The Dallas Cowboys are often perceived as Jerry Jones' personal plaything, but careful observation of the team over the past several years paints a much more complex yet subtle picture. While the owner, general manager, and hyperbolic spokesman for the team is undoubtedly the place where the buck stops in the organization, he relies heavily on both his son Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett. Those are probably the top three persons in the building for the Cowboys, but a very close fourth is senior director of player personnel, Will McClay, who actually handles a great deal of the day-to-day work of a general manager for the team.
The recent success of the Cowboys in the draft, particularly in the first round, and free agency has led to frequent speculation that it was just a matter of time before he was lured away by the chance to be a true general manager for some other team. This was especially concerning with the historic debacle otherwise known as the 2015 season in Dallas. But fears that he might jump ship were allayed when he announced he was not going to interview with the Detroit Lions in order to honor the remainder of his current contract.
"Right now, my focus is getting better right here," McClay said on Monday. "We're 4-12. I'm ready to get in here and work with Jason and the Joneses try to get this turned around."
McClay also said he feels obligated to honor the contract he signed last year with the Cowboys.
"This is where I want to be," said McClay, who admitted that a GM position is something he covets. "But I'm excited to be here and get started on the offseason."
While the depth of Jerry Jones' pockets and a desire to see what he has started not go to waste certainly played a part in his decision, it also reflects something of the overall attitude that permeates the organization. The staff and team alike seem to firmly believe that the appalling failure of the past season was an aberration. There is a strong feeling that the foundation is there to reverse things immediately. And having the man who probably has the best feeling for the current talent of the roster as well as the intentions of the offseason is invaluable. With several teams undergoing the annual purges that litter the NFL landscape and others hanging on to a certain amount of perceived dysfunction for various reasons, it is good to see a management team that appears to be working so well remain intact.
The best aspect of this is that, with fourth overall selection in the draft and an expected invitation to coach one of the sides in the Senior Bowl in the offing, there is no need to bring someone else in or promote from within and get them integrated in the decision-making process. Just as the team is planning on maintaining continuity in the coaching staff, it is now going to have the same continuity in the scouting and personnel departments.
While many have expressed dismay that the Cowboys did not join the move to clean house and go in a different direction after the 4-12 disaster, staying the course makes much more sense if there is a belief that the foundation and core for a rebound is already in place. And since the only real path to success in the NFL is to constantly improve through upgrades and churning the bottom of the roster, having the person most involved in getting the cuts and acquisitions right stick around is invaluable. That is especially true when he has a proven track record. It is even more so when dealing with an owner who has not always been able to play well with others. Jerry Jones has demonstrated his faith in McClay's work, no more so than when he deferred to his staff in the decision to take Zack Martin over Johnny Manziel in 2014.
McClay's steady hand in personnel moves is badly needed for the Cowboys and should not be underrated. His decision to stay is probably the most positive thing to happen for the team so far, even considering the decision to stick with the bulk of the coaching staff. It also says a lot about his own perception of the future direction of the team. Given what he has done so far in his two years in his current position of influence, that is very encouraging, indeed.