The thought for today is caveat emptor. Or, let the buyer beware. This is something that really is applicable for fans of the Dallas Cowboys as we have repeatedly been sold a bill of goods about the team. It looks to be happening again, as owner/general manager/media magnet Jerry Jones recently brought up the subject of the team going “all in” this season.
This created a stir, which is always what he likes to do. All of his statements have to be viewed through the lens of how much he yearns to be the center of attention. Many are speculating what this means, as my colleague L.P. Cruz has done. But we submit that Jones’ words are revealing in what he actually said, as well as what he didn’t. These are the key words from his statements to the media. (Emphasis added.)
“I would anticipate — with looking ahead at our key contracts that we’d like to address — we will be all in. I would anticipate we will be all in at the end of this year. So when you say is there any thought...we will push the hell out of it.”
“It will be going all in on different people than you’ve done in the past. We will be going all in. We’ve seen some things out of some of the players that we want to be all in on. Yes, I would say that you will see us this coming year not build it for the future. It’s the best way I’ve ever said. And that ought to answer a lot of questions.”
Translating Jerryspeak is an often torturous exercise. But that phrase in bold seems to set a clear boundary for what he is talking about. This is not about changing the notoriously cautious and stingy approach to outside free agency. This is about the players currently under contract, and perhaps some of their own pending free agents. In another thing Jones said that R.J. Ochoa included in the first article linked above, this seems even more clear.
When asked about the Cowboys currently being over the cap, and specifically Dak Prescott’s high cap hit in 2024, Jerry Jones said that the front office is taking a “more holistic approach than ever” to figure out how to move forward this offseason. pic.twitter.com/Vw0rX1ALuW— Nick Harris (@NickHarrisDC) January 30, 2024
Plowing through that bit of word salad is not easy, but note that he is talking about only the current contract decisions coming on three of the stars of the roster, Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and Micah Parsons. That in itself seems to set some real limitations on what the whole “all in” idea entails. And if you are looking for red flags, the mention of Stephen Jones and the salary cap should have you finding that brake pedal. Note that Jerry says “I bet you that Stephen won’t be,” which a long way from saying they are on the same page here. Managing the salary cap is something Stephen treats as his personal fiefdom. He does so with true zealotry for trying to minimize how much the team has to invest. The “holistic” remark seems just a buzz word, because if you aren’t looking at the big picture and how contracts interrelate, it seems you aren’t doing your job in building and maintaining a roster.
Forgive us for throwing cold water on things, but this could be nothing more than a nod to tweaking the approach that has led us to the long years of frustration. Stephen has not offered his own comments on things. He despises anything that increases the leverage of players in negotiations despite often inadvertently doing so with his parsimonious approach. Both father and son still think they know better than anyone else how to run the team. So far, they are unable to see how they are the one constant element in the failures of the team over the past three decades. That means they are highly unlikely to make any needed changes.
We discussed this idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
One thing this strongly indicates is that free agency will not change. Don’t get your hopes up for any big names coming to Dallas. Whatever cap space they generate is going to be for their own guys. They do like them, after all. New talent is going to be sought in the draft. We can only hope they do much better than last year. The 2023 draft class was about as disappointing as any since the infamous “special teams” draft of 2009. It may wind up rivaling that one unless the return of DeMarvion Overshown from injury pans out and players like Mazi Smith and Luke Schoonmaker develop significantly in the next couple of seasons.
Overall, all Jerry really hinted at was that the team would be less focused on future years in making the contract decisions they face with their most significant players. That is not a bad thing, but hardly a reason for burgeoning hope.
Digging into the real words puts a damper on any optimism many first felt. But “all in” is something that may be much more applicable for another part of the equation. Mike McCarthy is absolutely fighting for his job this year. If the Cowboys don’t find a way to break through the wild card/divisional round barrier like Chuck Yeager this season, he is gone, and with a pretty big stain on his resumé. That will have him looking for anything that will allow the team to reach success, but he also has the big constraint of having to work with the roster that the Jones family provides. While he has input into personnel decisions, he does not have the final word on much of anything. Will McClay has an impressive history of finding good players, last season notwithstanding, but when the philosophy of the owners avoids free agency investments like poison, there are huge limitations for solving the roster puzzle.
Until today, it also appeared that Dan Quinn would be in a similar position, but his just announced hiring by the Washington Commanders has at least created an opening for some change on the staff. How much that will be remains to be seen since most of the defensive assistants are under contract, and they may elect to go with an internal hire like Al Harris, Joe Whitt, or Aden Durde. If much of the staff is held over, they will feel the same pressure to succeed that the offensive and special teams staffs are under. The coaches will be working their backsides off this year. However, they were probably working just as hard last season, and we know how that turned out. The team still faces the issue of trying to get different results when so much is the same as it has been for a couple of seasons with the staff. That goes back to the ownership. They elected to stick with the tried and not-so-true rather than shake things up by moving on from McCarthy and just letting Quinn’s fate be determined by other teams.
Any progress is going to depend on the coaches analyzing what went wrong and coming up with solutions. The words of Jerry clearly point to them having to do so with many of the key pieces they already have, which is not necessarily a bad thing. One thing to be cautious about is becoming overly reliant on a handful of stars. We saw too many times opponents found ways to neutralize things, particularly in the case of Parsons. The staff needs to get more out of the entire roster, not just expect their biggest stars to somehow bail things out.
You also might wonder just how all in the players themselves will be. It may just be opinion, but that is not really something to worry about. These men play the game to win, both for the financial rewards that brings, but for pride and the right to be seen as champions.
It would be excellent to see the management actually make moves that give the team a better chance of breaking through. Just be cautioned that the things Jerry said are no indication they will.