Over the past several months the BTB community has had several interesting conversations on the proper way to run a football franchise and manage the salary cap. These conversations have been in-depth and fruitful, using reason, logic and analytics to ponder concepts such as player acquisition, salary cap management and roster turnover.
One theme that has constantly come up in these discussions is how to handle a player in decline. On a comments section in an article posted earlier today someone posited that in most cases, (except QB), a team should never hand out a third contract, as that nearly always goes to a player who is past his peak production. Ratliff, is the most common example; a player whose past production led to one last large contract, but whose current production was no longer in line with that contract.
In most cases I totally agree. With players like Ratliff, or Miles Austin we need to carefully monitor production and use a cost benefit analysis when deciding whether said player should remain with the team. That's what good stable franchises and businesses operate.
But the Dallas Cowboys are not just a business. Nor are they simply a football franchise. I believe they have more important objectives than just maximizing profits or even winning championships. The Dallas Cowboys are in fact a community, they are a family. There is an almost spiritual dimension to the team. When we glorify Tom Landry it's not just because he won. He is a giant because of how he won, and how he carried himself both on and off the field. He is part of a greater history of a story. We talk about Cowboy legends, and we put them in our very own Ring of Honor. Those things don't happen in business, where people are always looking for the BBD. They happen in a community, where results matter, but so do the intangible things that bind us together as a fan base.
Think about it. Why are you a fan? Most of us are fans of the Cowboys because our fathers were, and for some of us, our grandfathers. It is literally something in the blood. It's something we want to pass down to our children, and our children's children. Why? Why do we value the Star? It's not just because the Cowboys win....because we've all gone through, (and are currently going through), some lean years when it comes to that. There is something much more primitive and primal than that. Being a fan taps into our tribal instincts. It allows us to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to be a community.
And if the Cowboys were run exactly like a business, with no eye towards the communal aspect, we would be losers in the end. Think about it. Why do fans really hate JJ? Why do they think he's an incompetent GM, even though he's had just as many hits and misses as every other GM?
I posit it has nothing to do with what happens on the field as much as it has to do with what happened to the Cowboys Community. When JJ first took over the franchise he fired Tom Landry, the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys. For many older fans that was an unforgivable offense. He tore the family apart a few years later when he fired Jimmy Johnson, just as a new generation of fans were beginning to accept him into the family. Jerry Jones won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years...yet he was still hated and reviled, even in the mid 90's when those wins were fresh. It had nothing to do with success. It has to do with community.
Which brings us back to Jason Witten and Demarcus Ware. Most players on a football team come and go, and fans don't blink an eye. I loved Dexter Coakley, he was one of my favorite players. But when he left the Cowboys I didn't blink an eye. I wished him luck and hoped he would do well wherever he went next, but his leaving didn't really change anything to me. I'm sure when Miles Austin leaves, as much as he has been a part of what success we've had recently, I will feel the same. Good luck, and thank you for the memories.
That's how we feel for most players. But there are some who are more important, who do make up the heart and soul of a team. Michael Irvin. Troy Aikman. Emmitt Smith should have never worn a Cardinal uniform...but at least he wasn't traded or cut, he just wanted to keep playing. But if one of those players had been ripped from us by a front office more concerned with number crunching or statistics than the Cowboy family? I wouldn't have been able to stand it.
And there are players like that on our roster today. Jason Witten to me is Mr. Cowboy. He is everything I want in someone who wears the Star. He plays the game the right way. He is passionate. He cares about what it means to be a Cowboy and he gives back to the community. He is someone we can point our kids to and say "that is a role model. That is why we are fans of the Cowboys".
Would you really cut all that...just because of a slip in production? Does winning a Super Bowl really matter more than the spirit of the team? (Ask fans of the Marlins how they feel about that 2003 World Series team).
I would never cut or trade Jason Witten. Or Demarcus Ware. Or Tony Romo. They are the heart and soul of the Cowboys today. There may come a day when their contract is over and they are not resigned. I hate it, but that I can understand. But to cut or trade them? To purposefully rip apart the Cowboys family? That's just crazy talk.