The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most storied franchises in the history of professional sports. With 5 Super Bowl rings to their credit, and a crossover appeal only rivaled by a few teams in any sport, they’ve been at the center of the NFL universe for decades now. Certainly, they’ve made some decisions on their own that have catapulted them to success in several different eras. While there’s no denying that, they’ve also made some of the worst mistakes of any NFL franchise, and at times those mistakes can seem abundant.
Particularly since Jerry Jones took over the team, prior to the Super Bowl run they went on in the ’90s, the Cowboys’ facilities can often seem like a three-ring circus. There’s no question that Jones and the rest of Dallas brass, along with some of the players, crave the spotlight and the national attention that the team naturally receives at this point. However, that mindset can backfire when the wrong decisions are made, and there seems to be little recourse to correct them. We’ve seen this both on and off the field with the Cowboys, and it’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Ranked below are the 15 dumbest things the Dallas Cowboys have ever done.
15. Making Quincy Carter Starting Quarterback
The Cowboys drafted Carter in the 2nd-round of the 2002 draft, and he was immediately presumed to be the franchise quarterback of the future, along with the successor in that role to Troy Aikman. Instead, Carter only threw more interceptions than he did touchdown passes over the course of three sub-par years with the team. It was simply a disaster, and it sparked a run of bad Cowboys quarterbacks before they finally got Tony Romo.
Ultimately, Carter would only spend four total seasons in the NFL, and soon went on to stints in the CFL and AFL, along with other peripheral professional leagues. Carter was ultimately just another quarterback bust in an era that had plenty of them.
14. Not Standing Up To Jerry Jones
It’s no secret to anybody that Jones has made some piss-poor decisions during his time as Cowboys owner. While some of the business decisions and cross-promotional aspects of his ownership have paid dividends, it’s almost offset by the amount of times Jones wanted something his way or the highway, and it was simply the wrong decision. He has an ego, and it’s both benefitted him and become a detriment at different points during his tenure.
What has gotten the team in trouble the most is when Jones is allowed to make decisions without any kind of a filter. So much of the Cowboys struggles in the 2000s, could have been addressed with a more democratic system of decision-making. It wasn’t until much later that Jones would relinquish at least a portion of his control, that he clearly couldn’t handle.
13. Hiring Rob Ryan As Defensive Coordinator
The Cowboys had a potent-enough offense during the 2011-12 seasons with Tony Romo at the helm, and budding offensive stars like DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant in the ranks as well. Had the defense been competent, those 8-8 seasons could have resulted in playoff berths with ease. A large portion of the blame has to be directed at Ryan, who is renowned for his poor defenses in just about every coaching position he’s ever held at the pro level.
People make fun of Rex a lot, but Rob is clearly the weak link in the Ryan family as far as coaches go. He’s been woefully underwhelming for years now, and that didn’t change when Dallas hired him to coach their defense. They should have been more discerning when trying to fill that coordinator position.
12. Firing Bill Parcells
When you have one of the greatest coaches of all-time walk into your office and take control of your team, it’s wise to give them every possible opportunity to succeed. Parcells, who had been successful everywhere he had been previously, did the best he could with a limited Cowboys roster, but it just wasn’t enough in the eyes of the ownership.
The real issue is that Parcells was never given the quality of personnel necessary to truly field a consistently good team. The talent was middling at best, and even his coaching methods weren’t enough to establish any sense of a winning team. He did draft Tony Romo however, and had turned him into a very good starter by his final year in Dallas however. Management would have been wise to recognize this and not give him the axe so soon. Parcells was fired despite making the playoffs with the team in his final season.
11. Keeping Jason Garrett
It’s widely speculated that Garrett is nothing more than a puppet who Jones can control from the top of the organization. He’s a former Cowboys backup quarterback (to Troy Aikman), and clearly has a great rapport with the ownership. That doesn’t make him a great head coach, however, and it’s clear that the X’s and O’s are formulated by the coordinators Scott Linehan (offense) and Rod Marinelli (defense).
So any success Garrett has is immediately the result of his staff, as he serves mainly to keep morale high and assist in the PR of any moves or decisions. It’s not like it’s never been done before, but if you want to know why the Cowboys can’t seem to get over the hump in the playoffs in recent years, Garrett and his limitations as head coach could certainly be a significant factor as to why.
10. Making Drew Henson Starting Quarterback
After the whole Quincy Carter debacle, the Cowboys were in desperate need for a starting quarterback that was going to at least keep them in games. Why they thought that would come in the form of a former professional baseball player who was a 6th-round pick in the 2003 draft by another team, is anyone’s guess.
To be fair, Henson only ended up playing a few games for a Cowboys in 2004, but this inability to find a starting quarterback who wasn’t an aging veteran was really beginning to wear on the team, and hindered any possible success they may have had during the mid-2000s. Henson was horrific, and the Cowboys were really just grasping at straws by this point.
9. Wanting To Be Seen At Any Cost
The Cowboys have always had a propensity for the spotlight, and under Jerry Jones, it has been abundantly clear that it is their first priority to be seen. Operating under the philosophy of “any publicity is good publicity” the Cowboys have certainly achieved that goal often, and their notoriety has sustained itself, even in their worst of seasons over the past two decades.
But there is a downside to this line of thinking. When you show too little regard for your decision making, it can come back to haunt you on a PR level. The Cowboys have faced a bevy of criticism for a variety of things in recent years, and it’s resulted in some structural shakeups in the front office. Publicity is fine, but when you want to turn an NFL team into a variety show where celebrity is more important than everything else, then it starts to become a problem.
8. Neglecting The Defense When They Had Romo
While Tony Romo proved himself to be one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league, despite the criticism from some outlets, the Cowboys never did anything to supplement his talent on the defensive side of the ball. Consistently, he would put them in positions to win, only for the defense to come up short when it mattered most. It generally led to 9-win seasons or less, when they had the firepower to legitimately have a perennially 10-win team.
Of course, this is still going on to the present day with Dak Prescott, and they haven’t really been able to figure it out. If the Dallas defense had been better over the past 5 seasons or so, they probably make it back to another Super Bowl at least. As it stands, they’ve underachieved.
7. Hiring Dave Campo
Yet another horrific coaching hire after the Jimmy Johnson/Barry Switzer era, Campo came in with a ton of uncertainty as a head coach, even though he had been on the staff for the last decade prior to his hire in 2000. Those fears were realized when Dallas took a significant step back from their consistently great teams of the 90s.
Campo fielded three-straight 5-win teams, and the Cowboys were officially in the cellar after being on top of the football world just a few years prior. The Campo hire was an obvious one, but it was also one that was short-sighted. Instead, they should have gone in a completely different direction, and formed a new identity with a new head coach. It wasn’t to be, and it took a while for them to get back on track.
6. Playing Their Starters In A “Scab” Game
This may have just been an isolated incident, but it was a stupid decision for a variety of reasons. During the 1987 season, where most teams had to field a certain degree of replacement players due to a player-strike, the Cowboys had no problem actually fielding Hall Of Famer Tony Dorsett when they were up 40-0 in a game against the Eagles. Philadelphia, had next to none of its original starting team, and the Cowboys had roughly half.
So instead of taking them out when up by an astronomical lead, head coach Tom Landry left most of them in, to thumb his nose at the Eagles. Not only did this senselessly risk injury to some of his best players, it also was the ultimate sign of disrespect, and a bush-league move.
The Eagles would get their revenge several weeks later, when the starters returned. They faked a kneel-down to close out the game, instead hurling a pass deep to the end zone, which resulted in a salt-in-the-wounds touchdown to run out the clock
5. Their Inability To Keep Zeke Elliott Under Control
If you’re going to draft a player 4th-overall with the amount of concerns that Ezekiel Elliott had coming out of Ohio State, then you need to make sure that you have a cohesive plan in place to keep him out of trouble. There’s no denying his talent, but there’s also no denying that he has a tendency to make terrible decisions when under the public eye.
Now, the Cowboys’ failure to keep him out of trouble has really come back to bite them. Suspended for the first six games of the regular season, Elliott will be even more under a microscope than he was previously. He’ll obviously return from suspension in the regular season, but with even one more slip-up, he could be looking at a much harsher penalty next time, one that may derail his entire career.
4. Giving Jerry Jones The Lion’s Share Of The Power
As mentioned previously, Jones has a knack for good business decisions, or at least ones that maximize profits, strictly on a bottom line level. What he has proven to be poor at over the years, has been personnel decisions. Jones just simply isn’t cut out to make make-or-break decisions by himself at the NFL level. It hurt the Cowboys for years, and occasionally still does, even though he’s relinquished some control in recent years.
At his worst, Jones ran the team like a crazed oil tycoon who had made no bones about doing whatever he wanted, regardless of how stupid the decision. Ultimately, Jones’ incompetence as a one-man-show running the same has probably cost the Cowboys a few deep playoff runs, and is a primary reason why they’ve won a mere two playoff games since 1997.
3. Signing Terrell Owens
Another move that pandered to star-power over everything else, the Cowboys signed over for the 2006 season just after he had left the Eagles the season before. Owens may have put up impressive numbers (as he always did), but Dallas should have had the foresight to structure the receiving corps around the budding Tony Romo, who would take over as starting quarterback later in the season.
Ultimately, T.O. spent three seasons on the Cowboys, and they won just a single playoff game because of his presence. Drafting a receiver would have been a better option, and then they would have had the cap space necessary to address their defense.
2. Firing Jimmy Johnson
Without a shadow of a doubt, Johnson was the catalyst that made the Cowboys a competitive team in the 1990s, eventually becoming a Super Bowl-winning team. With him, they saw more success than ever before, and after him there was a clear decline, even if they did keep winning for a few more years. It should have been a no-brainer for Johnson to remain the head coach in Dallas for the long-term.
But Jerry Jones decided that a pissing match over individual control of the team was more important. Instead of just swallowing his pride, Jones ended up giving Johnson the axe in favor of Barry Switzer. In reality, Johnson’s coaching was the primary reason for the turnaround, and Jones probably squandered 5-10 more productive seasons, instead of just having been able to see the forest for the trees and keeping his prized coach. It wouldn’t be soon before the Cowboys were once again in the doldrums, largely because of this move.
1. Signing Greg Hardy
This was the most botched PR move in recent NFL history, and it’s going to be a while before anyone is able to top it. With Hardy coming off a year-long suspension for domestic violence charges, the Cowboys had no reservations about signing him as soon as he was off his 4-game suspension for the 2015 season.
Time and time again, Hardy refused to admit any fault or legitimate apology for any of the incidents that his name had circulated around over the past year at the time. Worse yet, the Cowboys brass seemed ambivalent as to whether he was going to or not. The entire situation was a mess, and despite being one of team’s most productive pass-rushers in that 2015 season, he was let go the following offseason.
The fact that he hasn’t been signed since, in his athletic prime, is telling of just how much of a mistake the Cowboys made on this one. It was simply a PR nightmare, and a stain on the legacy of the team.
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