As the Dallas Cowboys began training camp, team owner Jerry Jones once again revealed what remains a fundamental flaw in his role as general manager:
He sees his franchise through a distorted force field of relentless optimism, arguably more so than any other power broker in the NFL.
“My curse,” he called it in July, describing his tendency to dwell only on past successes.
When Jones describes it this way, he is half right and half wrong. Right to see it as a curse, wrong to see it as a hex that only evokes Jerry Jones. If anything, that prism has become a primary problem for the entire Cowboys franchise. And it seems to be getting worse rather than better.
Check out Thursday’s news that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith has suffered another major injury, this time a torn left hamstring that could knock him out until December or later. Valued for what it really is, most around the Cowboys see it in blunt terms: a major loss that will compound an already sizable talent drain since the end of last season. Not to mention the spotlight on yet another area of the Cowboys roster that Jones overrated entering this season.
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This is a reasonable response to the hole that has opened up in Smith’s absence. Another problem created by another dice roll that didn’t work. And there’s been some of that since last offseason, from banking on Smith to stay healthy (something he hasn’t for years) to chasing a salary cap surplus by releasing right tackle La’el Collins and effectively trading of wide receiver Amari Cooper nothing, then he falls short of depth investments at wideout and offensive line.
All of these represent garden variety mistakes that are made frequently throughout the NFL. Things like that happen. But if enough happen, the general manager is fired. With Jones putting on those shoes in Dallas, that can’t happen. And the result is someone at the controls who seems to have a disturbingly persistent habit (or flaw) of overstating the state of the football product or the problems that plague it.
Make no mistake, Dallas is in trouble here. The offensive line was already under the microscope. Now he has a serious potential issue if this isn’t fixed with some sort of move before the season starts. In some ways, this injury is a worst-case scenario for an offense that was already shuffling roles due to offseason losses while leaning on some bleak health bets. Jones essentially dismissed those concerns with a smile in July, stating flatly, “I think we’re in better shape to do it than we were at this time last year.”
Of course he did. Because of Jerry’s warp field curse.
That’s a big part of the problem with Jerry Jones continuing to tinker with the roster. Because he always seems to look at his players and imagine that he will get the best out of each of them. Or that the team will take the breaks needed to overcome problems. That’s why he sees the defense coming in to save the day, quarterback Dak Prescott overcoming losses at receiver, inexperienced players stepping into the offensive line — and what always seems to be his personal favorite flag of optimism, Ezekiel Elliott somehow takes Dallas to the promised land again.
Consider what Jones said about Elliott during an appearance Thursday on ESPN: “He’s in the best shape he’s ever been. It’s still a fact: We go as Zeke goes. I know it’s a lot on Dak’s shoulders, but we go as Zeke goes. He is very capable of being everything we wanted him to be [him] to be.”
Fair enough. Now filter those words through the current state of the NFL. Go back and find the last Super Bowl winning team that had a cow running back offense. Or better yet, identify the last Super Bowl MVP awarded to a running back. That hasn’t happened this century, and the last time it happened, a solid part of the Cowboys’ roster hadn’t even been born.
But Jones sees Zeke through his distortion field, eternally hopeful that this is the season he’ll finally break through. Just like he’s already wildly optimistic about Tyron Smith’s healthy return in December, despite the fact that Smith hasn’t even had surgery yet. Does not matter. Jones is already committed to Smith’s return amid a playoff push that’s apparently playing on a loop in his head.
“We’re going to have him and we’re going to have him at the right time,” Jones told ESPN of Smith’s return. “We’ll have him in that San Francisco [playoff] game, the same one we had last year”.
That’s a good statement for a player who has had injury problems for six years. But it’s on brand for an owner and general manager who seemingly always convinces himself that the best is just around the corner. Better team, better coaching job, better Super Bowl game. All fueled by a seemingly limitless belief that this time it will be different.
A result followed that had not existed for a long time.