Commentary

Cowboys players lack accountability

Coaches have felt Jerry Jones' wrath, but core of roster is given a free pass

Updated: March 21, 2013, 4:11 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

PHOENIX -- It might be time to break up the band.

Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones says he likes his core group of players and wouldn't change much about them.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
Zumapress/Icon SMIFelix Jones has been a disappointment and has struggled to stay healthy, so what sense would it make to bring him back?

He should.

All this core has done is send Bill Parcells into retirement, get Wade Phillips fired and jeopardize Jason Garrett's job security for 2013.

But Jones has a different take on his current team.

"I feel better about the talent level of our team over the last two years than maybe others do," Jones said. "I just don't think that it's the smartest move for us to really abandon the direction we were going personnel-wise."

The reality is the Cowboys are 16-16 over the last two seasons and have missed the playoffs the last three years. They are in a salary-cap mess, with little money to obtain free agents.

It's one thing to make roster moves because of salary-cap restraints, but at some point Jones has to put players on notice.

Jones' allegiance to the core has to stop. And it has to stop today!

Sure, Jones made coaches uncomfortable this offseason by getting rid of the defensive coordinator, the tight ends coach and the running backs coach, and allowing the special teams coach to go elsewhere.

But the players need to be held accountable, too.

Turnover is part of life in the NFL, unless you are talking about the Cowboys. Yes, Jones let players go this offseason because of the salary cap. Gerald Sensabaugh and Dan Connor were notable casualties.

But what about the Jason Wittens of the world? What about DeMarcus Ware?

Not to suggest the Cowboys should trade or release elite players, but if they have a chance to draft an elite pass rusher next month, will they do it?

They should.

Sometimes putting pressure on the core of your team -- the stars -- can be beneficial.

Remember in 2007 when the Cowboys drafted Anthony Spencer in the first round? Greg Ellis was calling his agent telling him he needed more money to stay.

Remember when the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant in 2010? Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd called their agents asking to find new homes. How about when Sean Lee was selected in the second round? Bradie James started looking over his shoulder.

It's not about age, it's about creating competition and making the team better.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost several key players because of the salary cap and elected not to re-sign others for a variety of reasons.

"It's always tough, but that's part of our business," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We are required to move on and move forward. Sometimes that includes guys and sometimes that doesn't."

The Baltimore Ravens lost Ray Lewis to retirement. Cary Williams, one of their best corners, signed elsewhere. Leading tackler Dannell Ellerbe and solid pass-rusher Paul Kruger are gone. Safety Bernard Pollard is done. Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer, is thinking about signing a deal with Houston.

These are the defending Super Bowl champions we're talking about, and they aren't afraid to turn over their roster.

"We're moving forward to next year, just like we have for the last five years," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Every year is a new year, and 2013 is going to be a new challenge and you take a new team. No team ever stays the same. We understand it."

The Cowboys have to understand this, right?

That's why it's strange to hear Jones talk about keeping the door open for backup running back Felix Jones, who has been a major disappointment due in large part injuries.

Why not bring in younger talent?

If the Cowboys are going to ascend to another level, putting players on notice is key. Jones can't worry about hurting feelings, and in some ways he needs to pull away from his close relationships with the players.

Jones needs to cut people. He needs to make it known that three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs is not acceptable.

Maybe the coaches know that.

The players?

That's a different story. And it has to change.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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