One thing fans of the Dallas Cowboys have had to become accustomed to is that owner and general manager Jerry Jones is almost never quiet about his team. He is attracted to microphones like a moth to an open flame. Just like when that happens, things sometimes get a bit hot. In the aftermath of the terrible showing against the San Francisco 49ers that led to the unceremonious exit from the playoffs in the Wild Card round for Dallas, you knew he would have some things to say. In his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan, he had a lot to get off his chest. As always, his remarks were at times convoluted and in some cases evasive. The Cowboys face a lot of major problems. But while his anger and frustration certainly came out about several things, it was a minor and puzzling issue that seemed to get him most worked up.
In the grand scheme of things, the glare that happens at times due to the peculiar east-west alignment of AT&T Stadium is a minor thing. It still is a factor, and clearly had a big impact on one play for the Cowboys when they desperately needed some offensive success. Cedrick Wilson completely lost the ball intended for him in the sun and actually ducked out of the way. It may have been a wise thing to avoid a carom that could turn into an interception. Still, it is puzzling why the Cowboys continue to risk that even if it also affects opponents. Fixing this would be a small thing. It would not take any appreciable time from Jones to fix. All he really would have to do is approve a method and sign a work order.
After over a decade of scrutinizing what Jones does as GM and owner here at BTB, this strikes me as one of the more revealing things in that time.
First, it is a refusal to admit that the design of the stadium has a real flaw in this feature. The stadium is the crown jewel in his Cowboys empire, even more so than the expansive and incredible complex at The Star in Frisco. In many ways, AT&T Stadium continues to influence the design of new venues around the league. There is a clear intent to one-up the groundbreaking screen suspended over the field, while avoiding the issue of punts bouncing off.
Combined with how easy it would appear to be to add panels or curtains to the west end of the stadium to eliminate the problem, this speaks to a high level of intransigence and rejection of criticism. It is not much of a stretch to think this extends to other parts of his management of the team. With the widely perceived failures of the coaching staff this season, that may be driving the lack of commitment in his other statements to The Fan about doing anything meaningful about that. His comment about having every coach under contract that he wants to have infers he does not plan to make any unforced changes. Dan Quinn, widely perceived as the most valuable member of the staff, is all but certain to be on his way out for a head coaching gig. Quinn appears to be mulling over just where he wants to go. The hiring cycle is going very slowly this year. All signs point to Quinn being the domino that teams are waiting on.
There is still a non-zero chance that Kellen Moore may also get an offer, but some of the luster came off him with how the offense sputtered from the midpoint of the season to the bitter ending. If Jerry is indeed prepared to roll into the 2022 campaign with Mike McCarthy and Moore in place, it is a level of complacency that is not reassuring. There is an argument to be made for not parting ways with the head coach just to avoid the resultant turmoil and change. It would be only his third year in Dallas. Dumping him after just two would be the fastest Jones has ever moved on. Three years is considered by some to be a minimum to truly evaluate the job a head coach is doing, especially one who got twelve wins out of his team in his most recent year.
Countering that is how the Cowboys squandered what many see as the most talented roster in years, perhaps decades. With the major salary cap moves that have to be made, a lot of starters entering free agency, limited draft capital especially compared to last year, and Stephen Jones’ parsimonious approach to signing outside talent for the team, things are just going to get harder, at least in the short term. If there is serious doubt in Jerry’s mind that McCarthy is indeed what the team needs, this might be the year to make an exception in his approach. Rip off the bandage and bring in a new head coach to try and correct things while there is still a core of starters to build around.
Another thing Jerry said makes the stance that Moore will continue as offensive coordinator more puzzling. That was Jerry’s remark about being tired of fixing things in the offseason. He specifically said that should have happened after the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a rather overt criticism of the failure to adjust to what defenses were doing. Not only did Vic Fangio claim to have found the answer to stopping the Dallas offense after the stunningly poor showing against the Denver Broncos, the league as a whole made a shift back to two- and three-high coverages to counter general offensive trends. Some teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, successfully adapted after initial struggles. The Cowboys under Moore did not. They also seemed to lose any sense of how to capitalize on players like Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, and stuck with giving Ezekiel Elliott the biggest workload over Tony Pollard. Elliott injured his PCL against the Caroline Panthers in Week 4 of the season, but still was the workhorse. Pollard was easily the more effective of the pair. He languished in mostly a relief role.
Jerry did not reserve his criticisms of the team for the coaching staff. He also mentioned how talented players did not get the job done. That speaks to a lack of accountability. In this, Jones needs to take his own advice about being toughest on the person looking back at yourself from a mirror. It is widely believed that Elliott’s massive contract played a part in him keeping the lead back role. That had to come from the top. Coaches should care nothing about how much a player is making or his cap hit. They should focus on having the most effective ones on the field.
An absence of accountability also showed in a very disturbing trend this season. Both the coaching staff, especially McCarthy, and members of the roster became highly critical of the officiating in losses. Even Dak Prescott fell prey to this, and had to offer an apology after his ill-considered comment after the Wild Card failure. If you want to find a reason McCarthy should not be kept, that is a major one. He set the tone here, and did nothing to correct or contain the behavior of his players and staff. But if you look back at that long quote at the beginning of this article, the lack of accountability is just as apparent with the owner. Jerry is more influential in the culture of his team than any other owner due to his direct daily involvement in the running of the team. This issue goes right to the top.
A further indictment of the head coach is the arrogant sounding comments he made about his future with the team.
Mike McCarthy: “I understand what goes on here every day. I know how to win. I know how to win in this league. I know how to win playoff games. I know how to win a championship. So I have great confidence in that. What we’ve built here in two seasons, I feel very good about."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 19, 2022
That is not a model of self-evaluation and correction. It smacks of the sense of doing things his way despite negative results that was seen as a big part of the lack of success Jason Garrett had in Dallas.
Jerry also made his own kind of excuses in his radio interview. He spoke of the way the NFL is designed to drive parity, or 50/50 outcomes. He treated Bill Belichick and others who have bucked that as if they were unicorns and not the result of their own hard work and understanding of the game. That, too, is a shirking of responsibility in his own hiring. Remember how quickly he made the decision to go with McCarthy.
Unfortunately, when you are listing the problems the Cowboys have, they have to start with Jerry Jones. Even more unfortunately, he is the one person who cannot be fired or held accountable. The interview on Friday just shone a glaring light on how big an obstacle that is for the team.