This has been true from the moment Jones purchased the fledgling franchise in the winter of 1989. His completely unprofessional release of inaugural head coach Tom Landry is something some still haven’t forgiven, and something they likely never will.
Through success and failure—and Jones has had a remarkable amount of both—Jones has always been a figure who remains at or near the center of the organization, and this has been both good and bad. I’m not too sure which outweighs the other at this point, but one thing is for sure: Jones is the face of America’s Team.
Like it or not.
But along with this distinction comes plenty of scorn and venom when things go wrong. Jones has been blasted for basically expediting the departure of a multiple-Super Bowl-winning head coach, sacrificing the team’s salary cap, throwing numerous high draft picks away via disastrous trades and undermining most head coaches who have worked under him.
But it’s only fair that positives are observed, as it is true that Jones has made some better calls lately when it comes to players drafted on the first day, something he has not always done.
In slowly but surely filling holes left by the Roy Williams trade in 2008 and the worst draft in franchise history several months later, two pieces have emerged as future building blocks for the Cowboys.
Despite the fact that the evidence is somewhat limited due to injuries, a factor that could also call into question the kudos I’m about to offer, the drafting of inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter in successive drafts beginning in 2010 has been a winner.
Selecting both Lee and Carter came with considerable risk, given that both had suffered knee injuries during their careers at Penn State and North Carolina, respectively.
Without those injuries, Lee and Carter are almost certainly first-round selections in their respective drafts.
Jones eventually realized that the combination of former inside starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking needed to be upgraded. James could have stayed at an unjustified premium had Dallas wanted to go that route, but Brooking was just too old for the game of football after a long and impressive career.
But instead of only replacing one linebacker, Jones went for two and absolutely slammed a double into the left-center field gap.
If you’re going to have a successful 3-4 defense in the NFL, it’s a huge help when you have difference makers playing on the inside. Jones saw the possibility of adding a couple of potential all-stars at a critical position and also at a sweet price. Second-round picks make far less than top-10 selections.
It looks like the Cowboys have gotten two well-disguised top-20 players from these drafts.
Both Lee and Carter come from college programs highly respected on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, Penn State is known as “Linebacker U,” and Lee started two seasons for the late Joe Paterno—and they did win games no matter what the NCAA might think.
Carter was an immediate standout with the Tar Heels at North Carolina as a freshman, and he just never stopped—until the injury.
Carter didn’t lose as many games as Lee did, as his injury happened later in his career and also during the season. But Carter’s draft stock was absolutely hit in similar fashion to Lee’s.
Well, "you snooze, you lose," and nobody can say that Jones didn't have the right idea in upgrading this area of the roster with two blue-chip prospects who both have Pro Bowl potential. Lee likely makes the Pro Bowl this year if not for his injured toe suffered during the Carolina Panthers game.
To get two first-round talents in the second round his huge for any football team, and it doesn’t matter what the position is. A good football player is a good football player, and they are not easy to find.
Anyone can see the impact Ray Lewis has had during his career playing inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis even has a Super Bowl ring to show for that career, and it’s not too late for him to add another.
Leadership and talent at inside linebacker makes every defense better despite the fact personalities will vary. Lee definitely has the leadership and Carter no question has the talent.
You could see Carter punching into the backfield more often after about his 16th game as a professional. Remember that Carter got started very late during his rookie campaign a year ago and is still a relative unknown—but this will change.
Now, it’s fair to question handing out props to Jones, as we know full and well that both Lee and Carter are on injured reserve and are done for the season. If the Cowboys fail to win the NFC East or qualify as a wild-card participant in the playoffs, then losing these two young horses will have been a big reason why.
But let me point out quickly that neither injury suffered in 2012 by these two defenders appears related in any way to a previous injury sustained in college. Both are considered minor and correctable and should not effect either player’s career.
Given where the Cowboys are right now, injuries notwithstanding, the starting defensive lineup already shows promise coming next year. The linebackers are going to be as good, collectively, as just about any other corps in the league. The secondary is mostly stocked with cornerbacks for the future. The defensive line has play makers but also needs some additions this offseason.
If either another pass-rushing threat is added or a big, run-stuffing nose guard joins the Dallas defense in 2013, then Lee and Carter could really explode as playmakers for this defense.
But if Jones had not done his homework on these selections, then imagine where the Cowboys might be right now at this position.
If it’s okay, I’d rather not.