Like a lot of Cowboy fans, I wish we had an owner who kept his ego in check and brought in a football GM. Of course, there was a time when I thought he was the best GM in football. That was right before the Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson fall-out, nearly 20 years ago.
That fall out revealed a serious flaw in the Jerry Jones management style. Both people lacked maturity. Jimmy wanted all the credit. Jerry couldn't stand that. I don't blame him. But, on the other hand, a bigger man would have let Jimmy crow.
It was the same ego that made Jerry say, " ... Any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls." Besides being a foolish insult to Switzer and Jimmy Johnson, his statement undermined every coach Jerry hired thereafter. Saying that there are 500 coaches who could take a team to the super bowl is disrespectful to the coach and diminishes his stature in the locker room.
The hiring of Bill Parcels made it seem like Jones had changed his thinking about the importance of coaching, but then he brought in Terrell Owens, who, while good, was also hugely disruptive.
But Jones wasn't done with being bone-headed. Once Bill Parcels decided he needed a change of scenery, Jones really went backwards in hiring Wade Philips. Yes, Wade had some initial success. But Jones telegraphed to everyone what he thought of Wade by hiring Jason Garrett to be coach-in-waiting and offensive coordinator right before Jones hired Wade. Why not hold off a few days on hiring Garrett and at least make it look like it was Wade's doing? Better yet, why not let Wade get his own staff? Instead, that move sent a clear message to the players and even the other coaches that Philips was in charge of nothing. For a cupcake like Philips, that was the last thing he needed starting out.
Of course, it's Jerry's prerogative whom to hire and whom to fire. But undermining men who need to be leaders before they have come on board is not the way to build an organization.
Of course, it's not clear that Wade had the gumption to be a leader. He was a very good defensive coach, no question. But he just didn't seem to be a head coach. And with Parcels out of the way, Jerry reverted to his ring-master role in his own three ring circus. There was the PacMan Jones signing. The Romo friendly comment. (I keep thinking of the poundings Romo has taken in his career, starting with the playoff loss to the Giants, and wonder when Jones is going to make the Cowboys "Romo-friendly"). And then the dreadful Roy E. Williams trade.
But let's go back to those early, successful years. Certainly, Jones the GM deserves lots of credit. He took a 1-15 team and turned it around very quickly into a three-time Super Bowl winner. Whatever else happened, you can't deny him that. That team had the best offensive line in football, a fabulous defense, and real depth. The talent was undeniable. The Cowboys were the toast of the NFL.
Yes, there was luck. There was luck that a Hall of Fame QB was available so quickly. We all know how important QBs are to the success of a franchise and how difficult franchise quarterbacks are to find, something we Cowboy fans will have to face in a few years.
Jones was also lucky to get a guy like Emmit Smith with the 18th pick. Few thought Emmit was more than a pedestrian running back. He had no speed, which Jimmy Johnson craved. But while rockets like Barry Sanders were running wild on NFL defenses, Smith grinded his way to the most rushing yardage in NFL history.
But Jerry was also unlucky. If not for the dawn of the new free agency, the Cowboys may have won one or two more Super Bowls. Instead, they lost key players like Ken Norton and struggled with the salary cap, leading to years of steady decline.
In many respects, Jones has never really understood the cap. His win-now philosophy has motivated him to overpay older players like Ratliff and Terrence Newman and make get-rich-quick trades. Planning for the long term is just not in his genes.
Of course, it wasn't just the salary cap. The Cowboys started drafting poorly. The quality of the talent in those drafts just wasn't what it had been as the Super Bowl team aged. Plus, Aikmen retired sooner than expected because of concussions, another piece of bad luck.
But then things changed. He signed Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003. That same year he got not only a very serviceable Terrence Newman in the first round but a likely Hall of Fame tight-end in the third round, not to mention a solid inside linebacker (Brady James) in the fourth round. Then in 2005, Jones drafted arguably the best defensive player in the NFL the last half dozen or so years, Demarcus Ware. Plus, he got Ratliff in the 7th round of the 2005 draft and several other solid players. Miles Austin was another undrafted free agent gem the following year.
The problem is that Jones didn't hit big with many first or second rounders or he traded them away shortly thereafter, always searching for the quick-win. Sure, finding diamonds like Romo and Austin as UDFA was outstanding. But you have to get your first rounders right. You just have to. And you want to get a lot of solid players in the second round. That is where most NFL starters come from.
The low-point for me was the horrible trade for Roy Williams. Had the Cowboys drafted wisely with their first and second round picks in those years, there really could have been a lot more wins, including in the playoffs. Instead, there was Al Johnson in 2003, Julio Jones and Jacob Rogers in 2004, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Frasano in 2006, no second rounder in 2007, Felix Jones, Anthony Spencer and Martellus Bennett in 2008, and no first or second round picks in 2009, the all time worst draft in Cowboy history.
Sure, some of those guys had moderate success. But that should have been the core of the team. With Romo, Ware, Witten, Spencer, Ratliff, and Austin as a foundation, adding another set of solid starters would have made a big difference. Had that happened, maybe Wade would still be coaching.
Well, I guess getting rid of Wade was almost worth the terrible season that got him fired.
Something really seemed to click with Jones after the 2009 drafting disaster. He started drafting better. Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Demarco Murray, Tyrone Smith, plus a number of guys who are at least providing serviceable starters or quality depth. And for the first time since the glory years, the Cowboys actually fought for four quarters in 2012. That tenacity might be the most important thing.
And Jason Garrett started getting rid of the older players with big contracts and letting the young guys take over. The roster churn is quite impressive.
Yes, they need to fix the offensive line. Yes, they signed Free to a stupid contract. Yes, they are making some pretty big gambles on Romo, Witten, Ware, and especially Ratliff staying healthy. But unless you want to blow up this team, what choice do you have?
I think Jones sees that he at least has a chance. And so he's going all in, one last time, while there's still a window. I don't know that that is a win-at-all costs mentality. I think that is a sober assessment of the Cowboys situation.
If some of the injured players from last year's draft pan out and others like James Hannah and Tyrone Crawford continue to develop, and if the Cowboys draft wisely this year, then maybe this team can make a run. (Please, God, let Chance Warmack fall to the Cowboys at 18). Young guys like Dwayne Harris, Berry Church, Ron Leary, Sean Lissemore, Kyle Williams, Matt Johnson, Cole Beasley, Jeremy Parnell, and Danny Coale give me hope. None of them may be stars but they are at least solid depth or serviceable starters. And you need that quality depth to win the NFL.
If the defense stays reasonably healthy (nothing could be as bad as last year) and the Cowboys can find a way to give Romo more time to throw, this team could be good. Add in a consistent running game, especially in short yardage and the red zone situations, and the playoffs are not just fantasy.
Yes, the division is weak. And Seattle and San Francisco are stacked. But this Cowboys team is not one that anyone would want to face, especially with their new-found, never-say-die tenacity.
And so maybe we should pause before we write the final chapter on the Jerry Jones legacy and see how this thing pans out.
If not for the new collective bargaining agreement and salary cap, that team in the 90s may well have won more Super Bowls. The team was deep but then started losing some great players to other teams. Guys like Ken Norton, for example. Obviously, Jerry mismanaged the new salary cap and hung on to aging players too long. There were also several poor drafting years.
And let's not forget how lucky Jerry was. He drafted a Hall of Fame running back with the 18th pick. And Minnesota made the all time bone-headed trade with him.
From those great heights, however, Jerry oversaw for several years a steady decline. His drafts were bad. His trades and free agent signings weren't great. A first round draft choice had a bad back. The team was becoming an embarrassment so much so that Jerry finally reversed himself and brought in Bill Parcels.
I didn't like Parcels that much but you'd have to be a fool not to recognize the upgrade that occurred to the Cowboys as a result of his oversight. He was the original RKG coach. He brought in savvy veterans and many great draft picks.