On the final Sunday of the NFL regular season, the Dallas Cowboys once again bowed out meekly, losing 34-23 to a Washington Redskins team that — wait, you know what, that should tell you all you need to know. The Redskins, a team so dysfunctional to start the season they were picked last in the NFC East, beat the Cowboys and secured their division title, sending Dallas into another offseason of internal question marks, and external laughter.
We’ve been down this road before: Dallas has a miserable season, and because Jerry Jones is Jerry Jones, everyone braces for a total house cleaning.
After all, this is a once-proud franchise that has won three division titles since 2000. Won two playoff games since 1996. Has not advanced to a NFC Championship Game since the last time it won the Super Bowl — 21 years ago. A 4-12 season—the worst record for a Dallas Cowboys teams since the year Jones bought the franchise—even in spite of their quarterback being sidelined for nearly the entire season, is unacceptable in Big D.
There will be no change in Dallas this offseason, because the man himself — Jerry Jones — won’t take his ego out of the equation and step aside. Since he bought the team in 1989, Jones has won the general manager’s hat, in addition to the owner’s one. And for the first seven years, Jones hit pay dirt. He built a dynasty, with three Hall of Famers as the nucleus.
Since? He’s churned through coaches, chased the flashy draftees and signings, in favor of building a consistent winner. Now comes another crucial offseason. Jones has already come out after Sunday’s loss and said that there is “No though of replacing Jason (Garrett). At all.” Fine. Hard to blame the head coach for an injury-riddled season. If Jones thinks Garrett is his man, so be it. But if you think change is coming to the Cowboys, think again, because it never will as long as Jones continues to make the player evaluations. Sure, Stephen Jones has gotten a lot of the credit for “taking the card” out of his dad’s hand, but he clearly hasn’t taken enough control to make Dallas a championship team. Jerry wouldn’t let him if he tried.
While the Cowboys have built one of the best offensive lines in the league, it has hardly mattered when behind it are only two impact players in quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant. And the defense? Quick: Name the last first-round pick of the Cowboys who made multiple Pro Bowls on the defensive side of the ball?
(DeMarcus Ware … in 2005.)
Dallas was 17th this season in total defense, allowing an average of 348.1 yards per game. They were 16th in points allowed (374), and 19th in yards allowed per play (5.6). In other words, a mediocre unit.
So what is the first nugget of the offseason to come out of Dallas? Why, Johnny Manziel to America’s Team, of course!
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported that juicy item on Sunday night, which would be the perfect move for the headlines-obsessed Jones. What better way to steal the news cycle, than to pick up the soon-to-be-released, red-flag-riddled Manziel? There’s a lot before that would or could happen, but is it that far of a stretch to see it happening?
The Cowboys need help all over the field, and hardly need a headache as a backup to Romo, but Jones has reportedly been infatuated with Johnny Football since his Texas A&M days. And if the Greg Hardy fiasco has taught us anything, Jerruh will do it — consequences be damned.
Jones will continue to say he knows best, has the best eye for talent and players that fit the ecosystem inside Dallas. And as long as he continues to do that, it’s hard to see the Cowboys returning to their successful days of the early 90s. Fact is that with the best quarterback his franchise has had since Troy Aikman, Jones has wasted the prime of Romo. For a guy who has carried that offense for a decade, Romo will be 36 by the time next season begins.
Romo has had injury problems even before this past season, but 2015 showed just how critical his involvement is to the Cowboys’ success. Dallas was 3-1 in his four starts. They were 1-11 when quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were under center. How many standout seasons are left in his right arm? Who knows. But remember it was Jones who decided not to resign a running back who led the league in rushing last season, instead replacing him with a group of re-treads, led by Darren McFadden who, admittedly, finished fourth in the league in one of the worst collective years for running backs in recent memory.
It was Jones who has yet to find a capable replacement for aging tight end Jason Witten, who had the lowest yards per reception of his career to go with just three scores despite more than 100 targets.
It has been Jones, who has failed to provide Romo a complimentary target to take the pressure off of Dez Bryant; someone who can step into the lead receiver role when Bryant is doubled, or like this year, on the sidelines.
It was Jones who thought Hardy was worth the risk, and the backlash, and the circus.
The ego of the man who built the last Cowboys dynasty continues to cloud the building of the next one.
And as long as he’s the guy at the top of the food chain, cutting the checks for everyone beneath him, it’s hard to see that changing.