The Dallas Cowboys need to re-sign Dak Prescott to a long-term deal, pay the bill on Amari Cooper’s fifth-year option, make some room for free agent Earl Thomas, figure out a way to keep DeMarcus Lawrence from hitting the open market without using a second consecutive franchise tag and stash away a little cash to pacify Ezekiel Elliott once his contract expires.
But Jerry Jones and his franchise shook up the scouting combine on Thursday by getting a jump start on free agency—and signing TE Jason Witten. Witten, who seemingly had no other suitors, was lured out of his job as ESPN’s Monday Night Football color analyst for a max value of $5 million, at age 36, to play on this Super Bowl-or-bust Cowboys team in 2019.
This was all on brand for Jones and the Cowboys, from the quixotic dip into their past to the eventual realization that it’s probably not going to be easy to figure out how they’re going to pay for all of it and adhere to the salary cap.
Some have called it laying the groundwork for a potential coaching candidate to join the staff. Some have called it a way to pacify Prescott, who still targeted Witten nearly 90 times during the 2017 NFL season, when Witten last played. Both of those may be true, though it’s obvious that Jones is bulling through conventional thought, the way he tends to do, to continue buoying a team that he thinks is 100% capable of making a Super Bowl run.
It’s a well-worn platitude to say that a team is all-in. Dallas is always all-in, and has been since the moment Jones purchased the team in 1989. This is different, more of a strange insistence on winning a certain way with certain players who are plucked directly from the Jones tree. Think of Mark Davis’s fever dream of restoring the Raiders to glory with Jon Gruden on the sidelines, or the Giants’ insistence in prolonging the halcyon days of Eli Manning.
There will come a time when Jones doesn’t have a choice but to blow it up. Hand-picked head coach Jason Garrett has won just two playoff games, the second of which came after a late push to bolster their offense at the trade deadline by spending significant draft capital on Cooper. Elliott will begin to lose the tread. The vaunted offensive line will drift apart, or become too expensive to maintain.
For now, his urge to maximize the window of Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin is understandable. It may never get this good again. Despite Jones’s prior successes, this may be one of his most impressive instances of team building (simply by measure of talent accumulation at one time, minus the ability to properly utilize the talent on the field). In that way, Witten does not necessarily represent the singular talent that will push Prescott and Garrett over the edge, but instead serves as the nostalgic cherry on top.
If this team is going to go down, it is going to go down Jerry’s way.
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