Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Hello Cowboys Fans. Come on in. You’re probably a little surprised to see all of your family and close friends gathered together in one room today. I know you thought you were coming here today for an autograph signing, but we are all here today because everyone in this room genuinely cares about you. And, we’re concerned about you lately. We see a pattern of behavior that makes all of us worry where you are headed.
We see you out there on Facebook, read your tweets, hear you call in on sports talk shows, even read your blogs. We hear what you’ve been saying. You’ve convinced yourself somehow that the Cowboys are having a great off season – that this is all part of some master plan to outsmart the rest of the NFL. You believe that the Cowboys’ staff and management are being really wise despite the years of evidence to the contrary. Do you hear yourself? Denial is not just a river in Egypt – it can be a dangerous, self defeating crutch.
After watching the team fire most of its coaching staff – those below the ones truly responsible for the mediocrity – you tell yourself this is a good thing. It was about time they cleaned house! You tell yourself that you never liked Rob Ryan anyway despite knowing deep down that while the defense certainly under performed at times, they weren’t really the problem. Nor was it a scheme issue where they suddenly realized they were running the wrong defense. You know that in the NFL there is a base defensive set, but that all teams switch back and forth from a 3-4 and 4-3 alignment depending on the situation and the defensive call. You’ve allowed yourself to believe what Jerry – your “dealer of delusion” – has told you. That switching to a 4-3 defense and hiring a throwback coach will fix everything despite knowing in your heart of hearts that such a dramatic change when you’ve filled your team with mostly 3-4 style players is going to take a lot more time than you’re being told.
You allow your imagination to run wild when you see them bring in the defensive coach responsible for the Bears leading the NFL last season in turnovers. You block out any thoughts about how there is absolutely no logical way to say that performance can be repeated with the Cowboys by just bringing in that coach. Coaching is important, but coaches don’t make a single play on the field. And, you ignore the fact that the same coach with the same players would have just as hard of a time repeating that performance in a new season. Now, you’re convinced that a defensive line coach is suddenly going to make your players better, more aggressive, and instantly create more turnovers. It’s sometimes a series of random incidents that lead to a particular outcome. And, sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t – regardless of coaching. Knowing that the Cowboys rarely get that lucky bounce their way, you block it out and allow yourself to feel a rush of excitement thinking about how many “pick 6s” the Cowboys will have this season.
It breaks our hearts now that free agency has begun to hear you rationalize how “smart” the Cowboys are being by “resisting” the big move. You look away and ignore people that try to tell you that this team and owner have been accused of a lot of things but rarely of being smart. Was it smart to ignore the NFL’s repeated warnings in 2010 to treat that year like there was a salary cap and not do anything out of the ordinary? Was it smart when the league fined you $10 million dollars in cap space for front loading Miles Austin’s contract that year? Is it smart to restructure player’s contracts over and over again? You know that each time they do that it is a short-term fix but creates a bigger mess in subsequent years. The cap liability doesn’t disappear – it just gets moved around. The bill eventually comes due. If you refinance your mortgage and lower your payment, does the loan balance go down? No.
The Cowboys managed to get under the cap this season by the skinniest of margins – $175k on a $123 million dollar salary cap. They have 0.14% of cap space. But, you breathe a sigh of relief that they are under the cap just ahead of the deadline and smile confidently about how smart they were to restructure what feels like everyone but the equipment manager on the team so far. And, of course excluding Tony Romo – the one player that could give them the most benefit. The restructures included players like Brandon Carr who were just signed last year. Did they not have any visibility to what the cap situation would be one year later? Could they not already structure a contract from the start that was “cap friendly” in the early years understanding that they might be in a bind next year or the year after that?
You watch other teams make tough decisions and cut starting players who can still be productive but whose cap liability is higher than their potential on the field production. You somehow convince yourself that the Cowboys are smart to keep the general nucleus of an 8-8 team despite the impending cap storm that is coming in subsequent years. You refuse to let yourself think about how difficult it is going to be to keep a rising star like Dez Bryant when too much of your cap money is already tied up in guaranteed bonuses. That’s a problem for 2015 and beyond. Spoiler alert: say goodbye to Dez about the time that he is hitting his prime as there will be countless teams eager to pay him more than the Cowboys can possibly afford.
We’ll build through the draft, you say. That’s how the good teams have done it. Okay. But, have you seen some of the Cowboys’ drafts? Despite some improvement in the last couple of years, the Cowboys have not exactly been a draft “machine”. First of all, they somehow manage to win just enough games to make sure they draft in the middle of the pack. You know, that’s where most of the surefire, impact players in a draft are already off the board. Then, with only a few exceptions do their draft picks become bona fide stars. Dez Bryant is finally developing into one and will hopefully continue on that arc. But, far too often lately, we see a player burst on to the scene and then fade over time due to injuries or lack of consistent talent around them. Felix Jones is one example. DeMarco Murray might be another if he can’t stay healthy. Sean Lee could become a dominant linebacker. But, he too has struggled to complete an entire season. The draft only works to build a team if you have a consistent flow of talent that develops and can stay healthy enough to eventually replace the starters. You know that the Cowboys just have not shown the ability to do that.
Yes, they’ve got a great scouting department. And, yes, they’ve uncovered some real diamonds in the rough for the team the last couple of seasons when they needed bodies to fill spots for players lost to injury or free agency. But, no one believes that is a way to build a winning organization. The Cowboys need to be better on the front end.
Look, we’re not here to crush your dreams or rain on your parade. Optimism is a great thing. But, too much of a good thing in the face of all the evidence to the contrary starts is just pathetic. I know you love the Cowboys. We do too. But, the first step to addressing a problem is to realize you have one. This team has a lot of issues and they aren’t doing the things that are going to make them noticeably better anytime soon. Don’t jump off the Cowboys band wagon. But, understand their bandwagon – which was once shiny and modern back in the 90’s – now looks like a Yugo with bald tires. It’s still a car but it isn’t anything you’d want to show off.
So, let’s get you some help. If you are willing to go, we’ve arranged to have you admitted to a fan rehab facility. They will help you continue to love and root for your beloved Cowboys but with a more realistic view of where this team really stands. They will take away your rose colored glasses. They will teach you how to objectively evaluate what they do based on reality and not on feelings. Head over heart. In the long run, it’s better this way. You won’t have to continually build up your hopes only to have this team rip your heart out and stomp on it. Good luck! Go Cowboys!