Contrary to popular opinion, there has been no offseason “changing of the guard’’ at Cowboys headquarters as it relates to owner Jerry Jones’ authority. He remains the final voice, his remains the final vote, and he remains the Dallas Cowboys’ general manager just as he was even when Jimmy Johnson strutted through the halls of Valley Ranch. At the same time, other, younger voices and voters are rising. So it’s not that Jerry is “stepping back”, it’s that son Stephen and the next generation of front office leadership is stepping up.
And the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
The perception of Jerry as a lavish and foolish over-spender is a gross simplification; the truth is more complicated than that. When he purchased his first private jet, he did so over the phone, sight unseen. But this same man – a billionaire three times over – still has over the years found the time to make sure his office isn’t overspending on coffee filters. This offseason the Cowboys have used free agency to make possibly impactful moves. But they’ve all been made with fiscal responsibility in mind.
“We can’t just spend freely and that’s probably a good thing,’’ said Stephen, acknowledging both cap limitations and a philosophical change from the past. “We have to get value.’’
Cowboys great DeMarcus Ware was allowed to leave. Aging standout Jared Allen came and left Dallas without a deal. The injured Anthony Spencer remains largely unpursued. The signings of Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Brandon Weeden are extremely cap-friendly. Dallas has not moved to create more cap room by “kicking the can’’ on the contracts of Jason Witten and Brandon Carr. And in the case of the signing of Henry Melton to what amounts to a one-year commitment worth $3.5 million (with a three-year option that will pay him like a star if Dallas wishes to pick it up), the meeting, recruiting and signing of the Pro Bowl defensive tackle was accomplished with Jerry Jones not even being in the state.
“Jerry had a business function he just couldn’t miss,’’ Stephen explained.
That doesn’t mean Stephen acted unilaterally to acquire Melton, or that the contributions of the other major Valley Ranch figures – personnel boss Will McClay (who pinpointed the player), head coach Jason Garrett (who hosted him at team HQ), defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (who took him to dinner and recruited him) and Stephen (who negotiated the final contract) – were mice playing while the cat was away. This isn’t some hostile overthrow, or Jerry being moved into hospice care, or the left hand being unaware of what the younger hands are doing. “No, I think we both do it,’’ Stephen said of he and his father. “At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say anything changed. Jerry and I work very closely together and work very closely together with Jason Garrett and Will McClay.’’
But “we both do it’’ suggests a co-general management. And the acknowledgment of those latter two names means that the organization chart is flowing in a way not seen at Valley Ranch since Bill Parcells was coach, and before that since Johnson was in many ways the de facto “co-GM’’ of Jerry’s Cowboys. McClay is in charge of the team’s draft board. The personnel people, included talented veteran Tom Ciskowski, report to him. McClay, ideally, reports to Stephen. Who, ideally, reports to Jerry.
Garrett is in charge of the team’s roster. The assistant coaches, including new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and newly elevated Marinelli, received their jobs due to Garrett’s push. They report to the coach. Who reports to Stephen. Who reports to Jerry.
A reasonable organizational flow. A responsible approach to the cap. Coaches coaching. Scouts scouting. The Joneses as overseers. The changes are subtle but they are there. The changes can be undone in an instant – Jerry and many other draft-room bosses have made the mistake of undoing 15 months of planning in the 15 frantic minutes of being on the draft clock – but a sound foundational change is obvious. But yet ….
“The one who runs the draft is Jerry,’’ Stephen said. “He’s the general manager. Jerry will make the call.’’ And that’s true. Because it’s not that commander-in-chief Jerry is “stepping back.’’ It’s that his lieutenants are “stepping up.’’