Jerry and Stephen Jones are good with money. The elder is a businessman wizard whose investments have landed him the gig as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, the world's most valuable sports franchise. And the Jones family markets the bejesus out of their team as they continue to make money hand over fist despite their “product” not advancing past the divisional round of the playoffs since the 1995 season.
While they are great at managing real money, the same sentiment is not shared when it comes to managing the Cowboys' salary cap. To their credit, they’ve tried a bunch of different approaches over the last two and half decades, but none of them have panned out. Currently, they are employing the “live to fight another day” approach where they draft, develop, and fill any voids with low-cost free agents. This keeps their yearly spending manageable without any detriment to future payrolls. Then, they’ll cross their fingers and hope their guys come through, and when they don’t, oh well, they’ll get’em next year.
This is the philosophy of the Joneses. And never has it been more evident than in 2022 when we have just witnessed one of the most befuddling offseasons in a long time for this football team. A lot has happened in the last couple of years and it’s hard to figure out where this team is heading. After a putrid year in Mike McCarthy’s debut season as the new head coach where the defense was horrid and their starting quarterback Dak Prescott went down, the team rebounded nicely last season with a much-improved defense and very efficient offense. No team scored more points than the Cowboys last season and no team took the ball away more. Those are both really good things.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys couldn’t capitalize on such an amazing feat as they were bounced from the playoffs immediately, not even making it to their divisional round stalling point this time around. To make matters worse, the team lost three key starters in Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, and Randy Gregory, and hasn’t taken the steps to replenish the talent lost.
The Cowboys can’t seem to get over the hump, but rather than re-load and come out aggressive, the front office has calmly taken their foot off the gas. The reality is that all three of Cooper, Collins, and Gregory could still be in Dallas. The Cowboys made a deliberate effort to move on from Cooper and Collins in the form of a trade or release to remove their salary from the books. And the team was super close to retaining Gregory only to see the rug come out from underneath the deal that caused him to sign with Denver. The team had choices, and they made their decision.
Instead of $20+ million being allocated to Cooper this year, the money is spread out as follows (cap numbers courtesy of spotrac):
Need WR help? No problem. Stephen Jones solves this dilemma like he does everything else, keep it in the family. The Cowboys receiver list above consists of one, two, three, four, five, six drafted/undrafted signees and one outside free agent in USFL MVP KaVontae Turpin.
Oh, but it gets better. Instead of paying La’el Collins $10 million per season, they can just roll with these motley characters for the upcoming year.
For what it’s worth, that’s the list of the young offensive linemen playing under their rookie contract, which at first glance is fine, until you realize that one, two, three, four of them are starting offensive linemen for the Cowboys in 2022. Not only that, but the other three could very easily be the “next man up” should one of the starters go down. And yes, every single one of these players is a drafted/undrafted signee.
When you look at the team’s edge rushers, it’s not nearly as bad, especially if you factor in Micah Parsons (and we should) into the rotation.
This group only consists of three young players on their rookie deals, Parsons, Chauncey Golston, and this year’s second-round pick Sam Williams. But there are also some savings built into this group as their free agents are low-cost players, they re-signed Dorance Armstrong for a good price, and they somehow convinced DeMarcus Lawrence to take a pay cut.
If there is one common theme to all of this it’s that the Cowboys are diligent in gaining every ounce of value from these players as they can. A roster full of rookie deals and bargain-priced free agents will open up a lot of cap space, but is this the way to build a championship roster?
The Joneses believe so as they have totally bought into this belief that these homegrown prospects can step in and get the job done. Jerry is on record saying that teams who pay a hefty price at quarterback have to make sacrifices elsewhere. And if you look at how the pie is being divvied up, those sacrifices are evident.
Hell or high water, the Cowboys front office is adamant about running the team this way. They certainly could choose to sign a higher-priced player. They could choose to surrender draft capital to bring in a proven star. They could even manipulate cap dollars and go all-in now and let tomorrow’s problems be tomorrow’s problem. But they’re not. They’re not doing any of those things. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they sure as heck don’t want to go down that path again.
The Cowboys have a really good player personnel department. They are continuously cycling through good talent. Will McClay and the scouting team do a fantastic job finding guys who can contribute whether they’re here for the long-haul or just through their rookie deal. And when they say, “we like our guys” they aren’t lying.
The #Cowboys made 20 draft picks since 2021.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 31, 2022
All 20 made the 53-man roster on Tuesday.
The front office has this unwavering belief that the way they are doing things is the best way for them to win. They love Dak, they paid Dak, but now they're choosing to operate within the financial restrictions that come with paying their quarterback a lot of money. Other teams find ways to circumvent it, but not the Joneses. They’re going to just trust their guys to develop and deliver. Is this the right way to go or have the Joneses gone mad and ready to watch this baby burn should their plan not work out? Time will tell, but this is it, and this is the way it’s going to be whether we like it or not.