Like the fans of 29 other franchises, followers of the Dallas Cowboys will be watching (or not) a Super Bowl that doesn’t feature their team. The offseason will be about seeking answers for the problems that led to another disappointing end of things. It is the only way a large number of fans know as we now approach three decades without seeing the Star represented in the NFC Championship, much less the ultimate contest.
While there were plenty of things that went into the way Dallas fizzled down the stretch, one issue has been around for that entire drought of playoff success. That is the often highly questionable job done by the team’s owner and GM, Jerry Jones. Over that time, his son Stephen has been taking on more and more of the actual GM duties, with no improvement in the results. It is a common refrain that the Cowboys will never return to the promised land as long as at least one of the pair remains in charge of things. In particular, his persistent use of the salary cap as a justification for being parsimonious with player contracts inhibits the roster-building process. The frequently incompetent decisions of the ownership/management will keep their team from ever climbing above mediocrity.
Well, the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals will be playing on Sunday argues differently. They have some obvious parallels with Dallas. They are the only other team whose owner, Mike Brown, also keeps the role of GM for himself. And he is almost certainly worse than the Jones family.
Who is the cheapest and the worst owner in the league? Mike Brown and the Bengals made it the Super Bowl in-spite of him! My faith is not in the Jones family my faith is that we will overcome them one day and reach our goal! pic.twitter.com/zj4JqZgJ3Z— CowboysFanTalk (@Cowboys_FanTalk) February 9, 2022
There are some obvious differences between the situations. The Jones family built the Star at Frisco, arguably the best headquarters and practice facility in the league, complete with a full-sized indoor stadium as well as spacious outdoor fields. The scouting department for the Cowboys certainly seems better, particularly with Will McClay getting more and more influence. But there was a lot of pressure on Arlington to get AT&T Stadium built.
The main thing that jumps out, though, is the aversion to spending on free agents. It is actually a strange inconsistency for the Jones family. They have long been willing to spend on everything about the team, with the notable exception of the players. They’ll pour billions into having some of the best facilities possible and money whip coaches they want to keep. But they put up a fight (often futile) to avoid paying their best players the money required to retain them, including open media campaigns to talk down the price. And free agency is looked at like a prostate exam, something you may not be able to completely avoid, but that you put off as much as possible and tend to complain about volubly when it is inevitable. For the Bengals, that means they go into the NFL Championship with an observably lesser roster, particularly the offensive line trying to protect star QB Joe Burrow.
Yet despite the problems caused by the same kinds of loathing for paying talent, the Bengals have made it to the top of the AFC. They go into the game as the underdog, but that has not caused them any issues at all on their playoff run.
We discussed these ideas and more on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
What they have done is find ways to overcome the drag on the organization sitting in the owner’s box at games. It involves a mixture of coaching, outstanding plays from the best on their roster, and the element of luck that most undervalue for success in the league. But overcome it all they did.
If they can do it, why not the Cowboys? They have more talent on paper than Cincy. The coaching is not as horrible as many make it out to be. (I’m not going to argue that point now. Just roll with me.) There was certainly an element of bad luck with some injuries this season, particularly the torn ligament suffered by Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott’s calf strain. But there is no concrete reason they cannot find a way to surmount the issues emanating from the front office.
If there is one thing that will have to be addressed in some fashion to make that happen, it is the likely interference on roster decisions. Keeping Elliott on the field so much more than Tony Pollard despite the injury to the former and the better performance of the latter is widely believed to have been pushed by the Joneses. If you want to engage in a little conspiracy theory, it is also a strange coincidence that Amari Cooper seemed to have less of a role in the offense down the stretch just before Stephen Jones began pointing to his contract as a big problem under the salary cap. It is a viable theory that the owners pay a lot of attention to the paychecks they are writing for the players and seek to have them on the field more to justify their salaries. That is a factor that coaches should completely ignore. The evidence just points so clearly to it being used.
It will take a willingness to stand up to the ownership to correct that particular issue. It also assumes that the coaching staff is making the correct decisions. While that is a bit of an open question, it is reasonable to assume that Mike McCarthy may be coaching for his job this fall. That should make him more open to the idea of ignoring the desires of his bosses when he is setting rosters and assigning roles in order to get the most wins he can. The record should trump all in whether he returns for a fourth year.
He and his staff also should be willing to do a little table pounding about decisions concerning players currently under contract and the free agents the team has that would be valuable to bring back. Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence both should be getting some real support from their coaches. If McCarthy and Kellen Moore are reluctant to go to bat, it’s likely that Dan Quinn would not have the slightest issue of explaining in concise and colorful terms why he needs Lawrence.
Sadly, there seems little hope that the approach to outside free agents is going to change. That seems to be genetically predetermined for Stephen Jones. It will take some of the other aspects discussed to get past that. But as we will witness on Sunday, it can be done.