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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is still hurting, five full days after the team’s ouster from the postseason. During a wide-ranging and eye-opening interview on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan on Friday afternoon, a noticeable frustrated Jones took plenty of shots following the 23-17 loss to San Francisco, with coaches and players alike landing in his crosshairs.
Head coach Mike McCarthy may not be as safe as previously thought. The same goes for recently untouchable assets like wideout Amari Cooper. Jones kept his options open during the conversation, but made it clear by the tone of his voice that a rinse-and-repeat won’t be acceptable for next season.
Jones admitted that the loss still stung on Monday as he addressed the team during the final dispersal meeting. But he wished the players and coaches could have gotten the full, undiluted brunt of the disappointment he felt immediately after the loss.
“When I spoke to everybody Monday after the game, I said I wish- and I don’t know why I’m rubbing salt in it. I’m just trying to make it hurt more,” Jones told the K&C Masterpiece show. “I’d like to have a meeting like that the day of the game, so that we could all feel together just how you feel when you look up and there’s no more to play.”
A significant portion of Cowboys Nation is calling for sweeping changes to the staff after the collapse of such a promising roster. Before he left AT&T Stadium Sunday night, Jones was cryptic when asked about McCarthy’s future, saying, “I don’t even want to discuss anything like that at this particular time.” Team executive vice president Stephen Jones swooped in Monday, though, to say he felt “very confident” that McCarthy would be staying on.
But maybe not everything in Dallas is set in stone, as Jerry was quick to point out.
“I haven’t completed my overall evaluation, and I don’t have any idea when I will complete my overall evaluation. But there are a lot of moving parts here, as you know. We have 29 coaches. It’s not uncommon at all for members of coaching staff to come and go. This is par for the course. That’s the NFL today,” Jones said. “I won’t get into any conversations that I’ve had with anybody relative to anything to do with the staff. I understand the interest in it, but there’s nothing compelling me.”
No, there’s nothing compelling Jones to speak publicly on his mindset concerning the Cowboys coaches. But there also wasn’t a question asked about it. Jones had actually been asked for an overall evaluation of the season; he volunteered to start his answer by talking about coaching changes.
He finished the answer there, too.
“I’ve got a lot to think about regarding these coaches. I’ve got a lot regarding these scouts. I’ve got a lot to think about regarding various aspects of the organization.”
Whether that’s a foreshadowing of some kind of seismic shift at The Star or just in-the-moment window dressing to placate an angry fanbase remains to be seen.
Of course, it’s the coaching staff who has come under fire for many of the team’s weaknesses. Fixable issues like pre-snap penalties, missed kicks, clock management, and playcalling gaffes- many of the issues that came into play Sunday against the 49ers- had haunted the Cowboys as early as Week 1.
Jones appears to have tired of those items not being adequately addressed in the 18 weeks that followed.
“One of the pet peeves I have is that I don’t like this, ‘Well, we’ve got to work on this in the offseason, we’ve got to work on this.’ I don’t go for that. I’ve been trying to push that. I want those things recognized and addressed after we play Tampa, after the first game, or after we play the sixth game. I don’t want to wait until we’re sitting here with no season left to address these things we’re doing or not doing.”
The club was effective, however, in shoring up many weaknesses on the roster. McCarthy and his staff were able to bring in an assortment of veterans in free agency who helped Dallas engineer an impressive turnaround, doubling 2020’s win total.
“Those free agents, those one- and two-year free agents that we added in here were an outstanding group of players, and they really were contributors and could have contributed more,” Jones offered. “We had outstanding receivers, and there are people playing with a lot less on the offensive line than we are in the NFL. And so we’ve got to step up here and analyze how we’re going to approach it. This is all good to look back. Nothing wrong with living in the past and looking back a little bit.”
But gazing in the rear-view mirror, the 79-year-old owner knows not all of the same contributors will be in the Cowboys’ future for 2022. That certainly goes for players, but would also seem to apply to coaches, scouts, and anyone else currently on the Cowboys payroll.
“Nothing counts but this morning, this afternoon, and the next weeks ahead. So we’re going to do something about it,” Jones promised. “If I thought changing out men at any level would improve us, I would change it out. I’ve looked around. I see a lot of names, a lot of great names, a lot of names from colleges, a lot of great names. I see them coming through. I’ve seen a lot of great names at various duties in the NFL come and go over the last 30 years. I haven’t seen but a couple of them that might have a straight shot into what’s up above.”
Of course, it’s all about putting the Cowboys into the uppermost echelon by winning a sixth Lombardi Trophy. That goal has eluded Jones for a quarter-century now, and has swallowed whole the career of many a player who, at one time or another, seemed to carry the hopes of the franchise on his back.
“I’m very, very frustrated and upset that we’ve- you can call it COVID, you can call it anything,” Jones said. “But we have used up some very talented players over the last few years.”
This season was just the latest chapter of a book that Cowboys Nation has gotten used to reading.
For longtime veterans like the aforementioned Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence, 2021 represented perhaps their best chance at a Super Bowl. Their huge contracts certainly represented a belief by Jones that they’d be instrumental pieces in getting the Cowboys there.
Now with major surgery required to get the club under the salary cap for 2022, both players are suddenly less of a sure thing as the roster-building starts all over again.
“We have ten players- and this is the way it is around the NFL,” Jones reminded, “we have ten players that get two-thirds of the money. Ten… that gets two-thirds of the money. And so you’ve got to have a lot of other things that is [part of the] thought process when you’re sitting here talking about somebody’s contracts.”
One of those other things is, obviously, on-the-field performance. Cooper’s, especially, dropped off considerably. His 865 receiving yards was his lowest output for a season since 2017; his catch percentage of 65.4% is also his lowest since that same year. Not what Jones had been hoping for when he cracked open the vault for Cooper in 2020.
With second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb still on the rise and Michael Gallup still in the building, many have suggested that Cooper is the most expendable one of the talented group, given his exorbitant price.
Jones wasn’t ready to speak specifically about Cooper’s future with the club. But he did intimate that the team should have been getting more bang for their buck, especially down the stretch.
“No, I don’t have any comment on Cooper’s contract. I thought that the way we were playing early, when we did make something happen, I thought Cooper had a big part in that,” Jones went on. “How he fits in, he should take half the field with him when he runs a route. Not half, that’s an exaggeration, of course, but a whole bunch of that defense ought to have to honor Cooper. He ought to be able to catch it in the middle when they’re going with him. Others do; you throw to people that are covered all the time in the NFL. You have to.”
McCarthy and Cooper are just two examples, of course. There’s a much longer list of individuals who have room for improvement and a plethora of reasons why the Cowboys are watching the divisional round of the playoffs from the couch instead of taking the field.
When the expectations are high, so is the fall when they aren’t reached.
“I thought we did a really, a really good job of getting to the playoffs,” Jones said. “Still, I can’t get over what we did in the playoffs.”
On this point, at least, the Cowboys owner and Cowboys fans are in perfect alignment.
“We deserve better than that.”
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