Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, thinks his current group's window to win the Super Bowl is closing. Jones explained recently that having quarterback Tony Romo, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and tight end Jason Witten all in the prime of their careers means the 'Boys must produce now.
Being GM/owner has its benefits, after all, and Jones was just issuing a challenge to those players -- if they can't deliver a title, he will find new guys who can. Nothing like putting a little pressure on the team before the season starts.
However, as is the case with most statements, it is essential to read between the lines. From my vantage point, Jones is really saying Romo has to show he can produce a title. The other names are window dressing.
Windows never close for NFL teams with great quarterbacks. Take the Chicago Bears, for example: Four of their best defenders -- Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman -- are over 30, but as long as quarterback Jay Cutler stays healthy, the Bears will have a window. Even with an offensive line in transition (or marginal skill at receiver, like last year), Chicago remains a threat because of Cutler's talent. Quarterbacks make the window -- not defensive ends, not tight ends, not middle linebackers. When a quarterback is done, the window for the team is officially closed.
For the record, I am a big Tony Romo fan. I believe Romo has the skills to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but he has to fight the feeling of contentment and fight it hard. Critic Robert Hughes once said: "The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." This statement perfectly applies to Romo. He must work harder this year than in any previous year of his life. He must prepare better than in any season since he entered the NFL.
I've always felt the one player who suffered the most since Bill Parcells left the Cowboys was Romo. Parcells put pressure on Romo all the time, demanded excellence from him, never allowed him to feel contentment. And this is exactly what Romo needs. Left alone, he will take the path of least resistance.
As a GM, you could never make the statement Jones made publicly. But as an owner, all bets are off. General managers get fired, but owners never lose their jobs. Therefore, Jones made that statement with his owner's hat on. Jones will always own the team, and if Romo does not produce, he will find another quarterback. Simple as that.
However, before Jones has to go shopping, Romo should sense his time is running out and work out of fear, not prepare as if he is always going to be the team's starting quarterback. Romo should look no further than the move Jones (the GM version) made this offseason. With salary-cap room marginalized by the league office as punishment for overspending in an uncapped season, which hindered the Cowboys' overall spending in 2012, Jones still paid handsomely for backup quarterback Kyle Orton.
Some might see the Orton signing as protection for a Romo injury. I don't. I see the investment in Orton as a message to Romo that he must be "all in" every day, every practice, every game. Orton is not as talented as Romo, but he can carry out a game plan and handle a high volume of offense. If Romo does not want to put the time or energy into each day, Orton will be waiting in the wings. Ideally, the backup to Romo should be a true competitor for the No. 1 job, which is not Orton. However, Orton has played and is an option. Combined with Jones' statement, this might be enough if Romo doesn't excel.
Romo has to come to camp and act differently. He must become less content and more willing to go the extra mile. If Romo works hard and prepares hard, great things can happen for the 'Boys this year. He is the key.
Years from now, when Romo is retired from football and playing golf on the senior tour, I hope he doesn't look back at his NFL career and wish he had worked harder. At that point, I hope he'll know he gave it everything he had -- every day.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi