When the Dallas Cowboys kicked off training camp, team owner Jerry Jones again revealed what has continued to be a fundamental flaw in his role as a general manager:
He sees his franchise through a distorted forcefield of unrelenting optimism, arguably more than any other power broker in the NFL.
“My curse,” he called it back in July, describing his inclination to fixate on only past successes.
When Jones describes it that way, he’s half right and half wrong. Correct in viewing it as a curse, incorrect in viewing it as a hex inflicting only Jerry Jones. If anything, that prism has become an overarching problem for the entire Cowboys franchise. And it appears to be getting worse.
Take Thursday’s news that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith has suffered another significant injury, this time a torn left hamstring that could knock him out until December or later. Assessed for what it actually is, most orbiting the Cowboys see it in blunt terms: a significant loss that will exacerbate an already sizable talent drain since the end of last season. Not to mention a spotlight on another area of the Cowboys' roster that Jones overestimated coming into this season.
That’s a reasonable response to the hole opened in Smith’s absence. Another problem created by another dice roll that hasn’t worked out. And there have been a few of those since last offseason, from banking on Smith to remain healthy (which he hasn’t for years) to chasing a salary cap surplus by releasing right tackle La’el Collins and trading wide receiver Amari Cooper for effectively nothing, then falling short on depth investments at wideout and on the offensive line.
All of which represents garden variety mistakes often made across the NFL. Things like this happen. But if they happen enough, the general manager gets fired. With Jones filing those shoes in Dallas, that can’t happen. And the result is having someone at the controls who appears to have an alarmingly persistent habit (or flaw) of overestimating the state of the football product or the problems that plague it.
Make no mistake, Dallas is in some trouble here. The offensive line was already under the microscope. Now it has a serious potential issue if this isn’t remedied with some kind of move before the season starts. In some respects, this injury is a worst-case scenario for an offense that was already shuffling roles due to offseason losses, while leaning on some dicey wagers on health. Jones basically waved off those concerns with a smile in July, declaring flatly, “I think we’re in better shape to make a run at it than we were at this time last year.”
Of course he did. Because of the curse of Jerry’s distortion field.
This is a big part of the problem with Jerry Jones continuing to operate with his hands on the roster. He always seems to look at his players and imagine that he’s going to get the best out of each of them. Or that the team is going to get the breaks necessary to overcome problems. It’s why he sees the defense stepping in to save the day, quarterback Dak Prescott overcoming losses at the receiver position, inexperienced players plugging on the offensive line — and what always seems to be his personal favorite flag of optimism, Ezekiel Elliott somehow taking Dallas to the promised land again.
Consider what Jones said about Elliott during a Thursday appearance on ESPN: “He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in. It is 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’s very capable of being everything we wanted [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 an offense carried by a bell cow running back. 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 did, a solid portion of the Cowboys' roster hadn’t even been born.
But Jones sees Zeke through his distortion field, eternally optimistic that this is the season he’ll finally break through. Just like he is already wildly optimistic about the healthy return of Tyron Smith in December, despite the fact that Smith hasn’t even had surgery yet. No matter. Jones is already banking on Smith’s return occurring in the midst of a playoff push that is apparently playing on a loop in his head.
“We’ll have him, and we’ll have him at the right time,” Jones told ESPN of Smith’s return. “We’ll have him in that San Francisco [playoff] game, the equivalent of it, that we had last year.”
That’s a heck of a statement regarding a player who has had injury issues for six years running. But it’s on brand for a team owner and general manager who seemingly always convinces himself the best is just around the corner. A better team, better coaching job, better Super Bowl run. All fueled by a seemingly limitless belief that this time it will be different.
Followed by a result that hasn’t been in a long, long time.