The Dallas Cowboys earned their “America’s Team” nickname from repeated success which had people all over the country cheering for them. After not having a single winning season during their first five years of existence, the Cowboys went on a tear making the playoffs in 17 of their next 18 seasons. In that span, the team made it to at least the NFC Championship 12 times. That is simply amazing.
But good things come to an end. The Cowboys lost three straight NFC Championship games to kickoff the ‘80s, which marked the beginning of the end for legendary coach Tom Landry as he was fired after the 1988 season.
It didn’t take long for Jimmy Johnson to turn that frown upside down as he took over for Landry and within five years of coaching the Cowboys, he had helped them win back-to-back Super Bowls. Once again, good things came to an end, only this time much faster than we could have imagined. The internal conflict between egomaniacs Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones became too much to live with as Johnson’s time in Dallas ended. While the team did win three Super Bowls in four years, it’s hard not thinking they could have done so much more had the JJ/JJ marriage not ended in divorce.
With the ‘90s dynasty over, the team struggled to stay competitive as they went 5-11 in three straight seasons after the turn of the century. The Cowboys offense suffered immensely after the retirement of Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. They went through replacement quarterbacks like Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe before stumbling upon their next great one in Tony Romo.
While the Romo years put the Cowboys back on the mountainside, they could never reach the top. It is a shared belief that the organization squandered Romo’s best years by not putting enough pieces around him. Jerry has spoken openly about how his biggest mess-up is not winning the Super Bowl while they had Romo on the team.
The darkness of missing out on the Romo years was brightened by the arrival of Dak Prescott in 2016. Right out of the gate, Dak was the team’s starting quarterback, a position he’s held for the past six seasons. Prescott will be 29 years old at the start of the new season and in the blink of an eye, the once fresh reset at the quarterback position is starting to see the sand of Prescott’s playing career slowly funnel through the hourglass. Is it déjà vu all over again? Are the Cowboys again wasting the career of another talented quarterback?
If so, it isn’t from a lack of trying. Over the years, this team has invested a lot of resources to help their quarterback. They’ve traded a first-round draft pick (which they hate parting ways with) to acquire Amari Cooper. They doubled-up on first-round receivers and selected CeeDee Lamb because he was too good to pass up. They even spent the highest draft pick they’ve owned over the last 30 years on a running back because they felt Ezekiel Elliott was a game-changer who could take the pressure of his quarterback (who at the time was Romo).
Despite all the weaponry the offense has been provided, the Cowboys have not been able to get past the divisional round of the playoffs. While Dak still has plenty of good years left, he comes at a much higher price these days as his contract takes up a good portion of the Cowboys’ salary cap. Stephen Jones is well aware of the team’s financial situation and he’s not afraid to let everyone know about it. A few weeks ago, he created a stir when he attempted to lay out the challenges teams face when they’re paying top dollar for a franchise quarterback.
“The salary cap is real. Certainly, when you get to paying these quarterbacks, it’s a quarterback-driven league. Dak deserves every penny he gets. But once you get into that league with these $40 million quarterbacks then things have to give and take.”
No sooner was that said when we started hearing some chatter about the possibility of Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence being potential cap casualties this offseason. After Prescott, those two are the team’s biggest cap costs this season. Stephen went on to add that the Cowboys are big believers in homegrown talent and bringing new guys in through the draft. Indeed, the front office has been very good at doing just that. And you don’t have to go back very far to see them cut some talented fan favorites for financial reasons. For example,
- In 2014, they released DeMarcus Ware and drafted DeMarcus Lawrence that same year.
- In 2018, they released Dez Bryant and then drafted Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. They would also make a mid-season trade for Amari Cooper that same year.
In each of these events, the Cowboys cut ties with a beloved veteran player who they deemed no longer worth the base salaries left on their contract. These older stars were ultimately replaced by younger stars who have now become the “older stars.” Lawrence will be 30 years old when the new season starts and will be entering his ninth season in the NFL. Cooper will be 28, entering his eighth season in the league, and has actually played in more games than Lawrence.
While it’s really strange to think the Cowboys would consider parting ways with two of the better players on their roster, we can’t rule out the front office’s inclination to make big moves, hit the reset button, and go after new stars. It’s possible the Cowboys finds themselves at a crossroads. It’s possible the front office has taken a look at the talent distribution in the upcoming draft and feels they might be able to pull off a talent switcheroo while saving a truckload of money.
This week, we are going to take a closer look at this narrative. If there is any truth that this organization is looking to move on from Cooper and/or Lawrence, then what is their contingency plan? Stay tuned.