Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bradie James has been part of "America's Team" since he was selected by the team in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft. In his six seasons as the team's starting left inside linebacker, he's never missed a start, and he's either improved or at least maintained his tackle totals every year since 2006. That makes him uniquely qualified to opine on what may be ailing the Cowboys these days.
It also means that, for all the annual folderol about the Cowboys' Super Bowl chances, James has been part of just five playoff games in his career, and the teams he's been on have won just one — a 34-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs. It was the first playoff game the Cowboys had won since the Aikman/Emmitt/Irvin/Deion glory days of 1996. Following up that 2009 improvement with a 6-10 record in 2010 didn't feed anyone's bulldog, and it left team owner Jerry Jones particularly unfulfilled.
Jones had no doubt foreseen that his team would be involved when Super Bowl XLV was played in his new palatial $1.2 billion stadium this last February. But while the Green Bay Packers edged the Pittsburgh Steelers in that game, Jones was left with nothing but changes in yet another coaching staff — making former interim head coach Jason Garrett the main man, and bringing in Rex Ryan's brother Rob to coach the defense. Whether Jerry's just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic once again is a subject of some conjecture, but there's no doubt that there's more Super Bowl talk about the Cowboys this year (as there is every year) than there should be.
And as James recently told Jen Floyd Engel of FOXSports.com, that's a big part of the problem that keeps the Cowboys away from everything they want — they think they're already entitled to it. "I think the entitlement kills us," James said. "Our alumni, our former greats have made us America's Team and we reap benefits that we haven't earned — all the way around, as individuals, as a team. Those guys earned it. We just think we deserve it."
James also added that by now, he thought he'd have "at least two Super Bowls" under his belt.
Star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware isn't part of the problem either, but he recognizes Dallas' commitment to flash over fundamentals. "It's about putting down a foundation," Ware said. "We have everything at the top but what is holding it at the bottom? You have to have something holding it together and that is what we are working at."
Asked on Wednesday about James' comments, Garrett could only agree.
I don't want to get too much into that comment other than to say that it's important that everyone understands you have to earn it in this league," Garrett said. "You have to earn your opportunity to make a football team, to have a role on a football team and be a starter on a football team. And as a group you have to earn the wins each and every week. It's hard. The NFL is hard. It's difficult. That's what makes it great and our players understand that. You have to earn it in training camp and you have to earn it on Sunday afternoon. That's what we're trying to do right now regardless of what's happened in the past.
Fair enough, but Garrett isn't the problem -- he's just the latest guy to play through.
For every star player at a position Jerry Jones doesn't really need, there's a key offensive line position that goes ignored, and a defensive secondary that falls into further disrepair. Given my own personal preferences, I won't buy into Engel's Jennifer Aniston comparison as an example of "empty calories," but Engel is exactly on the mark about the Cowboys' skewed priorities. Trading draft picks for Roy Williams when you have nobody to block for your running backs at an elite level — well, that's a problem. Just one of many. The Cowboys are just as much about marquee names as they are about successful franchise anatomy, and teams with that mindset tend to flash out when things get tough.
And as Engel also points out, the Cowboys have fallen to the degree that only those TV talking heads required to talk about Jerry's team for ratings purposes will put them in the mix as one of the NFC's top teams anymore. Maybe it's better for the team to be operating under the radar for once, but the decline in on-field market share is more noticeable than ever.
That the players know it, and are willing to voice it, illuminates just how much junk has fallen into the machine.