Since Jerry Jones took over ownership of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, the team has been a mixed bag of results. Soon after taking over the team, Jones fired legendary coach Tom Landry and forced out general manager Tex Schramm, brought in his former Arkansas teammate and University of Miami head coach, Jimmy Johnson, and took over general manager duties himself.
The partnership got off to a great start with the Cowboys winning back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1991 and 1992 seasons, but following that second title, the current tailspin that the organization has been stuck in began, coinciding with Jones arrogantly believing that his ability to own and manage the organization was most responsible for the team’s success.
Jones’ moxie was briefly validated when new coach Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to another title following the 1994 season—the franchise's third in a four-year stretch—but in the past 17 years, the franchise has struggled to retain its once sterling image as "America’s Team."
Over the years, the blame for the Cowboys’ shortcomings has shifted from everyone from Roy Williams—first the safety, and then the WR—to Terrell Owens to Tony Romo, but I have come to realize over the past several seasons that the team’s biggest failings lie in the hands of the all-powerful owner.
As good as Jerry Jones’ ownership is for the NFL and for the team commercially, I’m convinced that the Dallas Cowboys will not win another Super Bowl until Jones either sells the team to a less invasive owner or humbles himself enough to bring in a full-time general manager that he gives full control over personnel issues to.
Neither of those things is likely to happen, so Cowboys fans will have to continue to suffer in NFL purgatory.
Jones’ greatest gaffes have arguably come from many of the free-agent signings he’s made over the years, but to further highlight his ineptitude as a knowledgeable football guy, let’s highlight the seven worst draft picks in the Jerry Jones era. Due to the success of the team during the first five years of the Jones regime, the list will only include players drafted in 1994 and beyond and is listed in chronological order.
7. Shante Carver (1994, First Round, 23rd Overall)
Although Carver was technically a part of the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl winning team, he was perhaps the first in a series of blown first-round picks that would lead to the slow and steady demise of the Dallas franchise. Carver came to the Cowboys having been an All-American defensive end his senior year at Arizona State and an Outland Trophy finalist as a junior.
However, that dominance never translated to the NFL level as he lasted only four years in the league, finishing his career with an underwhelming 11.5 career sacks.
6. David LaFleur (1997, First Round, 22nd overall)
Back before tight ends evolved into the pass-catching weapons they are today, Dallas had one of the NFL’s best in Jay Novacek, a key cog in their early '90s dynasty.
Looking to acquire the “next Novacek," the Cowboys drafted the All-American out of LSU in the first round hoping that he’d be a key part of their future. LaFleur was out of the NFL by 2001 having played 60 games with 85 catches for 729 yards and 12 touchdowns.
5. Ebenezer Ekuban (1999, First Round, 20th overall)
A year after drafting All-American defensive end Greg Ellis out of the University of North Carolina, the Cowboys thought they’d do well to match the standout end with his former college teammate in the hopes that they’d wreak havoc on the NFC East just as they had against ACC competition a couple of years prior. Ekuban only lasted four years with the Cowboys, never evolving into the pass-rushing bookend to Ellis that the team had hoped.
4. Roy Williams (2002, First Round, Eighth Overall)
The casual fan might take exception to me including a five-time Pro Bowler on a list of draft busts, but given the considerable hype that accompanied Williams upon entering the NFL draft following his junior year and given his complete ineptitude in pass coverage, I’d say his place is well deserved.
Williams’ shortcomings in pass defense were masked early on in his career by the presence of long-time Dallas stalwart Darren Woodson. But once age and injuries started to take a toll on Woodson’s career and placed added responsibility on the shoulders of Williams, his deficiencies were exposed time and time again.
In addition to his liability as a pass defender, Williams repeatedly drew costly personal foul penalties for his use of the horse-collar technique. His tackles were so egregiously violent that the NFL instituted a rule specifically outlawing the practice prior to the start of the 2004 season, in large part due to three key injuries caused by Williams during the previous year and highlighted by the injury to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. To this day, the rule is still referred to as the “Roy Williams Rule”.
Perhaps Williams is better suited for an overrated list, but given the lofty expectations that accompanied his arrival in Dallas, I’d say the bust title fits him perfectly.
3. Bobby Carpenter (2006, First Round, 18th overall)
The Cowboys drafted the former Ohio State star thinking he would be the long-term answer to the team's recent woes at linebacker, but in four seasons with Dallas, he failed to earn a regular starting role with the team and was traded to St. Louis prior to the 2010 season.
While Carpenter is still hanging around the league, most recently with the 2011 Detroit Lions, he has yet to do anything to justify his first-round draft status.
2. Felix Jones (2008, First Round, 22nd overall)
The bust label is probably a little unfair to Jones and at the least premature. When healthy, he’s shown flashes of brilliance and signs that he may yet justify the risk that Jerry Jones took when spending a first-round pick on the speedster out of his alma mater.
Similar to his Arkansas teammate Darren McFadden, Jones came into the league with questions about whether he could endure the load of a full-time running back, something he would certainly need to do to make the first-round investment worthwhile.
Even with a strong finish to the 2011 season, another injury-riddled campaign opened the door for 2010 third-round selection DeMarco Murray to thrive when given the lead role.
There is no question that if Murray is fully recovered from a knee injury of his own, Jones can do no better than expect to split carries in 2012, so it appears that his last great shot at holding onto the featured role has passed him, at least while in a Cowboys uniform.
What makes the pick look worse? Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Jamaal Charles were all drafted after Jones. Ugh!
1. Mike Jenkins (2008, First Round, 25th overall)
Of all the players on this list, Jenkins could be the biggest stretch for a bust, primarily because of his youth, but you have to match the expectations with the pick.
In the four years that he’s been in the league, only once—2010, during which he made the Pro Bowl—has Jenkins come close to playing to his enormous potential.
With Wade Phillips departing as defensive coordinator and with the complicated schemes now run by new coordinator Rob Ryan, you have to wonder how much of Jenkins’ success in 2010 was due to the system or him finally getting comfortable at the NFL level?
Like Jones, Jenkins is still young enough to right the ship on his career and make me look foolish for putting him on this list.
I’m cautiously optimistic about his prospects, but with corner being one of the greatest areas of need for the Cowboys heading into the 2012 season—supported by the fact that most draft experts envision the team taking a corner with their first-round pick this year—Dallas will certainly not gamble on the hopes of improvement coming from within the organizations current talent pool.