responses that a more controlled Garrett knew he would not be able to provide. As for the master plan behind all the statements, I believe they derive from Garrett and everyone else is on board. The Cowboys recognized their needs in the secondary. They added free-agents and rookies to both corner and safety positions, and would like to have at least four talented corners on the team in 2012, including Mike Jenkins. After all, would a coach truly in charge and intent on providing competition and talent across the depth charts have it any differently?