Ask any Dallas Cowboys fan about their team’s approach to the offseason over the last decade and two words will come to mind, conservative and frustrating. Of course, these words can be accompanied by a couple of words that are not suitable for reading in this space.
It’s no secret how the Cowboys operate in free agency these days. Traditionally, the organization waits for the first wave or two of big-name players getting paid, then swoops in and signs a few cheap options to fill holes on its roster. The process leaves most fans disappointed, although it is now expected.
Watching other teams get aggressive and attack the best players while the Cowboys sit back, even after 10 years, is still not an acquired taste. It wasn’t always like this.
The year was 2012 and Jerry Jones was in go for it mode. With the Cowboys coming off seasons where they failed to make the playoffs, Dallas had an aggressive offseason plan. The team signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract with $26.5 million guaranteed to improve the secondary.
Jones and the Cowboys didn’t stop there, the team also added running back Kyle Orton to combat any injury that could befall starting quarterback Tony Romo and spoil his season. Orton’s three-year deal was a sign that the team was serious about competing if Romo wasn’t in the lineup.
There were other signs in the middle of the road such as tackles Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, lineman Dan Connor and safety Brodney Pool. All of them were expected to contribute, but the final piece of the offensive puzzle that offseason was the draft trade for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys traded their first- and second-round picks to move up to Claiborne sixth overall in the draft.
What a time to be a Cowboys fan! The big deal for Carr and the trade for Claiborne was the last time the team got aggressive in the offseason. Although Carr was a very good player on defense, intercepting seven passes in his Cowboys career, the CB never lived up to expectations. Still, Carr was as durable as he was, never missing a game in five seasons.
Claiborne didn’t live up to what was expected of him, never living up to the hype of a top CB. Playing out his original deal in Dallas, Claiborne had just four interceptions with the team and failed to play in a single game. The Cowboys did not offer the cornerback another contract.
Adding Carr and Claiborne in 2012, the Cowboys failed to cash in on the investment, winning just one playoff game in five years.
Since that time, the organization has become very shy when it comes to adding expensive free agents and not nearly as aggressive in acquiring talent. Dallas’ biggest moves since 2012 were trading a first-round pick for Amari Cooper, signing troubled forward Greg Hardy to a one-year, $11.3 million deal, and trading a sixth-round pick to pay defensive end Robert Quinn $6 million.
Along with defensive end Gerald McCoy’s 2020 contract for just over $6 million a year, they are the only outfielders the organization has invested more than $5 million a year in since 2012. Other than McCoy, whose injury ended the year before it began , all other big investments welcome the team.
Cooper had four good seasons in Dallas, earning a new contract with the team at an average annual salary of $20 million before being traded, Quinn had 11.5 sack years with the Cowboys, and although there was one questionable year with the team, Hardy had six sacks in 12 games. Who would have thought that the cost of acquiring the best talent would produce the best results.
Outside of Cooper, Quinn, Hardy and McCoy, it was those 10 years for the Cowboys in acquiring talent outside of the draft. Still, they watched as other teams were energetic in their pursuit of the best players and winning the Super Bowl. The Tampa Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles are all examples of being persistent in adding top talent, and all have been successful. Both the Rams and Eagles have been to two Super Bowls in the last decade, winning and losing one each.
Yet here are the Cowboys under Stephen and Jerry Jones, refusing to push their chips into the middle to get close to another big play. However, this offseason is said to be when they made a significant move (or two).
This would be music to the ears of Cowboys fans; they’ve been waiting a long time for the team to jump into the offseason with some sense of urgency. After essentially waiting 10 years for a team to sign a high-quality free agent or trade for a top player, there’s a sense that it might finally happen.
The decision to go assertive would be a huge change in philosophy for the organization, but one might ask what’s the worst that could happen? Dallas has been doing things their way for a decade and only has two playoff wins to show for the draft and development. It’s a path that has produced good teams that have won championships, but that was never the goal.
Maybe the Joneses got tired of watching teams get aggressive and win championships. The owner is 80 years old and might be nervous about winning another Super Bowl before time runs out.
Or, maybe, Jerry and Stephen Jones have fooled the fans again and will go the same way this season. Talking about changes and making changes are two different things and the Cowboys are very slow to admit they are wrong.
Most fans will be happy if the team at least goes for it, but if the move(s) fall through, the euphoria could be short-lived. The risk is that the Joneses tuck their tails between their legs and become conservative again. Can Cowboys fans deal with the team not being aggressive for another 10+ years? The team has become timid after the last big moves failed, will they allow the same to happen if they try again and fail?
Spending money and possible cap space sounds great now, too, but if it doesn’t result in the franchise getting closer to the Super Bowl, how will the Cowboys recover? Losing top cap space and draft picks will make it harder for the team to improve if the big move(s) don’t work out. Rebuilding is not a word the franchise likes to hear and if their strategy doesn’t come to fruition, that could be the route they take.
Most fans are willing to take those risks because playing conservatively hasn’t gotten the Cowboys anywhere and it’s time to do something different. It is a greater risk to do the same thing and expect different results.
Dallas has the quarterback and core to be a title contender, they just need to be aggressive in finding top talent to get them over the hump. If not now, when?
No one can be sure what the Cowboys are thinking or planning this offseason. One thing is for sure though, if they get aggressive most fans will accept the results of what comes from actually trying.
You can chat with Ben or follow him on Twitter @BenGrimaldi