I got this text this morning from Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com:
"Jerry Jones thinks they can win a title this year."
Not sure why Calvin sent me that text, since he didn't follow it up after I replied. Could be he was just being a good teammate and alerting me to this post he was about to do off of the radio interview in which the Dallas Cowboys owner said that about his team. Could be he was trying to tell me he (and/or Jerry) disagreed with the column I wrote Sunday off of the Cowboys-Ravens game. My paranoid insecurity made me lean toward the latter, since I sometimes get the sense the Cowboys guys at ESPNDallas.com think I'm an idiot who lives in New Jersey and has no idea what's going on there. They could be right, of course, for thinking that. But all I can do is communicate my impressions based on what I see and the people to whom I speak.
Regardless, let's take a look at what Jones said today and the extent to which it does or does not contradict my working theory that the Cowboys are a team focused on the future beyond 2012:
"We've got to have some wins to make sure we're in the hunt, but I keep pointing out we're fresh off a world champion (Giants) that won nine of 16 ballgames last year," Jones said on his radio show on KRLD-FM Tuesday morning. "We know you want your team as healthy and as in sync as it can be as we get on into the end of the season. We know we've played one division game and won it. We got those guys (the Giants) coming back in here. We know that's going to be a big game for us.
"All of those things give us a chance to take a team that is, if you look at the pluses (Sunday), evolving into a team that can compete for the championship. Not next year. This year."
Jones was then asked again whether he meant to say the Cowboys would win a championship this season.
"Correct," Jones said. "Let me emphasize that. I'm not into everybody getting better or learning for years to come. It's this year."
First of all, as I said to Calvin in response to his text, I'd certainly hope Jones would believe this about his team. If he didn't, then who would? And I think it's important for any leader of men to let those men know he has confidence in them. The Cowboys are going about their daily and weekly business in an effort to win the games in front of them, and while the organization may be working on piecing together a sustainable long-term framework, the business of the people playing football for the Cowboys in 2012 is to try and win right now.
However, when you look at the way the Cowboys have run their team since the end of the 2011 lockout -- the draft picks, the player personnel changes and the coaching staff changes made in the past 15 months -- you see a team thinking big picture. Head coach Jason Garrett is at the center of that big picture, with a clear hand in all of those changes, and this is what he said to me when I asked him about it in Oxnard in early August:
"We're trying to build our football team for 2012, but we're also trying to build a football program. To put a program in place that's going to have sustained winning for years to come. 'Build' is an important word for us."
So, does that concept contradict what Jones is saying on the radio this week? I don't think so. The first piece of justification Jones offered for his belief that the Cowboys could win this year was that the Super Bowl champion New York Giants only won nine games in the regular season last year. The implication (which could be bolstered, if he wanted to, by the fact that the Green Bay Packers only won 10 in their Super Bowl season the year before) is that a team doesn't have to be a dominant finished product in October in order to be a champion in February.
Jones was extremely encouraged, as he should have been, by the way his team played Sunday in Baltimore. That and the fact that they beat the Giants in New Jersey in Week 1 have left him believing the Cowboys can play with anyone in any stadium on any given week. For that reason, he believes the Cowboys are "evolving into a team that can compete for the championship." And again, fair enough. He should believe that, and he should let his team and its fans know he does.
But the issue with the Cowboys is one of consistency, which is the issue with any team in its rebuild phase. There remain depth concerns and holes on the roster, as there do with any team in its rebuild phase. Lack of roster depth shows up in things like poor kick coverage, and late-game struggles on the defensive line. Jones might feel good about this team's chances, but he'll feel better about the chances of next year's team once they've spent another offseason addressing their remaining issues and developing some of the guys they drafted this year.
Meantime, though, he's not insane to think the Cowboys could improve over the final 11 games and make a run. We've all seen teams whose rebuilds have borne fruit earlier than expected. The chance is excellent that whichever team wins this year's Super Bowl will be a flawed one that many people failed to see coming. Off of a game like the one his team played in Baltimore, you can understand why Jones would dare to hope his could be such a team. Off a game like the one his team played against the Bears before the bye week, it would have been tougher to understand.
Jones believes his team is moving in the right direction. He trusts the people who are running it. There's no "or else" in his comments about their chances to win this year, and I fully believe he's committed to Garrett and the long-term plan. It's just that he thinks it'd be nice if it would hurry up a bit, and this week he happens to be able to convince himself it might. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever.