Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has had a couple big wins this offseason, but it won’t have any impact on the 2013 season. He finally landed a naming rights deal for the venue formerly known as Cowboys Stadium, and he found a home in Frisco for the team’s soon-to-be-built practice facility. This once sleepy community will kick in $115 million to have its own JerryWorld.
If only Jerry could somehow bottle that success and use it in his role as general manager. On the football front, the Cowboys are somewhat of a wildcard in the NFC East. They are thin at some key positions , but there’s no clear favorite in this division. Jones is having to temper his enthusiasm the best he can, but you can tell he’s as optimistic as ever.
“The bottom line is we can compete,” Jones said during a Tuesday appearance on 105.3 The Fan. “We’ve competed with a lot of the players that we have right now. Over the last two years, a lot of people would say, ‘I don’t call 8-8 competing,’ and they’d be justified in saying that.
“We were real close to getting down there at the end of the year. We were very close to getting in the tournament and doing some good things. Now, ‘maybe,’ ‘close,’ ‘hopes,’ all those things, they’re hard to chew after you sit back and look back on it after the season’s over. That’s what we’re trying to reverse.”
Jones has heard so much criticism over the years that he responds to his own statements in real-time. This is a man who’s experienced too much humiliation to come right out and predict a deep playoff run. But that’s exactly what he’s thinking. Jones believes that the arrival of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will have a transformative effect on this team. And whether or not it’s true, the Cowboys believe that having a two-tight end base offense (“12” personnel) will be a great fit for quarterback Tony Romo. There was grumbling among the media in Oxnard, Calif., that second-round pick Gavin Escobar wasn’t ready for prime time. But a high-ranking member in the organization told me Tuesday evening that tight end is far and away the strength of the team.
Former Oklahoma tight end James Hanna, the fastest of the tight ends, has made tremendous strides in his blocking. And though Escobar doesn’t yet have the strength to be an effective in-line blocker at this point, he offers Romo a huge target in the red zone. Escobar had the Cowboys’ only touchdown in a 12-7 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday. Escobar, Hanna and Jason Witten will all play a vital role in this offense.
And though Jones wouldn’t say it, the state of the other NFC East teams is another reasons he’s so optimistic. Eagles coach Chip Kelly announced Tuesday that Michael Vick would be the team’s starting quarterback. Vick might flourish at first in Kelly’s fastbreak offense, but there’s no way he’ll remain healthy for a complete season. Either Nick Foles or Matt Barkley will end up starting for a team that will do well to win more than six games.
In Washington, Mike Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III haven’t been on the same page during his return from knee surgery. Shanahan took a beating for not taking Griffin out of a playoff game against the Seahawks when it was obvious he was injured. That’s why he will err on the side of caution at the beginning of the season instead of deferring to Griffin. It might be midseason before Griffin starts to round into shape, and that might be too late for the Skins.
And though the Giants have perfected the bounce-back season, they just lost starting center David Baas to a sprained MCL in his knee. Coach Tom Coughlin listed Baas as “week-to-week,” but there’s a decent chance he’ll miss the opener against the Cowboys. On defense, the Giants will likely play the first two or three games without All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. And their other starter at end, Justin Tuck, is nursing a mild hamstring strain. The Giants are also having to replace starting tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, who left in free agency.
So Jones is correct in saying the Cowboys can “compete” this season. The only problem is that at least 20 others teams in the NFL have the same feeling. The Cowboys couldn’t overcome an inordinate amount of injuries last season. You would think that would’ve caused them to focus on adding depth this past offseason.
Unfortunately, Jones is a man who focuses on best-case scenarios. And with the offseason he’s had on the business side, it’s only reinforced that approach.