I’m fairly certain you’re familiar with the cliche “be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.” Well, Cowboys Nation is in the midst of just such an occurrence and, to be frank, they aren’t handling it very well.
Flashback to the early 2000’s when Jerry Jones, GM extraordinaire, was fully involved in his “Cowboys are one player away” fantasy which he continued to inflame for almost 20 years. During this time the Cowboys endured regular offseason double-whammys as Jones not only handled the NFL Draft like it was a slot machine that paid off only if you bet large, but he also saddled the team with a succession of horrible free agent contracts that kept the team in salary cap hell for years and directly led to the forced release of future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware and a host of other talented players the team could not afford to keep.
- 2003 OT Ryan Young, 4 yr, $16 million, $4.5 million guaranteed – 1 year
- 2004 DE Marcellus Wiley, 4 yr, $16 million, $4.5 million guaranteed – 1 year
- 2005 OT Marco Rivera, 3 yr, $20 million, $9 million bonus – 1 year
- 2006 K Mike Vanderjagt, 3 yr, $4.5 million, $2.5 million bonus – 10 games
… and those are just to illustrate. Each year was littered with plenty of other bad signings as well as headliners in succeeding ones. Eddie George, Terell Owens, Bryant Westbrook, Chirs Warren, Al Singleton, and Jason Furgeson come to mind just off the top of my head.
So as far back as 2003, Jones began piling up the dead money at a pretty stiff clip as he was getting “1 and done” results on 3 and 4-year deals. Then Jones backed up this staggering run of inefficiency (20 straight years) by delivering sub-par draft classes to his coaching staff while consistently reaching for glitzy players or by following off-the-wall NFL Draft schemes. If your club has ever had a “Special Teams” draft their GM would be fired and black-balled from the NFL. But Jerry is the owner and the team just kept digging themselves a deeper talent hole year after year.
The hue and cry from fans were for a return to the golden years. To a time when the offseasons were boring and the team was built through the NFL Draft. The examples of the Steelers and Patriots were often given as was a reference to “The Patriot Way” or “The Steeler Way” and how players either “bought in” to the team mantra or they were gone. The clubs were built from the inside out, with solid lines in the pits and solid off-field personalities. There is a focus at creating competition at each roster position. The teams signed thier own first but didn’t overpay. Then they looked for younger players with upside or savvy vets looking for a chance at winning. Not splashy, but effective.
Oh if ONLY the Cowboys would have enough discipline to enact such an approach. Heady stuff to think about back in the day. Then Jason Garrett and the front office brain trust sold Jerry on just such an approach. The team became active in free agency only after the initial wave of signings. They became second-tier buyers just like the Patriots and Steelers. They focused on re-signing their own players and any free agent contract was constructed in such a manner the team could extricate itself with minimal if any cap pain. Competition was created across the roster at as many positions as possible.
Finally! Cowboys Nation could now get back to enjoying being a Cowboys fan. Right?
Not so fast. The cry each season for the Cowboys to sign big name free agents to “put them over the top” has been deafening. Every player that had a “good” season is now “the answer” for big D. Quickly aging safety Earl Thomas? Trade away the draft and give him an extension Jerry! Consistently underperforming slot WR Sammie Watkins? Throw $40-$50 million over 3 years at him JJ! Cowboys need OL help? Solder would only take approximately $60 million over 4 years, Jerry, what are you waiting for!?!?!? Team wrecker Suh is the 1-Tech you’ve waited all your life for Jerry!
Overpaid OL, immensely talented but underperforming DL, diva wide receivers, this NFL Free Agency Season had them all and the Cowboys wisely watched each one go by. Then once the low-odds-solid-results signings were over the Cowboys front office got to work completing their roster with the talent at hand. The scouts identified the players. The front office worked out agreeable contracts with them and now as the NFL Draft quickly approaches Dallas is looking at a fairly solid roster that gives them options no matter how the draft breaks that should allow them to select the best available player versus focusing on a specific need. This is how teams get the most talent out of the draft. It’s how the Patriots, Steelers and now the Cowboys approach the offseason.
So Cowboys Nation got what it wished for. What it demanded. Dallas is (again) taking a measured, disciplined approach to the NFL Draft. Despite the clamoring of their fanbase, they are following a well-marked road to NFL success. However, in truth, there is one obstacle the Cowboys face the other two teams mentioned do not.
Unlike the Patriots and Steelers, the Cowboys are no longer a ‘destination organization’ in NFL Free Agency. Future Hall of Fame players looking for one last shot at the ring are not banging on the Cowboys door for said chance. Those guys are going to the Pats, Steelers and any team that has recently won a Super Bowl or come close. That hasn’t been the Cowboys for a quarter of a century.
If the team continues to act with the discipline they have shown so far the talent level on the team will continue to rise and finally, the club should reclaim its place as regular participants in the NFL Playoffs. Until that time, however, Cowboys Nation will continue to howl for big-name free agent signings in the face of the knowledge of the poor results it often brings.
Is this fair? Of course it is. What they are really yelling for is victories. It’s (past) time for the team to deliver.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over