Steady as she goes, Dallas Cowboys. Right into that iceberg.
When I hear team owner Jerry Jones speak nowadays, that’s the message I’m interpreting. Same as it was nearly one month ago, when coming out of a troubling loss to the Houston Texans, Jones called head coach Jason Garrett “absolutely the real deal” and “an asset that I think will get us to where we want to go.”
If that destination was sailing deep into mediocrity without a compass, congratulations. They’ve arrived. If it wasn’t, maybe it’s finally time for Jones to permanently surrender the map to someone else. It’s been 22 years of sideswiping icebergs. Perhaps it’s time to begin that transition to the Stephen Jones era, starting with his first firing. Surely Stephen knows where to find Garrett’s office.
The only “absolute real deal” now in Dallas is the specter of another lost season. Just like every other one since 1996. Make no mistake, that’s what is coming. Not only is Dallas sitting at 3-5, but it is heading into a suddenly gnarly five-game stretch in the schedule: facing the rejuvenated Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons on the road, then hosting the tougher-than-expected Washington Redskins, the NFC-leading New Orleans Saints and the Eagles again. Currently, all four of those teams are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth while simultaneously looking down at the Cowboys in the NFC playoff picture.
If you believe this unexceptional Cowboys offense has a chance to claw back into the postseason forecast after those five games, then you’re either the current owner of the franchise (Hi, Jerry!) or you’re blind to the content of Garrett’s previous 131 games — a span that has produced exactly one more playoff win than the Cleveland Browns since they returned to the NFL. How’s that for perspective? The Browns barely showed up for the last decade and rarely did anything right as an organization, yet in the grand view of history Cleveland is only one playoff win short of the Cowboys during Garrett’s tenure.
But here we have Jerry Jones, once again saying that now is not the time to change course. That things can still get better – if only everyone would just do their jobs a little better … starting with him. Well, here’s a novel thought: What if Jones is already doing the best job he can as a final decision-maker? And what if Garrett is already doing the best job he can as a one-playoff-win-in-131-games head coach? What if the Cowboys are just a mediocre team built by a mediocre shot-caller and guided by a mediocre head coach?
That’s what the totality of the ledger since 2010 suggests. And that’s also precisely what should spur the significant change in thinking that Troy Aikman seemed to suggest this week, when he took an unambiguous shot at Jones.
“Go through the list [of coaches] and this team – over a long period of time – has been what it’s been,” Aikman told 1310 The Ticket. “It hasn’t always mattered who the head coach has been. So to me, I’d say there has to be a complete overhaul of the entire organization. You just can’t simply replace head coaches and say, ‘Now it’s going to be better.’ No, it’s been shown that it’s not better. And you have to address how everything is being done. … [T]here’s been times where I’ve heard Jerry say, ‘OK, look, we’re going to do it differently. I’m going to do it differently.’ But it’s the same.”
The subtext of what Aikman said is that Jones is at the top and he’s a significant part of the dysfunction and cycle of missteps. Yes, there have been a litany of stories of how the Cowboys have become a more collaborative operation – including some of them written by me – between Jerry, Garrett, Stephen Jones and personnel director Will McClay. But even in that more collaborative world, there has truly been only one guy who keeps repeatedly subsidizing the failure. And that man is Jerry Jones, who keeps feeding opportunities into Garrett and is still no closer to his coveted Super Bowl payoff.
If you think that’s not true, well, Jones said as much Monday, when he reiterated to 105.3 The Fan that nobody should mistake who is making the final call on this parade of catastrophe.
“This business of how we operate, what we do, how the decisions are made with the Dallas Cowboys – anybody that thinks that it’s any different, that ultimately I’m not making the decision has to think twice,” Jones said. “I do make the ultimate decisions there.”
Since we have that settled, let’s start there. We hold Jimmy Haslam responsible for the duplicative chaos inside the Browns. We’ve raked the Ford family for the generational failures of the Detroit Lions. We’ve scorched the York family for some embarrassing trials and tribulations inside the San Francisco 49ers.
Why on earth should Jerry Jones get a pass for his role with the Cowboys? Maybe we should just be honest about his successes and failures. When he’s running the financial affairs of the Cowboys and NFL at large, he has been the Amazon.com of owners. But when he’s making head-coaching decisions, he has the track record of Blockbuster Video. Backing Garrett now – maintaining the status-quo – only ensures another season ending in bankruptcy.
In truth, it doesn’t really matter why Jones is staying the course. Maybe he’s grasping for any last chance that Garrett can redeem himself this season, while knowing a firing only corners him into some kind of years-long reboot. Maybe he’s afraid a shakeup could damage quarterback Dak Prescott, who Jerry seems hellbent on believing is his last best answer at the position. Or maybe Jerry Jones simply doesn’t know what to do next anymore. Maybe he’s finally succumbing to the reality that he can’t seem to get this right no matter how hard he tries.
Whatever the reason, Jones is stubbornly sailing ahead without his compass. Deeper into mediocre waters and with a map that doesn’t seem to provide any clue how to get back out. Whether this is where Jones wanted to go when he stuck with Garrett, this is the real deal. And the sooner he realizes his fundamental part in that, the better it will be for the franchise.
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