View Full Version : Big D, as in decay

07-05-2001, 04:38 PM
posted link-free for flying tigger!
Big D, as in decay - PART 1
By Paul Attner
The Sporting News

It has been a great ride. Three Super Bowls and the Triplets and dominant television ratings and a consuming love-hate relationship with football fans everywhere. But now the journey's over. Jerry's Boys have tumbled, and they won't be back.

Want proof? I give you Quincy Carter.

If you draft someone like Carter, in the wrong round in the wrong year, and then say, as the Cowboys do, that he not only can ease the loss of Troy Aikman but also speed up their ability to become champions again, you can draw only one conclusion.

The king has lost his grasp on reality. He's out of the Super Bowl business, on life support, and he can't -- and won't -- get up again, not for years to come.

He just can't admit it's finished.

I sit across from Jerry Jones, the once-brilliant mastermind who lifted the Cowboys from ineptness to supremacy in the 1990s, and bring up rebuilding. He hesitates. He won't say the word. Just can't. No way, no how. It's as if allowing the word to cross his lips would be an admission of weakness, of blatant failure. He is in such a deep state of denial that, amid a quagmire of mediocrity, he barely acknowledges this is a transition time for his franchise.

No wonder he predicts this team in turmoil will be 10-6 in the fall. "I just can't write us off," he says. The future is dismal, but don't expect him to copy the 49ers, another salary-cap challenged mega-team from the 1990s. A couple of years ago, the 49ers proclaimed their intent to rip things up and methodically reconstruct a contender. Jones looks at Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, two talented receivers and safety Darren Woodson and sees victories, not rebuilding. Others are amazed.

"If the Cowboys finish above .500," says GM Charley Casserly of the expansion Texans, "Dave Campo should be coach of the year."

This is a franchise that, over the past four years, has finished 6-10, 10-6, 8-8 and 5-11; hasn't won a playoff game since the 1996 season; hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season; has featured three coaches since 1997; has drafted only one Pro Bowl player, linebacker Dexter Coakley, since 1995; and is in such a pathetic salary-cap situation, one-third of its cap money will go to players no longer on the team. But rebuild? Hell, no.

If, for the next five years or so, Jones would drop the general manager duties from his owner/general manager title, the Cowboys' future might be different. To become champions in the 1990s, they needed every bit of his daring, his willingness to step outside the loop, his incredible ability to pound away at success and expand it. But not anymore.

Now, they need someone different: a patient leader who doesn't have to prove at every turn he is an independent thinker and innovator of the first order. The Cowboys now need a methodical approach, not a shocking one. They require a deft draft expert, a top personnel man, a leader with a well-conceived game plan to restore the glory.

"What game plan?" says former Cowboys offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, now an analyst with Sporting News Radio and Fox. "If they win five games, it will be a miracle. And you just wonder where the improvement is coming from. You don't see any philosophy behind what they are doing. They are just doing stuff without any rhyme or reason."

Jones isn't going anywhere, and neither are the Cowboys. This is a franchise whose unrelenting bravado and risk-taking continue to lead it down a perilous path, right to the likes of Quincy Carter.

On the first day of this April's draft, Jones did not have a first-round pick. It had been traded the previous year to Seattle for Joey Galloway, a deal that continues to kick the Cowboys in the rear. In the second round, Jones had a choice. He could select a lineman to help bolster a woefully inadequate defense that finished 19th overall and last against the run last season. "A safe move," he says with a bit of disgust. It also would have been the best decision to begin revitalizing his franchise.

But in pre-draft research, he had become smitten with Carter, the former Georgia quarterback. Carter was an underachiever in college with lots of off-field questions. Still, he is a workout whiz, an amazingly gifted athlete with a pleasing personality and unquestioned natural talents. He also is scouting quicksand, the kind of player who lures you into rating him too high, only to find out later you were trapped by false hopes.

So it was the Cowboys' turn in the second round, and Jones made the call. Quincy Carter. This would be his man, the quarterback who could eventually make them forget about Aikman, who could win Super Bowls and accelerate their improvement and allow Jones to laugh at rebuilding. That some clubs didn't have Carter on their draft boards, that others projected him as a fourth-rounder, no better, meant nothing. Carter was a gift; how could you pass him up with the 53rd overall selection?

On a team with holes everywhere and woefully few building blocks, the selection was questionable, at best, and incredibly flawed, at worst. But within the world of the Cowboys, it was considered a winner.

If you are thinking all this sounds bizarre, you're right. And there's more. How about the current quarterback of this supposed 10-6 team? Tony Banks, the same Tony Banks who was run out of St. Louis; the same Tony Banks who was benched last season in Baltimore and replaced by Trent Dilfer, who then led the Ravens to the Super Bowl.

And that defense that was so pathetic last season? It has a new scheme based on the concepts developed by the Buccaneers. The 2001 undersized Cowboys will be a moving, shifting bunch that relies on speed and aggressiveness. Of course, Tampa Bay succeeds in great part because its line is anchored by dominant tackle Warren Sapp. Dallas has no quality tackles -- Leon Lett is in Denver, Chad Hennings has retired -- much less anyone close to Sapp's ability. And no cornerbacks. And an injury-prone middle linebacker. Just as telling, offseason retirements and free-agent defections have weakened this defense even more.

"That's why the Carter pick was confusing to me," says ESPN analyst Joe Theismann. "If you are drafting a guy at the 53rd spot, you almost must have a player who can come in and play for you right now, particularly when you are in a transition period and there are so many pieces of the puzzle that need to be filled. And that is particularly true on defense. But one thing I love about Jerry is his decisiveness. He knows if the pick doesn't work out, he will hear about it."

07-05-2001, 04:40 PM
Big D, as in decay - PART 2
By Paul Attner
The Sporting News

In some ways, these are circumstances that Jerry Jones relishes. The current state of the Cowboys allows him to prove, once and forever, that he and his personnel staff can create a champion.

The three Super Bowl winners in the 1990s were, depending on who is talking, born from a joint venture between Jones and Jimmy Johnson; Johnson's accomplishment alone, with Jones' rubber-stamp approval; or a product of Jones' genius, with Johnson helping on the specifics. But Jones still believes he never has received the credit he deserves for building those championship teams.

Now, with the retirement of Aikman, the only players from the Johnson-Jones era are Smith, Woodson and Mark Stepnoski, who returned to the Cowboys in 1999 after four years with Houston/Tennessee. Johnson is long gone, cruising on his boat in south Florida. If the Cowboys are to rise again, it will be with Jones' players and with Jones' draft acumen.

"It's hard to be a real difference maker if you don't have a down time," he said near the end of a long interview in his office at the Cowboys' complex. "If you don't have someone tell you that you are in a crisis, how can you step up and do something really good with your team? I see this as nothing more than an opportunity to step up and knock the ball out of the park."

That is what Banks and Carter represent to him -- opportunities for home runs, opportunities to show the rest of the league he is a bit smarter and craftier. Singles are productive, but anyone can get to first base. Jones thrives on the big deal or the unique decision that few others would dare consider, much less execute. That's the mentality he has used to build the Cowboys from near bankruptcy to a $713 million empire that leads the NFL in souvenir sales and maverick marketing. But now it is a mentality that is digging his team into deep problems.

"I am a firm believer that you have to do some inordinate things to separate yourself and win more games than the rest of the teams," he says. "You can't do it playing safe and laying up. I knew the risk I was taking when I drafted Quincy. I have always dealt with the risks and the criticism, and more times than not, I have been right."

This pro football thing has been easy for him, and that has lulled him into a dangerous sense of false security. He took over the franchise just in time to select Aikman as the first player in the 1989 draft. Then the genius of the Herschel Walker trade with the Vikings later in 1989 gave him extra draft choices that allowed the club to expedite the upgrading of its roster. The Cowboys were 1-15 in 1989; three years later, they had won a Super Bowl. It was a dazzling accomplishment.

But now there is no Herschel Walker to trade, no Troy Aikman on the roster. So he pushes and reaches, trying to force what isn't there, trying to re-create the past and its magic.

Both Jones and his son, Stephen, the Cowboys' salary-cap guru and director of player personnel, pledge they are committed to upgrading through the draft. They say the days of big spending on free agents are over, even though next year the franchise will be a stunning $20 million or more under the cap, an enormous sum that gives the Cowboys incredible flexibility. Still, they say they are out of the rent-a-star business.

This year, with $23 million of their $67 million cap tied up in dead money that mostly went to paying off Aikman and Deion Sanders, they really have no other choice. They have one of the lowest actual payrolls in the league, and little room to bring in even bargain free agents.

"Those young players that we drafted the last few years have to start playing for us and develop right now," says Stephen Jones. "In my opinion, we will be much better than people think this year because of these young guys."

Forget it. The majority of these young prospects aren't very talented or experienced. The Cowboys have no players left from the 1995 and 1996 drafts and only two from 1997 (Coakley and tight end David LaFleur); those drafts should be the foundation of the current roster. Instead, they have to rely on the 1998, 1999 and 2000 drafts -- and those have produced only four potential quality players: offensive tackles Solomon Page and Flozell Adams and defensive ends Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban. That's it. Even the Cowboys are hard-pressed to name any more. Still, they likely will start nine players this season from the past three drafts. And probably no more than nine players on their opening day roster will have more than five years of experience.

Of the Cowboys' five picks in the 2000 draft, three were defensive backs. One of the three, Mario Edwards, is projected to start at cornerback; the other two are expected to be main backups. None is close to being a top-flight player. "To me," says Theismann, "the key to the Cowboys' success will be that draft and those DBs. If you are retooling one side of the ball and an entire class collapses, it sets you back three to four years."

To correct this drafting nightmare, the wise move would be to hire an esteemed personnel director and get out of his way. But Jones won't hear of it. "If I thought there was a (talent) guru in the world who could do it far better than what we are doing, he would work for the Cowboys," he says. "I have never met him."

When Troy Aikman became an ex-Cowboy this past spring, he tried to warn Jerry and Stephen Jones. "The absolute worst thing that could happen to this club would be to try to salvage another year or two and then have a 6-10 or 8-8 season," Aikman said. He later told Baldinger: "The best thing that can happen is that they are at the bottom of the heap. Maybe that will get them to take off the rose-colored glasses and be realistic about what they have."

Ironically, Aikman is one of the major reasons the Cowboys are in this current mess. Jones' obsession with winning Super Bowls as long as he had Aikman clouded his personnel judgments, and he put too much faith in the health of his franchise quarterback.

Jones was convinced that Aikman could play at a high level until at least 2004. So his thought process went like this: If we can surround Troy with sufficient talent, we can win more rings -- and the heck with a deteriorating defense. The Cowboys kept signing free agents to supplement Aikman's offense. And in order to come up with money to pay these players -- and to extend contracts of his core offensive stars -- Jones often traded away first-round draft picks, substantially reducing the pool of young, developing stars he now desperately needs.

Although not one football expert thought the Cowboys were Super Bowl material a year ago, Jones was so sure he could make another title run that he executed the Galloway trade, surrendering his 2000 and 2001 No. 1 picks. Jones' rationale: Galloway would give Aikman a second speed receiver to spread the field and make the offense nearly unstoppable. Hadn't the Rams showed how a high-powered offense could win a Super Bowl?

It was a devastating miscalculation. Aikman entered the 2000 season with a long history of concussions and a bad back. His future was risky, at best. Jones attributed Aikman's decline not to his physical problems but to a philosophical clash with Chan Gailey, who coached the Cowboys in 1998 and 1999 and installed a passing offense that Aikman didn't like. So Jones fired Gailey, promoted Campo from defensive coordinator to head coach and reinstalled Norv Turner's old vertical offense, which the team used in its three championship seasons.

Aikman didn't last a game without injury problems. In the opener against the Eagles, he suffered a concussion in the first half. Galloway wrecked a knee in the fourth period, putting him out for the season. The Cowboys lost, 41-14. "We never recovered from that defeat," says Jones. Aikman would miss two games because of the concussion, then almost two more because of back spasms. Against the Redskins December 10, he left in the first quarter with the 10th concussion of his career. It would be his final NFL appearance.

"Before last season, I didn't view Troy's concussion situation as career ending," says Jones. "His back was more of a concern, quite frankly. But to be sitting here a year later without Troy frankly is a stunning turn of events."

Not to everyone. "Hoping to get two years from Troy would have been optimistic," says Theismann. "Once you develop a history of concussions, I don't think you fully recover. I admire Jerry for taking a shot at trying to win it all. He felt if he could get into the playoffs, why couldn't he win the Super Bowl, too?"

But Baldinger says: "How could he possibly look at his defensive personnel and think that was a championship defense? It was one of the worst defenses I have seen in the league in years. Three guys rushed for 200 yards each against them. I mean, how bad is bad?"

Jones is sitting in his office, hearing all this and getting, he admits, a bit defensive. A no-alcohol, no-sweets diet has helped him lose 37 pounds, and he is fighting back. "I have been bitten by injuries," he says.

"Jay Novacek. Michael Irvin. Troy Aikman. Charles Haley. That's what went wrong. You can say, 'Jerry, you are hanging onto their skills when their skills are not there.' I disagree. Aikman's skills were still there. And you can say, 'Jerry, don't you want the Galloway deal back?' No. We didn't want to draft a receiver and wait two to three years for him to develop, not with the window we had with Troy. Galloway was ready. Those are the risks you take. We won a Super Bowl by getting Deion Sanders. That's called nailing it. But sometimes, it doesn't work."

He pauses. "Considering the money I have spent on players, the fact we haven't won a Super Bowl the last four or five years is pretty devastating. In hindsight, I probably made a mistake. I should have said to our coaches: Play the players we are drafting, play them. The years I paid out $30-$40 million in bonuses, I would have been a lot better off playing these young guys. We would have looked a lot better in how we evaluate personnel."

If those personnel evaluations prove to be as flawed as they seem, then forget all this brave talk about rebounding through the draft. Another year of embarrassing losses and Jones will become impatient. He will start spending money again, using his monstrous cap surplus on defensive free agents and a quarterback. Without a string of solid drafts, this is the only avenue remaining.

Yet amid all this uncertainty, Cowboys executives talk as if it won't be that difficult to construct another contender. After all, in the early 1990s, they won championships with a young team. Why is this different? Besides, NFL parity makes a quick fix very feasible. "Everyone should be 8-8," says Jones. "That's the minimum you should be able to do every season. How soon we get back to Super Bowl contention will depend on how we do at quarterback."

Jones knows there is pressure on him to get it right again. He wants a new 100,000-seat stadium complex, but Cowboys fans are notoriously fickle, and if the team keeps losing, they won't even fill Texas Stadium. They'll come this season to watch Smith make his run at breaking Walter Payton's NFL career rushing record -- he needs 1,561 yards -- but the last of the Triplets can't carry the Cowboys forever.

"It's ugly right now," Smith said when Aikman was waived. Just think what it'll be like in the future.

07-05-2001, 04:42 PM
Another interesting story (http://www.sportingnews.com/headtohead/20010705.html)

07-05-2001, 04:51 PM
The Cowboys? i/expressions/face-icon-small-confused.gif . Mmmmmm....yeah, I think I've heard of them before.

07-05-2001, 04:52 PM
damn mffl, i don't have the attention span to read all of those stories
how about you give us the "mffl notes"..
kinda a synopsis of what each article that you post is about.

07-05-2001, 05:15 PM
LOL murph - brief synopsis. Jerry Jones sucks!

07-06-2001, 08:38 AM
haha, thanks mffl

07-06-2001, 09:03 AM
Glad to be of assistance.