Week three of the NFL season got started on Thursday Night Football with the Cleveland Browns defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-17. While the outcome of a game between a couple of teams in the AFC North has little impact on the Dallas Cowboys, there was one thing that left a bitter taste in our mouths. The star of the game was wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had over 100 yards and a touchdown. It was the second 100-yard game in a row for him, an always impressive feat made even more so by the fact Jacoby Brissett is currently his quarterback.
As you are probably all too well aware, the Cowboys traded Cooper away last offseason for a paltry fifth-round pick. Largely as a result of that, Dallas is still working out things with the receiving corps. Only WR CeeDee Lamb and TE Dalton Schultz came into the season with any significant experience. So far, Noah Brown has been the only one to step up of the very inexperienced committee the team has to try and fill the void left by Cooper’s trade, Michael Gallup’s injury, and the loss of Cedrick Wilson in free agency.
The stellar performance of Cooper with the Browns led to the media asking Jerry Jones once again about the highly questionable reasoning behind the trade. His answer was, well, more of the frustrating justification we have heard before.
We can expect to hear Stephen Jones explaining pie once again soon.
The part that does not just frustrate but actually angers many is that this attitude is not shared by all NFL teams. Just a year ago, we saw the Los Angeles Rams go on a buying spree through both free agency and trades, despite having to do massive restructuring to do so. A quick look at their contracts as reported by Over the Cap shows a staggering amount of potential dead money on their roster. This will have to be managed for years to come and will eventually have some impact on their ability to make further moves. Already they project to be in the hole for next year.
The payoff for them was of course a Lombardi Trophy. Their management fully understood that the NFL is a win now league and they went all in on building a roster to do so. Correctly, they treated the salary cap as extremely malleable. They did not let worries about having to get under the cap in the future hold them back.
Starkly contrasting this, the Cowboys don’t seem to make any move without peering two or three years into the future and placing a large weight on those impacts. It is hard to argue that for the top management, which is to say the Jones family where the GM role is jointly shared by Jerry and son Stephen, with the latter doing most of the actual work, fail to focus on what needs to be done to win this year. They leave that up to the head coach and his staff, while not giving them as good a roster as possible. It stacks the deck against Mike McCarthy and sets him up as a potential scapegoat to be sacrificed if the team has a bad season.
Meanwhile the Jones family sees a different reality than most of us. They congratulate themselves on getting four players for the cap dollars freed up by Cooper’s departure. The possibility of Cooper having the ability to help the team as much as he has the Browns is dismissed in cavalier fashion. No consideration is given to how teams like the Rams tie up big cap money with players they feel they need, like Aaron Donald, Matt Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, and Cooper Kupp, while they achieve more success than the Cowboys have seen in nearly a generation. Adding to our exasperation is that not long ago Dallas was doing so much cap manipulation that the talk was all about them “kicking the can down the road” and having to pay for it later. They obviously know how to do it. They choose not to. The truth is that they could easily have kept Cooper and all the other players his cap space supposedly saved for the team, not to mention do a far better job of adding needed talent in free agency. It would have just taken a bit of creativity and daring, things that seem notably lacking now.
Hidden in all this is the likelihood that trading Cooper was not really based on his cap hit or his performance. There are reliable reports that the team, meaning the Joneses, were very unhappy about some issues around his commitment and his presence in the locker room. While those are things that can be considered by management, there is a definite impression that the trade arose out of emotions rather than football-based factors. Put simply, Jerry Jones in particular seems to carry grudges and act on them. That is after all the only plausible reason that Hall of Fame honoree Jimmy Johnson is not in the Ring of Honor at AT&T stadium.
Once again, we see how the Cowboys are run more as a family business than an efficient multi-billion dollar corporation. The owners have inserted themselves into controlling the roster and have their egos far too invested in the team. They fail to see how a professional GM could run things in order to maximize success without needing the constant limelight that seems essential to the existence of Jerry and increasingly Stephen. There is also an inability to admit errors and seek corrections that ties directly to the ego issue.
There is essentially no solution for this, because Jerry has made it obvious he will not sell the team as long as he lives, and there is no reason to think Stephen and his siblings would do so in the not too distant future. The family is likely to treat the most valuable franchise in the NFL the way they always have, as an operation they stay deeply involved in running day-to-day despite them really having no qualifications outside of learning on the job. And they don’t appear to have learned the right lessons at all.
Frustration is here to stay.