Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Rabid Reaction: Beware the R-word peddlers
By Ben Rogers
Rabid Reaction: Our series of knee-jerk-styled, emotional overreactions from Ben Rogers of 103.3 FM ESPN's Ben and Skin Show. He's known to get way too excited over even the slightest of developments with the teams he grew up with in the DFW. Proceed with caution ...
The word on the street is a horde of hoodwinked football souls are out peddling doom and gloom to an already beleaguered and vulnerable Dallas Cowboys fan base. Half-empty glass brokers are cornering susceptible co-workers at water coolers, pulling up barstools next to defenseless buddies at happy hour, and fashioning well-worded, panic-inducing crisis columns on world class websites.
Not only are these Debbie Downers breaking out their giant Paul Bunyan axes on your trees of hope, but they’re also using extremely rude langue in the process. They’re throwing around the “R-word” like it’s a Nerf football in your front yard on Thanksgiving Day.
Now that’s just plain reckless.
To classify a team as being in “rebuilding mode” is to say that they have zero chance for success in the present. Teams rebuild when they hit rock bottom, can longer compete, lose all remaining shreds of hope and have no choice but to tear everything down and start over.
August pigeonholing of an NFL team as such is a flat-out declaration that their upcoming season is entirely inconsequential.
The idea is that a rebuilding team sacrifices their short-term aspirations in an effort to invest in their future. Take a step back now in order to take two forward down the road. Play the youngest guys you can find in your locker room during a season that won’t matter in hopes that the experience will pay off for those players once games matter again some day.
People who think along these lines generally believe there are just two gears for a franchise engine: rebuild, and contend. They think you do your best to build a contender until it clearly runs out of gas, and then you tear it down and start over.
The reality is that the healthiest sports organizations simultaneously execute both gears. They are not mutually exclusive.
When the Cowboys added five-time Pro-Bowl center Andre Gurode to the parade of veterans being shown the door, local panic mongers leapt at the opportunity to scream “Shark!” on the football beach.
They alleged that by overhauling their offensive line with three young, new starters, the Cowboys have given clear indication that they are officially (gulp!) rebuilding. After all, how can they part ways with legends like Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Gurode? How can they replace them with two rookies (Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy) and a second-year player (Phil Costa)? How can they do that and expect to compete with the likes of the mighty Philadelphia Eagles in the treacherous NFC East?
The Eagles, who just treated free agency like it was their own private superstar buffet, would never find themselves in the embarrassing and pitiful position that the Cowboys do with their offensive line. They wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Someone hand Jason Garrett a white towel, quickly. Stop the fight! Stop the fight!
Um, yeah ... about that.
Truth is, the Philadelphia World Champs of August find themselves in an extremely similar situation with their big uglies. As it stands now, it appears that they too will start two bright-eyed rookies (RG Danny Watkins and C Jason Kelce) on their offensive line. In addition, they’ve moved their left guard of the past several seasons, Todd Herremans, to right tackle and will be starting Evan Mathis at left guard. He joined their team a week into camp.
Maybe the incredibly average Winston Justice hobbles back to the rescue at tackle to save the day a few weeks into the season. Either way, the Eagles are still looking at two rookies and lots of chaos on the offensive line that protects their $100 million quarterback.
So with all of that youth and transition, are the Eagles rebuilding too?
No. Of course not. They signed most of their post-lockout free agent horses to one-year deals. They’re in go-for-it-now mode as much as anyone in the league, and you better believe they’re contenders.
By the way, last season the Eagles went to the playoffs as one of the youngest teams in the league, which ultimately proves that they were both rebuilding and contending simultaneously.
That’s not to say that the Cowboys are anywhere near as rosy-cheeked an organization as the Eagles, who seem to have more cap room hidden under their mattress than any team in the history of ever. But perhaps the Cowboys are learning a thing or two from their hated rival.
Working young players into the mix is merely a sign of a healthy franchise. It’s nothing to panic over. Jason Garrett has created a competitive environment where no job is secure based solely on contract commas. Fierce competition for jobs will bring the best out of a football team that has admittedly felt "entitled" in the past.
It’s a sizable leap to go from fueling the fires of competition to cowering under the umbrella of surrender.
Besides, why would a team with superstars in the prime of their prime like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff concede a season in a league drenched in parity sauce? Let’s not forget that the NFC featured a 7-9 team in the playoffs last year.
The Cowboys’ schedule doesn’t exactly breathe fire on tiny people. It’s hardly a scary monster. Nine of their first 12 opponents had sub-.500 records in 2010. Why in the world would they concede this upcoming season in order to rebuild?
Granted, they have holes. Their new offensive line will need to find continuity quickly in order to keep Romo off of a stretcher. And you get the feeling that this new defense will remain a work in progress as the mad silver-mulleted scientist Rob Ryan and his two-ton playbook will take some time for players to wrap their arms around. But once again, the schedule is more than willing to lend a helping hand as the Cowboys work out the kinks.
A bye in Week 5 is generally viewed as a potential disruption for early season momentum. Teams typically would rather have the bye in the back half of the season to give broken bodies an extra week to recover before the stretch run. However, in the Cowboys' case, considering that the lockout deprived them of critical installation time for Ryan’s mysterious blueprint, Week 5 will serve as an ideal opportunity to regroup, adjust and move forward with four games of valuable film to dissect.
This team is two years removed from being 11-5 with a playoff win. They rid themselves of a somewhat directionless head coach, replaced a stale defensive scheme and have run off a handful of generals from the entitlement brigade.
Uncontaminated competition at it’s purest is fueling a talent revolution at Valley Ranch. Suddenly, Cowboys draft picks can do more than grab Bill Parcells a cup of water and accompany Tony Romo to an exotic beach destination. A much-maligned football culture has been miraculously transformed.
Their schedule is friendly. Their quarterback is healthy. Their defense will soon learn the ways of the Ryan family swagger. Most importantly, their head coach is in charge.
This thing is finally headed in the right direction, and it isn’t backwards.
If anyone tries to tell you that the Cowboys are “rebuilding”, just smile and ask yourself if they truly understand the meaning of that big "R-word" that they’re so recklessly brandishing.