By David Mullen
When the Super Bowl XXX Champion Dallas Cowboys walked off the Sun Devil Stadium turf in Tempe, Ariz. on January 28, 1996, players included Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen, Charles Haley and Deion Sanders. The team owner and GM was Jerry Jones.
When a team is crowned champion in New Orleans in Super Bowl LIX on Sunday, February 11, 2024, those Cowboys players — long retired from the 1995 team — are enshrined in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But the team owner and GM remains Jones.
According to Forbes, the Cowboys were valued at $272 million in 1996. In 2023, the magazine valued the Cowboys at $9.2 billion. Measured by a financial barometer, Jones has done an astonishing job as an owner.
The Cowboys have not played in the Super Bowl in 27 years, and a visit this season seems unlikely. Measured by a football barometer, Jones has not done an astonishing job as a GM.
After nearly three decades of failing to find football’s first prize, no other GM would still be employed. Ownership begats job security.
When the Cowboys last won a championship, reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes was a toddler in Tyler. Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow, who has played in the last two AFC Championship Games, wasn’t born yet. Neither were Cowboys defensive stars Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, two players that will influence Dallas’ 2023 success and drafted by Jones.
Parsons is the foreman of a Dallas defensive front that may be binding as a unit. Diggs and newly acquired Stephon Gilmore will be asked to detonate the opposition’s most explosive weapons.
Barring any further major injuries and off-field arrests, which the Cowboys have excelled at, this defense could be really good. They will have to be.
The Dallas offense does not have the firepower it once did. Running back Tony Pollard is coming off an injury and has lost Ezekiel Elliott as a backfield mate. The other RBs are unproven.
With CeeDee Lamb and a slew of tight ends, they have enough offensive weapons to execute a disciplined scheme, but QB Dak Prescott doesn’t play by the playbook. Backup QB Cooper Rush is 5-1 as a starter by reading the manual.
This season, head coach Mike McCarthy is calling the offensive plays. He has the experience — he called the plays for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay 10 years ago — but has not earned the right to make snap decisions based on his inferior clock management. I think calling plays that Prescott must execute could be a recipe for disaster. The Cowboys GM has endorsed the move.
Philadelphia is committed to QB Jalen Hurts after he lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. He signed a five-year, $255 million contract in the offseason. The salary cap hit cost the Eagles some veteran players, but they remain stout on offense, and their defense gelled in the playoffs.
The New York Giants are also committed under center, giving QB Daniel Jones a four-year, $160 million contract extension. That could be New York prices, but Jones now has his best supporting cast ever with newly acquired tight end Darren Waller and a healthy Saquon Barkley.
The Giants aren’t a blockbuster offense but are poised for a long run if the lead cast stays intact. Too much has to go right (as in perfectly, not conservatively) in Washington to command attention. The Commanders will rely on unproven QB Sam Howell.
In the NFC South, there is a lot not to like. No team had a winning record in 2022 and 2023 looks like a broken mirror image.
Each team will have a new starting quarterback when the NFL season begins on Thursday, Sept. 7. Derek Carr has joined the New Orleans Saints after nine frustrating seasons with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
No more Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. The team turns to journeyman Baker Mayfield. When it comes to leading a team, Mayfield makes good TV commercials. Carolina has promising rookie QB Bryce Young, but no players to support him. The fire is out in Atlanta. While the NFC East has star power, the NFC South is community theater.
The Minnesota Vikings are the defending champions of the NFC North. But they had too many magical wins last season, and a number of players disappeared in the offseason.
No one expects them to pull a rabbit out of a hat this year. After being the featured team in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in 2022, the Detroit Lions have become media darlings. Head Coach and former Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell has them believing they can win. But the Lions are not deep in key offensive positions and were dead last in team defense in 2022.
The Green Bay Packers will be without QB Rodgers for the first time since 2005. Cheeseheads believe that third year QB Jordan Love has aged enough to be good. The Chicago Bears are hoping QB Justin Fields can lead the team to the Elysian Fields. The road is full of traps for the Bears.
The NFC West is a two-team race. The talent-laden San Francisco 49ers can win the NFC but will rely on a former “Mr. Irrelevant” QB Brock Purdy to lead. The QB position is not as critical in San Francisco as elsewhere. The Seattle Seahawks have a luminary coach (Pete Carroll) and luminous uniforms (Neon Action Green). But trading QB Russell Wilson to Denver proved brilliant. The draft picks gained have turned into quality players, and veteran QB Geno Smith turned into a Pro Bowl QB.
The Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals are not competitive. The Rams had their run in 2021 and have dismantled the club. The Arizona Cardinals can’t even rely on the antics of QB Kyler Murray, currently listed unable to perform, as is the rest of the team.
San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia will win their divisions with Dallas, Seattle and New York filling the wild card spots. The Vikings take an epic fall. The Niners will face the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Dallas has won 12 games in each of the last two seasons. The O/U in Vegas is 9.5 wins. I will take the over. A historically offensive minded team, the Dallas defense will be critical for the Cowboys to conquer the hard road to the Big Easy in February 2024. They have a chance, but the 2023 team has no resemblance to the 1995 team that won Super Bowl XXX. Except for having the same GM.