No, it has nothing to do with making a Super Bowl. One day, the Cowboys will get there again. Maybe even next season. After all, if the Cincinnati Bengals can get to a Super Bowl, then the Cowboys surely can, too.
No, the Cowboys wouldn't do what the Rams did to get to Super Bowl LVI.
They would never give up the draft capital or take the high-priced risk by signing veterans without long-term deals going forward.
“I don’t think they need to,” ESPN analyst and former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “I think they’ve done a remarkable job. What’s joyful watching what’s going on with the Cowboys right now is their nucleus is Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, and the Randy Gregorys of the world, their non-first-rounders. Of course [Micah] Parsons is a one, Tyron Smith and Zeke Elliott are ones, but they’ve hit on a lot of non-first rounders. If I’m Dallas, I keep doing what I’m doing and pay the core players. You know you can’t keep them all, but that is sustainability.”
Sustainability is the unknown with the Rams’ model, but Tannenbaum said they deserve credit for getting to the Super Bowl. And while Tannenbaum is not sure other teams will copy Los Angeles' model, he does believe teams overvalue picks to a degree.
“There is a dogma about how many picks you have,” he said. “It’s about quality over quantity. In a perfect world, you want to add three or four meaningful players every year because every year three or four players graduate for cap purposes, age, declining play, medical, so if you can keep your core group of players, knowing you’re going to lose three-to-five players and add three-to-five players on the other end, that is sustainable.”
Decades ago, owner/GM Jerry Jones would have taken the same kind of risk as the Rams.
He likes to say the Cowboys could not spell Super Bowl before linebacker/defensive end Charles Haley’s arrival from the San Francisco 49ers in 1992. There was some luck in getting Haley in that San Francisco had tired of him, but the Cowboys gave up a second-round pick in 1993 and a third-round pick in 1994.
The Cowboys won three of the next four Super Bowls.
In 1995, Jones signed cornerback Deion Sanders to a seven-year, $35 million contract -- the richest in free-agent history at the time -- that included a $12.999 million signing bonus to make sure his team had every piece available to win a Super Bowl and to subtract a major piece from the 49ers, who won the Super Bowl in 1994 with Sanders.
Every year a big name becomes available, the player is linked to the Cowboys, even though for years they have not made big dips into the free-agent pool. The last was cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million) in 2012.
Sure, the Cowboys have added some big names, like Greg Hardy in 2015, but it was at a bargain price for a player coming off a suspension. Henry Melton was a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears but coming off an injury when he signed with the Cowboys in 2014.
The Cowboys had a successful run in free agency in 2021, albeit one that did not cost a lot. Safeties Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, punter Bryan Anger, defensive end Carlos Watkins and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle all delivered more than the Cowboys could have hoped.
Just with linebacker Micah Parsons, they had a successful draft. But they believe cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, defensive linemen Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston and linebacker Jabril Cox are potential long-term keepers.
The Rams have a roster built with stars filled in with second- and third-day draft picks and even undrafted players. On the game-clinching interception of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the NFC title game, the Rams' best player (and maybe the league’s best player), Aaron Donald, a former first-round pick, forced a backhanded flip that was intercepted by Travin Howard, a seventh-round pick in 2018.
In 2020, the Rams acquired star cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jacksonville Jaguars for two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder. He has been an All-Pro the last two seasons. Last January, the Rams agreed to trade quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford, while also chewing up $24 million in dead money. Stafford has the Rams in the Super Bowl.
During the season, Los Angeles traded second- and third-round picks to the Denver Broncos for linebacker Von Miller. He has seven sacks in his nine games. They also signed free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year deal, and he had his first 100-yard receiving game since 2019 in the NFC Championship Game.
With these moves, the Rams won’t have a first-round pick until 2024, a seven-year break between No. 1s. In 2022, they have four total draft picks and one in the first four rounds, although they could receive a compensatory pick or two.
The Cowboys, who had discussions with the Broncos about Miller, have picks in each of the first six rounds, including No. 24 overall in the first round, not including a potential compensatory pick.
“You’ve got to remember, I coached the youngest team in the league for a number of years so I have great belief in draft and development,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “This will probably be hopefully the first year that we can have a normal offseason program. I think with that, the combination of veterans and young players that we have, I think we definitely can take a step forward.”
Neither route guarantees a Super Bowl win or even an appearance. Other teams have tried the “Dream Team” approach and failed (See: Eagles, Philadelphia in 2011).
But if the Rams do win Super Bowl LVI, will fans be bothered if their team has to pay a price a few years down the road?
After 26 years of waiting for another Super Bowl, Cowboys fans might not care either.