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In search of a God

Jones stuggling to find what Cowboys need: a glamorous franchise QB

Posted: Monday August 9, 2004 12:38PM; Updated: Monday August 9, 2004 1:37PM
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Jerry Jones is hurting. He can't find the man his Dallas Cowboys need most -- that glamorous, awe-inspiring spokesmodel that lay people refer to as a starting quarterback. Quincy Carter didn't work. Chad Hutchinson didn't pan out. There are two more promising candidates in the owner's crosshairs -- Drew Henson and Tony Romo -- but they only offer potential, nothing that indicates they'll stabilize a position Jones calls "unique" to any other in football. And that is this dilemma that pains him to no end.

It's important to note here that Jones doesn't merely want a quarterback. He wants a God. When I recently asked him what it should mean to be the Cowboys' quarterback, Jones said, "It's not just about being the quarterback, which carries expectations on any team. It's a mentality. You have to want to get up on the big stage and show people you can do it."

This makes some sense. If you market yourself as "America's Team," then you better have a quarterback with a regal air. That man must have the charismatic, stately appeal of a Roger Staubach or a Troy Aikman. Jones can sell that. Fans eat it up. What he can't sell is a Carter or a Hutchinson, raw talents who need proper guidance and ample time to prosper.

Jones realizes this after three years of trying to turn Carter into royalty. And I believe him when he says, "it was a sad day" when he had to cut Carter. Jones handled Carter the same way he deals with all his business interests, with considerable personal involvement. In fact, Jones once told me that whenever a first-round pick signs with his team, he invites the young man to his office and gives him some tips on handling money. His two favorite tips: Don't get involved with restaurants and don't put your name on any business plan unless you're willing to be part of the daily operation.

Jones was a big part of the daily operation with Carter. He counseled Carter often, usually during long conversations in his office and before games. He once pointed out that he and Carter shared the same astrological sign (they were both Libras, with each being born on Oct. 13) and that Carter had a good amount of salesmanship to him. I assumed that when Jones used the word "salesmanship," he euphemistically meant ability to b.s.. I think Jones liked that about Carter. Jerry's got some "salesmanship" to him as well. He possesses a con artist's swagger and a gambler's insatiable hunger for large pots. He rebuilt the Cowboys with that attitude but it hasn't helped Jones find a quarterback since Aikman's career ended in 2001.

Part of the problem is patience. Jones has little. He's also so blinded by his convictions that he often acts impulsively (see Johnson, Jimmy). Jones threw Carter right into the starting lineup as a rookie. He signed Hutchinson the next year without fretting over whether two young projects could co-exist. Even when Jones had Hutchinson and Carter in the fold before last season, he was intrigued by regular phone conversations with Henson's father, who was gauging the interest in his son as Henson prepared to leave the New York Yankees.

Jones couldn't stockpile enough young, unpolished signal-callers. He was obsessed with finding inexpensive players who could be groomed because he didn't want to mortgage his team's future on an expensive first-round pick who might become the next Akili Smith. It was surprising to see this. Jones was searching for bargains while he coveted something more divine.

That approach has mostly led to his frustration. Jones says Carter made some nice strides in 2003 but the franchise "paid a heavy price" for the time spent trying to hone his ample physical talents. He also says, "If I had it to do over again, I might have injected a veteran into the picture during Quincy's three years to hold the fort better while he was developing. In my early years with this franchise I didn't see the need to do that [with our quarterbacks]."

Jones still won't go into detail about what led him to cut Carter abruptly, but on Saturday he said, "We wanted to come into camp and see where Vinny Testaverde was at this juncture. We wanted to get a little idea about our younger guys. In the early part of this camp, the first five or six days, that helped influence our decision."

When I asked if Carter would've still been a Cowboy if Testaverde had stunk, Jones shook his head yes and said, "There's a possibility that would've impacted our decision. We wanted to evaluate Vinny pretty quickly and we didn't think it was a workable situation to have Quincy as a backup. I didn't picture him in that role. We needed to see if we were going to go with him as a starter or waive him."

The first part about evaluating Testaverde quickly is textbook spin, but I believe the part about Carter not being comfortable with a reserve role. I think Carter poisoned his future with the Cowboys by becoming a pariah in his second year when he felt Hutchinson threaten his job. By sulking and alienating himself from the team that season, he embarrassed Jones in ways he couldn't imagine. Jones can't market bitterness, either.

But he's learned some things from Carter. Jones says he won't be as aggressive with developing Henson and Romo. I think there's no reason to get overly excited about either player yet. Henson, in particular, hasn't proven he can stick with any sport once things get hard. Jones was encouraged by his young quarterbacks' efforts in a controlled scrimmage over the weekend but I suspect the legacy of Aikman and Staubach will likely haunt them, too.

Ironically, Aikman attended that scrimmage. His arrival resulted in wild cheers and desperate pleas for autographs. The fans were so crazed when Aikman left the field 90 minutes later that nobody noticed Romo throw a touchdown pass to Cedric James. Until that point the audience had cheered every big play. But watching -- and hoping for -- the future is never as fun as reminiscing about the good old days and I sensed a slight collective pang in the audience as Aikman departed. I think Jones can relate to that same feeling. And I think he'll have a hard time making fans feel that way about another Cowboys quarterback again.

Before I leave, here's my three-and-out:

Bill Parcells: Apparently he didn't see the memo that Cowboys training camp is as much about marketing as it is about preparation. Parcells showed up for the first two days of camp wearing a blank white, long-sleeved T-shirt, an outfit that had to devastate the team's business office since it didn't have the team's star logo on it (and you can't walk three feet at Cowboys camp without seeing that thing). Somebody had to approach Parcells about this because he's been wearing official Cowboys apparel ever since. As Jones says, "He'll cooperate."

Tim Brown: I had to laugh when the Raiders cut him last week and Al Davis said Brown would've only been the fourth or fifth receiver on the squad. Exactly who do the Raiders have at wideout besides Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter? If Alvis Whitted and Ronald Curry would've stolen time from Brown, then it really is time for him to call it a career.

Carl and Kevin Poston: These brothers are now the fiercest agents in the league. Listed among their clients are 49ers outside linebacker Julian Peterson, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace and Browns rookie tight end Kellen Winslow. All those players are mired in intense holdouts with outrageous contract demands.

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