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It's Playoffs or Bust for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013

Jerry Jones

The owner isn’t happy.
The coach is on the hot seat.
The quarterback needs to produce.
So what else is new in Dallas?

It was a long, long time ago. The Cowboys’ last Super Bowl-winning season was so long ago that Bill Clinton was president, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder and the World Wide Web still was in its infancy. It was so long ago that Cowboys third-year left tackle Tyron Smith was five years old.

Yes, indeed, those were the good ol’ days in Dallas, when Lombardi Trophies seemed to grow on trees.
The Cowboys are now in the midst of their longest championship drought in team history. It’s been 17 years, and counting, since their last title.

The Cowboys’ Lombardi Trophies are dusty, their rings tarnished. They are 140–141, including a 2–7 postseason record, since their last championship season of 1995. They are what they are — a mediocre franchise. They have not been to the playoffs since 2009, going 22–26 the past three seasons combined. The Cowboys lost win-or-go-home games in Week 17 each of the past two seasons.

“We are in a rut that is akin to lying dead in a coffin,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says.

Yet, that hasn’t stopped Jones from hoping to party like it’s 1995. Jones believes. He believes in Tony Romo. He believes in Jason Garrett. He believes in Monte Kiffin. He believes another championship is awaiting the Cowboys this season.

Then again, Jones, an eternal optimist, also believed in Quincy Carter and Dave Campo and Brian Stewart and every other quarterback, head coach and defensive coordinator to call Valley Ranch home for even a season. Every year begins with Super Bowl expectations for the Cowboys, and lately, every season has ended in the blame game. They are a broken record.

The Cowboys have had 16 starting quarterbacks — including Garrett and current quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson — as well as six head coaches, eight offensive coordinators and seven defensive coordinators in the past 17 years, but only one general manager. That’s why Jones, as owner/general manager, has received much of the criticism for the team’s failures.

The Cowboys’ drafts from 2006-11 have produced only eight current or projected starters. Not one pick remains from the 2009 draft, and nickel back Orlando Scandrick is the sole representative from the Class of 2008.

Despite his failures as general manager, Jones isn’t going anywhere.

“I pretty much go with what I did the night I bought the team,” Jones says. “I said I was going to be the GM. … It would be a facade if someone else was sitting in my shoes and someone thought they were spending the money. It would be deception. I would grant you the decisions that have been made over the years have not produced a Super Bowl, two Super Bowls or three Super Bowls that I would like to have been a part of. The only thing I am going to do is keep trying, and then make sure I get the credit when we do get that one. Y’all are going to give it to me, aren’t you?”

Jones had promised to make this an uncomfortable offseason at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters. But it was something of an offseason of discontent for Cowboys fans as Jones retained Garrett, who became head coach when Wade Phillips was fired midway through the 2010 season.

The Cowboys gave Tony Romo a six-year, $108 million extension, making him the sixth-highest-paid player in the NFL despite his 1–6 record in win-or-go-home games. They franchised Anthony Spencer, who will make the move from outside linebacker to defensive end. They made no big moves in free agency.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was the scapegoat, fired by the Cowboys after they decided on a shift to the 4-3 scheme. Kiffin, 73, is one of the fathers of the Tampa-2 defense, along with Tony Dungy. Five other new assistants have joined him on the Garrett’s staff.

But Kiffin was not greeted by Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch as he was when he arrived in Tampa Bay as defensive coordinator in 1996. DeMarcus Ware, Spencer, Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are building blocks, good enough that Kiffin believes the Cowboys can make a quick, successful transition from the 3-4.

“We are not the 1996 Buccaneers by any sense,” Kiffin says. “…We have a good nucleus here for a 4-3 defense, but we still need to get better, no doubt about it.”

Since the Cowboys aren’t the second coming of Doomsday, having allowed the most yards in team history last season, Kiffin might be given the benefit of the doubt. But the honeymoon is over for Garrett and Romo.

Romo, 33, ranks first in team history in completion percentage (64.7) and touchdown passes (177). He is second in career attempts (3,240) and completions (2,097). He is 55–38 as a starter since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in the middle of the 2006 season.

But Romo compares more to Danny White with a 1–3 playoff record than he does to Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman. He could not even get the Cowboys to the playoffs the past three seasons, going 17–21 as the starter. Still, the Cowboys compensated Romo like the franchise quarterback they believe he is, giving him the second-most guaranteed money in NFL history at $55 million.

“We have great belief of Tony Romo as our quarterback,” Garrett says. “Tony has won a lot of big games for us to get us to the point where we can play for the division in Week 17 in consecutive years. We all know that we want to take the next step, and Tony is going to be a big part of that going forward. I think you have to understand the whole body of work. I think you have to understand that winning is where we get evaluated. He’s done a lot of great things for this franchise. We’re excited about him being our quarterback.”

Garrett has spent the offseason considering relinquishing the play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan. Garrett has been the play-caller for Romo since 2007, when he was hired as offensive coordinator, and there is speculation that Jones is forcing the move. But Garrett and Jones repeatedly have insisted that it is Garrett’s decision.

Garrett, 21–19 as a head coach, might be down to his last chance in Dallas.

“This thing has been a big disappointment the last couple of years,” Jones says. “I’m not satisfied. We’ve got to start knocking on the door. So there’s a lot of resolve and not a lot of patience. That’s where we are, and Jason knows that.

“…I don’t want to go 8–8 (in 2013).”

Written by Charean Williams for Athlon Sports. Visit our online store to order your 2013 Pro Football preview magazine to get in-depth team previews and more analysis on the 2013 NFL season.