For many people outside of the realm of Cowboys football, Jerry Jones is the NFL's version of George Steinbrenner. He appears intrusive and often seems to be putting his own ego ahead of the best interest of the team. In reality though, he is what most of his peers strive to be: a financially successful owner and general manager.
In his 19 years as the owner of the Cowboys, Jones has molded the Dallas Cowboys into a nationally-recognized brand. They are now the most valuable franchise in the NFL (estimated at $1.5 billion).
Jones has shown that he is willing to do anything in his power to achieve success, even if it means sharing the spotlight (for a time).
Since purchasing the team in 1989 for $150 million, Jones has not lacked controversial moves. He fired the legend Tom Landry, the only coach in the team’s history, and hired his former Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson. Johnson went onto help build the Cowboys' championship teams of the early 1990s.
But when Johnson began to get the lion share of the credit for the success, Jones became uneasy. He was reported to have said that anyone could win with the talent he (Jerry) had assembled.
So when most other owners would balk at the notion of changing coaches in the midst of success, Jerry did not blink. He parted ways with Johnson, who led the team to back-to-back Super Bowl wins, and he hired another former Razorback, Barry Switzer.
Jones was ripped by fans and pundits alike. Many called on him to step aside. The team however, hardly missed a beat, missing a third straight Super Bowl by just one game.
The following year, Switzer led the 'Boys back to the promised land, as they defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, giving Jerry his third ring in four years.
While many fans still believe Johnson may have won two or three more titles had he stayed, Jones's famous comment turned out to be right on the money. It was only logical (to Jones) that he could take over the full-time GM duties, which he did, following Switzer's departure after the 1996 season.
It was from 1997-2002 that Jones received his harshest criticism. A host of puppet coaches and ineffective quarterbacks drove the Cowboys to only one winning season out of five.
The lack of success during his watch convinced Jones that a change was needed. So as his critics speculated that he would continue to hire lesser-known coaches who could be easily influenced, he did the exact opposite. He hired Bill Parcells.
Even though many Cowboy fans remain annoyed by the way Parcells left after the 2006 playoff loss, he, alongside Jones, helped rebuild Dallas into an NFC power.
Jones showed that he would be willing to share the spotlight if it meant success for the Cowboys. While they are still looking for their first playoff win since 1996, a 13-3 record and a NFL-record number of Pro Bowlers last season speaks to the positive direction of the team.
In his ups and downs as a general manager, Jones has shown that his willingness to take a chance on troubled players can reap huge returns for minimal investments.
The Cowboys current roster has several key examples.
Besides Adam Jones ($700,000, 2008 base salary) who looks to be on track to start at corner when he gets re-instated, he has fortified an already strong D-line by bringing in Tank Johnson.
Tank ($605,000, 2008 base salary) in his first, full offseason with the team, is pushing for a possible starting spot in the middle.
The best example of course is "that player", Terrell Owens. Considered a cancer after his time in San Francisco and Philadelphia, Owens has dominated in his two seasons with Dallas. While he will make somewhere around $30 million over three years, Owens was an extreme gamble in the locker room, and so far, he has been a model teammate.
It has been a solid combination of free agents and the draft that has help turn things around in Dallas. Jones has been an integral part of every draft since taking over in 1989, with the all too common videos of him at the head of the war-room table, every time the Cowboys went on the clock.
While many NFL teams look to supplement their talent with the draft, the bulk of the Cowboys current base of talent has been acquired since the 2002 draft. With players like Roy Williams, Witten, Newman, Canty, Barber III, Spears, Ware, and Anthony Spencer all drafted by Dallas.
Not only has he drafted well, but Jones has proven himself to be a top-notch negotiator. He has often signed stars and top targets early into their success, as a means to avoid paying top dollar for his own players when they hit free agency. Recent examples include Tony Romo, Marion Barber III, and Chris Canty.
While he is not shy about handing out a big contract, he did not become such a successful businessman by throwing away money. Cowboy fans are reminded of this currently with the Terry Glenn standoff.
Glenn is upset that the team (Jerry) is requiring him to sign an injury waiver that would reduce his yearly salary from about $1.75 million to $500,000, if he were to get hurt again.
On the surface, it seems odd that Jones would haggle over $1.2 million after spending so much money this offseason, especially when wide receiver seems to be one of the team’s few soft spots going into training camp.
It is the principle for Jerry more than anything else. Glenn opted (or was convinced by the team, depending on who you ask) to bypass season-ending knee surgery last year to try and return for the playoffs. He did but was a non-factor.
Jones was not shy when defending his reason for the injury wavier, “I paid him $5 million last year and we got four plays,” he said last month when the situation became public. He seems to be sending a clear message to his aging receiver.
Jones also realizes that a less-than-healthy Terry Glenn will have a hard time finding a better situation than the one in Dallas. So why not give yourself a little insurance on an injury plagued 34-year-old receiver?
So as the Cowboys look forward to a season in which the expectations are as high as they have been since the ‘Big Three,’ Jones has once again positioned his team to contend for an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl.
The next time you see Jones patrolling the sidelines and trying to coerce an injured player back onto the field, just remember; there is a method to his madness.