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BTB Mailbag: Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, And The Future Of The GM Job With The Cowboys

A reader has some questions about how the GM job will change, assuming Jerry Jones will eventually turn running the team over to his son, Stephen.

Bob Levey

I hope the readers are enjoying the BTB Mailbag questions as much as I am. This is a great way to not only get good topics for our articles (something that is not always easy to do), but to get you readers more involved in making this the place to come to for your Cowboys information fix. Remember, if you have something you would like to see addressed, you can contact our social media mogul KD:

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Now for the question I'm tackling:

Do you think we will have a philosophical shift in personnel decisions when Stephen takes more control in day to day team operations? Not this year or next but I am thinking what the team will look like long term. Specifically when he is calling the shots with JJ "advising" (I am thinking the Godfather when Michael took over) Do you think Stephen will hire a GM? OR if he retains the GM mantle do you think he will mirror the Patriots process of releasing players when production starts to decline, and keeping a steady infusion of new blood via the draft and low cost FAs instead of the expensive loyalty to older players we practice now? – TRAVLR

Actually, that's not as much a question as an invitation for me discuss my take on how things more likely work at Valley Ranch, versus the popular image of what happens. And that, folks, is one of my favorite topics to deal with.

First off, to discuss a possible philosophical shift in personnel decisions, I want to look at the way this is perceived. If you just read the articles in the major outlets or the Twitter comments from a lot of the writers out there, you see things like this.

The impression you get is of Jerry Jones sitting alone in his office, a glass of expensive liquor at his elbow, making decisions about the team roster that he then comes out and hands down like Moses presenting the commandments, while Stephen, Jason Garrett, and the rest of the staff bow in submission. His power and style is seen to be absolute and dictatorial.

That, in my humble opinion, is a load of crap. You can run a small business that way, if you really don't need things like employees. Or you can run a country as a real dictatorship, assuming the head of your armed forces or someone else with some power doesn't decide they would look better in your palace than you do, and put you on a 7.62 mm or C4 explosive retirement plan. But in a twenty-year military career and another nineteen years in both the public and private sectors, I have never seen an organization that actually works that way. If a business has any size at all, one person is simply not able to process the information and handle all the things going on. And the more successful operations realize that a major key to success is to bring good people into the fold and then use the heck out of their talents.

The evidence is that Jerry Jones understands this. The most important exhibit: The Dallas Cowboys. Not the team and its won-loss record, but what I think of as Cowboys, Inc. The whole sports/entertainment/media juggernaut that Jerry Jones has built into a $2 billion dollar plus empire. It is the most valuable franchise in the NFL, exceeding the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins, who are neck and neck for number two, by a half a billion dollars. You don't achieve that kind of success in a business where 30 other egotistical owners (the Green Bay Packers being the only publicly owned team) are doing everything they can to catch and pass you, unless you know how to run things and utilize your subordinates well.

A lot of people actually look on the financial success of the Dallas Cowboys with disdain, assuming that Jerry Jones is all about making money and not about winning football games. Of course, some of the same people deride him for constantly juggling the salary cap to squeeze as much money as he can to get the players he thinks are best for the team, and see no contradiction whatsoever. The failure of the team to make the playoffs recently is not for lack of trying to build a better team. It is just a failure of the best efforts in that direction. Jerry knows he will maximize profits with a winning team.

Obviously, the Cowboys have been having some issues with the roster of late. Jerry Jones is usually blamed for all failings in this area since he is not only the owner, but the general manager for the Cowboys, and has also appointed himself the chief spokesman for the team, no matter what the subject. But his frequent and verbose remarks to the media or any microphone that happens come anywhere close to him about all things Cowboys does not mean that he is making decisions in a vacuum.

There have been numerous articles written about decisions made regarding personnel, usually centered around the draft, that indicate that Jerry actually uses a consensus building approach to how to put the roster together. This makes a whole lot more sense in light of how well the Cowboys do as a business. I have also had some discussions with someone who has been around the team and who has a very similar view to mine. Jerry does not just make decisions based on his gut instinct or what he sees, but relies on getting information from all pertinent sources. For player decisions, this include Stephen and the people who work with him on managing the contracts, the coaching staff, and the scouting staff. They work as a team to decide who to acquire, who to keep, who to cut, and what they have to pay the players to get all this done. Obviously, Stephen and his people are the most important in dealing with the dollars here, while the coaches and scouts have the bigger role in deciding who to spend those dollars on.

This is not to say that Jerry Jones is even remotely a rubber stamp chief executive who just follows the recommendations of his subordinates. He is certainly hands-on and has the final say on anything. But there is no indication he is going to override Jason Garrett and his coaches unless he has what he thinks is a very good reason, and there is evidence, if you really pay attention to things, that he depends heavily on the expertise of his top staff members. Just go back and really dig into the information regarding the recent changes in the coaching staff. All the stuff about Garrett being emasculated has mostly just faded away as the impression has gradually spread, at least for many, that this is actually a Garrett-centered staff.

I don't think he has always been this good at things. I don't want to go over the entire evolution of Jerry Jones (but if you want to see some earlier thoughts I had on this, you can check them here and here), but I do think that Jerry has a team in place, particularly in Jason Garrett and Stephen, that he trusts more than he has at any other time since he bought the franchise. Stephen has become more influential as time has gone on, and Garrett has a relationship with him that goes back to the head coach's playing days.

My contention is that you are seeing the transition of power from Jerry to Stephen happening already. Stephen is talking more to the media, and he clearly is the capology master for the Cowboys. Unless something sudden should happen to Jerry, I think you will just see more and more being done by Stephen. It may not be clearly evident to those watching from the outside, but I am sure it is happening.

I don't know how Stephen feels about hiring a GM, but it would not surprise me if he did. I could see him going either way. However, on the question of the contracts, I don't see any major changes in how they handle those, because I think Stephen is neck deep in those decisions already. I do think the team is trying to structure contracts so that they can release players now without paying too big a cap hit, as they apparently did with Gerald Sensabaugh's extension, but the Cowboys have a "you get what you pay for" approach to things. And they do tend to throw money at players they like. That I do not see undergoing any radical changes, just a bit more caution to avoid the really bad deals.

I am hoping that is what is going on with the Anthony Spencer negotiations. If the team feels they cannot keep him long term without overpaying/over committing, then it needs to be a one and done on the tag. They will have to pay for Tony Romo, because that is the nature of the game today. I do think the team wants to go toward the draft and the low cost free agents. The draft has been working out better of late, and could look very good if some players return from injury and perform the way the team hopes. But last season, the team tried a high/low mix in free agency, getting Brandon Carr for a high price, and adding names like Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dan Connor, and Lawrence Vickers for lesser figures. You might consider how satisfied you are with how that has worked out so far before you decide to commit to that. Not every free agent signing is going to turn into a Laurent Robinson.