OXNARD, Calif. -- Jerry Jones is addressing the most famous of his offseason comments. You know the one. In May, the Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager told NFL Network's Kim Jones that the window is closing for his team to win a championship.
In explaining why he said it, Jones makes it clear: The time for talking about the window of opportunity for this particular crop of Cowboys is over. That served its purpose, he thinks, in underscoring the importance of the 2012 season back in the spring. Now that the pads are on, though, added motivation shouldn't be needed.
"The main thing here is it isn't about five years from now, four years from now. It's about this year," Jones said Thursday, with the Oxnard phase of Cowboys training camp having wrapped up minutes earlier. "That's the way I addressed the personnel, those were now decisions. (Signing free agent Brandon) Carr's a now decision. For that matter, (trading up to draft Morris) Claiborne was a now decision. Certainly, both those players hopefully have long careers here. Still, it's what they can do now. That was an expression about now and urgency. But now that we're at camp, I'm closing the door to window closing."
This camp is Jones' 24th in charge of the Cowboys. Three of the first seven led to Jones hoisting Lombardi Trophies. Since, it's been a string of now's that never came. The team has one playoff win over the past decade-and-a-half, and just two since its last championship, won back in January of 1996.
The time between then and now has been a minefield of disappointment. First, there was the inability to carry over the success of the early 1990s into the second half of the decade with a loaded core. Then, there were the dark days of Dave Campo. Then, the revival and rebuild under Bill Parcells that seemed unfinished when the Tuna bolted. Then, the underachievement of the Wade Phillips era.
And yet, when Jones looks back, nothing was worse than what happened to the Cowboys last fall.
"Last year was the most disappointing year for me in my 24 years," Jones said. "We had the goods. We had the quarterback, he had the season. We were positioned, in my mind, to go further and really make a run at it."
Jones pauses. He is asked about watching the Giants -- the team that beat out the Cowboys by the slimmest of margins, a narrowly missed connection between Tony Romo and Miles Austin, for the NFC East title -- winning the Super Bowl. He responds succinctly, calling it, "Very painful, very painful. To be positioned like that, with a healthy quarterback, it was a real downer. It's the most disappointing (season) I've had in 24 years."
Whether or not anyone else saw the Cowboys as that close -- and remember, close as they were to winning the division, Dallas didn't even make the playoffs -- doesn't really matter when you're discussing their approach. It's how Jones responded that tells you how close he believes his team is.
You don't hand over $26.5 million guaranteed to a veteran cornerback like Carr if you don't think there's opportunity ahead. Nor do you trade valuable draft assets to get him a bookend like Claiborne in the high-rent district of the draft if you don't think the rest of your roster is ready.
It's the way Jones says he attacks everything, kind of the old oil wildcatter in him. The proof in this case is tangible.
"What we do with the Cowboys, using the analogy of going to Las Vegas and putting it all on the table, we're shoving it all out there. I shove it all out there with the Cowboys every year," Jones said. "And I've done that. Certainly we've had years, principally at the quarterback position, where I thought we were in better shape to get it done, and getting it done is ultimately winning the Super Bowl. I thought we were in better shape, and we haven't had, frankly, the playoff success.
"And that's what counts -- your record. We've had teams that were amazingly close during these 17 years to having some success in the postseason that leads you to the Super Bowl. I run this team all-in, and so if we don't get to the Super Bowl, we're going to look bad, because I take risks in personnel and ask our coaches to set it up for now."
When it comes to this group, all you have to look at is birth dates to understand why Jones is trying to up the urgency. Tony Romo is 32, Jay Ratliff is about to turn 31, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are 30. Witten's injury this week -- a slightly lacerated spleen that could've been much worse -- only underscores the fragility of the situation, with the importance of these guys heightened by depth issues in certain spots on the roster.
Those four have combined to make 20 Pro Bowls. While talent has been an issue during some periods of this Super Bowl drought, it hasn't been one with these core pieces in place. For the past half-decade, Dallas' talent has been considered to be near the top of the league.
When asked if he sees the past decade-and-a-half as a failure, Jones said, "I'm reluctant to call years I don't win the Super Bowl a failure." He went on to explain how difficult it is with the level of competition and parity that exists in the NFL today.
"If you had told me I could be out doing something else and not have had the 17 years with no Super Bowl, I wouldn't have had made that trade with you," Jones said. "I'd have wanted these 17 years without a Super Bowl, having not had it. You're assuming, at some point, that not winning a Super Bowl is a failure. Well, up until last year, there'd been 10 different teams representing the NFC. So we know that teams don't go every year.
"Some have gone more than others over this period of time. We went more than others early. I know there are some things about it that I'm proud of, proud of what we've done, proud of where we are relative to other sports, relative to the NFL, and I'm talking about our franchise, the Cowboys franchise. I don't think anything, though, for me, substitutes for the feeling of winning a Super Bowl."
On this day, Jones is wearing one of the three rings he captured in his first seven years as owner, and he's quick to note that his team has won as many as any NFL club (tied with New England) over his stewardship. He's told players stories about the glory days, which he's trying to restore now.
Jones looks at the team now, on this final day in Oxnard, and sees "players that look like they're capable" of carrying that out. He'll concede that it's not perfect, saying the offensive line is "probably where I've let us down most. The O-line, if I look back the last two years, if I had some mulligans or some re-dos, I might've done that differently. We're trying to do that this year."
Even with that wart, Jones clearly feels the time is now. He wouldn't have said what he did about the team's window if he didn't. And even as he recites tales from the days of Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin to the current group, he's can't help but return to the present.
"I will share those experiences with them," Jones said. "But no one recognizes more than I do that last year is as much history as Napoleon. It counts, it's important to look back and understand it. But it's not what's important. It's about the next five minutes, it's about the next hour, the next 24 hours, and this year. It'd be that way under any circumstances. I've always done everything I've done on that basis. I've been disappointed, but I'm not deterred."
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