Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks with son executive vice president Stephen Jones during halftime against the St. Louis Rams at AT

Jerry Jones' Toughest Decision as Cowboys GM Is 5 Years Away

Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks with son executive vice president Stephen Jones during halftime against the St. Louis Rams at AT

Cowboy Nation, it’s so hard to say goodbye but you have to remember no player is bigger than the team. That message is emphasized by teams like New England where fan favorites are traded, cut and replaced without mercy. That’s possible when your general manager realizes that being the players friend isn’t in his job description. General managers are concerned with keeping their team salary cap friendly and finding the best player for the right price. General managers can be respected by the players, but players know that the NFL is a business. Decisions, however unpopular, are made for the long term good of the franchise.

As general manager, Jerry Jones’ reputation for bad trades and awful contracts have become legendary. The toughest move I remember Jones making is shipping Emmitt Smith to the Arizona Cardinals. Smith finished with 1064 total yards before joining the Cardinals. In his first year with the Cardinals, Smith had 363 total yards, but bounced back with 1042 total yards in 2004. Smith was productive while the Cowboys ended with a 6 – 10 record behind the efforts of running backs Julius Jones and Eddie George. Allowing Smith to retire as a Cowboy was a classy move by Jerry Jones, but the backlash was horrific. If any player should’ve finished their career with one team, Emmitt should be on that list. Since then, Jerry Jones has quickly rewarded average, under-performing and injured players that are fan favorites with cap busting contracts when they have a big game or breakout season.

The NFL is one of many professional sporting leagues where athletes are paid in advance of their performance. Jerry Jones appears to be tightening the purse strings when it comes to player contracts and this off-season will require shrewd business practices. I believe this off-season will be filled with easy decisions based on player’s performances and the teams financial well being. With that said, it’s time to say goodbye to – DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Anthony Spencer and Morris Claiborne.

Austin has been so oft-injured that I don’t use his real name anymore. I mention “Hamstring” and people know who I’m referring too. This is one of those bad contracts that just got worse as time went on. The play of Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, combined with Austin’s injury status and salary cap weight has made Austin expendable. That’s an easy decision.

DeMarcus Ware can blame injuries all he wants. The truth is – he’s underweight as a defensive end. It’s an issue I addressed regarding Ware, Spencer and Ratliff early in September. (Link to Article) The film also shows a significant decrease in Ware’s hustle plays this season. I look forward to the Cowboys taking the best available pass rushing defensive end with their first round draft pick. He’s another fan favorite, but it’s an easy decision.

Anthony Spencer just stole $10 million from the Dallas Cowboys this season. He received the franchise tag, got injured and went to injured reserve with guaranteed money. Being injured didn’t help Spencer’s case and moving on should be an easy decision.

At 32 years old, Jason Hatcher is going to be allowed to test free agency. Reports indicate that a franchise tag on him would cost the Cowboys $8 million or more. There are 10 defensive tackles in the NFL earning more than $6 million. You can find a younger and cheaper talent. If they decide to bring him back, anything in the range of 3 years at $4 million plus performance bonuses would be satisfactory. Hatcher could then retire at 35 and spend his entire career as a Cowboy.

Morris Claiborne, if he returns, may become the best paid nickel corner in the league. I feel his replacement is lurking in the upcoming NFL draft.

Mackenzy Bernadeau played well this season, along with Brian Waters. The problem is Bernadeau is 28 years old but counts for $4 million against the cap and Waters salary isn’t a cap buster, but he is 36 years old. If the Cowboys use one NFL draft pick for the offense, I’d like it to be used on a guard. A quality player could be found in the draft and at a lower price.

Doug Free was outstanding this season, but I would pass the reigns to Jeremy Parnell. That change, plus a guard in the draft could give the Cowboys a young offensive line that could last for years. Parnell would be the elder at 27 years old while everyone else would be under 25. This is an easy decision because Free counts for $6.5 million against the salary cap. By comparison, Pro Bowler Tyron Smith only counts for $4 million and Parnell counts for less than $2 million.

One “no brainer” that hasn’t been announced yet is a contract for Dan “The Money Man” Bailey. Anything more than $2.6 million would put him in the top 10. I’m fine with that.

Side note: I need to buy some lottery tickets so I can bicker over $1 or $2 million instead of comparing prices between Wal-Mart and Target to save $.50 on orange juice.

The Cowboys salary cap may haunt us for a while, but dead money eventually falls off the books. $12 million goes to players that aren’t on the team, but most of that is due to Jay Ratliff. 65% of the 2014 cap goes to 8 players and a large percentage of that is attributed to Tony Romo. They have 30 players that count less than $1 million each towards the 2014 salary cap. Another 7 players are in the $1 to $2 million bracket. 10 players will earn between $3 and $10 million and 3 players will earn more than $10 million. DeMarcus Ware is 2nd highest paid player on the team.

Eventually, even the name Jason Witten comes up. Witten is 31 years old and counts $8.4 million against the cap in 2014. He is extremely productive which makes it hard to justify any mention of Witten playing for any team other than the Cowboys at this moment. Tony Gonzales of the Atlanta Falcons announced his retirement at age 37, after 17 seasons in the NFL. There’s no reason to believe that Witten can’t match that and retire on his own terms. I would love to see him announce his retirement while hoisting a Lombardi. Any other ending would require Jerry Jones or Stephen Jones to make an incredibly tough and likely, the most unpopular personnel decision since Smith. Hopefully, that’s at least 5 years away.

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