According to Forbes Magazine, the Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in the NFL. Their figures show that the team is worth $3.2 billion and generated $560 million in revenue in 2013. Jerry Jones is a very rich man, and he and his family are just getting richer.
Which, of course, is why Jason Garrett's seat is not nearly as hot as many people think.
Is the logic of that statement not clear to you? Well, let me explain.
Jerry Jones is in a unique position as the owner and general manager of his team. In most NFL franchises, of course, those are two different jobs. We often bemoan this, and one of the Dallas area radio stations has even created a Twitter hashtag about how Jerry the owner needs to fire Jerry the GM (#JTONTFJTGM). But over the past few years, the dual roles that Jerry Jones holds may have become a real strength for the team, despite popular perceptions.
For the other NFL teams, the owner is primarily concerned about the bottom line. That revenue figure is the first concern, and the total worth of the franchise is important as well. The general manager is concerned first and foremost with the won-lost record. If the GM can get to the playoffs regularly, he usually can keep his job. Fail to do so for an extended period of time, and he is out the door. The complaint about Jones, of course, is that his performance as the GM since Jimmy Johnson left should have gotten him fired, if he wasn't his own boss.
But there is another aspect to this. Sometimes, the priorities of the owner might conflict with the priorities of the GM. The most obvious example of this is the salary cap. Owners wanted the cap installed to protect the bottom line and keep the players from increasing the share of those revenues that they get in salary. While the cap is an accounting tool that does not reflect actual money paid out, over the long run it does provide a regulating mechanism that keeps the cost of paying the players at about half the income that is counted for cap purposes. The owner sees the cap as protection of his lifestyle. The GM sees it as a straitjacket that makes him make constant tradeoffs in order to stay under the cap. There are many other examples where the league, which is after all basically run by the owners for the benefit of the owners, engages in odd bits of penny-pinching that seem to the casual fan to inhibit the quality of the games. Not having goal line cameras installed in every stadium is one of these strange things that would resolve some questionable plays, resulting in a fairer game and faster reviews. But those cameras cost money, even though it seems laughably small when the cheapest franchises are still pushing a billion dollars in value.
That is what makes Jerry Jones and the Cowboys unique. He is equally concerned with his revenue and his record. And the primary reason the salary cap exists is that in the early 90s, the owner and the GM of the Cowboys decided that he was willing to spend whatever it took to have a championship team. He quickly had the highest payroll in the league, three Lombardi trophies in four years to go with it - and a bunch of angry, frightened owners who were scared of the pressure to match Jerry in his personal arms race, or become perennial bottom feeders. This could easily lead to some of them having to give up one of their vacation homes, which of course could not be allowed to happen. Thus, the salary cap.
Now, there is still a relationship between most teams' record and profitability. If you can't sell out your stadium and the luxury boxes because the team is really bad, you don't make as much money. However, there are teams that are somewhat immune to this. That includes the Patriots and, for some reason, all the teams in the NFC East (Washington is third in value, the Giants are fourth, and the Eagles are seventh). But Dallas is heads and shoulders above anyone else. Partly due to being the only team in the NFL that controls the revenue from its own merchandising, and also because AT&T Stadium is now the location for a multitude of events from One Direction concerts to the new NCAA College Football Championship game, the revenue stream for the Jones family remains high even when the team is struggling. Jerry the owner does not have to worry about coming up with drastic solutions for a string of 8-8 records. And neither does Jerry the GM, because there is no one besides his own ego and pride pressuring him to improve the performance of the team. For several years , Jerry Jones acted much like most GMs, trying whatever he could think of to fix the team, which in sports usually boils down to firing the head coach and hiring a new one - or an old retread. But that ego and pride got beaten down over nearly two decades of struggling teams.
So things have changed in recent years. Many people don't want to agree with that statement, but it is based on the way Jerry Jones has been operating. The changes are not dramatic, but more evolutionary in nature, and masked by the fact that he is still making the often outrageous, stream-of-consciousness type of statements he always has to the media. At the same time, his son, Stephen Jones, has clearly become a major voice in the operation. Jerry himself acknowledged this in talking about the mythical Johnny Manziel draft card when he stated that Stephen was the one person that could talk him out of a decision like that.
Stephen's influence looks to be pervasive. One thing he seems to have encouraged in his father that was sorely lacking in the past: Patience. With the most valuable NFL franchise in the league, and the second most valuable sports team on the face of the planet behind Real Madrid, there is no reason to rush things. It is a luxury that most NFL teams are not afforded, because of a combination of owners who get uncomfortable at the thought of unsold tickets and sagging ratings, and general managers who want results now while they still have their job. Although much of the media and many, probably most, fans believe that head coach Jason Garrett is on the hot seat this year and has to get into the playoffs to keep his job, it might be worth remembering that the same thing was said by many of the same people in 2013. And 2012.
All indications, including the same tendency to slip into Garrettspeak that the players exhibit, are that Jerry Jones really likes his head coach and truly believes in the storied Process. One facet of that near-legendary Process is that it takes time. It is not a quick fix for today, but a long-term way of doing things that is designed to lead to sustainable success over many years. Although elements may differ, it is intended to produce the same results as Bill Belichick has had in New England (which, probably not by coincidence, is the number two most valuable NFL franchise, and the one that saw the largest year to year increase from 2013). But a couple of things have kept Garrett's editions of the Cowboys mired in 8-8 limbo. First, it took Jerry Jones a while to finally put all the correct controls in Garrett's hands. The hiring of Scott Linehan and the promotion of Rod Marinelli look to have been the final release of control that Garrett needed. He still answers to Jerry and Stephen about how the team is run, but he now has it set up the way he wants. Then there is the ongoing injury situation, and all the bad decisions of the past on contracts and such that have finally been, if not solved, at least made manageable. The Joneses seem very aware of the issues and that they (OK, mostly Jerry) are as much to blame for the situation the past three years as Garrett.
With billions of dollars in net worth and a nine figure income stream, Jerry and Stephen Jones have no real pressure to make a change from a coach they like and trust. Although they, just like all of us, want to see the team break out of the rut and get into the playoffs, it is not the make-or-break situation that most think it is. As long as there is no meltdown (and there are no signs of that being in any way likely), Garrett will probably get some kind of contract extension. The wait is probably to see how long would be appropriate. If the team is successful in 2014, then it will be a long one. If not, look for a couple of years for Garrett to prove he can get things done, or to have to accept that his way of doing things has something lacking.
It is easy to understand why many think Garrett has to make the playoffs or else. If he coached for many NFL franchises, that would be true. But he doesn't. He coaches for the Cowboys. And there are 3.2 billion reasons for no one to be in any hurry to change things in Dallas.