How far removed are we from the version of Jerry Jones who would approach the Cowboys’ current predicament with a lit match and a can of good old Texas gasoline?
At one point this was a guarantee. Before the Jason Garrett era, one which brought out an unprecedented amount of patience from the league’s most powerful owner, Jones would be gearing up for one of his beautiful performances: a ballet of vague threats and bold assertions about the talent he’d assembled on the roster and why it wasn’t operating the way it should. The Cowboys were not allowed to be bad. In another time, in another place, they were most certainly not allowed to be lose by 23 to the hapless division rival Washington Team bad.
It would be fascinating to hold a place inside Dallas’s central brain trust right now as they assess both their immediate surroundings and what the next few years might look like. The lay football world would probably give them a pass after Dak Prescott went down with a dislocated ankle (and on Sunday, backup Andy Dalton was knocked out of the game with a head injury in the third quarter), but the eldest Jones is not playing a long game. The Mike McCarthy hire was one of assurance. He arrived with Super Bowl credentials and a season (he says) spent riding the cutting edge of football. Given the lot of coaches available once Garrett was dismissed, following Jones’s thought process was as transparent as it could get.
And now, here they are at 2–5. There are some fortified whispers of locker room discord. The offense, despite some promise when Kellen Moore emerged as one of the game’s great young play callers a year ago, again looks dated and afraid of its own shadow. The Ezekiel Elliott contract gets heavier with each passing week, dragging the team and its eventual cap flexibility in the mud. The defense is among the worst in football. McCarthy has delivered on none of his grand introductory press conference promises, not to mention the even grander promises he made during a slew of media hype pieces that catapulted him back onto the coaching carousel.
Had it not been for the emergence of rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and his torrid start, there would be almost nothing to pick from this ugly heap of a season. Lamb had zero catches today.
After the wreckage of this season has been cleared, the Cowboys will enter their offseason evaluation completely rudderless on the defensive side of the football and without their most important offensive player under contract. Prescott, too, could still be working on some nebulous recovery timetable only a few months removed from a seriously broken ankle. The players might not like the coach. The once vaunted offensive line grows another year older, requiring the kind of increasingly routine maintenance and, ultimately, skepticism that comes after so many miles.
Is it fair to say the old Jones would have come up with a fire-and-brimstone exit strategy by now? Is it fair to say that if the postgame locker room interviews had not gone totally virtual this season, he would have been lurking by the door waiting for a phalanx of cameras to broadcast his displeasure? Would we have been talking about McCarthy being a one-and-done candidate without immediately adding naw, he wouldn’t, would he?
While much has been made about Jones’s urgent personal quest for another Super Bowl, and perhaps another dynasty as he crawls into his eighties, far less has been written about the rapidly ticking timetable on this Cowboys roster—the one Jones might have felt gave him the best chance to achieve said goal while he remains an active presence with the franchise. What happens now that it has become clear that McCarthy cannot deliver, even among the most pitiful of seasons for the NFC East in division history with an adequate backup quarterback?
What will the new Jerry Jones do, and how much like the old Jerry Jones is he willing to become?