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Cowboys free agency 2023: Jerry Jones addresses risk taking, hinting at the shape of the offseason

If you want to see Dallas make noise in free agency, don’t get your hopes up.

As always, the owner was in a talkative mood at the Senior Bowl.
Clarence Hill/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Each year the Senior Bowl is a showcase for top college talent entering the draft. NFL teams have coaches and scouts there to observe the prospects, particularly during the practices. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones attends as well. He wears that dual owner/GM hat and likes to go along with his son Stephen and take a look for himself at the talent. Fortunately the real work is done by Will McClay and his staff. But while Jerry is there, he is a magnet for microphones. He talks at length about a variety of subjects. One thing he addressed this year was risk taking, as reported by Jon Machota of The Athletic.

Jon Machota, The Athletic

To provide some context, the aggression he discusses is in free agency. Both the Los Angeles Rams in 2021 and the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason invested heavily in outside free agents. The Rams won it all and the Eagles are representing the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl. Our Chris Halling has already taken a look at exactly this, and goes back one more year to include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Here is how he put it.

There is a clear pattern when it comes to these three teams. They were aggressive in acquiring talent for their football team, and were not afraid to give up resources or spend cap space to make it happen. Jerry Jones and the rest of the front office needs to follow a similar game plan this offseason.

While I didn’t find the actual question Machota or whomever posed to Jones to prompt this response, it probably alluded to this. And this is something that has been a big topic of discussion for years.

Because of the success those other teams have had, there is a perennial longing for the Cowboys to loosen the cap purse strings and go after at least a couple of key free agents outside of their own. They have not been at all shy to spend that money, both the fake accounting numbers of the cap and real world payroll, on what they refer to as “our guys,” as in “we like our guys.”

But when it comes to players from other organizations, the owners, particularly Stephen Jones, become real Scrooge McPies. This can be referred to as “Brandon Carr syndrome” in reference to the last truly big outside free agent deal they did. It was largely seen as a miss. Carr was not a bad player, but clearly was not the difference maker they envisioned when they signed him. In truth, he was a typical free agent signing, because they are always hit or miss, and all teams make deals they later regret. Many other organizations just accept that as a cost of vying for competitiveness and keep trying for one that works. In Dallas, that is not at all the way it is seen. The ownership apparently still feels the burn from Carr, and have vowed never to go through that again. And the way they pursue that goal is just to not do big dollar free agent signings.

When you parse Jerry’s statement, it sounds very much like nothing is likely to change. He refers to risks taken, and the Carr deal, along with others like the infamous trade to acquire WR Roy Williams, are some of the worst of those scars. His statement reads as a signal that the risk aversion will continue. Admittedly, translating Jerryspeak into plain English is far more art than science, but one thing that has held up well is that he means what he says, even if it is couched in circumlocution and tortured syntax. It reflects more what he believes than objective truth, but it is what he and his son think that informs the decisions.

And he hints at something else, the fact that often there is a price to pay for those bold moves. The Rams are a clear example, having failed to even make the playoffs the year after winning it all. The Buccaneers have clearly been on a downward trend and were only in the playoffs the past season because the rest of the NFC South was so dreadful they made it with a losing record.

If there is one particularly disturbing thing about the quote from Jerry, it is this.

We have been in the middle here for a few years, but I like where we are right now, more in the middle.

An embrace of mediocrity by the owner and titular GM is hardly encouraging. It brings to mind the Marvin Lewis era of the Cincinnati Bengals, when they had a stretch of making the playoffs in six of seven years, only to get bounced in the wild card round every time. They stuck with Lewis for three more losing seasons after that because they seemed convinced he was good enough. There is just too much “good enough” in the sentence highlighted above.

There were other things that have emerged from Jerry’s words at the Senior Bowl. Some are good such as a long-term commitment to quarterback Dak Prescott. Others are not, including the statements that they still think Ezekiel Elliott is a valuable contributor and that Jerry still doesn’t have any regrets about last year’s Amari Cooper trade. But this statement about risk taking is the most disturbing, because it speaks to a long-term mindset. You have to take some risks in the NFL, as he rather grudgingly admits. Despite his rather tepid insistence that he still is willing to got that route, it signals the opposite. There are not likely to be any bold moves this year. Again.

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