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Spagnola: Don't Go Off On Rebuilding Tangent

Posted Mar 28, 2014


IRVING, Texas – Tangent, 2014: Rebuilding.

Seems every offseason of late we digress into one of these lines of discussion about the Dallas Cowboys, something to do with where they’re headed or what they’re capable of doing, usually in this non-game season before the draft or before the start of training camp with too much time on our hands to think.

Just recently it’s been is the window closing on the Cowboys?

Before that it was are the Cowboys growing too old?

Before that it was are the Cowboys becoming stagnant?

And seemingly every year those tangent-makers try to corner owner Jerry Jones at the opening of training camp to predict if the Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl.

Well, already this year, before we’ve even hit the draft, let alone the start of training camp, and just 17 days since the start of free agency, the idle chatter centers on if the 2014 Dallas Cowboys are in a rebuilding mode – all based on the release of DeMarcus Ware, balking at making a serious attempt to re-sign free agent defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, designating Miles Austin a June 1 release and not making a serious financial run at any of the high-priced, eventually overpaid free agents whose price tags normally outweigh their current production.

Jones and son Stephen backhanded that notion away at this week’s owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., Jerry saying when confronted with this year’s offseason rebuilding theme:

“Not at all. You don't rebuild with [Tony] Romo. The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs and our receivers, you don't rebuild with an offense that's got the capability we've got. We didn't bring [Scott] Linehan in here to rebuild."

         Oh, the guffawing that ensued, how those “yeah right, Jerry” eyebrows were being raised, his comments dismissed as merely Jerry being Jerry.

         To that, I say to those skeptics, to those who always know better, citing the Cowboys are systematically trying to get younger by turning their backs on three Thirtysomething players, let me ask you this:

         If Ware had been coming off a 15-sack season in 2013 stacked on top of a dozen-sack season in 2012, had he not missed the first three games of his nine-year career this past season, and he not had offseason surgeries in each of the past two years after trying to play through an assortment of injuries (that’s plural) in both, do you think the Cowboys would have released him? Do you?

         Don’t you think they would have figured out a way to keep Ware on this roster, despite his impending salary-cap charge and about to turn 32?

         You bet.

         That’s the question that needed to be asked, although my guess is there would not have been a definitive answer issued since saying anything disparaging about a guy who is destined to be inducted into your Ring of Honor and likely into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just doesn’t look good. To me, the unspoken truth around here – and we’ll soon find out if this is right or not, and if not this year than next – is that Ware’s body is beginning to break down, that the compounding injuries just weren’t worth the risk of continuing to push cap money into the future years of an aging defensive end’s contract.

         Then there is Hatcher, and hey, I’m glad for Hatch. He got his money. But would you have guaranteed another going-on-32 defensive lineman, who had one great season among the eight he played here, $10.5 million over four years, with a $9 million upfront signing bonus as the Redskins did? Would you really have?

         And Austin? Pffft, most everyone wanted him cut in the first place because he had more hamstring pulls than touchdowns this past season, so to a logical person, releasing the eight-year veteran zeroing in on 30 who finished with a mere 24 catches – 15 of those in the first three games – is certainly no sign of rebuilding right there.

         All three decisions just seem like good business when you are dealing with a salary cap noose rapidly tightening around your pocketbook. Almost a logical progression when managing a team not just for this year but the next and the next after that, none of which has anything to do with rebuilding.

I mean, you want rebuilding? Let me give you rebuilding, so you understand what you’re either talking about or buying here.

         Rebuilding is 1989, the Cowboys coming off their third consecutive losing season (16-31 overall), their longest stretch of losing since 1960-64, and having failed to win a playoff game the previous six seasons, their longest such streak since the first seven years in franchise history (1960-66).

         Yep, 1989: New owner. New president. New general manager. New head coach. New personnel director. New scouting director. Eight new assistant coaches. New trainer. Heck, even a new public relations director.

         That’s rebuilding.

         By time the first season under Jimmy Johnson began 25 years ago, gone were Randy White, Danny White, Steve Pelluer, Doug Cosbie, Michael Downs, Timmy Newsome, Jeff Rohr, Jeff Zimmerman, Kevin Brooks and leading receiver in 1988 Ray Alexander. By time the 1-15 season ended, gone was Herschel Walker. Tom Rafferty no longer was starting at center. Ed “Too Tall” Jones was starting only as a courtesy to his franchise record 203 games started.

         In fact, gone were 40 veterans who went to camp in 1988 with the Cowboys. Why, by season’s end 13 of the 22 starters had changed since the end of 1988 and nearly half of the team’s 46-man roster had turned over, those deported including all four roster quarterbacks from 1988, four of five running backs, half the wide receiver corps and two-thirds of the tight ends.

         And remember, there was no confining salary cap or cost-inflating free agency to complicate matters in those days.

         Now that’s rebuilding, foundation and all.

         Heck, that’s implosion.

         Now then, the day the Cowboys cut ties with Romo, and because of cap reasons they dearly pray that does not occur before the 2017 season, then we can talk rebuilding, especially if they don’t have either a franchise quarterbacking candidate ready to go or they don’t have the first pick in the draft the way the Cowboys did in 1989 to grab Troy Aikman or the way the Colts did two years ago transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck.

         But comparatively, this? Rebuilding? Please. And my guess is you’re not saying no problem, rebuild, and we’ll patiently wait three more years for you to win another playoff game as took place from 1989-91. Ha! Again, that’s rebuilding.

         And by the way, in case you haven’t noticed or have decided to ignore the facts to qualify your 8-8 disappointment three years running, 18 of the team’s 22 starting positions were manned for the majority of the 2013 season by guys arriving here no earlier than 2010.

         Little by little they’ve been refurbishing this team. In fact, there are only three holdover consensus starters from the 2010 roster projected to start this coming season, free agent Anthony Spencer notwithstanding if he should return: Romo, Jason Witten and Doug Free. And only seven of the 22 from 2011.

         Now that’s a lot of rebuilding taking place in Jason Garrett’s short period of time, all right before your very eyes … in case you didn’t notice.

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