Is Jerry Jones the Worst Owner in the NFL?

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Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys

The list of Jerry Jones haters is longer than the wait to ride a new attraction at Disney World. But “worst owner” and “most disliked owner” are two entirely different matters even as Dallas Cowboys fans suffer through a long wait between appearances in the NFC Championship Game.

It’s worth separating the two issues.

Is Jerry Jones the Worst Owner in the NFL?

To answer the question of whether Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys ranks 32nd on the list of best NFL owners, one must first ask this question: Are the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, and Cleveland Browns still in the league? If so, Jones is no more than the fourth-worst man in charge of a National Football League franchise.

There’s a case to be made that Daniel Snyder is at least trying his hardest to win but just doesn’t know how to go about it while driving the Redskins into the ground. As for the others:

Mike Brown’s Bengals have finished above .500 just twice in his first 20 seasons in charge. After a run of five straight playoff appearances that began in 2011 and ended each time with losses in the wildcard round, Cincinnati is 21-42-1 since. The franchise has a reputation for being frugal, too, which has never been a Dallas Cowboys issue.

The Browns were a mess before Jimmy Haslam officially took ownership midway through the 2012 season, but they’re even worse since at 21-75-1. They’re heading for their ninth head coach in 13 seasons and have had 15 different leaders in passing yardage in 18 seasons. Haslam hasn’t reigned over all of it, but he owns a chunk of it.

The Dallas Cowboys and the label of ‘America’s Team’

Again, the question at hand calls for separating bad owners from hated owners.

There’s a built-in dislike of the Dallas Cowboys going back to 18 playoff appearances in 20 years beginning with the 1966 season and pre-dating Jones’ ownership. That run of success included two league championships and three other trips to the Super Bowl. The “America’s Team” label originated there and further antagonized the haters.

The Cowboys show up on nationally televised games more than most teams for the simple reason that networks know that fans will watch for one of two reasons: They love them or they hate them.

The team won three Super Bowls and played in an NFC Championship Game over four seasons beginning in 1992. Dallas has not been back to an NFC Championship Game since.

Dallas Cowboys fans miss Jimmy Johnson

An expression in the legal profession suggests that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. There’s a case to be made in the NFL that owners should not be general managers on similar grounds, and that’s where Jerry Jones can be faulted.

Jones’ first major move after buying the Dallas Cowboys was to fire coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm, which upset fans. But he hired college friend Jimmy Johnson, who was highly successful coaching at the University of Miami, and the two quickly turned the Cowboys into the league’s best team.

Jones and Johnson had a well-documented falling out after winning back-to-back Super Bowls. New coach Barry Switzer won another Super Bowl in his second season and 10 games in Year 3, but evidence suggests that the Cowboys were living off talent assembled by Johnson.

Switzer’s fourth team went 6-10, costing him his job, and it was coaching roulette for 12 years after that, with Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips both nudged out over control issues with Jones despite winning records in their final full seasons.

Managing money may be a problem

One other potential failing grade on Jerry Jones’ report card comes in the area of salary cap management. Some of the Dallas Cowboys’ greatest success in the past came in eras with a so-called big three: quarterback, running back and wide receiver, but that always comes at a cost.

Jones gave in to running back Ezekiel Elliott to avert a holdout last year and just rewarded leading receiver Amari Cooper with a new deal to keep him out of free agency. They will count for $10.9 million and $12 million, respectively, against the cap this year and a combined $35.7 million in 2021.

Combined with quarterback Dak Prescott, who is in negotiations on his new contract, the Cowboys could have $60 million tied up in three players this fall and potentially $75 million in 2021, which would make retaining top talent around them highly difficult.

That could result in a long rebuild after that would require sacrificing one or two pieces of the big three in order to free up the money.