Kevin Sherrington: Kool-Aid Drinker Jerry Jones Hasn’t Learned Important Football Lesson
(From the Thursday, October 22, 2015 editions of the Dallas Morning News)
by Kevin Sherrington
IRVING — As has been noted previously in this space, Jerry Jones is at heart an incurable optimist when it comes to his Cowboys. He doesn’t just sell the Kool-Aid, he drinks it. And occasionally, as was the case in the Super Bowl years, his faith has been rewarded.
And then there’s this season, when everything went boom.
Let’s be clear: No team can afford to lose its Pro Bowl quarterback, Pro Bowl receiver or league rushing champion. But you don’t have to look so clueless once you do, either.
Going into this week’s game against the Giants in the Meadowlands, not only will Matt Cassel replace Brandon Weeden at quarterback, it appears Christine Michael may chair the running back committee. Basically, a couple of guys they pretty much picked up for peanuts during the season have already beaten out the incumbents.
Let that sink in a moment: The Cowboys not only admitted defeat in judging their backup quarterback and starting running back, they didn’t even have the right guys in the house.
The receivers who came back from last season haven’t exactly stepped up in Dez Bryant’s absence, either. Let’s not forget that the biggest play so far by any offensive player is a 67-yard reception by Brice Butler, another recent addition. The Cowboys were so desperate to add him to the mix, they activated him five days after he showed up.
And if Butler hadn’t pulled a hammy on that 67-yard catch, there’s no telling where might now fit in the pecking order at receiver.
While we’re at it, the Cowboys have yet to fill the vacancy left in the return game by the departure of Dwayne Harris. Jason Garrett doesn’t trust the rookie, Lucky Whitehead, which makes you wonder why keep him. I don’t count Cole Beasley, who’s basically been told to catch the ball and avoid contact at all costs. This explains his 4.3 yards per punt return, 44th in the league.
For some perspective: Philadelphia’s Darren Sproles leads all qualifying punt returners at 19.9. You figure the Cowboys could use another 15 yards of field position this year?
No, there aren’t many players like Sproles, but then again it doesn’t seem too much to ask that a punt returner be asked to do more than just make like Delino DeShields playing centerfield.
Once again, if Tony Romo and Dez weren’t hurt, some of these failures may not have been so glaring. But that’s the thing about the NFL; players are always getting injured when it’s most inconvenient.
Jerry’s problem is he came up in a time when the best Cowboys almost never got hurt, and he’s never gotten over it.
Back when the Cowboys were going to Super Bowls, Jerry could get away with Curvin Richards or Derrick Lassic or Sherman Williams as a backup running back because Emmitt Smith never came off the field. Same with Troy Aikman at quarterback and Michael Irvin at wide receiver.
Last season’s surprising success led to brash characterizations of a new set of triplets: Tony Romo, Dez and DeMarco Murray, who did, indeed, bear some resemblance to their ancestors.
The biggest difference was that the first triplets represented the Cowboys’ leading passer, rusher and receiver for eight straight years, by far the longest run of any threesome in Cowboys history. Jerry got so used to Aikman/Irvin/Emmitt winning games for him, he didn’t bother to consider life without them.
Everyone pretty much knows Jerry’s history drafting quarterbacks. Just five in a quarter-century, three in his first three seasons. He doesn’t believe in investing in a position already occupied, which is how he ended up with Weeden and now Cassel.
You might recall he’s not much on drafting running backs, either. Other than Emmitt, his biggest success story has been Murray. No use rehashing the decision to let him walk, a mistake by both parties. But even if you can justify the financial decision, there’s no excuse for not really trying to replace him or at least add to the possibilities.
Last spring’s draft was one of the deepest in years at running back, yet the Cowboys passed. I can’t argue with Byron Jones in the first or Randy Gregory in the second, and La’el Collins was a free-agent steal. But it doesn’t appear they got much help after the second, when there were several big, powerful backs who might have offered something in the way of Murray’s style.
They could have had Florida’s Matt Jones, a 6-1, 230-pounder who went in the third round to Washington, or USC’s Javorius Allen, 6-0, 220, a fourth-rounder by Baltimore. Seattle signed 5-9, 215-pound Thomas Rawls as a rookie free agent, and all he’s done is rush for 334 yards and a 5.7 average and render Christine Michael a trade chip to the Cowboys.
Or the Cowboys could have had Florida State’s Karlos Williams, who lasted until the fifth round at 6-1, 230 pounds because he’s a little new to the position and was investigated in college for domestic battery, though no charges were filed. Buffalo took a chance on him, and he’s rushed for 226 yards and three touchdowns on just 42 carries, a 5.4-yard average.
Williams might have been a character risk, but the possibility has rarely stopped Jerry before.
What gives him pause above all else is the notion that everything’s going to be just fine. What he’s yet to learn, at least in football, is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Like now, for instance.