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The Cowboys current chaos is largely self-inflicted

The Cowboys are making some confusing decisions.

NFL: NOV 04 Cowboys at Giants
It didn’t have to come down to an either/or situation.
Photo by Rich Graes fourthsle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All businesses must have a plan. That is absolutely applicable to the Dallas Cowboys, because the NFL is a big business. But there is a funny thing about plans. They tend to only work when the assumptions used to make them are correct. And they almost never are.

All teams deal with this problem. Some are very poor at it, while others seem to find ways to roll with the changes and adjust things. It is understandable to feel that Dallas falls into the first group. This offseason has seen several unexpected issues crop up, and the team seems to be scrambling. The impression developing is that the Jones family is much more reactive than proactive.

The latest developments just add fuel to that fire. Speculation that Stephen Jones was positioning the team to move on from Amari Cooper is now looking much more like fact. That has added credibility to the idea that Michael Gallup has now become a priority to re-sign. We have now learned that Blake Jarwin had surgery that casts some doubt on his future with the team. Because of that, Dalton Schultz is also a significant target to bring back to the team. All this is compounded by the steadfast love Jones has for salary cap space. He indicated that was a driving factor behind the increasingly likely release of Cooper, and has also cast a bit of a shadow over DeMarcus Lawrence’s tenure with the Cowboys.

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It is puzzling how quickly the team seems to have cooled on Cooper, who was acquired by trading a first-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders while they were still in Oakland. His production was certainly down last season, but it also looked like he was not being called on to do as much. He still was the second-leading receiver behind CeeDee Lamb. Schultz was third on that list, which does fortify the argument for bringing him back. However, there was also a lack of foresight with contracts. The Cowboys could likely have gotten deals done with both Gallup and Schultz before they hit free agency, at a lower cost than they will now command. By letting them get to free agency, the team has lost leverage and now will have to pony up, including the possibility of using the franchise tag on Schultz.

That leverage issue is a recurring one for Dallas, and it is a problem that is aggravated by the remarkably loose way that both Stephen and Jerry Jones discuss things. They openly spill the beans about what they are prioritizing to the press. Further, the organization is a sieve about what should be more closely held information. With the national attention that surrounds anything related to the Cowboys, there are always people in the media seeking to get some inside information, and it is clear they have no problem finding sources to feed them.

Another way the team has created some of its own problems is the history of big contracts they have done that did not pay out. Two obvious cases are Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith. Elliott is basically untouchable this season due to the huge cap hit moving on from him would involve. Running backs are notorious for their short shelf life in the league, and are becoming less crucial to offenses. They are much more interchangeable and easily replaced due to their production being so strongly affected by the performance of the offensive line. Caving in to Elliott’s demands reflects how the ownership is mired in a mindset that is more appropriate for the way the game was played in the glory years of the 1990s. The league has evolved, but the Jones family has not. And Smith represents $6.8 million in dead cap space this year. With his injury history, his contract was always a very high risk one, and the team is paying the price, literally.

They also did a very poor job with the contracts of both Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence. Both were tagged twice before being signed to deals that were more costly than they could have done earlier. Their deals eat up more cap space than they would have if the team had accepted that they had to pay eventually. Handling them the way they did just made it more costly.

Now Dallas goes into 2022 with an offense that is compromised. Wide receiver and tight end have become much more important going into the draft in a year when there are other big needs and limited draft capital. Fortunately, it looks like a strong year for both those position groups. It must be remembered, however, that every draft pick has a risk of not working out, and that gets worse the later a player is taken. We already know that the Cowboys are not going to do much in the outside free agent market. That stems from the cap situation they have largely created themselves as well as the established tendency to focus on re-signing their own. That latter part has just become more costly for the reasons mentioned above.

It is a logical conclusion to think that the Jones family seems to think it thrives in chaos. Unfortunately, their track record does not really support that idea. What history shows is that they keep getting forced into hasty and ill-considered decisions often driven by deadlines. That in turn makes the job of the coaching staff much more difficult. With head coach Mike McCarthy in a make-or-break year, that is very discouraging.

Culture is a big intangible for NFL teams. The culture in Dallas is a reflection of the leadership. The owners have created this mess, and they are not going to change. It points to a possibly rough season ahead. Any hope for the Cowboys in 2022 is sadly dependent on them overcoming their own self-imposed restrictions.

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