Hey Jerry, the Cowboys have nothing to lose with an aggressive offseason
Ask any Dallas Cowboys fan about their team’s offseason approach in the last decade and two words come to mind, conservative and frustrating. Of course, those words might be accompanied by a couple of words not suitable for reading in this space.
It’s no secret how the Cowboys operate these days in free agency. The organization traditionally waits out the first wave or two when the big-name players get paid, then swoop in and sign a few cheap options to fill the holes on their roster. The process leaves most fans disappointed, even though it’s expected now.
Watching other teams get aggressive and go after the best players while the Cowboys sit idly by, even after 10 years, is still not an acquired taste. It wasn’t always this way.
The year was 2012 and Jerry Jones was in go for it mode. With Cowboys coming off back-to-back seasons where they failed to make the playoffs, Dallas had an aggressive offseason plan. The team signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal with $26.5 million guaranteed to improve the secondary.
Jones and the Cowboys didn’t stop there, the team also added quarterback Kyle Orton to combat any injury that might befall starting quarterback Tony Romo to derail the season. The three-year deal given to Orton was a sign the team was serious about competing if Romo were out of the lineup.
There were other middle of the road signings like offensive linemen Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, linebacker Dan Connor and safety Brodney Pool. All of whom were expected to be contributors, but the final piece of the aggressive puzzle that offseason was trading up in the draft for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys traded their first and second-round selections to move up to draft Claiborne sixth overall.
What a time to be a Cowboys fan! The big deal to Carr and trading up for Claiborne was the last time the team got aggressive in an offseason. Although Carr was a very good player for the defense, intercepting seven passes in his Cowboys career, the CB never lived up to expectations. Yet Carr was as durable as they came, never missing a game in five seasons.
Claiborne fell well short of what was expected of him, never living up to the hype of a top-tier CB. Playing out his original deal in Dallas, Claiborne had just four interceptions with the team and failed to ever play a full slate of games. The Cowboys didn’t offer the corner a second contract.
With the moves to add Carr and Claiborne in 2012, the Cowboys failed to cash in on the investments, winning just one playoff game in five years.
Since that time, the organization has gotten gun shy about adding high priced free agents and isn’t nearly as aggressive in acquiring talent. Dallas’ biggest moves since 2012 have been trading a first-round pick for wide receiver Amari Cooper, signing troubled pass rusher Greg Hardy to a one-year deal worth $11.3 million, and trading a sixth-round selection and paying defensive end Robert Quinn $6 million.
Along with signing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in 2020 for just over $6 million annually, those are the only external players the organization has invested over $5 million a year in since the 2012. Aside from McCoy, who’s injury ended his year before it began, all the other big investments worked out for the team.
Cooper had four good seasons in Dallas, earning himself a new contract from the team with an average annual salary of $20 million before being traded, Quinn had an 11.5 sack year with the Cowboys, and even though it was a contentious one year with the team, Hardy had six sacks in 12 games. Who would’ve thought the cost of acquiring the best talent would produce the best results.
Other than Cooper, Quinn, Hardy, and McCoy, it’s been a quiet 10 years for the Cowboys in accumulating talent outside of the draft. Yet they’ve watched other teams be vigorous in their search of finding the best players and winning Super Bowls. The Tampa Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles are all examples of how being assertive in adding top-tier talent, and all have been successful. The Rams and Eagles have both been in two Super Bowls over the last decade, winning and losing one apiece.
Yet here are the Cowboys under Stephen and Jerry Jones, refusing to push their chips into the middle to get near another big game. However, there is talk of this being the offseason they make a significant move (or two).
Jerry Jones on improving the Cowboys’ roster with a significant move: “Don’t dismiss us doing something special.” pic.twitter.com/xKGzTmif96
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 4, 2023
This would be music to Cowboys fans ears; they’ve been waiting for the team to jump into the offseason with some sense of urgency for a long time. After essentially waiting 10 years for the team to sign high-quality free agents or trading for a premium player, there’s a feeling that it might finally be happening.
A decision to become assertive would be a major shift in philosophy for the organization, but they could be asking themselves what’s the worst that can happen? Dallas has been doing things their way for about a decade now and has just two playoff wins to show for the draft and develop way. It’s a path that’s brought good teams who have won division titles, but that’s never been the goal.
Perhaps the Joneses have gotten tired of watching teams getting aggressive and win championships. The owner is 80-years old and could be getting antsy to win another Super Bowl before time runs out.
Or, perhaps, Jerry and Stephen Jones have fooled the fans again and they’ll run the same course this offseason. Talking change and making changes are two different things and the Cowboys are extremely slow to admit they are wrong.
Most fans will be happy if the team at least went for it, but if the move(s) fail, the euphoria could be short lived. The risk is the Joneses tuck their tails between their legs and go conservative once again. Can Cowboys fans deal with the team not being aggressive for another 10+ years? The team got gun shy after the last big moves didn’t pan out, will they allow the same to happen if they try again and are unsuccessful?
Spending the money and possible draft capital also sounds great now, but if it doesn’t result in the franchise getting any closer to a Super Bowl, how will the Cowboys recover? Losing cap space and draft picks will make it difficult for the team to improve if the big move(s) don’t work. Rebuilding is not a word the franchise likes to hear and if their strategy doesn’t come to fruition, that might be the path they head down.
Most fans are willing to take those risks since playing conservative hasn’t gotten the Cowboys anywhere and it’s time to do something different. The bigger risk is to do the same thing, and expect different results.
Dallas has the quarterback and the nucleus to be a contender for a championship, they just need to be aggressive in finding top-tier talent to get them over the hump. If not now, when?
No one can be sure what the Cowboys are thinking or what they’ve got planned this offseason. However, one thing is certain, if they do get aggressive, most fans will accept the results of what comes from actually trying.
You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi