Oct 23, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on the field before the game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Justice: What does Jerry Jones do about a team that’s too good to blow up, but not nearly good enough to win a Super Bowl?
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finds himself in the absolute worst place the man in charge of a professional sports team can be. His team is too good to blow up, but not nearly good enough to win a championship.
Lots of NFL teams would love to have back-to-back 12-5 seasons. In Dallas, though, all that matters is winning a Super Bowl, and the Cowboys are nowhere close to doing that.
His head coach, Mike McCarthy, has won 25 games the last two seasons and taken the Cowboys to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 15 years.
The Texans would kill for a couple of seasons like that. In Dallas, though, anything less than a Super Bowl is a bad season, even after all the mediocrity of recent seasons.
Jones allowed McCarthy to dangle after the Cowboys looked ill-prepared in a playoff loss to the 49ers last season. On Sunday, he was emphatic that McCarthy is his guy.
“Well, I’m so proud that he’s our coach,’’ Jones said. “I give him a lot of credit for where we are. He has the credentials. He has won a Super Bowl as a head coach, and he has put a team together and watched it evolve the way this team is evolving. That’s one of the reasons I hired him.”
Likewise, Dak Prescott. He’s certainly in the top half of NFL quarterbacks. He may not appear to be good enough to win a Super Bowl. He certainly wasn’t in Sunday’s 19-12 loss to the 49ers.
Two interceptions led to six of San Francisco’s nine points in the first half, continuing a trend in which he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this season despite a hand injury sidelining him for five games.
“The number it has gotten to is ridiculous,” Prescott said of the interceptions. “I can promise it will never get this high again. I promise it.’’
His $31-million guaranteed salary in 2023 and the more than $80 million remaining on his current deal would complicate any transaction. Besides, Jones professed his support for Prescott on Sunday.
“Give me that setup a year in advance, a month in advance, give me Dak as quarterback, and I feel very strong we will win,’’ Jones said. “Asking me, I guess, how do you feel in confidence with Dak? It’s strong, just as strong as ever. It’s great to have him out there.’’
McCarthy is right that the Cowboys are better, especially since Jones turned many personnel decisions over to Will McClay, his respected de facto general manager.
McClay has found impact players in every draft, especially pass-rusher Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick in 2021, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb with the 17th pick in 2020, and running back Tony Pollard with the 128th choice in 2019.
Pollard rushed for 1,007 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry this season, even as Ezekiel Elliott got more carries in what likely is his final season with the Cowboys.
Had Pollard not suffered a gruesome leg injury in the first half, the Cowboys might have had enough of a running game to win the game. Without him, they stopped trying to run it, and Prescott didn’t have his best day.
Dallas talk radio will be on fire this week with suggestions that Jerry go get Sean Payton. Based on his comments, Jerry does not seem inclined to even have a conversation with Payton, a former Cowboys assistant.
This surely isn’t about control or ego. If Jerry was willing to hire Bill Parcells, he’d almost certainly have no problem working with Payton. As for control over personnel, here’s guessing Payton and McClay would get along famously, each understanding and respecting what the other brings to the table.
Besides, it’s impossible to argue that a team that just put together consecutive 12-5 seasons is all that broken. The Cowboys need another receiving threat to draw coverage away from Lamb and a young running back in case Pollard departs via free agency.
Prescott was tremendous last week in a victory over the Bucs, but in a game that could have helped elevate him in the hearts and minds of Cowboys fans, he wasn’t good enough.
Jones looked all of his 80 years as he chatted with reporters in a Sunday postgame scrum. He knows all the things that had to go right for the Cowboys to win 13 times this season, but he also knows it wasn’t close to achieving what he’d hoped to achieve.
Super Bowl? That shouldn’t be in the conversation at this point. They’re not within shouting distance of another one of those.
Nor is an NFC Championship Game the immediate goal. Not for a team that has lost seven straight games in the division round and is 27 years removed from their last NFC Championship Game. Baby steps, etc.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” McCarthy said. “This has been an incredible journey with this group of men. We just came up short to a very good football team.”