COMMENTARY | Over the last couple of decades the Dallas Cowboys have been a showcase for mediocrity. They've managed only one playoff victory in the last 16 seasons. The years of legendary head coaches and hall of fame players are a distant memory. The legacy of what was once known as America's Team has been replaced with years of humiliation and heartbreak.
Narrowing down five reasons of why it's hard to root for this team was a difficult task. Nonetheless, here are the top five in no particular order.
Reason Number One: Jerry Jones
On February 25th, 1989, a day known in some circles as Black Saturday, Jerry Jones flew out to Tom Landry's vacation home and fired the man who had built America's Team. Yes, the time had come to move on from Landry, and Jones was simply taking care of business. But it was the way he went about it that set the stage for the Jones-era Cowboys. With little discussion or warning, the legendary head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was unceremoniously relieved of his duties.
Ever since, Jones has been a source of constant criticism from fans and media alike.
But the man who he hired to replace Landry, Jimmy Johnson, would turn things around in short order. It started with the selection of Troy Aikman, continued with "The Great Train Robbery", and ended with back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1992 and 1993.
The Dallas Cowboys were back.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Johnson and Jones soured and the two parted ways. Many speculated that with Johnson getting most of the credit for the Cowboys' success, Jones felt compelled to take complete control of the team.
And that's where the legacy of Jerry Jones begins - the one we know today. The one who would rather hire yes-men than relinquish control of his team. The one who engineers suspect trades and has a history for overpaying unproven talent.
Despite him, the brand of the Cowboys is as strong as it has ever been. But if the next decade is anything like the last few, I wouldn't be surprised to see the fan-base go south.
Reason Number Two: Jerry Jones
The miscalculations by the front office have done no favors for the Cowboys. We need not look any further than Doug Free to find a prime example of overpaying a player based on limited work. Free's four-year, $32 million contract with $17 million guaranteed may go down as one of the worst in Cowboys' history. He's been a catastrophe on both sides of the offensive line since signing his deal.
Miles Austin's seven-year, $54 million deal with $18 million guaranteed isn't looking like money well-spent either. He's cracked the 1,000 yard mark only once since signing his extension and hasn't been able to stay on the field.
These are just two examples of a much broader problem. Jerry Jones has a tendency to not only overpay players, he does so with no regard for the salary cap. It's an endless cycle of restructuring contracts and pushing money into next year. The Cowboys had to restructure five players and extend Tony Romo just get under the cap this season. Anthony Spencer is still operating under the franchise tag making him the second highest paid player on the team.
It's salary cap hell in the name of winning now. The only problem is, they're not winning now. They haven't had a winning season in three years. The comparisons to the Al Davis-run-Raiders are getting old.
Reason Number Three: Jerry Jones
Every time you trade down in the NFL draft, you pass on the opportunity to draft greatness. Jerry Jones has traded the Cowboys first-round pick 15 times. He's made 60 draft-day trades, more than any other GM. Bob Sturm has a great historical break down of the trades Jones has made in chronological order.
Sometimes it's good. Sometimes he trades up, such as he did in the 2012 draft in order to select LSU standout Morris Claiborne.
But sometimes it's bad. Very bad. Such as the 2009 draft. To be fair, the Cowboys didn't have a first round pick. Jones traded it away, along with his third and sixth round picks to acquire wide receiver Roy Williams (and then signed him to a $54 million contract). To make up for it, Jones traded out of the second round in exchange for Buffalo's third and fourth round picks. That's all fine and dandy… if you can find good mid-to-late round value.
Jerry did not find good value. Instead, he drafted special teams players, which was his apparent strategy all along.
Now, my qualifications as a GM begin and end with Madden NFL, but I can confidently say that no GM in their right mind would draft players under the premise that they would never be starters. You are always looking for late-round gems. Any strategy otherwise is a failing one. And that's why the Cowboys don't have a single one of the 12 players they drafted in 2009 on their current roster: bad strategy.
In the most recent saga of Jones draft-day trades, the Cowboys moved out of the 18th pick to the 31st pick and drafted what many regarded as second round, or maybe even third round talent. No matter, they did draft the best center on the board. But the question is should they have gotten more for their money? The trade value chart suggests the Cowboys should have received an additional second round pick, not an additional third round pick.
It's too early to make a proper judgment on this year's draft. But Jones' draft history isn't pretty. His complete disregard for offensive linemen, a longstanding weakness of this team, reeks of stubbornness. It makes me wonder if he just pays scouts in hopes of proving them wrong.
Reason Number Four: Jerry Jones
They say everything is bigger in Texas and Cowboys Stadium is proof of that. The $1.3 billion structure, the most expensive sports venue in the world at the time of construction, gobbles up over 70 acres in Arlington, TX. It's longer than the Empire State Building is tall and boasts the fourth largest HD screen in the world. You could place the Statue of Liberty on the 50-yard line and it wouldn't touch the roof.
To put it modestly, Cowboys Stadium is a modern marvel of architectural and technological engineering in which no demand was left vacant.
Too bad it's a terrible place for a football team.
As you have probably noticed, the "house that Jerry built" came with everything except a home-field advantage. The cost to build it predictably drove up the cost of PSLs (that's personal seat license, the NFL's clever plot to make you pay for the right to buy season tickets before you can actually buy them). This has caused a lot of season ticket holders to sell their tickets in order to keep up with the yearly PSL fees (ranging from the nosebleed $2,000 seats to the Club Level $50,000 seats). The net result is more visitors at games-to see a spectacle-and fewer diehard fans ready to get loud and proud in the name of America's Team.
Of course, that whole "get loud" part showcases one of Cowboys Stadium's flaws: it's too big. Even at max capacity, somewhere just north of 100,000 people, the acoustics of its structure seem to shelter the teams on the field from the noise in the stands. I suppose a video board that stretches from the 20-yard line to the 20-yard line and is 72' high would have that effect. By comparison, CenturyLink, home of the Seattle Seahawks and the elite measurement of home-field advantages, was designed to harness the energy and volume of the crowd.
Since the doors opened in 2009, the Cowboys are 17-15 at Cowboys Stadium. In a state that boasts about everything being bigger, it seems JerryWorld overlooked the biggest detail in stadium design: home-field advantage.
Reason Number Five: Jerry Jones
The truth is that Jones can't be blamed for all of the Cowboys problems. He's not on the field on Sundays. He' not on the sidelines calling plays or (mis)managing the clock.
In fact, Jones is great team owner. He bought the Cowboys for $140 million and they are now, according to Forbes, estimated to be worth $2.1 billion. Good or bad, the Cowboys have been in the headlines even when they're not relevant from a football standpoint. He's maximized the value of a football team as much as a person can. That's what a good business owner does.
But he's a terrible GM. His meddling in player personnel and misguided contracts have crippled this franchise. Everything he's had his hands in, from parting ways with Jimmy Johnson to the Roy Williams trade, speaks volumes for why the Cowboys have endured decades of mediocrity.
I have never met single fan that speaks highly of Jones. I have never read a single article that praises his work as a GM. And to this day, we have yet to see a team built by Jerry have any long-term success.
He has a long road ahead of him if he hopes to boost his image.
Justin Bonnema is a freelance writer and a featured columnist covering the NFL and fantasy football.
Follow him on Twitter: @justinbonnema
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