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Monday, March 3, 2014
Present, future a challenge for Cowboys

By Todd Archer

Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones has been trying to balance the acts of owner and general manager for 25 years.
IRVING, Texas -- It is never easy to decipher Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Stories go on and on and sometimes never reach an end. Statements are made to a point, but sometimes there is no conclusion. Proclamations are made that completely counter proclamations made minutes earlier.

It sometimes sounds as if the general manager is talking out loud to the owner as he answers questions.

For more than a few years, there has been a common thread in talk surrounding the Cowboys: When will Jerry the owner fire Jerry the general manager? It's wasted breath because it will never happen. That doesn't mean you don't ask the question, but you do so knowing the answer.

Listening to Jones on his bus at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, it was as if GM Jerry sat on one shoulder and Owner Jerry sat on the other. You have the feeling that whoever has the last speech wins.

As is their custom, the Cowboys coaches and scouts have dinner at St. Elmo Steak House in downtown Indianapolis, eating the spicy shrimp cocktail and expensive filets while sipping on the even more expensive Caymus Select wine.

The dinner lasts hours before eventually they leave in drips and drabs.

Jones recounted one discussion he had with his coaches.

"They were telling me about how guys with some experience, they just get it quicker," Jones said. "You don't need to make it complicated. They said how important it is to have free agents on your team. They just come in, and they know what to do where these rookies don't. Well, I'm talking to coaches when I'm listening to that. They want guys that immediately come in and do a better job but yet won't be probably by the end of the year."

That is the answer of a perfectly sound general manager. The GM has to always keep the future in mind. It is never about one season because a team is never one player away. The GM has to know that a draft is never just for the current season but for two, three, maybe four years down the road.

But during the course of the two-hour discussion with local media, Owner Jerry took over for a little bit.

"We need to try everything we got to compete and win next year," Jones said. "We don't have time with Romo, the stage he's at in his career. We don't have time to sit here, build for three or four years from now. And there's the challenge. So if we get it done, I know you guys will say that was a helluva job."

There is a natural fight between scouts and coaches. Scouts look at development and the long term. Coaches want players who can help them win right away.

This is the fight assistant director of player personnel Will McClay must wage. He has to convince Owner Jerry and GM Jerry that whatever plan the Cowboys devise this offseason is the right one. Jeff Ireland was able to do it for a few years, and the Cowboys had some of their better drafts.

Jason Garrett can say everything that will be done in procuring better players in the draft and free agency will be with the best interests of the Cowboys in mind. He is also a coach entering the final year of his contract and without a winning season will not be back in 2015.

Jones does not have a contract. He is as secure as a Supreme Court justice. He is 71, and the Cowboys have only two playoff victories since 1996. His desire to win has never been greater, and that has led to some unwise personnel decisions.

He takes the blame for what has gone wrong since the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX.

"Who the coach is falls directly at my feet," Jones said. "The players that are on the team, it falls directly at my feet. The contracts that are on the team fall at my feet. Did it fall directly at my feet to get Deion [Sanders] on the team? Did he make a difference in winning that Super Bowl? Of course he did. So that's at your feet. Are there things that are both positive and negative that will ultimately fall at my feet? There's no mistake about that."

Sanders was signed in 1995. A generation of Cowboys fans has grown up since then without its team sniffing a Super Bowl.

Not that Jones has made only poor decisions. In 2007, the Cowboys were 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC only to lose to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The common refrain from 2007 to 2010 was the Cowboys had some of the best personnel in the NFL. That is repeated by far too many now when it is simply not true.

There's a reason why most teams do not operate this way. There has to be a separation of state.

"My experience has been that it's a little bit like holding a couple handfuls of Jell-O," Jones said. "About the time you reach out and get a little cut off on one side, it's slipping out the other side. You just can list the kinds of things you need to do to have success and then, of course, the Super Bowl team will win it and we all know that all of a sudden that what wins is a rotation in the defensive line, fresh defensive linemen matter, what wins is the running game or what wins is this. … But the truth is there's different ways to win these games. That's what I've observed over the last 25 years."

So the Cowboys keep muddling along stuck between Owner Jerry and GM Jerry, hoping that things will come together.