There are times when you absolutely hate to be proven right. For all the many critics of how the Dallas Cowboys handled the offseason, this is assuredly one of those. It is truly a case of forecasting worst-case scenarios and then seeing them come to sudden fruition. In the humiliating loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, almost all of the things that could go wrong did, in rapid fashion.
The Dallas Cowboys are a family run business. As the owner, Jerry Jones has put his son Stephen in charge of most of the functions of a general manager. Will McClay handles scouting and draft preparation, which he does quite well. But roster and contract decisions are the bailiwick of Stephen. Jerry’s biggest input seems to come in who fills the head coaching job. Right now, they are reaping what they have sown. That family business model can be great for small operations. The Cowboys are the biggest sports franchise in the world. It requires professional management by people whose egos do not get in the way. The egos of Jerry and Stephen Jones are always the biggest presence whenever they are involved. That is a recipe for disaster, and that just came out of the oven.
One of the biggest problems when people let their egos do the talking and drive their decisions is that they usually are terrible at assessing things logically and rationally. This year, that has been the main factor in setting this team up for failure. From the beginning of the offseason, the problems facing the Cowboys were blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer. They parted ways with Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, Randy Gregory, and Cedrick Wilson. After the first game, all could be looked at as mistakes.
Then the owners decided to cling stubbornly to their refusal to use free agency to plug the holes they created. As so many other teams have proven, that can be used quite successfully to add needed and useful talent. It has to be done with manipulation of the cap to free up space, but as Stephen continuously demonstrates with talk about dry powder and the size of the pie, he is living in another world. That is a world where he makes roster decisions based on how much money it takes from the bottom line. He disregards how winning more than offsets roster costs by increasing revenue. In that respect, the way the Cowboys are able to generate staggering amounts of income regardless of the product on the field is a detriment to the franchise. Business success has become a true hindrance to the results on the field. There is no motivation to be better at running the team when those bank accounts keep swelling.
Nor does the constant attention the Joneses get help. That directly feeds their egos. They are major attractions for anyone in the media who desires more viewers and readers, creating a feedback loop that just worsens everything. The family doesn’t care that they are sought out because of the bad results. As long as they keep drawing microphones, cameras, and writers taking notes, they bask in it. Meanwhile, the team crumbles.
Another factor is how the Joneses constantly scapegoat coaches and players. They don’t just do so reactively. They are proactive. Before trading away Cooper and releasing Collins, they began putting the blame on the players. Before the season, they justified doing so little to fix the receiver corps and the offensive line by putting pressure on Dak Prescott to elevate the entire offense, along with some on Ezekiel Elliott to revitalize the run game. They are beginning to set up Mike McCarthy as well. It is all their way of avoiding responsibility for the clunker of a team that we saw against the Bucs.
Don’t overlook the reliance on Cooper Rush and Will Grier as the backup quarterbacks. They went all in on Prescott to carry the offense. Against Tampa Bay, he was not up to the task in a stunning way. It was not at all what was expected given his past performances even when not fully healthy. Aggravating things was how he was asked to throw into tight windows as Kellen Moore did a horrible job scheming to get the receivers open. Prescott had almost always handled the tasks given him before last Sunday, but he floundered. Now they are relying on Rush to lead this team. No disrespect to him, but that seems too much on his plate.
That semi receiver-by-committee approach failed the quarterbacks and the team as well. The jumbled offensive line didn’t help, especially after Connor McGovern was injured and a still raw Matt Farniok had to step in. Both situations were direct results of the stubborn approach to free agency. It was foolish to not get more wide receiver help after James Washington was injured, compounding the failure to do more before training camp. Julio Jones was an option at one time, and the Buccaneers threw him in Dallas’ face to show how they erred in not pursuing him or one of the other available free agents. Then they did nothing to address depth at guard when they were forced to move Tyler Smith to tackle after Tyron Smith’s injury. They are going to have to add someone. The only internal option they have is UDFA Alec Lindstrom. He will probably be called up from the practice squad, but they need to do more. It is an open question whether they will. The “we like our guys” is just one more way this ownership does not get it.
Now the team is talking about Prescott coming back from his injury quickly, which seems a dangerous approach when so much rides on him being fully capable and performing at the top of his potential. The dichotomy between trying to win now with the roster on hand and doing so little to upgrade the talent of the roster is glaring. We are also probably going to see them try to hurry Jason Peters onto the field as the Joneses are already putting blame on Terence Steele, who they forced into a starting role with the Collins decision. They could hit a roadblock there as Peters could well refuse to go out there if he does not believe he is ready. They have no real leverage over him.
It is an absolute mess. It seems foolish at first glance to declare the season over when it has just begun. That is nonetheless a real possibility, and that is based on logic and how poorly the offense performed across the board. Any success this year was always dependent on a lot of gambles going just right. On offense, all those bets were lost in week one.
What is the solution? Unless you are living in a fantasy world, there isn’t. The Jones family is not about to sell this team, and Jerry and Stephen are not going to give up their spotlight by hiring a real GM to come in and clean up this wreckage. They will continue to rake in the dollars as fans of the opposing team will keep filling the seats at AT&T Stadium. Merchandise will probably continue to sell and ratings will not go down as so many NFL fans will tune into the games just to relish the struggles of the Cowboys.
Sadly, there is a real possibility that the team will win just enough to keep them relevant until late in the season. But Dallas is not a franchise that hinges on winning or losing. The real driver is drama. That is more than plentiful this season. It is not a good place to be for fans of the team.