Ex-Eagles Exec Warns Cowboys of Necessary Changes: ‘Not Easy to Do’

Jerry Jones Cowboys

Getty Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones (right).

Welcome to Heavy In The Trenches, a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.

Just over two weeks past Labor Day, the Dallas Cowboys‘ season might already be over.

After a disastrous opening night browbeating, what other conclusion is there to draw?

Dallas’ embarrassing 19-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw quarterback Dak Prescott pass for only 134 yards with an interception, before departing with a thumb injury that will require surgery and could sideline him six-to-eight weeks. Adding insult to injury, the Cowboys were out-gained 347 yards to 244, and penalty flags once again flew early, and flew often, with Dallas drawing 10 of them.

In a league tilted steeper than ever in favor of offenses, the Cowboys were the only team across the NFL not to score a touchdown during Week 1.

“It all starts with ownership,” a league source familiar with the Cowboys’ situation told Heavy. “The issues they had [Sunday] night at receiver and offensive line weren’t surprising in the least. Losing Dak kills them, though.”

If Prescott’s injury is an early, and potentially a final nail in the coffin of the Cowboys’ season, it was shut in the first place when veteran offensive tackle Tyron Smith tore his hamstring during a training camp practice on August 25.

The Cowboys’ issues are aplenty.

Losing Prescott for a month — or more — compounded by Jerry Jones’ decision not to place him on injured reserve, which would free up a spot on the 53-man roster for the next four weeks, it is hard to expect Dallas to turn things around.

Now, just one disastrous week into the season, the question becomes whether the Cowboys’ issues are fixable.

“I can’t say they should give up on the season, because it’s a very talented team,” former Philadelphia Eagles President and Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner told Heavy. “My honest expectation is between their weakness along the offensive line — that is hard to fix during the season — and the fact that Dak could be out as long as eight weeks, it’s going to make it really difficult for them to be happy with the way this season will end.”

Banner, currently part of The 33rd Team, a football think tank made up of several former coaches and executives, suggests there are no quick fixes to the Cowboys’ problems. And they stem from letting what was once one of the NFL’s most dominant offensive lines fall into a state of disrepair.

“It’s going to take a real offseason commitment,” Banner explained. “And that’s not easy to do. Very few quality offensive linemen hit the [free agent] market, and the ones that do get overpaid very dramatically. And the Cowboys aren’t in phenomenal cap shape.”

Dallas Cowboys

Getty

Dallas enters next offseason with just over $7 million in cap space, thanks in large part to Prescott accounting for 21% of their cap, DeMarcus Lawrence 11.2%, Zack Martin 8.6% percent and Tyron Smith 7.6%.

While teams like the Howie Roseman-led Philadelphia Eagles have continuously invested premium draft picks into the offensive line — while fielding one of the premier starting units in the league — to build a two-deep of capable linemen, the Cowboys have largely allowed theirs to deteriorate.

Under Jones’ watch, the Cowboys’ offensive line went from being ranked No. 2 in the NFL in 2016, by Pro Football Focus, to No. 4 in 2017, to No. 14 in 2018, No. 4 in 2019, No. 27 in the COVID-19 ravaged 2020 campaign to finishing last season ranked atop the league before allowing La’el Collins to depart via free agency in March 2022, Smith’s season-ending injury this summer, and center Connor McGovern go down in the opener against the Bucs.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys also traded away wide receiver Amari Cooper for a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns, after dealing a first-round pick to acquire him from the Raiders in 2018. Dallas chose CeeDee Lamb No. 17 overall in the 2020 draft, and back in 2016 chose Ezekiel Elliott No. four overall, passing on the likes of cornerback Jalen Ramsey, offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Jack Conklin, opting instead for a running back over a top prospect at a premium position.

To the Cowboys’ credit, Jones and company did choose Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith with the No. 24 overall selection in the 2022 draft. But, Dallas didn’t add a receiver — in a historically deep draft at the position — until taking Jalen Tolbert in Round 3. Passing on some of the class’ top receivers, after dealing away Cooper and letting Cedrick Wilson walk out of the building in free agency.

“What’s their philosophy about how to build their team?” Banner questioned. “In my mind, it’s been misplaced too often with [prioritizing] offensive weapons over offensive linemen. Even if they had great wide receivers, with a lack of protection, and inconsistent run blocking, it’s going to be hard for them to put up points against good teams.”

The Cowboys have no easy fixes.

Especially because Prescott is turning 30 next July, and the line tasked with protecting him seemingly needs both an overhaul and time to develop.

“Everybody makes the decision about what they prioritize when they’re going to build their team,” Banner said. “You can’t really avoid that. Teams that are winning the Super Bowl have a few weaknesses, they just overcome them. But, the offensive line is not where you can afford to have one of those weaknesses. It affects everything else.

“You can’t run, or pass, if you can’t block. In my mind, they took their eye off a key priority once they added Dak and trying to make a successful offense around him.”

Matt Lombardo Column

Heavy.com


Top-10 Power Rankings for Week 2

1. Buffalo Bills

2. Kansas City Chiefs

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4. Minnesota Vikings

5. Philadelphia Eagles

6. Los Angeles Rams

7. Baltimore Ravens

8. Los Angeles Chargers

9. Pittsburgh Steelers

10. Cincinnati Bengals


Quote of the Week

“I thought Javonte made an incredible play and put us into the field-goal mark we were looking for.” – Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett, on his decision to have Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard game-winning field goal on 4th & 5 vs. the Seahawks.

Hackett’s clock management in the final moments of the Broncos’ Monday night loss was inexcusable.

Forget, for one second, that Hackett had all three timeouts stashed away in his back pocket with 55 seconds remaining.

And, never mind that Russell Wilson actually lined up in the shotgun and let 35 seconds tick off the clock before calling timeout with 20 seconds for McManus to run out onto the field.

The decision in and of itself that led the Broncos to try a field goal from that range, and the abysmal clock management leading up to McManus’ miss is a borderline fireable offense after just Hackett’s first NFL game as a head coach.

The Broncos didn’t just trade a bounty of draft capital and young players to acquire Wilson from the Seahawks, they signed him to a new contract extension that will pay him $241 million, only to take the ball out of his hands on 4th & 5 with the game on the line.

Hackett effectively played for the field goal for most of Denver’s final possession, rather than take any chances deep downfield with his $200 million quarterback and star wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton.

Even if McManus’ kick hadn’t faded wide right, Hackett’s lack of aggressiveness and rudimentary — and that’s being polite — clock management cost the Broncos dearly. Both in terms of a possibly more manageable distance for McManus’ attempt, but more importantly his quarterback an opportunity to make a play to win the game.

The Broncos better hope Hackett learned from his Monday mistakes, though it doesn’t sound like he has, or this season could quickly slip out of their grip.


Final Thought

With Joe Buck and Troy Aikman together in the ESPN booth, Monday Night Football feels like an event, again.

It certainly helps that Russell Wilson’s Denver Broncos return to Seattle against the Seahawks came down to the wire, delivering The Walt Disney Company a thrilling opening game to debut its new announcer duo.

But, the effect Buck and Aikman have on a broadcast is almost unmistakable.

According to The New York Post, Buck will earn upwards of $60-75 million and Aikman $92.5 million over the life of their five-year contracts that not only return stability to one of the crown jewel broadcast booths in all of sports, but delivers significant results.

The ESPN/ABC broadcast garnered a 10.29 rating on ABC, 7.99 on ESPN, and ESPN2’s ManningCast drew a 1.50, 19.7 million viewers glued to their televisions and smartphone screens as Geno Smith’s Seahawks held off Wilson’s Broncos, 17-16. Viewership was up 2.8 million over Week 1 of last season.

The Seahawks, Broncos, Buck and Aikman certainly delivered.

Few announcers, or duos across the sports broadcasting landscape, have the combination of charisma, ability, and chemistry to elevate a game in the way Buck and Aikman do every week.

That’s what made Monday Night Football appointment television from its inception on ABC, with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on the call, through Al Michaels’ run with the likes of Dan DIerdorf, Joe Theisman, and John Madden alongside him over the years.

With Buck and Aikman, Disney has that, again.

In 2021, the ManningCast simulcast airing on ESPN2 complimenting the main broadcast was universally lauded as the innovation it was.

As the brothers Manning, Peyton and Eli, offered the unique commentary you’d expect from a pair of brothers watching from barstools while welcoming guests from across the NFL, sports, and entertainment landscape, it was a whole new way to experience a football game. And a welcomed alternative to a monotone and at times monotonous three-man booth.

In the same way, viewers in the 1970s cleared their Monday nights to watch Cosell call the action, fans couldn’t get enough of the Mannings. And for good reason. It was fun. It was different. it was new.

In its debut season, the ManningCast averaged 1.58 million viewers per game, according to On3, adding to ESPN’s average 13.5 million on the main feed.

Now, with Aikman and Buck calling the game, I wonder if the appetite is as strong for the Mannings? Quirky commentary, A-list guests, and all.

One thing is for sure, for the first time in years, the Monday night game is now buttressed by a broadcast pair befitting, and enhancing the enjoyment of one of the premier games each week.

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