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Downside Of Being The NFL's Most Valuable Franchise

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Jerry Jones is second to none in business acumen, and the numbers prove it every year. And while his decisions as a GM have frequently drawn criticism, is there any reason for him to change his ways as an owner? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Jerry Jones is second to none in business acumen, and the numbers prove it every year. And while his decisions as a GM have frequently drawn criticism, is there any reason for him to change his ways as an owner? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Astoundingly mediocre play with robust financial and brand equity. If you had to describe the single, most encapsulating traits of the Cowboys’ identity over the last few years, both on the field and in the front office, those are the kind of phrases that come to mind. Could there be any correlation between them?

Before we delve into that, we owe it to Jerry Jones to acknowledge just how lucrative of a gridiron juggernaut he’s constructed. As a gesture of sincerity and good faith, we won't even bring up his performance as a GM. Dallas has topped Forbes’ annual rankings of NFL franchise values every year from 2008-2012, a period the magazine also identified as the worst five-year stretch of economic growth in 60 years, based on gross domestic product (GDP).

Here are the yearly estimated team values:

  • 2008: $1.61 billion
  • 2009: $1.65 billion
  • 2010: $1.80 billion
  • 2011: $1.85 billion
  • 2012: $2.10 billion

Without factoring inflation rates — which have been fairly steady since bottoming out with the credit crisis of 2008 — we see that Jones has managed to expand the team’s net worth by an average of about 6.3 percent per year during the recession. He financed nearly a quarter of the $1.2 billion stadium that hosted a Super Bowl, and shrewdly integrated other business interests, including ownership in concession vendors like Papa John's to profit, while giving fans the ultimate in-house experience. Throughout this remarkable run, Jones has stuck to his reputation as a big spender during free agency, a habit that’s only recently showed signs of leveling off. And he’s continued to display the colorful, if not provocative, behavior that keeps his team firmly rooted atop the media’s priority list.

But during this stretch, Dallas went 42-38, had more head coaches than playoff appearances, and capitulated three times in Week 17 with a postseason berth at stake.

Is it possible that the combination of Jones’ uncanny business sense, absence of fiscal restraint and relentless media magnetism, have intensified the pressure on his team to the point of being harmful? Has being a rabble-rouser in a big market of a league with massive media contracts adversely affected the team’s expectations?

Well, when Tony Romo throws three interceptions and the team commits 10-plus penalties with the playoffs on the line, it’s hard to blame marketing efforts, revenue-thickening strategies or management’s personality.

It’s in the offseason that Jones can give his full attention to his brand-enhancing and media-garnering skills to work. Whether he’s acquiring overpriced free agents, raising eyebrows in the draft, extolling the features and innovations of the new stadium or figure-heading a new PR campaign, Jones has a gift for keeping his team at the forefront of NFL news and barroom debates between February and August.

It brings the same result year in and year out: the same lofty expectations; the same declaration that Dallas has the division’s most talented roster; the same stipulating by fans that if only there are a couple fewer injuries, if only Romo plays a little better, if only the offensive line blocks a little better, then this will be the year. Every year before the season starts, the fan base becomes a swirling beehive of overconfident speculation and giddy anticipation — it just makes you feel bad to debunk it with logic and history.

And then everything spills onto the field, taking the form of a vanilla start. Save 2009, the only year of this growth-with-mediocrity era that saw them make the playoffs, the Cowboys have struggled through their first seven games, setting themselves up for tumultuous, pressure-filled second halves. It’s been an especially pronounced trend during the Jason Garrett era — which coincides with the biggest sub-period of monetary expansion from 2008-2012 — ending twice in the most heartbreaking and anti-climactic of manners.

The business and operations side of football has piqued fan and media interest in the wake of the lockout. It’s a game in and of itself, and Jerry Jones has truly been a masterful player. His style of play keeps his club’s books green and prosperous, and can’t be blamed for Week 17 folds. But it does heighten the preseason expectations without making it easier to meet them — the slow starts are proof.

Jones has billed 2013 as a year of change. Free agency was precisely that, even if the draft wasn’t. Laying low this summer is a good way to keep it going.