Jerry Jones Is the Constant Thread in the Dallas Cowboys' Prolonged Mediocrity

Ryan Glasspiegel

As you already know, the Cowboys’ season characteristically ended on Sunday night when Kyle Orton threw a late interception to Eagles defensive back Brandon Boykin. The conclusion to an 8-8 season was far too familiar for Dallas fans: It’s not just that the Cowboys are in a decade-plus stretch of sustained mediocrity, but that the process of getting and staying there is always so devastatingly brutal.

As Tim Burke detailed with a Vine compilation on Deadspin, the pieces are interchangeable, but the game-deciding interception remains the same. Since 2011, the Cowboys have blown an astonishing five games that, at one point, they had a 95% chance to win.

Dating back to the beginning of the 2000 season — in which Troy Aikman was hunted down by LaVar Arrington in Week 15 — Dallas is 112-112 in the regular season and 1-4 in the playoffs. There’s been four coaches (Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Philips, and Jason Garrett), five Week 1 starting quarterbacks (Aikman, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, and Tony Romo), countless players in and out at the other positions, and one egomaniac presiding over all of it.

Hypothetically, let’s say that there was an executive not named Jerry Jones who was in charge of making roster decisions during that stretch. Wouldn’t Jerry Jones the owner have fired that guy by now? Well, yeah, duh — he’s actually admitted as such.

What’s more alarming than the Cowboys’ failure to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year is the fact that they were built to win now. In October, the team was projected to be $31 million over the cap for next season. Cuts will have to come from somewhere, they’re picking 16th or 17th in the draft, and nobody should have any confidence in the brain trust of Jerry Jones/his son/probably-Jason-Garrett/maybe-yes-man-to-be-named-later to pick and a develop a roster that performs better than they have the past 13 years.

Again, this stretch dates back to Troy Aikman and Dave Campo.

Since Jerry Jones bought the franchise in 1989, the teams have had their best seasons with players picked and/or coached by Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. Johnson famously left in acrimony, while Parcells retired (he’d later come back as an executive with the Dolphins) with a year and $5.5 million left on his contract.

“Jerry started putting all those titles on himself after I left,” Jimmy Johnson said last year, suggesting that Jones partakes in some revisionist history about the authority he had when he first took over. “He didn’t call himself general manager and president and all that stuff when I was there. He was just the owner. Because it was in my contract that I had total responsibility for all football decisions. It was in my contract, and he didn’t allow anybody to have that in their contract after I left.”

“The Cowboys are Jerry’s team and he can do what he wants,” said Super Bowl XXX MVP Larry Brown in Jeff Pearlman’s 90s-Cowboys exposé Boys Will Be Boys. “But if you want to chart where things began to go wrong, look at the point when he started making the moves.”

If Jerry Jones focused solely on building the Cowboys roster, though, he might do a better job at it. However, his insistence on micromanaging both that and the franchise’s business operations — and, credit where it’s due: he outshines all 31 of his plutocratic partners/competitors at the latter aspect — are two separate, full-time operations. If you look around the league, the most successful general managers are football-obsessed workoholics while their owners are adept delegators. 

If you’re a Cowboys fan, you hope and pray that Jones will, at some point, realize that he must find someone competent to replace himself with for football operations — and, just as importantly, make the right choice for whom that should be. The last thing you want (and the first thing the rest of us all want) is for the situation to gradually devolve into something along the lines of Al Davis’s final years.

“What good would having a GM be when he’d have to run everything by me and I’d inevitably meddle in his decisions?” Jones (paraphrased, obviously) wondered earlier this month. It therefore doesn’t seem like any sort of meaningful devolution of authority is happening in the organization anytime soon. To expect the on-field results to change before that juncture would be ludicrous.