Al Davis and Jerry Jones will undoubtedly go down as two of the most successful owners the NFL has ever seen. Each won three Super Bowls early on in his tenure as owner — Davis did so in his first 12 years, while Jones did so in six — and each became a beacon of his team’s success, helping make the Raiders and Cowboys two of America’s most recognizable franchises.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the parallels between the two owners go far beyond their successes. Like Davis was, Jones is the most visible and active owner in the NFL, oftentimes to a detrimental extent.
While Davis’ prominence within his organization had a tremendous impact on the Raiders and the NFL as a whole, few would disagree that his meddling (poor personnel decisions, revolving door of head coaches) during his later years was disastrous for the Raiders’ fortunes. Likewise, Jones’ visibility may have helped maintain the Cowboys as “America’s Team” and one of the country’s most valuable sports franchises, but his recent failures in his role as the team’s GM and the distractions created by his candidness with the media have proven tremendous hurdles for the Cowboys to overcome.
Not surprisingly, the Cowboys of recent years are showing characteristics reminiscent of the Raiders during Davis’ final decade, a team that wallowed for years in the cellar of the AFC West. Much like those Raiders, Dallas has a penchant for a lack of poise — averaging nearly 10 penalties per game this season — and boneheaded mistakes and meltdowns, which were perfectly depicted Thursday against the Redskins, when they allowed a 68-yard TD bomb with no defender within 10 yards of the receiver, and later let Pierre Garcon cruise for a 59-yard touchdown catch-and-run through the heart of the defense before committing a personal foul against Garcon after the play.
Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the history of Davis’ Raiders suggests things won’t be getting any better in the future. In actuality, we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg of the Cowboys’ struggles.
As Davis aged, his judgment became increasingly questionable but he never dreamed of relinquishing any of his decision-making power. The resulting slew of busts in the draft (JaMarcus Russell and Robert Gallery, to name a couple), free agency (Javon Walker, DeAngelo Hall) and even through trades (Randy Moss) crippled the organization for a decade. Simultaneously, Davis’ impatience led to the hiring and firing of five different coaches from 2002 to 2010, a span during which the Raiders became the first team in NFL history to lose at least 11 games in seven consecutive seasons. And in case you didn’t notice, things still aren’t exactly looking up in Oakland today.
Could the Cowboys be in store for a similar run of futility? At age 70, Jones’ best years as a GM appear to be far behind him. Even as he’s assembled a talented roster, his trust in players with histories of inconsistency and character issues has kept the team from gelling. As Jones gets older, it’s unlikely he would share or pass on his personnel decision-making power, which could lead to a rash of poor drafts and free-agency classes much like those that plagued the Raiders.
And would anybody be surprised to see Jones fire Jason Garrett after this season, just his second as head coach? If so, Dallas would enter 2013 with its fifth different coach since 2002, and any candidate who might fill the position would do so knowing they would have little say in personnel and little time to produce a contender.
Yes, it’s difficult to point the finger at the man who made the Cowboys who they are, but Jones appears to have Dallas stuck in a nasty rut, one he may only dig deeper as he gets older.