It’s hard to believe that in the year 2020 we’re still talking about Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Sean Lee but that’s the current reality for the Dallas Cowboys. As offseason chatter surrounds these three veterans, I can’t help but think that Dallas needs to do a clean sweep and stop clinging to past stars.
The biggest story of this offseason is the contract of Dak Prescott, and rightfully so. He is the present and future of the organization, as were Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarcus Lawrence last year. Along with Dak this year are the contracts for Amari Cooper and Byron Jones, both key pieces for the team’s long-term success.
Beyond the players, a massive change in the coaching staff has dominated the news cycle. Jason Garrett is gone after over a decade with the team, and not to mention almost every assistant coach that was under him in 2019. It’s now Mike McCarthy’s show.
2020 marks the chance for a true new era of Dallas Cowboys football. 2016 felt like the start of one, going from Tony Romo to Prescott and Zeke. But the constant feature of Garrett as head coach brought with it some consistent disappointments.
With this fresh start before us, does it make since to keep hanging on to past stars with waning effectiveness?
Dez Bryant hasn’t been with the Cowboys since 2017, let alone played a snap of real football, but talk of a return to Dallas is one of the hottest current topics of our offseason. And, as the comments from this recent article show, Cowboys fans are very split on the issue.
Jason Witten and Sean Lee are both free agents in 2020 and fans seem split on wanting them back. The arguments abound about how much they should be paid and big the roles they would have should be, if they should return at all.
But I’m not looking to get into the individual merits of Dez, Witten, or Sean today. This is more about a larger question; why are some of us still clinging so hard to these yesteryear stars? What have they done for us lately?
Or, frankly, what have they ever done for us?
I’m going to zero in on Witten for a minute because he’s the biggest name of the bunch. Not only is Jason the best to ever play tight end for the Cowboys but he’s one of the best in NFL history. He is the only one of these three players who should have no problem making the Hall of Fame.
Jason Witten is the modern “Mr. Cowboy,” the guy whose leadership and example the cornerstone of the organization for almost two decades. None of his contemporaries, even Tony Romo or DeMarcus Ware, can challenge his spot in franchise history.
But like Romo, Ware, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Dexter Coakley, Jay Ratliff, Miles Austin, Roy Williams (the safety, of course), Flozell Adams, and plenty of other notable players we’ve had during this era, Witten is as guilty as any of them for the same lack of results.
The Dallas Cowboys have spent about 25 years trying to get back to Super Bowl glory and haven’t even been to a NFC Championship game. For all the individual greatness that some have brought to the table, it’s been over two decades of general disappointment for the organization.
I’m not saying Witten didn’t do his part, same with Bryant, Lee, and others I mentioned. All were championship-worthy players at times.
But this is about the franchise. This is about sending a message that the Dallas Cowboys are done with mediocrity.
At this point in their careers, sadly, neither Dez, Jason, or Sean can provide much more than average performance. They might flash their talent on the occasional play, but we have to look at this from the “Moneyball” perspective. What are they going to bring every game and ever down?
Rest assured, none of Bryant’s past touchdowns, Witten’s vast collection of catches, or Lee’s interception highlights are going to help us in 2020.
Now I’m not saying that Dez couldn’t help as a fourth WR, or that Witten or Lee couldn’t be useful backups. But analysis of their potential in those roles should be based solely on what they can do now, not muddied by any nostalgia or difficulty letting go.
Even if their on-field roles on the team are reduced, these are all players whose presences and voices in the locker room would be larger than those roles generally deserve. And with a new generation of Cowboys players needing to take on leadership roles, that could create some confusion.
This is especially true now with McCarthy as head coach. Just as he’s made a point to purge almost all of Jason Garrett’s former assistants from the staff, there’s logic behind moving the past leaders and stars from the roster.
The new era can’t be stymied or sabotaged by relics from the last one.
Could keeping Witten or Lee, or reuniting with Bryant, turn out to be a good move? Sure, it’s possible. But it will have nothing to do with their past legacies as Cowboys players.
The danger for us in our evaluation, and even the Cowboys front office, is allowing feelings to get in the way of objective analysis. We all have to look at these guys as if they’d never played a down in Dallas; comparing them to other available talent based solely on 2020 potential.
What could Blake Jarwin have done this year without Witten eating up his targets? What might a Cedrick Wilson turn into if he doesn’t have Dez crowding him out next season?
If we keep hanging on to these old guys then we’ll never know. And in the process, the Cowboys may keep themselves stuck in the same middling place they’ve been in since 1995.