The Dallas Cowboys were once the model of a successful NFL franchise. They were "America's Team," a squad that has hoisted the Lombardi trophy five times and is tied for the most Super Bowl appearances in NFL history.
Now, however, the halcyon days of the 1990s, when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years, seem like the 1890s, a fond memory of the distant past.
At this point, the Cowboys, a team that was once feared and respected across the NFL, have become a punchline, a rudderless franchise with delusions of grandeur lurching in circles of mediocrity.
The reason for this is as simple as two words. Unfortunately, those two words are also the reason why nothing is going to change in Big D any time soon, at least not for the better.
When Jones first took the reins of the Cowboys back in 1989, it looked like the Cowboys were going to reclaim the title that they feel belongs to them, that of the NFL's greatest franchise.
Yes, fans were outraged at first when Jones unceremoniously dumped longtime head coach Tom Landry in favor of Jimmy Johnson. They got over that outrage pretty quickly when Johnson led the Cowboys to consecutive Super Bowl wins.
However, the football marriage between two men with Texas-sized egos didn't last. After the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVIII, Johnson and Jones had a falling out. After dumping Johnson in favor of Barry Switzer, Jones famously quipped, “Any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls,” given the talent he assembled in Dallas.
There's just one problem. As Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out, it was Jimmy Johnson, and not Jerry Jones, who built those teams.
Jimmy was in charge of all things football from the day Jerry and Jimmy took over the franchise in 1989. Anyone in the local media who was around in those days knows this is the truth, and we know it because Jerry repeatedly told us it was the truth.
And anything involving football, from a low-end roster move to the trade of Herschel Walker, no one was asking Jerry for a football opinion. A financial opinion, yes, we asked. And certainly in the case of the Walker trade, there were financial considerations galore.
But on anything involving any area of football, the questions went to Jimmy. Because Jerry told us Jimmy was in total charge of that area.
That changed after the first Super Bowl win, when Jones started believing in his own hype. It's been a downhill slide ever since.
Since Switzer coached the Cowboys to a win in Super Bowl XXX (with Johnson's team), the Cowboys have won a grand total of two playoff games. The team has missed the playoffs in more years than they've made them. Over the last 16 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys are 128-128.
Things hit a new low with last week's NFL draft. Last Thursday, on the most important day of the year for an NFL general manager, the Cowboys' brain trust gathered at Valley Ranch to hunker down and make their picks.
Except for their general manager, of course. Jones wasn't even there. He was at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, hobnobbing with the politicians and business bigwigs.
The first round was an unmitigated disaster for Dallas. First, Dallas traded back in the first round, handing the San Francisco 49ers a player that fills one of their biggest areas of need in safety Eric Reid.
Then, the team made the worst pick of the first round, selecting a third-round talent in Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with the 31st overall pick.
Supporters of the pick, including Jones, claim that Frederick addresses a need for Dallas, and that the Badgers star was the highest-rated center on their board.
Fine. Draft the kid. In or close to the round where he's expected to go. Not three rounds beforehand.
The rest of the Cowboys' draft was similarly puzzling. Their haul has been almost universally panned as among the worst in the league this year, with Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter giving the team's draft a "D-."
It's not just the draft, either. For years, Jones has spent like a drunken sailor in free agency, often with little rhyme or reason. That's left the Cowboys mired in a never-ending cap mess, playing a shell game every year by restructuring deals to get under the salary cap.
They did so with several prominent players this year, including linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys aren't going to get any real relief until the salary cap jumps after the next TV deal kicks in, and then guess what?
Jerry Jones will break out the shovel and dig a brand new hole for the team.
Their head coach still has a job only because he's willing to be Jones' puppet. When Jason Garrett talks you can barely see Jones' lips moving. Garrett has less autonomy than the kid who makes your coffee at Starbucks.
Even then, as Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPN Dallas reports, there's tremendous pressure on Garrett to win this year. If not, 2013 will probably be his last season in Dallas.
At that point, good luck getting another coach, especially a high-profile one. If you think a coach like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden wants any part of Jerry Jones' antics and meddling, then I have a lovely piece of oceanfront land near Yuma that should also interest you.
The thing is, I think I have Jerry Jones figured out.
At the end of the day, for all his talk about the Cowboys' legacy and tradition, Jerry Jones doesn't really care about winning. He has his Super Bowl rings. So long as the team is good enough to keep fans flocking to that enormous new stadium and keep jerseys and hats flying off shelves, then he's happy.
In other words, so long as he keeps making money hand over fist, all is well.
That's his prerogative as the owner. However, when your general manager is more concerned about generating headlines with player acquisitions than bettering the football team and more worried about a black tie affair at a Presidential Library than the NFL draft, then your team is in serious trouble.
Many Dallas fans probably didn't even bother to read this far before skipping to the comments to excoriate me. "Laughingstock?" they'll say. "What about the Oakland Raiders? What about the Cleveland Browns?"
Well, Al Davis is dead now, so the title of Mad Hatter of NFL owners has been passed...to Jerry Jones.
And as to "my" Cleveland Browns, no one laughs at them, because outside of Browns fans no one cares about them. Even Browns fans have a hard time getting worked up anymore, even when the new owner gets investigated by the feds for fraud. It's par for the course.
That's not how it's supposed to be with the Dallas Cowboys. They're supposed a perennial Super Bowl contender, a team that their fans love and everyone else loves to hate, partly due to jealousy.
No one's jealous of the Cowboys right now. They've become a parody of themselves, a fake Rolex that's shiny but a cheap imitation of the original.
Rome is burning.
And all the while, Nero Jones just keeps fiddling away.