The Dallas Cowboys are a team many believe talented enough to contend for a Super Bowl, but it just hasn’t happened due to a lack of mental toughness, lack of execution, host of season-ending injuries and the list goes on. Excuses are the true identity of these “reasons,” but we’ll be polite for the purposes of this column.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finally put his money where his mouth is this off-season, reeling in the largest and most expensive free agent class in franchise history. It’s something that needed to be done years ago, but I guess it’s better late than never. On top of that, Dallas was hit with a $10 million cap penalty due Jones getting his hand caught in the cookie jar in 2010. However, the Cowboys are still $7.188 million under the salary cap for the 2012 season after all that.
The common cry among the Dallas faithful since that news broke on Tuesday afternoon is “spend it!” Now at first thought, that seems like a logical plan. Jones has made it clear he’s finally ready to go all out to bring another title to Dallas, so why not use every cent in his deep pockets to do it?
Let’s recall the past couple of seasons: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in 2010 and running back DeMarco Murray was lost for the final three games of 2011 with a broken ankle. Especially in Murray’s case, the fact Dallas was in the division title race until the season finale is enough to drive Cowboys fans bonkers.
In 1993, the Cowboys started 0-2 and ended up winning the Super Bowl. However, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was injured in a Week 8 win over the New York Giants and Dallas signed Bernie Kosar as insurance a day later (fortunately he was released by the Cleveland Browns the same day).
Kosar manned the Cowboys’ high-powered ship until Aikman’s return four weeks later and then recorded football’s equivalent of a baseball pitcher’s save during the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, ensuring Dallas’ second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
What if the 2012 Cowboys get near the end of the season on a roll and in good position to contend in the playoffs and Murray, Romo or someone else gets hurt again? If Dallas uses that cap space now, there will be no room to bring in help to ensure the title run isn’t lost.
Sure, the Cowboys could place the injured player on IR and then get more cap space, but what if it’s a unique situation like the Texas Rangers’ in 2010? They traded for Cliff Lee during the season, knowing they needed a big boost, and it resulted in the team’s first trip to the World Series.
Plus, there’s no NFL free agent worth signing at this point. If Jones signed somebody right now, it would simply be because he could, and that’s not good business.
What if a weakness at one position is keeping the Cowboys from making the jump from mediocre team to good team? Dallas will need the cap space to deal a player like Phil Costa or perhaps Brodney Pool (just to name two) if those unproven players turn out to be significantly weak links.
Insurance is a valuable asset in the NFL; a major injury during a hot streak and/or the stretch run could derail a team entirely. Cap space will allow the Cowboys to make an improvisational blockbuster trade if necessary. Hopefully it won’t be, but you never know. The smartest thing to do is be smart, hang on to that $7.188 million in salary cap space and be ready if something tragic happens again.