The Dallas Cowboys organization is a mess.
This isn't exactly breaking news, but the true width and depth of the Cowboys' dry rot may not be fully appreciated, as the team is often considered to be one of the more talented on paper in the entire league.
Currently at 7-7, the Cowboys finished at .500 the last two years as well. In fact, in his three-plus years coaching, Jason Garrett—once one of the biggest names on the annual coaching carousel—is just two games over .500 at 28-26 (.519).
Mediocrity is a terrible place to be in today's NFL. Continually believing that the team is only one or two moves away from the top is a great way to sink back to the bottom, and to do so in a fashion that has long-term ramifications.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier in the fall that the Cowboys are projected to be a minimum of $31 million over the salary cap in 2014. Schefter even passed along a quote from a rival league executive calling the situation "a train wreck."
Maybe calling it a "mess" was an understatement.
Jerry Jones Has to Pick Between His Control and His Legacy
Jones bought the team in 1989 from H.R. "Bum" Bright. Before owning the Cowboys, Jones made his money leasing land and oil rights. His crowning achievement has been the 2009 construction of Cowboys Stadium (now called AT&T Stadium) in Arlington, Texas—known colloquially as "Jerry World."
Having fired longtime general manager Tex Schramm just a few months after buying the team, Jones has had final say on all football decisions since. While it cannot be doubted that he builds a heck of a football stadium, it's becoming increasingly clear that he has no idea what he's doing when it comes to building an NFL team.
The aforementioned salary-cap train wreck is on Jones and his fellow Cowboys executives—sons Stephen Jones, Jerry Jones Jr. and daughter Charlotte Jones Anderson. Yes, that's the executive team for the Cowboys. Jerry and Stephen handle the football. Jerry Jr. handles sales and marketing. Charlotte handles the "brand."
As defined by Dictionary.com, nepotism: Patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics.
Seriously, Mr. Jones, it's like you're not even trying to hide it.
Oh, that's because he's not.
Jones has a weekly radio spot and told listeners, in short, that he's gotten to where he is in life so he can call all the shots and not listen to anyone (via Charean Williams of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram):
One of the reasons that I to some degree have taken the risks that I have over the years and kind of had the professional life that I followed is so that I get to decide when enough is enough. God willing. So I do get to decide that. It’s a certain part of working for yourself if you still are standing when the time comes.
So I get to really make that decision, and I want to make it in a way that I think is in the best interest of the team, franchise and really our fans.
Jones is basically telling any Cowboys fan hoping he gives up anytime soon to find the nearest creek and leave the paddle behind.
The plea, then, has to be that Jones eventually realizes that his legacy as Cowboys owner is more important than the completely arrogant move to take the burning ship down rather than accept any type of guidance or aid.
To put the best construction on this: It's easy to see what might be behind this situation is even bigger than just bare arrogance. Every man wants to leave something behind so that the world remembers him. Moreover, every man wants to leave something to his children.
Jones, 71, probably doesn't have more than a handful of years left at the helm, and he likely wants this team to be championship-ready when it's handed down to Stephen and his siblings.
That said, wouldn't it make more sense to let them inherit something better?
Maintain control of personnel and keep Stephen in the line of succession. No one wants to wrest that away, because frankly, no one could. So rather than just continue watching Rome burn down, maybe find someone with a bucket.
The Cowboys need a czar, someone who is willing to take a massive paycheck for little to no actual responsibility. More importantly, they need to find someone who Jerry and Stephen respect and who can work well with them. This wouldn't be someone in charge, but it would be someone with input, and perhaps even with a vote.
The "triumvirate" model of team leadership has worked well, and it could work for the Jones family. Jerry, Stephen and our mystery czar each hold a vote, but it still gives the Jones family ultimate control. Once Jerry steps down, the triumvirate model could easily continue by adding an actual general manager or looping in whatever head coach is at the helm (more on that later).
The worst-case scenario for this hire would be something that has doomed the Cowboys in recent years: old ideas. Rather than reaching back into the recycling bin for someone like Mike Holmgren, Bill Polian or Ron Wolf, Jones needs to find somebody who might actually have some ideas about the NFL in 2014 rather than 1994.
Current CBS broadcaster Bill Cowher would be someone with enough clout to stand up to both Jones boys, as would current Fox broadcaster (and former Cowboys coach) Jimmy Johnson. Now, those are two very strong personalities, and Johnson and Jones don't exactly have the best history with one another, but money talks...and money can buy a whole lot of forgiveness.
The gold standard here would be someone like Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. He's long been groomed to take over for Ozzie Newsome and has said "no" to countless job offers (and even interviews) because of his loyalty. Still, Jones has more money than he'll ever know how to spend, and everybody has a price. Remember, there's no salary cap when it comes to paying coaches and executives.
This isn't necessarily about finding the best football mind. It's not a hire that has to dazzle. It simply has to be a football mind—someone who's been around the block and has actual experience with things like X's, O's and building a team.
The Entire Coaching Staff Needs to Go
Remember when Jason Garrett was the hottest coaching candidate in the entire NFL?
For a good two or three years staring in 2007, and then really exploding in 2008, Garrett was the name to talk to for a head coaching vacancy. Fanbases clamored as he took interviews or was otherwise rumored in places like Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Denver and St. Louis.
He wasn't just interviewing and being told "thanks, but no thanks." He was the one turning down a lot of those teams, choosing to stay in Dallas because of his loyalty to Jones, a great paycheck and an inferred promise that he would one day be taking over the Cowboys.
Garrett actually played (and started, and won) games as a backup quarterback for the Cowboys, so his relationship with Jones goes back. In many ways, Jones has always seemed to have an inordinate amount of patience not only with Garrett, but also with his brothers, John and Judd. John was an offensive position coach for the Cowboys until last season; Judd is the team's director of pro scouting.
Remember that word I used a while back: nepotism? Yeah...
This season, Jones helped (read: saddled) Garrett by giving him some big-name coaches as coordinators. Bill Callahan would call plays. Monte Kiffin would coordinate the defense. Rod Marinelli was added to the staff as a defensive line coach. Even the wide receivers coach—Derek Dooley—used to be a head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Jones had hoped it would be a coaching dream team.
It's turned into a nightmare.
Taking a look at Sunday's backbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers, I called out coaches on both sides of the ball for failing to have this team ready, or making any sort of adjustments. The Cowboys aren't winning with this crew, and it's time to blow it up from the ground up.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin recently recommitted to the university, but coaching contracts rarely hold much power over truckloads of cash (see: Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino). He's probably the most visible candidate, but he's not the only person who could improve this squad in a hurry.
In 1995, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. On that coaching staff was a young defensive secondary coach named Mike Zimmer. Zimmer, now currently the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, coached with the Cowboys from 1994 to 2006. He's well-respected around league circles and is the type of coach who players run through walls for.
Other top coaching names with Cowboys ties include LSU head coach Les Miles, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan whose father Dick was a coach in Dallas.
Garrett has failed to take this team to the next level. It's time to open up the checkbook and cash in on someone who will.
This Team Needs to Find Leaders, Quick!
Finally, when we're talking about a culture change, the players need to be a part of that too.
The salary-cap issues loom large over this franchise, and that isn't anything new. For years, the train has been coming down the tracks, and Jones and his capologists (bless their hearts) have found ways to apply Band-Aids to the massive, gaping wound.
It's time to tear the Band-Aid off.
With around $16 million in dead money this year, the Cowboys are sure to see more in the near future. But much like the Oakland Raiders are finding out in the post-Al Davis era, undoing years of damage isn't a quick process.
Bill Barnwell took a look at the situation over at Grantland and came away with an intriguing mix of restructures and cuts while pointing to another guide at "Over The Cap" that points out the need to get the cap under control by 2015 when wide receiver Dez Bryant and offensive tackle Tyron Smith need new deals.
The point: The Cowboys are already going to look massively different in 2014 and beyond.
Let's take this one step further.
The goal of any personnel moves heading into the future can't simply be to "open up space" as they have in the past. That's one of the reasons the Cowboys are in this situation. Over and over again, cap mistakes have been swept under the rug with releases, extensions, restructured deals, etc., but then the space was utilized to make more big free-agency signings.
Rip the Band-Aid off!
Sink the cap. Don't just create dead money. Roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck. Make the cap situation in 2014 and 2015 living hells compared to 2013 so that the future has a chance to be bright. In the meantime, build through the draft. Let free agents walk and hope they turn into compensatory picks. Allow the free-agency market to come to you, and take value over name cachet.
If a player—no matter how talented—isn't rowing with the rest of the crew, get rid of him. There's been far too much favoritism in Dallas, and it's time for it to be done.
That brings us to Tony Romo, who has never really been the Tom Brady-esque leader that this team has needed him to be. Romo isn't the only, biggest or even one of the most substantial problems in Dallas, but he's getting up there in age and hasn't been able to drag this ragtag crew anywhere in spite of itself. At 33, he's not playing out the contract that goes until 2020. It's just not happening.
No, Romo's last year needs to be 2014—conveniently, the last year his base salary is guaranteed. His backup, Kyle Orton (just a few years younger), is actually an easy cut this year. So it makes sense to go searching high in the draft for a backup with starter potential.
The emphasis needs to be on talent, yes, but also on character. This team has lacked mental toughness for too long. It's a reflection of the lack of accountability at the top with Jones and his family, and it's filtered down the organization.
With a new day dawning, the Cowboys can find players with no need for excuses. They can build out the trenches and the defense of the team so that the quarterback doesn't need to attempt to win every game in the last minute because the defense can't get stops. They can start building an actual football team rather than a poor excuse for Jerry Jones' fantasy squad. They can do this the right way.
Or, of course, the danger is: The Cowboys and Jones can do what they've done all along—do it his way with zero regard for what the actual right way might be. If that's the culture that the future of the Cowboys is going to operate under, this team will be mired in mediocrity (or worse) for a long time to come.