Mediocrity is a scary word to be thrown around in the world of sports as it usually ends up with someone being fired. But on December 29th, 2013, after completing their third straight 8-8 campaign and missing out on the playoffs yet again, that’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys proved to be, mediocre.
Then the unthinkable happened, Jerry Jones did what most fans have dreamed about since he ran Head Coach Jimmy Johnson out-of-town after winning back-to-back Super Bowls nearly two decades earlier; he took a step back from making personnel decisions.
After handing over the reigns to Head Coach Jason Garrett and GM Stephen Jones, Jerry assumed a role similar to the Queen of England; he’s become a glorified figurehead. This has become the most important factor to the resurgence of the Cowboys.
The first major change was the decision to be financially responsible for the first time in decades. The new regime decided to let All-Pro and future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware walk rather than overpay an aging star. For years, Jerry Jones was known for letting his emotions get the best of him and his checkbook. Performance based contracts are all the rage in Valley Ranch lately, which has been a brilliant move by the front office.
Players with a questionable history, like former top prospect Rolando McClain, are forced to play with a chip on their shoulder and earn their keep.
There has been a noticeable change in the way the team has drafted since the changing of the guard.
Gone are the days of the Cowboys reaching on prospects just to make a splash. This was never more evident than when the War Room decided to pass on Johnny Football in the 2014 draft and elected to bolster the offensive line instead. Zack Martin wasn’t a flashy pick, but he was the best option available and solidified what is considered by most to be the best offensive line in the league. As a former offensive lineman, I firmly believe that the game is won and lost in the trenches.
Flash forward to the 2015 off-season and it’s clear what the gameplan has been from day one: improve the defensive front.
They addressed this need in both the draft and free agency with the controversial signing of Greg Hardy. After taking CB/S Byron Jones in the first round, Garrett walked away with what may very well be the steal of the draft in Randy Gregory. Add in DeMarcus Lawrence from the previous draft, the brilliant signing of undrafted free agent La’el Collins, and it’s clear to see that the scouting philosophy has shifted. A philosophy that is geared towards building the infrastructure of the team. Who is the architect behind this new philosophy? That would be none other than Will McClay.
McClay’s importance to the Cowboys organization is evident with his three promotions in as many seasons. His new position is Senior Director of College and Pro Scouting after serving the 2014 season as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel. While the job titles have changed over the years, McClay’s task has remained constant: build the Cowboys into a perennial contender. Since being handed the keys to the War Room, McClay has done a phenomenal job at evaluating talent and building quality depth in the trenches.
While the second preseason game of the 2015 season left a lot to be desired overall, the young lineman that the Cowboys have acquired over the past few seasons flashes of brilliance.
It remains to be seen if the youngsters can play like that for an entire season, especially on the defensive side of the ball; but if the depth is half as good as it appears to be on paper then Cowboys fans are in for a hell of a season.
The final factor in the resurgence of America’s team is without question the new mentality that Jason Garrett has brought to the locker room. Since taking over for Wade Phillips, who makes Barry Switzer seem like General Patton, Garrett has brought a sense of accountability, discipline and aggressiveness that has been lacking within the organization since the aforementioned Jimmy Johnson era. One could argue that Bill Parcells brought that kind of demeanor to the sidelines but was fired before any major turnaround could take place.
Garrett and company have worked tirelessly to bring the right guys into the Cowboy’s family over the past few seasons. Guy’s that are prepared, in Garrett’s own words, to “Finish The Fight.”
One thing is for certain: the future is bright in Big D.