There’s no denying the influence Jerry Jones has had on the Dallas Cowboys. For better or worse, most associate “America’s Team” with Jones, which is what he wants. When he took over as owner of the Cowboys in 1988, the once-great franchise had sunk badly, ending with a 3-13 record. The first year was worse with 1-15 but Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson would rebound majorly by building the Cowboys into a team that would win three Super Bowls in four years and set a new standard for excellent play. Since then, however, the Cowboys have failed to make the big game and many feel that the reason for that is Jones himself.
The key issue is that Jones is one of those owners who considers himself a football expert when he’s not and the fact he’s also the general manager makes it worse. Johnson has said the key reason he left was because he couldn’t stand the fact that he pulled off major moves (like the Herschel Walker trade) and Jones insisted on taking credit for them. Many others have made the same observation, Jones insists on being part of a process he doesn’t understand and that’s done as much damage to the Cowboys as helped them. His arrogance is one thing but many are thrown by how Jones seems to think that as long as the Cowboys get press, things are going fine, no matter how bad the team does. That’s really come up in this last season as, without Romo or Dez Bryant, Dallas sunk to a terrible 4-12 year. It thus seems the perfect time to look back at the worst moves Jones has made as owner/GM of the team and how, despite the success, his own attitude and “instinct” has been the reason the Cowboys have failed to get back to championship form.
15 Mike Vanderjagt
Leave it to Jones to think that signing a kicker in free agency was a great idea. True, Vanderjagt had been a very accurate guy during his tenure with the Colts, becoming the first kicker to go an entire season without missing a field-goal or point-after attempt. However, he was also getting a reputation for his ego and clashing with Peyton Manning, even blaming Manning for not giving Vanderjagt enough chances to “save” a game.
When he missed a key kick in the 2005 playoffs, his anger afterward cost the team a 15-yard penalty to seal their loss. He was let go in 2006 and signed by Dallas to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million with a $2.5 million bonus. What did they get for that? Just 13 out of 18 field goal attempts made, forcing Dallas to release him before the season even ended. Bet Jones is kicking himself over this one.
14 Jason Garrett as Coach
It’s obvious Jones has always had a soft spot for Garrett. As backup QB, the guy was great holding the Cowboys in contention when Aikman went down and helping them stay strong in their early ‘90s dynasty. When Wade Phillips was fired, Jones turned to Garrett to take over. His seasons were okay, the best being 2014 as the Cowboys soared on a 12-4 record and many will claim it was a bad ref call that cost them an NFC title berth.
However, this past season has showcased the weaknesses of Garrett, his total inability to handle the loss of Romo and other players, the Cowboys losing several games that could have been victories and Garrett has been slammed by the Dallas media as not having what it takes to be a true coach. A 4-12 season should have someone shown the door but Garrett sticks around because Jones likes him so much and when favoritism overwhelms reason, it rarely ends well. This could just be the start of more bad years for Cowboys fans because Jones prefers a “third son” rather than a real coach around.
13 Steve Walsh
True, this was more Johnson’s fault but Jones bears responsibility as well. When the first draft under Johnson began in 1989, it was no surprise the team grabbed Troy Aikman, a guy ready to be a starter. However, Johnson then used an important pick to also grab Steve Walsh, his former QB at Miami. While Johnson has said since he planned to trade Walsh for draft picks, many there at the time insist that Johnson honestly wanted to push Walsh as the starter.
A smart owner/GM would know that having two QBs competing for the job was not a good way to kick off a new era for the franchise but Jones let Johnson do it. It led to major issues in training camp and the media criticizing Johnson for it. Eventually, Johnson realized Aikman was the guy and traded Walsh for some draft picks (including Erik Williams) so it worked out. However, letting this situation happen in the first place was the first real sign Jones’ tenure as owner/GM was not going to go very well.
12 Drew Henson
One of those guys who tried his hand at both baseball and football, Henson failed at both, his baseball average only .111. Somehow, Jones was convinced that meant Henson was made for football and Jones himself ordered the trading of a third round pick in the 2005 draft for Henson. On Thanksgiving Day, he was given his shot and went 4-of-12 for 31 yards and an interception run back for a touchdown.
At halftime, an injured Vinny Testaverde took over and led the team to a 21-7 victory. Henson spent the rest of the season as backup with 10-of-18 passes made. He showed some improvement but by this point, Romo and Bledsoe were under contract so Jones decided to waive Henson, leaving the guy to drift and another sign of how bad the QB situation for Dallas was.
11 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf, a man once chosen as the number one draft bust in NFL history. Through four years, he’d shown his total lack of true capability from the Chargers to the Bucs with talk of his personal problems and drug use and yet somehow, Jones thought he was a great choice to fill the shoes of Troy Aikman in 2001. That lasted just a few weeks when he failed his physical but when Quincy Carter was injured, Leaf was signed up again. He played only four games, losing every one with a total of 494 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He was let go as soon as the year was over, Jones with major egg left on his face from his decision and another bad turn for a bad time for Dallas.
10 Greg Hardy
Jones will spin this as “giving a guy a second chance” but most everyone else has railed on it as one of the worst decisions imaginable. When a man is arrested and charged with threatening to murder his girlfriend, any NFL team would be smart not to touch him. Instead, Jones signed him up for $11 million, a move that even the Dallas fanbase massively criticized.
He’s still facing criminal charges and yet Jones seems ready to keep him on, ignoring the bad press and feelings, an obvious sign of how badly he wants the attention more than a truly good team.
9 Firing Tom Landry
That Jones himself admits this was a mistake speaks volumes. Now, the actual firing wasn’t the big issue. By 1988, even Tom Landry’s strongest supporters have to admit the man had lost his way, unable to handle the changes to the NFL and clearly not ready for the ‘90s. But the way Jones did it was terrible. First, a reporter chanced to find Jones and Johnson eating together in Landry’s favorite restaurant to break the news first.
The same folks against Landry were outraged that J&J were planning his ouster behind his back. Jones then flew by helicopter to the golf course Landry was playing at to break the news gently. Having already seen the papers, Landry erupted on how this was just pouring salt in the wound and screamed at Jones to get out. Jones has acknowledged he should have gone to Landry first in private and letting the firing of an iconic coach turn into a public disaster nearly ruined the Jones era before it started.
8 Passing on Tom Brady
To be fair, it’s not like the Cowboys were alone here as even the Patriots had no idea of the fantastic player Brady would become when they drafted him and so many other teams also gave him a pass. However, it still bears repeating that Dallas had a shot at grabbing Brady in several rungs of the 2000 draft but totally passed him by. When you look at all the issues the Cowboys had before grabbing Romo (and even afterward), to miss on one of the greatest QBs of all time remains truly galling and showcases Jones’ supposed “insight” really isn’t all that terrific.
7 Roy Williams I
Two men with the same name but each representing a key mistake of Jerry Jones’ draft era. In 2002, the Cowboys had the eighth pick in the first round and picked up Williams, a safety who had a good look and build. Williams’ career in Dallas is respectable but not exactly stellar and more notable by the fact that just a few spots after him was Ed Reed, whose career would be far better, more hits, more Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship to boot. Amazingly, Jones would make a similar mistake with a guy with the exact same name just a few years later, showing how history repeats if you don’t pay attention.
6 Roy Williams II
At the 2008 draft, Jones made another of his foolish moves by trading first, third and sixth round picks in the 2009 draft to Detroit in return of wide receiver Roy Williams. Jones believed Williams would be the next Michael Irvin and thus had no problem losing a first-round pick and that slot would be filled by the Packers using it to get Clay Matthews. Williams would play only two and a half seasons and never had more than 40 catches or 600 yards in a year.
Meanwhile, Matthews would become a key part of the Packers offense that won the Super Bowl in 2011. Had Jones been smarter, Matthews could have been the component needed to boost the Cowboys at a major time and get them that crown instead.
5 Joey Galloway
This one…man. In 2000, with Michael Irvin gone, Jones decided to give Troy Aikman some ammo by trading two first round picks to the Seahawks in return for Joey Galloway, a supposed speedster. Galloway never lived up to that potential and was gone in three years. Meanwhile, Seattle used the first pick to get their hands on Shaun Alexander.
As for the other pick? Considering the Cowboys were 5-11, they could have gotten a high rank in the 2001 draft but had given that up and thus missed the chance to get their hands on either Drew Brees (a future Super Bowl MVP) or six-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne. One choice and it cost Dallas the opportunity to nab a couple of guys who could have boosted them back to championship form.
4 Passing on Randy Moss
He warned them. When the 1998 draft began, Randy Moss was up front on how he wanted to play for the Cowboys, his favorite team growing up. He openly stated that if he wasn’t picked, he would make life miserable for Dallas. Despite that, and Moss’ fantastic skills, the Cowboys still passed on him, allowing the Vikings to pick up Moss.
After that, Moss was true to his word as over the next decade, he would help beat the Cowboys seven times in several key games and give them nightmares over the record numbers he gathered that could have been theirs. You can’t say he didn’t give warnings that Jones ignored.
There’s no denying Terrell Owens had some skills on the field. Sadly, those were overwhelmed by his massive ego and attitude that soon led to his nickname of “Team Obliterator.” Most cite him as a key reason the Philadelphia Eagles had rough times after their Super Bowl XXXIX appearance, but Jones was convinced Dallas was the place for him.
He signed Owens on to a three-year $25 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus. The big problem was that Jones did this without even bothering to consult Bill Parcells and Parcells was never a fan of Owens. Thus, he wouldn’t even call T.O. by name at first, grousing over how he had to reshift his entire offense plan for this guy and Owens’ arrogant attitude soon affecting things. That was followed by an injury in the second week and more surgeries over the two coming seasons, ending in his infamous press conference breakdown and it was clear he was causing far more problems in the locker room than he was worth. After promising Owens he’d be sticking around, Jones released him in 2009, which blindsided T.O. but by that point, the effects he made on the team were worse than anything he contributed and Jones taking him on without talking to anyone else first was a key problem.
2 Firing Jimmy Johnson
Frankly, it’s amazing Johnson and Jones lasted as long as they did together. Two men with such massive egos and pride, they had clashed numerous times building the Dallas dynasty. Jones hated Johnson taking so much credit for the success while Johnson hated Jones bragging about being a genius behind all this. It finally came to a head after the second Super Bowl victory as each man realized they couldn’t stay together and parted ways.
Johnson will tell you he left while Jones will say he fired him but either way, it was an ending to a key era. Johnson’s smarts had helped build the team into a championship power and without his guidance, they would falter. Also, Johnson had helped unite them, making sure they kept their personal problems down and focused on the games. Without that strict oversight, the Cowboys soon collapsed into drug use and ego fights that would bring about their demise. Every member of that team agrees that if Johnson had stayed, the dynasty would have continued a lot longer. And that’s without Jones’ choice for his successor…
1 Barry Switzer
It still makes no sense. When Johnson left, Jones could have gotten nearly any coach who’d jump at the chance to lead the defending Super Bowl champions. Instead he chose a man whose tenure at Oklahoma (a school no self-respecting Texan would root for) had ended in scandal, who hadn’t coached in five years and who didn’t even know what division the Cowboys were in. But Jones was convinced his old friend was just the guy to take over the Cowboys and hired him on. It was soon clear Switzer had little idea how to handle the pros. While the Cowboys managing to win based on their talent for a 12-4 season, they were destroyed by San Francisco in the NFC title game with Switzer unable to handle the 49ers’ offense. They bounced back to win the Super Bowl again the next year thanks to the addition of Deion Sanders but by that point, things were getting rough between Switzer and Aikman.
More importantly, Switzer failed to instill the same mix of pride and stability Johnson did. He turned a blind eye to the drug use and other issues and his conflicts with players just wrecked the team morale and led to huge egos like Smith and Irvin rising. It would set up the collapse of order and the bitter feelings that led to the dynasty falling apart. By hiring Switzer, Jones ensured that Dallas would fall from glory to shame in just a couple of years and bring the Cowboys down.