In my last post, I ventured the opinion that the Dallas Cowboys were moving away from using free agency to rely almost entirely on building the roster through draft choices and finding hidden gems as UDFAs. The comments had several remarks from the readers about whether this was, as I was suggesting, a deliberate strategy by Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones, and Stephen Jones, or perhaps if it was just an unavoidable result of the team trying to manage the cap space.
Of course, we don't know the real reason behind this. As much as I like to speculate on the inner workings of the Cowboys' front office, in the end I am just guessing. I try to make my evaluation based as much as possible on the facts at hand and the statements of the parties involved, but still it just is my best estimation.
However, no matter the motivation, the results look to be pretty good right now. At least, if you believe, as I do, that drafting well is better than trying to bid for free agents. So does it really matter why the team did it this way?
There is certainly an argument to be made that it doesn't matter at all. Our entire legal system, with the attendant penalties for violating the law, is based on this idea. It doesn't matter if you don't steal because you have a strong moral compass and personal integrity, or because you are just afraid of getting caught and winding up sharing a cell with a muscular guy who calls you "Sweetcheeks". The results for society are the same: You don't steal.
So maybe it doesn't matter. If the Cowboys have a successful season with a relatively young roster of rising talent, then it worked out.
The one glitch is that short-term success is not always the key to it continuing in the future. Sometimes winning now bears the seeds of losing later. There is a very clear example of that in the history of the Cowboys. When Jimmy Johnson quit, was unable to continue, or was forced out as head coach, however you wish to interpret that episode, Jerry Jones hired Barry Switzer, and was rewarded with another Super Bowl victory. However, things began to go downhill rapidly after that, as Switzer was clearly not the kind of coach needed to maintain a winning team in the NFL, and it was compounded when Jerry Jones appeared to have misinterpreted his own role in the three championships under his ownership. Almost two decades of frustration have ensued.
Now the question is: Are we seeing a long term approach, or just a temporary strategy to cope with the salary cap?
I think that hinges on one man, Jason Garrett. This has all the hallmarks of the Process. If Garrett is really running this part of the Cowboys strategy, and if he is around for a few more seasons, I am convinced this is the way the team will be built. Free agency is strictly going to be a fallback position for limited use. The heart of the team is going to be built from within.
If Jason Garrett is still around. Big word, if. Now, I believe he will be, because I think he has Jerry Jones' trust and because I really thing Dallas is going to see playoff success this year. But that is at least partly composed of some wishful thinking on my part. I don't really know any of that. And if the season does not go the way we hope it does, then there are no guarantees that Garrett will stay and the Process will continue.
I think Jerry Jones is on board with Garrett's way of doing things, and Stephen Jones may be even more so. But I also think Jerry is still the man who is going to make the final, really big decisions in Dallas. He is the owner, and not one to leave the ultimate success of his business to someone else. He does rely on his subordinates. I think he listens to his head coach. This is really good when his head coach is doing the right thing. And really bad if his coach is not. Further, if things are not going well, his only real way to make a significant change is to find a new head coach.
And there is always the chance, no matter who the coach is, that Jerry is going to go off on his own. I still think that Terrell Owens became a Cowboy because Jerry thought it was a good idea, over the objections of the head coach at the time, Bill Parcells. This year, that may have been taken off the table by the limitations of the salary cap and the need for the team to use the space they do have to get new contracts for some players they need to keep, like Sean Lee and Dez Bryant. It may have little to do with an overall approach, or it may be exactly according to a long term script.
I like to think that this is the wave of the future, because it does matter whether this is just a reaction to an externally imposed limitation, or a long term trend. I hope Jerry Jones is convinced, at least for now, that the team is much better off with the players it has from the start than high-priced free agents who may or may not be able to continue their past success.
The only way to find out is to wait and see. And, for me, to hope I am right about this stuff.