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Cowboys lesson learned: Even the owner has given up

The most optimistic man in the NFL, Jerry Jones, can’t find a bright side.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team
This is not a happy camper.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Jerry Jones has always relished his role as both owner and GM of the Dallas Cowboys. It has made him one of the most involved owners in the league, but it also has some significant downsides. One of the biggest negatives is that it is really hard for him to make necessary changes as the GM, because he isn’t exactly worried about his job. He has often managed to convince himself that moves the rest of the world sees as questionable or just outright bad are actually some 4D chess. In reality, that is just a form of self delusion, at least in many cases. But now, with his team cratering, even he seems to be accepting some of the truth. As the trade deadline approaches, Dallas has gone into sell mode, which is one of the clearest signals in sports that a team has written off the current season and is looking at what needs to be done next year.

The first move was the reported trade of Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions. Oddly, Griffen had been playing better the past few games, but all that seemed to do was get the Cowboys a slightly better offer in a conditional sixth-rounder that could become a fifth. While the return of Randy Gregory might have had a lot to do with forcing the team to make a more long-range choice by parting ways with someone who was always planned on as a one-year rental, rather than say Bradlee Anae or Dorance Armstrong, cheaper and younger options, it may be just the first move. Both Dontari Poe and Daryl Worley are also reportedly being shopped, and some think that if there is no offer for them, they will just be released. And those may not be the only things the team is looking at.

Some have suggested that a higher value player, such as perhaps Michael Gallup, should be on the block. Arguing against that is his still being on an inexpensive rookie deal with one year remaining, and being much more valuable than the other players mentioned. The Cowboys seem destined to get a very high slot in the draft order anyway, as well as having some nice compensatory picks coming their way. That makes trades like Griffen more about just stashing ammo for some late-round moves. They really don’t need to hook someone into parting with a premium pick.

Although, as badly as things have gone, perhaps they should never say never.

This is, to my knowledge, an unprecedented course of action under Jones. But it is not the only thing that indicates he is no longer expecting this team to realistically contend for what would almost certainly be a meaningless and token appearance in the playoffs as the marginally least bad member of the NFC East. During his regular radio appearance on Tuesday, he tipped the hand that is throwing in the towel.

“One of the reasons Mike McCarthy is the coach is because he’s been through it,” Jones said. “He’s had tough times and he’s had disappointing times. ... Certainly we couldn’t have wanted to be at this stage with our team this year, but if I’m going to hire a coach that will be at this stage and work through this for the betterment for the rest of the year and for what’s in the future, I’ve got my man.”

“You wanted someone in case the you-know-what hit the fan that had the credibility and had the doability to do what? Stand tall and strong as the head coach. And he’s doing that,” Jones said. “In answer to your question, he’s doing that in the face of adversity.”

I’ve been a student of Jerryspeak for a decade now, and this, plus his other responses, are quite revealing. No real talk about how close they are to turning it around. A real sense of frustration boiling over. Just talk of how McCarthy can weather this storm apocalyptic raging tempest and move forward.

Admittedly, the evidence has been so overwhelming and so blatant, it is not hard to believe that Jones finally gets it. Just looking at the injured reserve list should be enough. And of course, he watches the games. The reports of unrest on the roster clearly have not gone unnoticed, either.

No, this is a different kind of storm, and I’ll let you fill in the modifier there. Some of the contributing factors, like the unprecedented pandemic restrictions, were out of anyone’s control. But the things the team can control, well, just weren’t.

It must be a bitter pill for one of the most successful and influential owners and executives in the NFL. For the team, however, it may actually be a good thing. This team does not just need a roster rebuild plus at least some kind of shakeup on the staff. As our David Howman outlined earlier, they need a full culture makeover. One suspected cause of the organizational dysfunction was Jones himself, with his often puzzling loyalty to players and coaches. Some have reported that players knew they could go over the coaches’ heads directly to Jones, which would absolutely undermine things.

It may be very difficult for Jerry to learn some new tricks, because he is one elderly dog. But that kind of change is often spurred by what is called a significant emotional event by behavioral experts. Something so shocking and affecting that you examine and become willing to change your values and paradigms. To drop the buzzwords, sometimes it takes a real kick in the butt, or maybe a part of the anatomy just anterior to that, to get you to do something about things.

Jerry has been kicked, not once, but repeatedly. If he is really learning from it, then while this season is done for, the future may bring some real hope - and not just the annual hype-fest that has sucked us in so often in the past.